Karl Marx: Talking Points for Deplorables

So here we are at the bicentennial of the birth of Karl Marx in Trier, an ancient city that was once the capital of the Franks. Chuck was another of your Cinco de Mayo babies.

Let us celebrate the man who was fated to outdo Helen of Troy, the beauty that launched a thousand ships. Marx launched a million killers to help solve the overpopulation problem that so obsesses our lefty friends.

But let us remind the world that this fearless prognosticator was stunningly wrong on just about everything, and let us count the ways, so you can rag on your lefty friends whenever the mood takes you.

The story of the last 200 years has been one that Jonah Goldberg calls “The Miracle” and Deirdre McCloskey and I call the Great Enrichment. But back in 1818 when Marx was born, and in 1848 when the First Activist issued his Communist Manifesto, nobody knew that the Western world was on its way to an all-fronts upswing that would transform the lives, most particularly, of the poor and weak.

No Chuck, the bourgeoisie is not like the feudal lords. In the Communist Manifesto Marx naively assumed that the rising bourgeoisie would become a ruling class just like the feudal lords of old, exploiting and oppressing the rubes as the mood took them. That is why lefties ever since have been crouched in their lefty bunkers scanning the horizon looking the capitalist tanks making their breakout. But Marx got it wrong. The capitalists are just interested in dominating the market; they want to flood the world with products, not with soldiers. See, unlike all ruling classes down the ages, the capitalists, and the middle class are not that interested in political power. This is incomprehensible to graduates of Activism 101.

No Chuck, “surplus value” is not a crime against the workers.  In the view of Marx, the normal markup that employers apply to the cost of labor is stripping the workers of the value of their labor. La Wik:

According to Marx's theory, surplus value is equal to the new value created by workers in excess of their own labor-cost, which is appropriated by the capitalist as profit when products are sold.

Well, yes, you could put it like that, Chuck. Or you could say that the worker prefers to get a fixed hourly wage rather than deal with the gritty problems that employers must face: finding investors, finding markets, financing production and receivables, paying taxes, paying investors, listening to angry customers. Somebody has to pay for all that mindless busy-work, Chuck! But the real problem with Marx’s economics is that it was based on an analysis of classical economics, which was burdened with two conflicting theories of value: use value and exchange value. It wasn’t until just after Marx had issued volume one of Das Kapital that three economists in one year came up with the marginal revolution which threw use value and exchange value and Marxian economics onto the ash heap of history. Sorry about that, Chuck.

No Chuck, the workers are not going to get “immiserated.” Marx had a point. It is the natural tendency of every successful business to attract competitors so that the ensuing competition drives down profits and wages. According to Marx’s analysis this would end with the capitalists getting all the money and the workers and the petty bourgeoisie going to the wall. Actually, that is not quite what happens. Usually the capitalists lose their shirts too. What Marx couldn’t have known is that the camphine oil guys would get blindsided by John D. Rockefeller’s kerosene; buggy-whip makers would get blindsided by the auto revolution, mainframe computer makers would get blindsided by minicomputers, and then microcomputers, and then smartphones. Of course today the big worry is that automation and AI will eliminate all our jobs. Just like Karl Marx said.

No Chuck, the workers don’t need a revolution. In the 1840s rich kids like Karl Marx thought that the only way the workers could get justice was by revolution, baby. What ruling class had ever given up its power without being forced to? Again, he was wrong. The new bourgeoisie was open to allowing the workers into the system by giving them the vote. And women, and minorities. Slaves? Hey, let’s free them.

You may wonder why Marx couldn’t see the Miracle that was unfolding before his very eyes. I suspect there is something deeply Hegelian about that, equivalent to Hegel’s observation that the north pole of a magnet is identical to the south pole, only opposite.

Think of some snowflake kid, face buried in her smartphone on her way to the local artisanal coffee shop. What would she say if you told her that the classical climate scientists had got it all wrong, and their models were a crock?

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class