The workshop “Geographies of Markets”—hosted over three days in mid-June 2017 by the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy at Concordia University, Montréal—gave scholars from a wide range of countries and disciplines an opportunity to assess the continued relevance of the Polanyian critique of “market society.” Even if this critique lacks the formal rigor of neoclassical economics, even if Polanyi’s concept of market exchange fails to capture the institutional intricacies of contemporary markets, and even if the man himself was very much a European intellectual of his age, his approach still appears to provide the best scientific foundation on which to build global political and normative alternatives to neoliberal hegemony. Today, however, his geographic binary between East and West, like his ideal types of redistribution and market exchange, all need careful reappraisal.
On 14 May 2017, in North Rhine-Westphalia’s (NRW) state (Bundesland) election, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won in emphatic fashion. Emphatic, here, does not express itself in numbers—33 percent for the CDU—but in the fact that the party won at all. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), which from 1966 to 2005, and then from 2010 to 2017, had governed North Rhine-Westphalia, crashed with roughly 31 percent. Party leader Hannelore Kraft resigned within 30 minutes of the polls closing. After a lengthy hiatus, the anti-statist and centre-right right Free Democratic Party (FDP) reached more than 12 percent, and the xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) eased with more than 7 percent into NRW’s parliament. More left-leaning parties that ran on platforms arguing for greater social and economically distributive justice, including the Pirates and The Left, failed to clear the 5 percent threshold required by Germany’s electoral system. The one Land that in Germany had always been regarded as the center of Social Democracy went conservative.