Polanyi on Polanyi

In this series Polanyi reflects on an extraordinary life, and the extraordinary legacy of her family.

From the collection: Masters Series


From the collection Masters Series

Kari Polanyi Levitt, Emerita Professor of Economics at McGill University, is a legend in the economics profession, famous for her contributions to economic development and economic sovereignty. But she has also had a legendary life: the only child of the influential political economist Karl Polanyi, Kari’s research has carried her from the London Blitz to the Canadian labor movement to the government of Trinidad and Tobago.

Formative Years

Daughter of the political economist Karl Polanyi and Ilona Duczynska, a leader of the Hungarian Communist revolution, Polanyi Levitt was born in Vienna in 1923. In this clip, she talks about her youth in interwar Vienna, and how that shaped her outlook on the issues facing the world today.

From LSE to McGill: Decolonization, Labor Movement, and Economic Planning

Kari Polanyi Levitt reflects on her education and career as an economist, in the UK, Canada, and the Caribbean. As an undergraduate at LSE, she studied with scholars such as Nicholas Kaldor and W. Arthur Lewis. Once in Canada, she was writing for labor unions and overseeing the preparation of the input-output tables of Canada’s Atlantic region for Statistics Canada. A request from the Canadian social democratic party (the NDP) brought her to study the effects of FDIs on an economy dominated by extractive industries, a topic she developed in her book published in 1970 Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada. In the 1960s, encounters with Alister McIntyre, Stephen Hymer and others brought her not only to study transnational corporations but also to study development economics, focusing on the Caribbean countries, which she first began visiting in 1960. Since then, she developed systematic collaboration with scholars at the University of the West Indies, especially Lloyd Best with whom she wrote the landmark study: Essays on the Theory of Plantation Economy: A Historical and Institutional Approach to Caribbean Economic Development.

2009 (With Lloyd Best) Essays on the Theory of Plantation Economy: A Historical and Institutional Approach to Caribbean Economic Development. University of the West Indies Press. Jamaica, 257pp.

2001 Silent Surrender, The Multinational Corporation in Canada, re-issued with a new introduction, postscript, and an index. McGill- Queen’s UniveIrsity Press. Montreal, 193pp.

Dealing with a Father´s Legacy - From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization

Kari Polanyi Levitt discusses the work of her father, the influential political economist Karl Polanyi, and the dramatic return to modernity of his warnings against unregulated capitalism, which has disrupted the fabric of society, and trust in democracy. She also discusses her most recent book From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization.

2013 From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization: on Karl Polanyi and other Essays, Fernwood Publishing, Halifax, Canada/Zed Books, London & New York, 320pp.

A new book, edited by Kari Polanyi Levitt and Radhika Desai: Karl Polanyi and Twenty-First-Century Capitalism is in production: https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526127884/

The Perils of Globalization and the Need for a Democratic Developmental State

Kari Polanyi Levitt examines the impact of globalization and financialization on our politics, economy, and society, and the need for policies that are conservative, in the sense that they are protective of humanity and the environment.

Looking Ahead

Kari Polanyi Levitt looks at the challenges facing the world today. We face three existential crises, which we are not even beginning to address: collapse of the ecological infrastructure, the weaponization of international relations and increase in military investments, and the ICT revolution, with the new structure of power it has brought about and its implications for freedom, privacy and democracy.

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Kari Polanyi Levitt

The only child of Karl Polanyi and Ilona Duczynska, her life is nothing short of legendary. After childhood in Red Vienna, she studied and worked with some of the most important economists of the twentieth century, such as Nicholas Kaldor and W. Arthur Lewis. She has been a pioneer of structuralist developmental studies and economic planning, as well as the modelling of development in the Caribbean. She is a key intellectual figure of the postwar social democratic movement in Canada with her opposition to rampant globalization and excessive financialization controlled by the activities of transnational corporations. In this series, she reflects on her remarkable life and the extraordinary legacy of her family.

Full biography

Published work


This series of interviews were organized and conducted by Mario Seccareccia, Professor Emeritus of Economics of the University of Ottawa, on July 18, 2019, at the her home in Montreal. Mario Seccareccia has known Kari Polanyi Levitt for half a century when he first took courses with her beginning in the 1971-72 academic year while still in his third year of undergraduate studies at McGill University, where he eventually completed his PhD.