, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 264–286 | Cite as

Conceptualizing the Economic Role of the State: Laissez-Faire, Technocracy, and the Democratic Alternative

  • K Sabeel Rahman


This article contrasts three visions of political economy that appear in the writings of Keynes, Hayek, and Polanyi, and discusses their relevance to current debates over economic policy in the United States. Keynes proposed optimizing market practices through technocratic governance. In recent decades, this influential approach has proven vulnerable to the revival of Hayek's laissez-faire arguments. Polanyi, by contrast, introduced a framework that criticizes both laissez-faire conceptions and the technocratic approach pioneered by Keynes. Because of its emphasis on democratic participation, Polanyi's reasoning provides the building blocks for a new type of contemporary progressive politics.


progressivism the state regulation Keynes Hayek Polanyi 



The author thanks Richard Tuck, Michael Sandel, Nancy Rosenblum, and the editors and three anonymous reviewers for Polity for comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Additional thanks to Oliver Bevan, Emma Saunders-Hastings, and Metin Eren for helpful conversations in developing this paper.

Copyright information

© Northeastern Political Science Association 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • K Sabeel Rahman
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard University

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