A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Was Marx Right?

Terry Eagleton thinks so. Inhis article in the current issue of Commonweal, he makes the case for a reconsideration of Marxist theory in the aftermath of the economic crisis that began three years ago.

In our own time, as Marx predicted, inequalities of wealth have dramatically deepened. The income of a single Mexican billionaire today is equivalent to the earnings of the poorest 17 million of his compatriots. Capitalism has created more prosperity than history has ever witnessed, but the costnot least in the near destitution of billionshas been astronomical. According to the World Bank, 2.74 billion people in 2001 lived on less than two dollars a day. We face a probable future of nuclear-armed states warring over a scarcity of resources; and that scarcity is largely the consequence of capitalism itself. Capitalism will behave antisocially if it is profitable for it to do so, and that can now mean human devastation on an unimaginable scale. What used to be apocalyptic fantasy is today no more than sober realism. The traditional leftist slogan Socialism or barbarism was never more grimly apposite, never less of a mere rhetorical flourish.

Eagleton considers the argument that Marxism has been forever discredited by Stalin, Mao, et al. -- the argument that, in practice, socialism will always mean totalitarianism. Heinsists there were always good Marxist reasons to doubt that socialism could succeed in early-twentieth-century Russia and mid-century China:

It is not that the building of socialism cannot be begun in deprived conditions. It is rather that without material resources it will tend to twist into the monstrous caricature of socialism known as Stalinism. The Bolshevik revolution soon found itself besieged by imperial Western armies, as well as threatened by counterrevolution, urban famine, and a bloody civil war. With a narrow capitalist base, disastrously low levels of material production, scant traces of civil institutions, a decimated, exhausted working class, peasant revolts, and a swollen bureaucracy to rival the tsars, the revolution was in deep trouble almost from the outset. In the end, the Bolsheviks were to march their starving, despondent, war-weary people into modernity at the point of a gun.Marx himself was a critic of rigid dogma, military terror, political suppression, and arbitrary state power. He believed that political representatives should be accountable to their electors, and castigated the German Social Democrats of his day for their statist politics. He insisted on free speech and civil liberties, was horrified by the forced creation of an urban proletariat (in his case in England rather than Russia), and held that common ownership in the countryside should be a voluntary rather than coercive process. Yet as one who recognized that socialism cannot thrive in poverty-stricken conditions, he would have understood perfectly how the Russian revolution came to be lost.

And since Marx thought he was offering a theory of history, rather than an ahistorical prescription, it would not have embarrassed him-- it didn't embarrass him -- that socialism may require capitalism to establish the material conditions that make socialism possible.As for the record of horrible crimes committed in the name of socialism,Eagleton asks why we don't apply the same kind of historical accounting to other political traditions:

Imagine a slightly crazed capitalist outfit that tried to turn a premodern tribe into a set of ruthlessly acquisitive, technologically sophisticated entrepreneurs speaking the jargon of public relations and free-market economics, all in a surreally short period of time. Does the fact that the experiment would almost certainly prove less than dramatically successful constitute a fair condemnation of capitalism? Surely not. To think so would be as absurd as claiming that the Girl Scouts should be disbanded because they cannot solve certain tricky problems in quantum physics. Marxists do not believe that the mighty liberal lineage from Thomas Jefferson to John Stuart Mill is annulled by the existence of secret CIA-run prisons for torturing Muslims, even though such prisons are part of the politics of todays liberal societies. Yet the critics of Marxism are rarely willing to concede that show trials and mass terror are no refutation of it.

In the new book from which his essay is adapted, Eagleton considers several other common objections to Marxism -- as that it strips people of their freedom and individuality, or springs from a naive understanding of human nature, or reduces everything to economics. (As a good student of Aquinas, Eagleton has organized the book as a series of shortvideturs followed by chapter-length sed contras.) The Commonweal essay alone won't convince the unconvinced, but it might get you to read the whole book, and that might get you to read, or reread, some Marx.

About the Author

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

I'm not sure that socialism has the answers but what about the NYT article that GE pays no income taxes on 14 billion profit. and wants money back for past years! The 2010 GE tax form runs to 24 thousand pages..the final line says ZERO. And 60 Minutes last night shows US big corps moving to mailbox headquarters in Switzerland and Ireland to avoid taxes. The TP wackos and Repub. allies are still worrying about the poor, the working class and the un-employed getting too many benefits.Imagine the millions of workers who are filling out tax forms in the next few weeks knowing GE pays nothing; and the TP wackos want to reduce the funding for IRS audit agents!And the Wall Streeters paying only 15% on their capital gains ; that's if, they report ALL their gains. The limos on the LI expressway to the Hampton's ring aloud with laughter. Scheeeze

If Americans ever catch on how badly the non-rich have been treated by our economic laws, I fear that Marxism will finally rear its simplistic head in the USofA. Oh, it won't be called Marxism -- some smart theorist will translate Marx into American lingo, disavow parts of it (e.g., its atheism), give the theory a new name, and hardly anyone will recognize it as Marxist socialism because Americans have known only a characature of Marx and simply can't believe that Marx could be relevant. I wonder who the new Marx will be. If his rhetoric is half as effective as the rhetoric of the original one, we're in for trouble.

Now it's not going to be simply "Commonweal Catholics." It's going to be "Marxist Commonweal Catholics."

David, I'm sure many of the people who are used to complaining about "Commonweal Catholics" would consider the term "Marxist Commonweal Catholics" to be redundant -- having read neither Marx nor Commonweal. But as far as I'm concerned, there's no harm in your new expression if it just means that among those who read Commonweal there are some (very few, actually) who either consider themselves Marxists or are at least sympathetic to certain elements of Marxist theory. And if a Marxist is anyone who bothers to read Marx with the expectation he might learn something, then many good liberals and social democrats can honorably volunteer for the designation.Ann, perhaps you could tell us exactly which parts of Marxism you find most troubling, apart from atheism, which in any case you seem to consider incidental to the danger Marxism poses -- since your "new Marx" can simply disavow it and carry on with the rest of his terrible program.

David,Well, in the 19th century, 1884 to 1895, The Commonweal was a journal published by The Socialist League. Take it as you want. ;)

The lack of critical thinking is evident here: "Capitalism has created more prosperity than history has ever witnessed, but the costnot least in the near destitution of billionshas been astronomical. According to the World Bank, 2.74 billion people in 2001 lived on less than two dollars a day."How is this the "cost" of capitalism? To demonstrate that, one would need to show that prior to capitalism, a greater percentage of the world's population had more money to live on than $2 a day. What he says right now is the equivalent of saying: "Look at the enormous cost of broadband to society: there are millions of people who are now on dialup!" Well, that's not a cost of broadband -- it's not as if everyone used to have broadband and has now been forced onto dialup.

Though I do not advocate either Marx's own "scientific socialism" or the Leninist-Stalinist- Mao versions of it, I find it very hard not to see how prescient the "Communist Manifesto" is in its analysis of the thrust of capitalism. It is, I think, impossible to endorse the present politico-economic practice called modern Capitalism. Regrettably, whatever virtues one may find in European social democracy or French socialism have not proven that they can effectively withstand the force of today's global capitalism. but the sheer fact that there is no apparent alternative to present global capitalism hardly serves as either a political or moral justification for either its theory or its practice. So far as I can see, Catholic social thought ever since Rerum Novarum has consistently been as odds with modern capitalism and has been right to be so.

Not sure how long this thread will run, but the short answer is that no; Marx was not correct.

Careful, Bernard - you'll be accused of lack of "critical thinking."

"There is, however, another sense in which socialism is thought by some to be unworkable. Even if you were to build it under affluent conditions, how could you possibly run a complex modern economy without markets? The answer for a growing number of Marxists is that you do not need to. Markets in their view would remain an integral part of a socialist economy. So-called market socialism envisages a future in which the means of production would be socially owned, but where self-governing cooperatives would compete with one another in the marketplace. In this way, some of the virtues of the market could be retained, while some of its vices could be shed. At the level of individual enterprises, cooperation would ensure increased efficiency, since the evidence suggests that it is almost always as efficient as capitalist enterprise and often much more so. At the level of the economy as a whole, competition ensures that the informational, allocation, and incentive problems associated with the traditional Stalinist model of central planning do not arise."God preserve us from another utopian project.

Was there ever a timelier article? American economic textbooks used to routinely dismiss Marx in 4 pages, but the turbulence of recent years is bound to send us back to his subtle and intelligent analyses, which of course need to be updated. I remember how Marx disappeared in Europe in the 1970s. Fashionable philosophers like Lyotard coupled Marx and Freud in their titles at the start of that decade, and at the end the meretricious "nouveaux philosophes" had taken over. Derridians and Foucauldians tried to make gestures in a Marxist direction but the wind of the weltgeist was against them; Derrida produced a travesty called "Specters of Marx" -- impotent musings of a prof who had intended to read Marx in his youth. The Vatican suppression of liberation theology rode on that crest, the option for Dives against Lazarus.

The nuclear angst of Japan is perhaps another of the costs of capitalism.

I do not recall reading an article with which I had so much to disagree. As I understand these matters, Marx is wrong in both theory and in empirical analysis. And capitalism, understood for more than 30 years now in terms of economic globalization is far from the disaster portrayed in the essay.Marx is wrong in theory for at least three reasons:1) The marginalist movement in economics led by William Stanley Jevons, Leon Walras, and Carl Menger, demonstrates that economic value is subjective. Thus, it is entirely market driven, and bears no intrinsic relation to labor (here the marginalists respond not just to Marx, but to Adam Smith and David Ricardo, two capitalists who also affirmed an intrinsic theory of value)2) The "waiting" problem identified by Eugen Bohm-Bawerk shows that labor must always depend on capital because while investors must wait for their investments, products, and services to yield a return, workers need to get paid right away for what they produce, before it is sold, and so their income is only made possible by borrowed capital.3) The transformation problem: Marx's labor theory of value argues that labor intensive businesses should be more profitable than capital intensive businesses, but empirical evidence proves this to be wrong over and over. In fact, Marx himself promised to solve this problem in future editions of Capital, and Engels even offered a prize for many years to anyone who could solve the problem. No one ever claimed the prize. (This analysis of Marx is taken from Mark Skousen's Making Modern Economics: The Lives and Ideas of Great Thinkers (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001), Chapters 6-7).Marx is empirically wrong. Jerry Muller writes, One would never know from Marxs portrait of the British working class of his time that the real wages of factory workers rose by 17 percent between 1850 and 1865, or that the average number of hours worked per week by full-time workers was actually falling (Jerry Z. Muller, The Mind and The Market: Capitalism in Western Thought (New York: Anchor Books, 2002), 202). Additionally, Marx was wrong about working conditions in industrialized Britain. Muller continues, Much of the testimony available to Marx came from government inspectors, who used their positions to call attention to factories that were abusing laws that had already been enacted and were in the process of being enforced. Many of the most egregious examples cited came from industries that were far from typical (Muller, Mind and the Market, 201-202).Capitalism over the last two centuries has done at least two things remarkably well; 1) Increase wealth; and 2) Reduce poverty and conditions related to poverty."According to data compiled by Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong, it took 12,000 years to inch from the $90 per-person hunter-gatherer economy to the roughly $150 per-person economy of the Ancient Greeks in 1000 BC. It wasnt until 1750 AD, when world gross domestic product (GDP) per person reached around $180, that the figure had finally managed to double from our hunter-gatherer days 15,000 years ago. In the mid-eighteenth century, something extraordinary happened world GDP per person increased 37-fold in an incredibly short 250 years to its current level of $6,600, with the richest societiesclimbing well above that." (Taken from Eric Beinhocker's The Orgin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the Radical Remaking of Economics. (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2006), 9.)According to Surgit Bhalla of the Institute for International Economics, "In 1820, global poverty was close to 84 percent of the worlds population, and more than a century later, it had declined to 56 percent (in 1929). Twenty years later, it was approximately at this same level. There has been a constant drift downward in the poverty ratio since 1950, and by 1992, only a fifth of the worlds population was poor." Beyond the rate of poverty, Bhalla also notes that the number of poor people has declined dramatically. The number of poor people in the world shows a different trajectory; not until the start of globalization (and consistently high growth rates in China and India) in the 1980s does it begin to decline. From a peak of 1.589 billion people in 1982, the number has declined by almost a billion." (Bhalla quotes taken from Imagine Theres No Country: Poverty, Inequality, and Growth in the Era of Globalization (Washington, D.C.:Institute for International Economics, 2002),145. Bhalla defends his analysis against criticisms from the World Bank in Surjit S. Bhalla, Crying Wolf on Poverty: Or How the Millennium Development Goal for Poverty Has Already Been Reached Available online at addition, lots of other good things have happened in thirty years of economic globalization:1) Life expectancy has increased (55 years in 1970 to 64 years in 2000)2) Infant mortality has declined (107 per thousand in 1970 to 87 in 1980 to 58 in 2000)3) Chronic malnourishment has declined4) Child labor has dramatically declined 5) Working conditions have improved6) The lives of women, in particular, are improving7) Illiteracy has decreased8) Length of education has increased9) Political and Civil Liberties have increased[Source for 1-4: Martin Wolf, Why Globalization Works (New Haven: Yale Nota Bene, 2004), 164 -166.Source for 5: Theodore H. Moran, Beyond Sweatshops: Foreign Direct Investment and Globalization in Devloping Nations (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Instituion Press, 2002), 13.Source for 6: Wolf, Why Globalization Works, 239.Source for 7-8:Bhalla,Imagine Theres No Country, 198-199.]So yeah, I disagree with a lot in this essay.

JoeThat was a very informative analysis. How would you like to tackle the matter of wealth and income distribution in the United States?

According to data compiled by Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong, it took 12,000 years to inch from the $90 per-person hunter-gatherer economy to the roughly $150 per-person economy of the Ancient Greeks in 1000 BC. It wasnt until 1750 AD, when world gross domestic product (GDP) per person reached around $180, that the figure had finally managed to double from our hunter-gatherer days 15,000 years ago.

Right -- it takes quite a bit of chutzpah for Eagleton to blame capitalism for the fact that half the world's population is only FOUR times as well off as everyone was before capitalism.

Matthew --I think that deterministic materialisms such as Marx' are false. True, the world is largely determined on the material level, but human choice can and does direct an awful lot of physical change. (See our destruction of ecological systems, for instance.) Because human acts are largly free/undetermined, and because science is concerned with necessary relations and necessarily predictable events, it is senseless to talk about politics and econ a true sciences, as does Marx. Yes, there are certain human constants that usually obtain, but we can choose for them not to happen, and we sometimes do. So Marx is wrong about that too.I think Marx was in fact contradictory in his view of human nature. On the one hand, he saw history as a prdetermined dialectic of the greedies oppressing the workers, but he also saw what he thought was a necessary end of the process -- a final victory of the proletariat and a "withering away" of the state and some sort of utopia taking the place of the last state I doubt that would happen. There will always be some people grabbing for more than their share of power and the good material things of this Earth. If the history of the US has taught us anything it's that many of the descendants of the European proletariat who came here and flourished, well, they're just as greedy and maybe more so than the patricians and aristocrats of Europe whom their ancestors fled. I think that human nature is fairly constant in some respects, and there is no reason to be optimistic about what would happen if the world turned socialist then rejected the state. I think that the "withering away of the state" is pure wishful thinking on Marx' part. If there were a new Marx I think his criticisms of the greed of the capitalists could become extremely popular, but first he'd have to make folks realize how badly our recent governments (democratic and republican, but especially the latter) have treated the non-rich in the matter of taxes and selling off natural resources owned by the federal government. (That's a whole other nasty thread.) This could lead to people's willingness to nationalize the basic means of production. Plus, Marx' understanding of history as a process of reactions against the status quo would appeal to many. Most Americans seem to have at least anarchic bone in their bodies :-) (Don't tell me what to do!!!!!!!!!)I know little about Marx' economics except that he was, ironically, the first economist to see the crucial role of money in an economic system, and, of course, he was a socialist. But if the new Marx were silly enough to promise a utopia, would Americans buy that? I think they might, actually. What else is "American exceptionalism" but an assumption that we're meant to prosper like no other nation that has ever existed? If capitalism hasn't brought that about, lots of people might be willing to try out socialism. Yes, this would be a simplist political philosophy, but most Americans like it that way.

I believe the mature Marx would condemn Eagleton as a utopian, not a scientific, socialist and do so in his usual forceful, not to say hate-filled manner. The analysis here sounds like Fourier or Saint-Simon - the oceans will be filled with lemonade. It has nothing to do with the labor theory of value or Marxs ludicrous claim to have scientifically established inevitable laws of development (I wonder if Eagleton has explicitly repudiated the "science" of Marxism).The younger alienated Marx might be sympathetic to Eagleton but even so I would think that he would demand more of his epigone than this manifesto. It amounts to a declaration that he can imagine an ideal system superior to a capitalist reality. So can we all. But that is as meaningless as comparing a capitalist ideal with socialist reality.

I suggest some here take your anti-socialism arguments to the highest standards of living countries , Norway Sweden, Belgium [US ranks 6th] and see if you can get a hearing and not be sneered at. These people think the US brand of capitalistic ostentatiousness is gauche. Or maybe you don't see it. And GE pays no 2010 taxes.

From what I can discern from postmodernity, we are most definitely in a post-Marxist phase and for Foucauldians the grand narrative of Marxism = Modernism at least in their analysis. Consequently, Marx's theories have limited applicability in a contemporary climate. Old wine cannot be placed in new wineskins!I am a big fan of Simone Weil and in an essay entitled "The Analysis of Oppression" she wryly observes that it is not religion but revolution that is the opiate of the people. Too true!!! In her essay The Analysis of Oppression Weil asks why the oppressed in revolt have never succeeded in founding a non-oppressive society, whether on the basis of the productive forces of their time, or even at the cost of an economic regression which could hardly increase their misery; and lastly he, (Marx) leaves completely in the dark the general principles of the mechanism by which a given form of oppression is replaced by another

Charles: There is a lot to say about inequality in the United States.1) It is clearly rising, perhaps now past so-called "Gilded Age" levels of inequality, it would be much greater but for the entrance of women into the work force, and it will likely increase further and become more difficult to reduce as a result of the Great Recession.2) High levels of relative and absolute inequality have lots of bad consequences. Two books that have helped me understand this are Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class, by Robert H. Frank, and The Health of Nations: Why Inequality is Harmful to Your Health.3) There are structural factors contributing to inequality that are not directly related to capitalism or markets. They include the rise of finance capitalism over the last 20 years, and more recent developments in this area, most notably huge amounts of toxic wealth generated by a deregulated finance system. They also include the linking of public education to the housing market, a market that has been historically skewed through zoning regulations to separate classes and races. And I have to include under this category the so-called "war on drugs."4) Inequality is often described in zero-sum terms, and this produces very misleading analysis when describing an economic order that has created so much new wealth.5) Neo-classical economic theory has not been helpful in justifying governmental intervention to minimize the the extent and consequences of inequality. Happily, newer forms of market theory (evolutionary and complexity econmics) find no economic objection in principle to governments establishing the conditions within which markets operate (of course, they still find some forms of governemental action better than others).6) Discussions of wage stagnation are misleading insofar as they fail to account for real cost of living changes and the "spillover" and "multiplier" effects of technology. We really can by much better stuff and get much better services with the same amount of money.7) Evolutionary economic theory suggests that economies themselves generate significant inequality due to "path dependency" and "initial conditions" (micro factors like where you start, what you do, and who your neighbor is have a lot to do with macro economic outcomes). Marxists and socialists say they can stop these things, but insofar as they rely on economic forces to do so, their economies will still be generating inequality.Those are some quick thoughts on inequality in the United States. Obviously, there is much more to discuss.

I think it's important to remember that Marx is a dialectician. The crude "inevitableism" of the Second International was criticized by people, like Lenin, who part of a "back to Marx" group at that time.Some rudimentary points:Marx considered capitalism and the capitalist class to be the most revolutionary force in history. Nothing has changed the face of the world more completely than capitalism and in many ways, as some have pointed out, for the better. As a dialectical thinker (and I believe that German dialectics comes down to us from the German medieval mystics like Jacob Boehme although Marx was a historical materialist) Marx understood capitalism to have an inner contradiction(s) which it will overcome in often ingenious ways. Capitalism never solves its crises but instead just moves them around.Remember that Marxism is an analysis of capitalism and so the day capitalism passes away so too will Marxism. I think that if Marx were here today he wouldn't be offering policy advice (although he was not adverse to that) but instead he would be encouraging us to break down the walls that isolate us (workers) socially. The only force that can overcome capitalism is, ironically but not undialectially, the working class created by capitalism. That's why there was so much debate a century ago if peasant societies can battle capitalism effectively.I don't think anyone truly believes that our current economic regime can be overthrown and replaced with something radically different. And then there's the question of the nihilism of the revolution; if you actually succeeded, what then? But I think that inequality might restore the public imagination in a more just and democratic society - that it's good and just that we're equal before each other.

Heres a more optimistic (and non-Marxist though not starry-eyed) view of recent trends from development economist Charles Kenny. Hes the son of British philosopher Anthony Kenny who, along with Terry Eagleton, was in the Herbert McCabe circle when it was quite sympathetic to Marxism.The gains in health and education over the last few decades have been unprecedented for much of the world. And there is reason to hope that healthier, better educated people are ultimately less willing to accept autocracy or economic stagnation.

In a world where the brief re-introduction of Keynesian economics seems to have faltered, I think it is premature to claim capitalism dead. As Mark Twain put it: Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. Keynes made a brief comeback when the world was terrified of a second great depression and stimulus spending ran amok, but few if any countries are still resorting to stimulus spending to increase economic production at the moment and economists are divided on whether the spending aided in the recorvery. In fact, all the current concern with debt and government spending, here in Canada, in the United States and western Europe, reveals a subtle return to the Chicago/Austrian schools. Even socialist governments in Spain, Portugal and Greece has quietly conceded the point.Has capitalism failed? I believe Joe Petitt has done a wonderful job illustrating the the failure of capitalism is likely greater than the success of the socialist regimes we experienced in the 20th century.Hap-hazardly I was helping my father at his home a few months ago when I ran across one of his university text books on economics (from the 1970s). It happened to be by the socialist Robert Heilbroner and after researching the author I found this concession:"Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won...Capitalism organizes the material affairs of humankind more satisfactorily than socialism."

As a good dialectician Marx invites capitalism to perform its own critique. Whatever empirical errors one may detect in Das Kapital, it certainly opened the question, and the unequal structure of US society shows that capitalism still provides plenty of juicy material for a pursuit of the dialectic. I don't think materialism or determinism have much importance in understanding the greatness of Marx as a critic of capitalism (any more than Freud's atheism has much importance for assessing psychoanalysis). The point is that Marx encourages constructive and liberative THINKING about capitalism, whereas for the last few decades we have been numbed and powerless before the phenomenon. Of course these have been good decades for capitalism -- notably in China and India -- but the global financial crisis -- and its unpredictable and feared future developments -- are again thrusting the questions that occupied Marx to the forefront of our attention.

"Heilbroner's preferred capitalist model was the highly redistributionist welfare states of Scandinavia; he stated that his model society was "a slightly idealized Sweden."" Wikipedia laundry list of old complaints -- you could make the same list about the Bible, as Richard Dawkins does. The point is that Marx produced a critical analysis of capitalism of great penetration and that we should have learned from and developed it more than we have. Marx's critique of philosophical and religious alienation contains much truth as well, and in fact the Church has learned from it.

It is odd that of the three "masters of suspicion" Freud and Marx are regularly "discredited" whereas Nietzsche is canonized. Is it because the powerful scientific intelligence of the first two is more threatening than the essayistic extravagances of Nietzsche?

Matthew,thanks for initiating a most interesting thread. Joe Pettit should write a review of the Eagleton book. He might entitle it (with a nod to Patrick Molloy):"Furrier than Fourier."

Joseph,For what it's worth, I think Nietzsche is a tempest in a teapot as well, and Freud is someone that I find to be a most interesting human being.

JoeThank you for a thoughtful response to my question on income and wealth distribution. However, I think that during the past thirty years the most important contributor to wealth inequality has been our system of personal income taxation. I would hope that this matter might become a future subject discussion on this blog, because, at least in my view, nothing relates more directly to the intersection of economic justice and economic justice in this country than tax policy.

Joe P - you're my hero.Charles - I'd like to hear much more about your thoughts on tax policy.Ed - I can stand the sneers of the Belgians. They'd do better to attend to the future of their polity, else we may be naming ambassadors to Flanders and Wallonia some day soon.

FWIW - the aspect of the article that interested me the most was Eagleton's appeal to / excoriation of former Marxists.

We should not fail to address in this discussion the historic siding with the wealthy class by the RCC. The RCC helps the super rich to justify plunder while the SR fete the hierarchy to the best restaurants and resorts. Why do we just avoid this or gloss over it like we cannot change it?

Heilbroners preferred capitalist model was the highly redistributionist welfare states of Scandinavia; he stated that his model society was a slightly idealized Sweden.

A very popular model of economic structure among Scandanavians and Finns is the co-operative model which is very strong feature of economic and educational arrangment among those cultures. particularly those who emigrated to Canada and the US. There are co-operative grocery stores (I was part of one) co-operative bank (credit unions) and restaurants to name just a few ventures.It was also a major experiment, inspired by the Catholic priest Moses Cody in eastern Canada known as the Atnigonish Movement.

No single human philosophy will be free of flawed and sinful human beings attempting to elicit more than their share of benefits from the system. How best to combat that? I'll go out on an even more unpopular limb: government by the people, for the people.The problem with wealth distribution does not derive from the economic system as such, but on lawlessness amongst the aristocrats of the world, a lack of accountability to anyone that stinks of schoolyard bullying, adolescent cliques, and a Darwinist Wild West. Anybody in power can and does accumulate wealth and power at the expense of others. The system is less a problem as is the lack of enforcement of laws, the favorable rewriting of troublesome legislation, and government for sale.

I have no grand economic theory. Nor do I have an array of statistical studies to offer in evidence. But it seems fairly obvious to me that the kind of liberal capitalism we have in the U. S. is extraordinarily individualistic. It can hardly claim to promote a concern with the common good or with the fate of the poorest and weakest among us. Whatever shortcomings are to be found in the works of the later Marx, his diagnosis in the Communist Manifesto deserves renewed attention today. So far as I can see, the tendency of national governments to be at the mercy of the flow of capital makes regulation extraordinarily difficult. Just listen to the current debates about regulating Wall Street banking activity. Many of the arguments against regulation in effect say that if you regulate me, I'll leave. The upshot is that the kind of capitalism prevalent in the U. S. today is increasingly capable of resisting regulations that would protect the interests of the poor. How anyone who claims to take the consistent teachings of the Church concerning social justice seriously can be satisfied with, and, in some cases, actually applaud, this version of capitalism is beyond me.

"But it seems fairly obvious to me that the kind of liberal capitalism we have in the U. S. is extraordinarily individualistic. It can hardly claim to promote a concern with the common good or with the fate of the poorest and weakest among us. "When societies were intentionally restructured throughout the 20th century in ways that tried to structurally assure that the poorest and weakest were cared for, usually in pursuit of a Marxist utopia, the result was some of the most unjust, oppressive and economically regressive (not to mention murderous) regimes ever known to human kind.The paradox of capitalism is that the aggregation of individuals who are free to pursue their self-interest seems capable of building societies that flourish economically and also provide (imperfectly, it is true, but seemingly better than the alternatives) distributive justice. It's not far-fetched to conclude that one of the very worst things that human beings can do is to try to consciously tear down and reconstruct a society, even with the most benevolent and compassionate of intentions.

Let me add to my earlier comments. !. I have now read Eagleton's article in Commonweal. It's interesting but is open to question in several respects. Nonetheless, one can still find good reasons for (a) being less than sanguine about capitalism, and (b) finding merit in Marx's earlier works.2. Joe Petit, in the first of his posts on this thread, has offered defense of capitalism that has the form of a cost-benefit analysis. He explicitly offers what he takes to be "benefits," but he does nothing to call attention to costs. Furthermore the benefits he cites are all concerned with what one can call, for want of a better word, quantifiable benefits. One need not deny that there are the benefits that Petit cites to ask about the kind of costs that Marx and Engles refer to in the Communist Manifesto. One would be hard put to deny that there have been substantial costs incurred in the course of capitalism's prevalence. Among these costs are some that are quantifiable, e.g., environmental degradation. But there are others that are "qualitative" e.g., social solidarity, family life, etc.Furthermore, it is far from evident that the use of cost- benefit analyses can, without further considerations, provide a basis for sound political or economic policies. For one thing, how does one determine what counts as a "unit" for the several sorts of goods that Petit cites? And how does one compare a unit of one of Petit's benefits with another of them?To see a concrete example of what I'm talking about, consider Hispanic migrants into the U.S. Many come to work at the cost of leaving their families behind. How would one count such costs?None of this demonstrates that no form of market economies are politically or morally sound. But these considerations do give grounds for finding the prevailing global capitalism to be defective in many ways, some of which are quite severe.

Joe P. --Thanks for the post on inequality. Very interesting. A check of Wikipedia on "complexity economics" was especially interesting. (You know me and complexity.) It seems to be the antithesis of Marx' determinism in spades. But it's also scary. It makes large economic systems look like enormous monsters with warring, not just competitive parts. Hmm.

Bernard --About non-measurable benefits of capitalist economic systems -- here's a review of Charles Kenny's "Getting Better", which is about exactly that. He points out, for instance, that some African countries which have not yet increased their GDPs have greatly improved the health and education of their citizens. By the way, Kenny is the son of Sir Anthony Kenney, the neo-Thomist.

Bernard: Among the 8 benefits of economic globalization, which ones would you say are strictly quatitative? Even life expectancy and infant mortality are far from merely quantitative, as the life made possible in both claims is no mere quantity?Similarly, I am confused by your reference to "units." Would you please clarify?Regarding the downsides of capitalism (and to be clear, there are many forms of capitalism, some better and some worse), of course these exist. However, it is hard to tease out what are the dark sides of capitalism and what are the dark sides of human economic life. Yes, there are horrible employers, yes there is exploitation, yes families are often fragmented through the consequences of their economic pursuits. I am not sure what your point is in raising such things. Presumably, you think that capitalism is more prone to these things than other systems. It would help if you could clarify in what ways with a specific comparison.Let me be clear, I am all for mitigating economic hardship. I have no desire to see stupid economic policies continue. I am no fan of shareholder primacy. I think corporations need to take all stakeholders into account to best ensure their long term survival, not to mention to meet their moral obligations. I think the notion that a corporation is a "person" is laughable.I am all for a special focus on the concerns of the poor. One point of my earlier post was to claim that global capitalism has done much, much good in this respect; something you would never know from the Commonweal piece on Marx. If one is going to raise the banner of defender of the poor, one should probably know what does and does not help the poor.There is so much more that we can do to help the poor without resorting to the kind of social reconstruction that I think rightly worries Jim Pauwels. I think the primary reason that none of this gets done is that shopping is easy and we are given millions of easy things to shop for. Political and economic change on the otherhand, especially when such change is primarily designed to benefit people that one has never met, is very, very difficult, and most people are given essentially zero clear ways to pursue such change in their daily lives. Once they have gotten through the demands of daily life -- demands that have been hard since the dawn of humanity -- they mostly want to have fun. That shopping is often a means of fun may seem materialistic, but I tend to see it as a rather obvious outcome given the choices presented to most people by their so-called teachers and leaders (and I include clergy among these teachers and leaders).Those of us who want a better world are masters at complaining about the failures of our current world (complaining is really not that hard, after all), but absolute novices, and often cowards, when it comes to pursuing real change. I include myself among the "us" to which I am referring.

Oops. I guess I identified 9 benefits of globalization.

Joe P. ==Let's not disparage shopping as if it were intrinsically evil. Yes, the stuff for sale in American stores is largely junk designed for swift obsolescence, but that keeps people working because we have to buy the same kinds of thing over, and over, and over.While you are inventing the new fail=safe economic system, please bear in mind that people have a quite legitimate yearning for beauty, and the way to get it is either to live in the country or be able to buy it in the city. But not that many beautiufl things are sold these days, and those that are wear out too soon.Please figure out a way to maintain maximum employment while producing beautiful objects that last, even for generations as some of them used to do. Of course, that would probably entail a shorter work week (because not as many objects would be needed so there would be less work.) I say, oh happy day! Think what folks could do with all that leisure. (WEll, why NOT dream?)

Ann,I am glad you liked the reference to complexity economics. For the record I 1) did not disparage shopping, and 2) never indicated aspirations toward inventing or defending a new fail-safe economic system. I only suggested that shopping is a rather natural outcome when one is given so many opportunities to do it and when the other opportunities available are not well presented. I have suggested that the current economic order is not as bad as some say, but I certainly think it can be vastly improved.

Dear Joe P. --I realize you weren't aspiring to invent a new economic system, but maybe you should. After all, Adam Smith was first and foremost a moralist, and wasn't Marx a lawyer? These days, of course, econ is thoroughly mathmatical, but Keynes himself was suspicious of that. He knew it wasn't all a matter of quantifying things. I say it wouldn't hurt for you to give it a whirl. Do a Utopia. Plato has already blazed a trail for you, as did Thomas More. But give your economics a different name, something with no historical baggage attached.

Dear Ann,I am an incrementalist. My favorite word in politics, life, love, economics, faith, parenting, etc. is "better," meaning that is what I, and most everyone else I know, can do. On my better days, I actually try being better, and I give what encouragement I can to others seeking to be better, as well.

If things get bad enough, unequal enough, one-sided enough, some revolution is likely. Maybe small and peaceful, as in Madison. Maybe bigger, as in Egypt. The French haven't forgotten their revolution. John Dos Passos wrote of the fear of revolution in his novel, USA. One reason for FDR's programs were to head off a Russian-like revolution. If we keep going in the direction we are going, who knows?

The sacralization of capitalism as if it were an inherent feature of human nature is a dangerous mystification; Marx grasped capitalism as historically developing and beset with inner contradictions; it is just the system prevalent in our times, constantly in need of reform. Reform of capitalism unfortunately seems to get underway only in the wake of major crashes, such as the recent crisis that left entire countries bereft of their sovereignty (and that may only be the beginnng of a further meltdown). It is URGENT to go about this reform in a concerted and rational way, using Marx among other sources. For the alternative is violent disruptions;

Joe Petit, let me respond to the questions you addressed to my earlier comment.First, let me say something about my loose talk about units. I take it as obvious that to increase life expectancy, for example, from 40 years to 41 years is not the same as raising it from 80 to 81. How do we capture that difference? Similarly, to raise years of education from 2 to 3 is not the same as rising them from 11 to 12. Now if, because of resource limitations, we have to choose one of these gains rather than the other, how do we make that choice? By no means do I deny that we have to take economic factors into consideration if we are to be prudent. But economic considerations alone, apart from political and moral considerations, are insufficient to formulate and implement public policy. Marx's "Communist manifesto" does not tell us how to arrive at the proper policies, but it does point us in the direction of relevant questions.Today, or so I think, there is excessive attention paid to economic considerations in the formulation of public policy. Whether we think domestically or globally, the prevailing discourse shows this to be the case. Domestically, agencies like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, along with their political allies, seek to weaken the safety net for many people that was put in place by the New Deal. Their arguments are regularly couched in economic terms alone. Internationally, the International Monetary Fund's policies have often been shaped largely by economic considerations. It does acknowledge political realities, but generally only as irrationalities that it has to cope with.Let me take just one example from domestic politics. It is widely recognized that there is a shortage of primary care physicians. By contrast, there is an abundance of specialists of a number of sorts. Would sensible public policy not involve taking political and moral considerations into account in formulating tax policies to address this imbalance?Finally, let me bring up Pope Benedict's "Caritas in Veritate." It does not claim to olffer specific prescriptions for economic life. But it does raise a number of moral concerns about the the prevailing capitalist economic practices. It strikes me that not only Catholics but also others who acknowledge the important of biblical values ought to heed his recommendations that we give more weight to political and moral considerations in the formation of public policy than is presently the case.

Bernard,I am rather confident that I agree with everything you write in your last post.

Charles Ladner -- what do you make of the fact that the United States has the most progressive tax system of the 24 OECD countries? See

... [Trackback] ... [...] Read More Infos here:

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment