Monday, November 24, 2008

Marx Is Right After All, About Some Things

Watching the unfolding implosion of the American economy, while leaving one with the nagging fear that there is no bottom in sight yet, nevertheless gives some a reason to reconsider a basic tenet of classical Marxist philosophy. Marx taught that at the heart of capitalism was a contradiction so fundamental, it would end up destroying itself. It could be summed up in an ethical epigram - Private vice does not lead to public virtue. Marx correctly diagnosed that at the heart of the capitalist system is not "self-interest" in some grand, ethical way, but greed. The pursuit of maximum profit at the lowest possible cost. Impoverish workers, create hazardous work environments, destroy the environment and you have a competitive advantage over your competitor. Monopoly capitalism goes even further, as several large firms conspire to do all this together.

We are witnessing this in action even as we speak. Unlike one idiot's claim, it isn't global warming advocates who are destroying capitalism. It is the boosters of unregulated financial markets who managed it. Members of Congress, members of various Executive Branch departments, their cheerleaders in the media and academia and right-wing think tanks - these folks led the charge to let the markets do what they do best, and we are living with the results.

These same people demanded that government get out of the way. It did. We have been told, ever since the heady days of Ronald Reagan that government is the problem; Rush Limbaugh used to claim that there is no evidence any government program ever worked. All we needed to do was loose the shackles holding back markets and we would enter the gates of paradise, all of us wealthy beyond our dreams of avarice. Now, of course, as we lose our jobs, our homes, our sense of economic and financial security, everyone is scrambling for help. The first in line, of course, are those very same large firms that clamored the loudest for the state and its machinery to remove itself from the path to glory, hands out like Oliver Twist. More than any other reason, this is the reason for my own spiteful "Nein!" to these greedy merchants of economic destruction. You wanted it this way; all the "naysayers" said this would be the result, and you insisted it just couldn't be so, so you should just take the consequences of your stupid insistence that you wouldn't screw things up.

While I do not believe Marx was correct in his prescription - revolution makes things so much worse - especially since the remarkable success of various levels of social democracies in mitigating the social consequences of capitalism's destructive tendencies, I think the heart of his diagnosis is correct. We are living in the midst of it, after all.

Virtual Tin Cup

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