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He wrote:

Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance in that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association of medieval commune [4]: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterward, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general — the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative state, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

Maybe Karl Marx was one of the earliest public choice economists? Is this not an excellent description of the rise of the modern corporate state? Funny, because Marx’s solution to this “government capture” is pretty similar to what the modern Progressive ones espouse – eliminate “C”apitalism.  Even if his characterization of Capitalism were right (and it is not entirely), do we not find ourselves in an awkward position? Let me restate the problem:

  1. Thing A has some good aspects and some bad ones
  2. Thing B has some good aspects and some bad ones
  3. When Thing A and Thing B get together, some seriously bad stuff happens (assume that for now)
  4. Therefore, eliminate Thing A entirely.

I can get most of the way through point 3. But does 4 follow? Is there any reason to wish to destroy A instead of B? Not if your only care is that the bad things in 4 do not happen. Destroying either A or B would do the trick. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but all I see here is yet again another “start with the ending” defense of government. You see, government, capitalism and human nature do not mix well, so lets kill capitalism, because you just cannot kill the other two. It should be funny then to see how hard the actual Marxists tried to kill human nature when they realized that killing capitalism was not enough. My point of course is that this was always about power, political power, and it continues to be about power, political power. Give it up. It really is not becoming of you.

4 Responses to “In Which I Agree with Karl Marx, Partly”

  1. Michael says:

    Douglass North wrote an article, “Is it worth making sense of Marx?” He makes the case that it is since Marx includes a lot of institutional things that aren’t typically included in economic analysis. My own thoughts tend to disagree with North; I think there are plenty of modern writers who would include the institutional variables that Marx used, and are clearer in the style of writing.

    Hmm, maybe another good article would be, “Is it worth making sense of Krugman?” I guess for both Marx and Krugman, they both on occasion have some really great insights, but it is difficult and time consuming to get through all of the other junk they write. Then you have to be able to recognize the good insights from the junk.

  2. Harry says:

    Stephen Spruiell wrote a cover story in the latest issue for NR. Since I am not a regular reader of the Times op ed page (only on Holland America, where the Times digest is free of charge), I am not an expert on his sayings.

    For my money, Bastiat is more illuminating about the bougeoisie than Marx, especially when it comes to candlemakers.

  3. Harry says:

    I meant to say, “wrote a piece about Paul Krugman.

    Maybe there is someone on campus who subscribes to National Review. Gets it in a brown wrapper delivered to an off-campus PO box.

  4. june says:

    The sole fact that you discern a “purely” political State as opposed to capitalism brings you far away from Marx. For Marx the modern State is, first and foremost, a capitalist State. This was not because He thought of the State as a supposedly “true hand” behind an illusory nature of the market. At the contrary, Marx labelled the modern state as “capitalist” because He conceived It as shaped by the class forces which emerge from capitalism. The modern State is for sure more an instrument of capital than the latter an instrument of the former. The end of capitalism will entail the end of the capitalist state, i.e. the end of the state as a means of perpetuation of capitalism. In this sense Marx speaks about the “end of the state”, which has to be transformed if the proletariat wants to take the power. It is the loss of a social function, all the other changes being functional to that.

    So you cannot really discribe this using a dualism of the kind “state vs capitalism -> eliminate capitalism, Marx says”. For that matter, Marx envisioned socialism embodying many features of capitalism, as money, civil liberties, a social fund of surplus labour (i.e. socialised profit, but still profit) and enterprises. There is a lot of capitalism in Marx’s socialism, go read The critique of the Ghota Programme, you will find lines against vulgar egalitarianism resembling far more Mendeville or Smith than Lenin.

    State and markets are criticized by Marx only to the extent that they are exploited -note that word- by a specific class, which is a particular class, a minority. In the end, the “state” and the “market” are just two of the hypothetically infinite combinations of “taxis” and “cosmos”, “self-organization” and “hierarchy”, and these are universal abstract concepts, nothing peculiar to capitalism. What is peculiar to capitalism is the way those organizational forms are governed and appropriated by a minority, which finds the power to do this by the way the production process is organized. Of course they don’t need to be personally in charge of the State, as the people will be elected to do the job will more or less forcefully have to follow the rules of the game, like your quotation roughly affirm.

    Of course, it is possible to argue -and in fact it is the dominant interpretation- that Marx thought that the historical evolution of mankind was closing the efficacy-window for the more “spontaneous” organizational forms while laying the ground for the triumph of more formalized, conscious forms of government of society. This view -which by the way does not indicate any specific method and can be compatible with the most long-term, evolutionary and anti-utopistic stance- equate the “socialization” of the conditions of reproduction of human society, which is the basic idea of Marx, with the rise of the hierarchical organization. Altought It is fairly clear that actual historical development of human societies saw epoch-making jumps of concentration of power and rising hierarchical forms, similar points can be made about the rise of markets and intangible, non formalized social relations. Marx wrote about both, and often relating them to each other. Had He really wanted just to eliminate spontaneity to let formalized behaviour flourish, his analytical task would have been far less tricky, complicated and interesting. Actually, Marx’s most polemic lines against capitalism almost invariably underline the reversal of a supposed freedom in its contrary, of individuality in mass stupidity, of free citizenship in state violence against individuals, of free creative work in alienating repetition of predetermined tasks etc. The view of a Marx ardently supportive of beureaucratic measures and central planning soviet style is highly misleading and couldn’t mistify more the nature of Marx’s intellectual attempt, whether it will ever be realized or not.
    hint: Marx, Hayek and Utopia, by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, SUNY press, 199?.

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