Wednesday, May 06, 2009


I read this piece at Foreign Policy by Matt Yglesias that extols the brilliance of Karl Marx, expecially now that we are undergoing one of the episodic "kinks" inherent in capitalism. In, "When it Comes to Marx, There's No Time Like the Present, Yglesias basically says that in our current economic crisis, we have a lot to learn from Karl Marx, whose "idea that wealth and power have a tremendous ability to gin up self-justifying narratives. Global elites' curious passivity in the face of the growing housing bubble was an excellent example."

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner takes issue with Marx and Yglesias' praises of his forsight (read the whole critique):
But Yglesias' whole ode to Marx rests on Marx's insight that capitalist systems have periodic crises....

Well, if you want to give Marx full and sole credit for the insights that capitalism hits the occasional speed bump or that wealthy and powerful people self-servingly justify their own status, you're free to do so. But my guess is that you can find people making the second point in the Bible (Hebrew and Christian), among the ancient Greeks and Romans, in Confucian China and amongst all of the philosophes of France.

As for the first point, well, here's the thing: Every human thing has "periodic episodes of crisis." It is an eternal trope of leftism to assign to its enemies problems that are generic to humanity itself.

Is it remotely true that socialism doesn't have "periodic episodes of crisis"? Communism? Fabianism? Feudalism? And, let's not just consider grand experiments in political economy. Families have such episodes, businesses, religions, sports teams, political parties, individuals (both in terms of their health and emotional state) even ecosystems and solar systems have their down times, if one can be forgiven for anthropomorphizing them.

Physicists, geologists, sociologists, biologists, psychologists and historians can each tell you how there are discernible patterns to their subjects, that small problems or tensions or contradictions build until they bring about a "crisis "and then there's a new equilibrium. So it is with we call capitalism. (Indeed, this is a very Marxist-Hegelian point).

Now, the political Marxist will tell you that there's some internal Hegelian mechanism unique to capitalism that makes it different than other systems (using the broadest definition of system possible). Eschewing the desire to simply say "you're wrong," we can concede the point without losing much. Because it is also true — as Marx himself would admit with only a few caveats — that capitalism is also the best system ever created for generating wealth. Marx's insight that capitalism has its bad moments hardly trumps the now equally proven benefits of capitalism.

But, (and here's the essential thing) there is a very important reason that capitalism is the best system ever created for generating wealth: IT IS BECAUSE CAPITALISM DOES NOT NEED TO CHANGE HUMAN NATURE TO WORK IN THE REAL WORLD.

Let me explain that more fully. In 2005, Will Wilkenson wrote a piece titled "Capitalism and Human Nature"; in it he noted:

In the spring of 1845, Karl Marx wrote, ". . . the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations." Marx's idea was that a change in the "ensemble of social relations" can change "the human essence."

In June 2004 the communist North Korean government issued a statement to its starving citizens recommending the consumption of pine needles. Pyongyang maintained that pine needle tea could effectively prevent and treat cancer, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, cerebral hemorrhage, and even turn grey hair to black.

Tragically, human nature isn't at all as advertised, and neither is pine needle tea. According to the U.S. State Department, at least one million North Koreans have died of famine since 1995.

Marx's theory of human nature, like Kim Jong Il's theory of pine needle tea, is a biological fantasy, and we have the corpses to prove it. Which may drive us to wonder: if communism is deadly because it is contrary to human nature, does that imply that capitalism, which is contrary to communism, is distinctively compatible with human nature?

Among all known social, political and economic systems, democratic capitalism is the one that is most consistent with human nature.

  • Far from encouraging the "survival of the fittest" or even a "dog-eat-dog" animal mentality, capitalism simultaneously encourages cooperation for mutually beneficial trade and for competition.

  • Far from encouraging war and dominance; capitalism encourages trust and human cooperation; as well as alliances to maximize productivity and wealth creation.

  • Far from concentrating all wealth in the hands of a few, capitalism makes it possible for anyone to accumulate wealth (contrast for example the number of people who earn over $100,000 a year in the U.S., with those do in Cuba. The only really wealthy person there is Fidel Castro and his cronies. Likewise, in any collectivist system you will find that the only wealthy people are the thugs in control and their cronies. It is certainly true that "the rich get richer" under capitalism--but so do the poor; and, that happens because the creation of wealth is not a zero-sum game.

  • Envy is a real human emotion that is often destructive socially and personally, but only in a capitalist system can one transform one's psychological envy into socially acceptable and personally positive actions that improve one's own lot without stealing or looting from others, or attacking and destroying them.

  • Human nature is what it is. This is not tragic, it is simple truth.

    When it comes to understanding human nature, the left and their do-gooder utopian fantasies get failing marksMarx. They have a persistent biological fantasy that human nature is 'perfectable'; and that by some magical means, the implementation of their 'perfect' ideology will force people to behave in some 'perfect' fashion. Their delusional biological and psychological hallucinations about human nature always end in misery, suffering and death for large numbers of imperfect homo sapiens wherever it is implemented. No matter how many times this happens, the die-hard Marxists, communists, ocialists and all their variants and heirs keep trying force humans into some "ideal" state.

    All their attempts and systems failed the real-world tests in the last century; and all current versions of these ideologies will also eventually fail and fade away (even Obama's). To the extent that they attempt to incorporate some aspects of "human nature" into their failing system, they may last a bit longer (e.g., China); but it is much more likely that human nature will transform the ideology than the reverse.

    The one good thing about Marx's motivations is that, from all I have read about him, he genuinely thought of himself as a "humanist" who wanted to free the human spirit with his theories. Unfortunately, he never fully appreciated how his theories would be used to enslave the human mind (or, perhaps he had a some sense of the evil he had unleashed when he exclaimed later in his life, "I am NOT a Marxist!") Like his heirs today, he meant well.

    Too bad, so sad that his 'good' intentions have caused so much fanatical revolutionary fervor and so much death and oppression.

    Indeed, even in the most benign application of his economic ideas we can learn a few lessons--though not the ones that Mr. Yglesias' supposes.

    In a recent Washington Times article, we learn that:
    Democrats like to define themselves as the party of poor and middle-income Americans, but a new study says they now represent the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional districts.

    In a state-by-state, district-by-district comparison of wealth concentrations based on Internal Revenue Service income data, Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, found that the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional jurisdictions were represented by Democrats.

    He also found that more than half of the wealthiest households were concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats hold both Senate seats....

    Mr. Franc's study also showed that contrary to the Democrats' tendency to define Republicans as the party of the rich, "the vast majority of unabashed conservative House members hail from profoundly middle-income districts."

    Heh. These rich 'cultural Marxists' identify themselves as Democrats because it is just so cool and hip--and virtuous--to champion the 'poor and oppressed.' How unfortunate for them that this virtuousness requires them to nurture and maintain a never-ending supply of the 'poor and oppressed'; and to encourage and support victimhood and entitlement.

    The truth is that the poor who are not brainwashed by this victimhood/oppression BS, aspire to the middle class and want to be free to improve their lives and those of their children. Most normal people don't want endless handouts, bailouts or pity. Nor do they want to be the recipient of some do-gooder's endless charity when it is based on the assumption that they are somehow inferior or defective and can't possibly be successful without being perpetually 'championed'. Funny, isn't it, that in spite of all the billions of dollars spent on the poor, it only seems to perpetuate their poverty? The old saying, "“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime" comes to mind; but the last thing that the left or Democrats; or Marxists really want is for the poor to become independent of their virtuous and compassionate largesse.

    Back in the 30's and 40's it became increasingly clear to Marxists and their ilk that something was fundamentally wrong with the master's economic hypotheses. Like the followers of Jesus, they had been waiting a long time for the second coming,and they expected the collapse of capitalism at any moment. In fact, they were greatly encouraged by the Great Depresion and were certain that it was imminent.

    But like a bad dream, capitalism just wouldn't go away, and instead of collapsing, it rebounded stronger than ever.

    Why, they wondered anxiously, are the proletariat not rising up in rebellion against the oppressive forces of capitalism?

    Far from rising up against their "oppressors", that same proletariat were buying into the capitalist system and the "American Dream" in large numbers. The sharp differences between the classes were slowly eroding, and more and more of those in poverty were finding their way into the middle class, thus gaining hope for themselves and their children.

    Not only that, to the great astonishment of the socialists etc., the "oppressed" proletariat seemed relatively happy and content with their lot!

    Happy and content people do not generally initiate violent revolutions nor rise up against their so-called oppressors--particularly when they don't feel oppressed, but feel empowered.

    And, furthermore, much to the puzzlement and subsequent rage of these same intellectuals, in those places in the world where socialist and communist theory had triumphed, wealth was disappearing; initiative was in decline; and the human misery index was climbing. This was the legacy of Marx's "social justice".

    Instead of creating a utopia for the proletariat, Marx and his theories only generated the conditions for societal suicide.

    The clever capitalist system was actually co-opting the oppressed workers, and helping them enter the dreaded "middle class"!

    Marx always expected that the middle class would disappear as capitalism developed, since he believed that the only sustainable positions were the ones of his dialectic.

    That is not what actually happens in the real world as it turns out.

    Whenever people are given political liberty and allowed to pursue their own happiness (and not the mandates of the state), the ranks of the middle class expand and grow stronger.

    In fact, the values and ideals of this particular economic group have come to anchor society in the United States.

    Far from wanting to ignite a worker's revolution as Marx predicted, they enjoy the creature comforts of the capitalist system and feel themselves empowered by it. Worse (from the communist/socialist's perspective anyway), the typical person in the middle class believes that he or she can better themselves by using the many opportunities offered by a liberal, capitalistic democracy.

    Even in Communist China, capitalistic pursuits and entrepreneurship have become the true "opiates" of the masses--in the sense that to the degree people are free to pursue their own happiness and work for their own interests--i.e., where they have economic freedom, even if they don't have political freedom-- they are relatively content, and are unlikely to fulfill the ardent communist/socialist's revolutionary fantasies.

    From a joint post written by Dr. Sanity and SC&A some months back:
    ...a successful middle class demands that government answer to them, and not the other way around. Democracies are not developed or sustained by the political extremes- they are the trust and legacy of a vibrant, functioning middle class....

    In the most successful societies there is a large middle class, and anyone has the potential to succeed if they have a good idea, commitment to work and plenty of drive. America, Canada, the UK, Australia and Israel are all examples of societies that while very different, are very successful. As barriers to entry into the middle class becomes more onerous and difficult, requiring expensive and hard to obtain permits and licenses; societies are less successful and become progressively more likely to fail. The nations of the Arab world is a good example of that. There is no middle class in most of the middle east; only an elite, plundering class who are the beneficiaries of the oil wealth the land is blessed with; and a lower class, condemned by the elites to poverty, ignorance and oppression.

    When there are few barriers to entering the free market, then the middle class can thrive; and the more successful the entrepreneurs and community becomes, the greater the stake the people have in maintaining peace and prosperity.

    Thus they become true conservatives. Is it any wonder then that the backbone of society--the hard-working middle class, middle-income Americans-- lean toward the Republican party? Is it any wonder that the Democrats constantly seek to identify and define more victim classes that they can virtuously champion. So much so that their creative imaginations are able to see victims everywhere and reward them for their victim status; as well as to nurture their grievances and envy.

    So, how do we explain those many wealthy individuals who make up the ranks of the Democrats--the closest thing we have to the socialist party here in the U.S., and under Obama and his leftist base, asymtotically approaching a neo-Marxist socialist party?

    Having achieved a degree of success and/or wealth in our free society, a person who has worked their way out of the middle class (or out of poverty) is then subjected to a constant barrage of both subtle and overt messages created to make him/her feel guilty for doing so. Propaganda aimed at discrediting "the rich" (who actually pay a disproportionate amount of taxes to begin with) is pervasive and unrelenting. The Democrats use this rhetoric all the time to stoke the fires of class warfare.

    This was not always the case. Once upon a time in America there was a certain pride that came with the "rags to riches" story that many Americans lived. Both Democrats and Republicans believed that this was a country where it was understood that if you worked hard, you could get ahead; make something of yourself and even become President someday! There were no social or class restraints imposed in America and that's why people came to this country to begin with. Equal opportunity meant that anyone with an idea or talent could make a successful life for themselves.

    But equal opportunity gradually morphed into a demand for equality of outcome. And that if you don't have what the other guy has, then it must be becaused you have been oppressed by the other guy--after all, you can only get ahead by stepping on someone else. Your gain MUST be someone else's loss.

    Here is where the Marxist garbage of "oppressor vs oppressed" has had the most impact on American society. Having been taught from kindergarden on that capitalism is a zero-sum game (and by definition, evil) many Americans have difficulty in thinking of resources or wealth as ever-expanding, and tend to think that someone else's gain must be their loss. If you have only two choices--to be either an "oppressor" or one of the "oppressed", most people would generally prefer the latter because it means they must be nicer people.

    This kind of thinking inevitably leads to envy, and a cult of victimhood with all the associated social and political conflicts those emotions generate. Envy, in particular, is the lovely human emotion that drives all socialist systems; and it exists in pure, unadulterated and vicious form in those systems.

    And, in answer to the unspoken question, yes; capitalism also thrives on envy--and even greed.

    But, capitalism within a democratic and politically free system of government offers a healthy channel for the redirection of negative emotions like envy and greed into something positive for both the individual and the larger society.

    Something, I might add, that Marxism, socialism and all its malignant variants completely fail to do. You cannot escape the reality of this dark side of human nature. You can either channel that dark side and use it constructively to benefit the individual and incidentally the society he lives in; or you can encourage and facilitate it in all its destructive power, and by doing so create the hell on earth we've come to associate with communist and marxist societies.

    I'm sure that the usual accusations will instantly be hurled at me for saying such a thing. The victims of the world will rise up against intellectual oppressors like me someday and....wait a minute! Doesn't that proposed scenario sound strangely familiar? Since I started writing this blog, I have been taken to task by the left about how everything economic position I take is "socially unjust" and that policies like that will "impact the poor most of all..."; that conservatism is racist, sexist, or some other such nonsense. I'm sure I will get emails describing how such insensitive suggestions will result in harming little children and puppies disproportionately and without compassion.

    But, no matter what they say about my motives, it remains a fact that poverty and misery have a cure; and that cure is capitalism and freedom.

    When it comes to understanding human nature and encouraging the development of healthy psychological and behavioral strategies for positively channeling destructive human emotions, capitalism has nothing to fear from collectivism of any stripe. As Goldberg notes, "It is an eternal trope of leftism to assign to its enemies problems that are generic to humanity itself."

    I have pointed out repeatedly that this tendency is actually a psychological projection--a way of disowning this unpleasant aspect of human nature in themselves--leaving them free to pursue their Marxist/Utopian delusions.

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