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April 09, 2019


David Friedman

"so Marxist don’t want to send their opponents to gulags."

Hard to do when you are not in power. Would you count the present government of Venezuela as Marxist? Cuba? Any past society? Does your "Marxism" mean the dictatorship of the proletariat or the hypothetical future of abundance?

Was Shaw a Marxist? In The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, he wrote:

"Compulsory social service is so unanswerably right that the very first duty of a government is to see that everybody works enough to pay her way and leave something over for the profit of the country and the improvement of the world"

I can't speak to Tories, but not a very libertarian position.

You are correct to point out Marx's high opinion of the past achievements of capitalism, and I had much the same reaction as Samuelson to reading Capital.

But it's worth noting that Marx was not a very good Ricardian. As best I can tell, he entirely missed Ricardo's point that the natural wage depended on the tastes of the workers. And the business of value (labor input) not representing actual exchange value in Marx seems to come out of ignoring the fact that Ricardo was using a model where all production had the same ratio of capital to labor, so that his theory is no more a labor theory of value than it is a capital theory of value. And Ricardo, instead of using a Marxist kludge, simply estimates how much his simplified assumption will distort relative prices.

I'm not a Tory but a libertarian, and I don't see anything very libertarian in Marxism, either as Marx wrote it or as it has developed since.

N. N.

"Any past society?"

Finland, January to May 1918. Hungary, March to August 1919. Bavaria, April to May 1919. San Marino, 1945 to 1957. Czechoslovakia, January to August 1968. To list the first five to come to mind.

"Was Shaw a Marxist?"

As much as a libertarian hero such as James Buchanan was a libertarian when he excoriated "a generalized erosion in public and private manners, increasingly liberalized attitudes toward sexual activities, a declining vitality of the Puritan work ethic" as having caused the mid-1970s inflation explosion.

"I don't see anything very libertarian in Marxism, either as Marx wrote it or as it has developed since."

I would go as far as to say that if you don't see the huge amount in Marx's writings that is libertarian, either you haven't read them (beyond Capital) or you aren't much of a libertarian yourself.

David Friedman

San Marino is the only one that lasted for more than a year, and I can't find any description online of what the actual policies of the communist-Socialist coalition government were. So far as I can tell by descriptions of current conditions, it ended up as an ordinary private property system.

In what senses were the policies of the coalition Marxist? Can you point me at a clearer description than I was able to find?

In your quote from Buchanan and Wagner (1977), you have the causality backwards. The claim was that inflation caused those things, not that those things caused inflation.

Donald A. Coffin

In the US, the Wall Street Journal is the leading source of using "socialism" as a general "this is bad" indicator. Today's (April 9) example comes in a review (which is headlined "What Socialism Gets Wrong") of "Big Business: A Love Letter to the American Anti-Hero" (Tyler Cowen).

My own attitude is that I will possibly take the WSJ seriously when they start publishing articles titled "What Capitalism Gets Wrong."


Marx said “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

Modern Marxists often try to soften this blunt idea, insisting they don’t want to confiscate your “personal” private property. They only want to confiscate the bits of your private property which you can use as capital assets: the bits you can use to generate a private income. So you can keep your toothbrush. But your mobile phone, your laptop, your Twitter and Youtube accounts - even, if you’re Chris Dillow, your “Stumbling And Mumbling” blog - all of these can be used as capital assets, so all will have to be confiscated under a Marxist dispensation.

Such massive confiscation could only be implemented with massive state coercion. Stalin and Mao were maybe only 10% as totalitarian as a truly Marxist government would have to be if it was going to confiscate everything which someone somewhere might be able to use as a capital asset.


"It is crude philistinism. But then, perhaps that is all the Tories have nowadays."



You seem to be arguing that there are no “wicked problems”, there are no trade-offs; there are only problems which “capitalism” can’t resolve perfectly. (In the cases you cite, the word “capitalism” actually seems to mean “government policy”. Economies consisting of nothing but worker co-ops and/or state nationalised industries would have exactly the same problems.)

To take your minimum wage example: there are so many conditional factors. A booming economy with massive shortages of unskilled labour will tend to have more success with raising the statutory minimum wage than a low growth economy that’s also experiencing a rising supply of unemployed, unskilled workers as a result of demographic change. And just because raising the minimum wage by 10% might be effective, it doesn’t follow that raising it by 1,000,000% would be.

The real choice is between 1) only raising the minimum wage by legislative fiat, and otherwise leaving the economy alone, and 2) changing the economic facts on the ground by Keynesian public works programs designed to boost the demand for unskilled labour. I’m in favour of the latter. It worked pretty well after 1945.


@David Friedman, whiff of cognitive dissonance in the air?


"There has always been a big libertarian strand within Marxist though"

Far from it, the libertarian marxist tendency has always been very much a minority trend. The followers of Lenin outnumbered the council communists by quite a number, for example. As Guerin was well aware of.

And, clearly, many commentators here do not realise that "libertarian" was stolen from the left by the American right in the 1950s:

160 Years of Libertarian

In terms of Marx, the "Civil War in France" has a distinctly libertarian feel -- but then again, it is mostly reporting on a revolt in which the followers of Proudhon were very influential. Sadly, he seems to have quickly rejected the Commune's federalism and returned to his support for centralisation.

David Friedman

"And, clearly, many commentators here do not realise that "libertarian" was stolen from the left by the American right in the 1950s"

In response to the left stealing "liberal" from us.

The left's title to "libertarian" was a bit dubious, since they had stolen it from one side of the free will/determinism debate.

Nick Drew

Capitalism isn't an ideology, it's a description of one highly significant facet of human nature; and 'it' is perennially much more flexible and adaptive than Marxists give it credit for

hence Marx's risible sense of timing as regards when the conditions for the Revolution - under his own theory! - would come about

we are a long way from a state of global abundance and global immiseration, however much it looks like that to an unhappy 28-yr old graduate barista still living with his parents

“Marx misjudged the smarts of the capitalist class” (Brian Leiter) - and ideologues maintaining fundamentally flawed theories (essentially, religions) are dangerous in power


“Marx misjudged the smarts of the capitalist class”

In all fairness who could have foreseen their astounding gift for segmenting, valorising and/or demonising those they push around - there was when Marx was writing no reason to suspect this and no indication they'd be able to.

With respect for Marx's breathtaking analytical skills, one could scarcely expect him to anticipate such ruthlessly optimised exemplars of capitalist realism as say, Stuart Hall, Paul Mason, Raheem Sterling or Laurie Penny. These artefacts/symptoms strike me as perfectly unanticipatable before, at the earliest, the late sixties.


“Marxism is empirical”


From Leszek Kolakowski, “Main Currents Of Marxism”, p.290:

“It is clear, however, that Marx was determined to find in capitalism a relentless tendency to degrade the worker, and that he resisted facts which indicated than the worker was getting better off. Bertram Wolfe has pointed out that in the first edition of Capital various statistics are brought down to 1865 or 1866, but those for the movement of wages stop at 1850; in the second edition (1873) the statistics are brought up to date, again with the exception of those on wages, which had failed to bear out the impoverishment theory. This is a rare but important case of disingenuousness in Marx’s treatment of factual data.”

Robert Mitchell

I thought about Marx's concessions to capitalist-driven progress as I was engulfed by roadside pollution on a walk this morning. I bet most people before capitalist enclosure were happier than most now. The rise in suicides supports my contention. Suicides are three times homicides in your capitalist "progressive" society ...


There has been no rise in the suicide rate in the UK or US over the past 50 years - quite the reverse...

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