July 17, 2005


Why Marx is man of the moment: He had globalisation sussed 150 years ago (Francis Wheen, July 17, 2005, The Observer)

The billionaire speculator George Soros now warns that the herd instinct of capital-owners such as himself must be controlled before they trample everyone else underfoot. 'Marx and Engels gave a very good analysis of the capitalist system 150 years ago, better in some ways, I must say, than the equilibrium theory of classical economics,' he writes. 'The main reason why their dire predictions did not come true was because of countervailing political interventions in democratic countries. Unfortunately we are once again in danger of drawing the wrong conclusions from the lessons of history. This time the danger comes not from communism but from market fundamentalism.'

In October 1997 the business correspondent of the New Yorker, John Cassidy, reported a conversation with an investment banker. 'The longer I spend on Wall Street, the more convinced I am that Marx was right,' the financier said. 'I am absolutely convinced that Marx's approach is the best way to look at capitalism.' His curiosity aroused, Cassidy read Marx for the first time. He found 'riveting passages about globalisation, inequality, political corruption, monopolisation, technical progress, the decline of high culture, and the enervating nature of modern existence - issues that economists are now confronting anew, sometimes without realising that they are walking in Marx's footsteps'.

Quoting the famous slogan coined by James Carville for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 ('It's the economy, stupid'), Cassidy pointed out that 'Marx's own term for this theory was "the materialist conception of history", and it is now so widely accepted that analysts of all political views use it, like Carville, without any attribution.'

Like Molière's bourgeois gentleman who discovered to his amazement that for more than 40 years he had been speaking prose without knowing it, much of the Western bourgeoisie absorbed Marx's ideas without ever noticing. It was a belated reading of Marx in the 1990s that inspired the financial journalist James Buchan to write his brilliant study Frozen Desire: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money (1997).

'Everybody I know now believes that their attitudes are to an extent a creation of their material circumstances,' he wrote, 'and that changes in the ways things are produced profoundly affect the affairs of humanity even outside the workshop or factory. It is largely through Marx, rather than political economy, that those notions have come down to us.'

Pity the poor Left, they convince themselves that materialism drives mankind and are then dumbfounded when middle America votes Republican and suicide bombers turn out to be middle class and college-educated rather than poverty stricken.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 17, 2005 10:56 PM

So the Left, epitomizing the triumph of hope over experience, thinks that even though Marx and Engel have been completely and utterly wrong about, well, everything, that even though the collapse of market economies never happened, that ordinary people in market economies have gotten wealthier, not poorer - just you wait, it could still happen.

Well, we all have our dreams, though most people's aren't as depraved.

Posted by: carter at July 17, 2005 11:33 PM

If you have a hatred for America and/or the Western economic system that is so all-consuming you ascribe all forms of societal problems to it -- including many that involve normal human emotions (other than crimes of passion) -- then Karl's theroies look good.

The problem is, as any state that has tried to go down that path has shown, their leaders don't seem to be quite willing to push on to the final stage of communism and abandon all the perks that go with a position of power. But since Marx never put down an exact timetable on how long the transition to the final stage of communism is supposed to take, it's no problem to turn the dictatorship of the proleteriat into simply the perpetuation of the dictatorship. Doesn't help the bulk of the proles much, but at least that awful Capitalism is gone.

Posted by: John at July 18, 2005 1:11 AM

Capitalism may not have collapsed, but it has capitulated.

Laissez-faire is out, socialism is in.

The proles live like minor nobles of bygone eras.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 18, 2005 1:38 AM

There was some foreigner who came to the US in the 30s, looked around and remarked "you already have communism here!" The brewing evolution to consumer capitalism had, even then, made the old Marxist critique look silly. And as long as the left lets his dialectics set the terms of their argument, so will they.

However, materialism does drive mankind--or men--when they lack the food to fill their bellies. In a nation without groveling peasants, it's easy to believe otherwise, but non-material concerns tend to evaporate when you're starving.

Posted by: Al Cornpone at July 18, 2005 2:16 AM


Hungry peasants don't revolt--comfortable intellectual elites do.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2005 8:30 AM


The erection of the welfare state required a jittery upper and middle classes and works to their benefit.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2005 8:32 AM

One of Marx's goals was that the workers own the means of production. This is actually coming true - in the form of their 401k and ESOP. The best workers are those who think like owners.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 18, 2005 9:13 AM

Marx was almost right, but made the simple mistake that is all too common--he worked from "Money is the root of all evil", when the original "The love of money is the root of all evil" is more accurate. Therefore his solution was all wrong--he more or less proposed to abolish money when a correct diagnosis would lead one to attempt to reduce the tendency to hold monetary gain in such high esteem.

Al: Marxism arose entirely due to the failure of 19th century revolts all across Europe. Given the chance, the peasants almost universally chose to support the status quo rather than would-be revolutionaries inspired by the French Revolution. Such is still true today--in Latin America and elsewhere, the slums have never been the hotbed of leftist insurrections. It's the universities.

Posted by: b at July 18, 2005 10:44 AM