Archive for April 13th, 2009

More Marx Hating

And this time, it’s a blind-sider. I really enjoy reading Ezra Klein’s blog. He talks about issues I care about, like food policy and health policy, from a wonky and left-of-center vantage. That said, I’m a little uneasy about his latest idea:

Dan Drezner offers a fun twist on the “Top 10 Most Important Books in International Relations” genre and looks at the Top 10 Most Important and Wrong or Bad Books in International Relations. Norman Angell leads the list for arguing that trade would end war. In 1908. Ken Pollack takes the tail with The Threatening Storm. I’m sort of surprised that Fukuyama isn’t on the list for The End of History.

That said, I like this idea, and am going to ask a couple experts for a similar list on social policy and economics. I’m going to restrict it to important and wrong. The world is full of influential bad books. I want influential wrong books. Obvious contenders are The Bell Curve and, for reasons of real-world impact, Marx. Or maybe Mao. Put your nominees in comments.

I can’t wait to see the list. Why is Marx an obvious contender, though? Is it Marx’s fault that Lenin ripped his ideas out of context in a way that would make him roll over in his grave? I think this is the exact wrong time to close ourselves off to Marx’s ideas. That said, when Ezra puts this list out, I can’t wait for some spirited debate about it.

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Marx’s “Error”?

Via Mark Thoma, Chris Dillow posts about a key error that Marx (and Keynes) made in their economic analyses:

However, there is this passage in the The German Ideology, written some 30 years before vol III:

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

What’s more, Marx wasn’t entirely daft. He was presaging a point made 85 years later by Keynes, in his essay (pdf), Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. In this, he predicted – just as Marx did – that productivity would grow sufficiently to allow our needs to be met with very little labour:

For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom form pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

Marx thought that living wisely and well would consist in working voluntarily, cultivating mind, body and garden.

This, though, raises a question. Why is it that the rise in productivity hasn’t had the effects predicted by Marx and Keynes? Why have our “needs” risen as our productive powers have, with the result that the hours we devote to employment haven’t fallen as much as Marx or Keynes forecast? Why is it that so many of us – I count myself fortunate to be a partial exception – haven’t used wealth to free ourselves from alienating labour?

Yes, Marx was wrong, as was Keynes. But their error raises a deep question, which Marx’s illiterate critics have not sufficiently appreciated.

I don’t think Dillow is making himself out to be a critic of Marx. In fact, he is critiquing somehow who is critiquing Marx in a false manner. Nevertheless, I think he is missing something obvious here. Wasn’t a big part of Marx’s analysis the idea that because of their alienation from the goods they produce, their wages are set by the capitalist, beyond their control? These wages, assumed to be equal to the value of the worker’s labor-power, would in turn equal the customary basket of goods socially necessary to replenish that labor-power. As society develops, fridges, tvs, cars, and cell phones gradually enter this basket of goods, which is reflected in their wages.

At the same time, though, the capitalist is still seeking his/her profit. One of the ways Marx realized you could do this was by increasing (or in this case, at least holding constant) the length of the working day, even as the worker’s productivity is increasing. I think, if anything, the fact that workers don’t have more leisure time bears out the truth in Marx’s analysis.

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Depression Jams

From the Washington Post

[Neil] Young’s contributions are just two of the more recent entries to the rapidly expanding recession-music playlist. It’s a mix that’s spilling over with tunes by artists who sound dejected, determined, enraged, anxious and, occasionally, sort of amused by the financial meltdown.

Indeed, the global financial crisis is providing fodder to all manner of musicians, from rock legends and country singers to folkies and rappers. Contributions from rappers are especially notable, with more and more hip-hop artists forgoing, or at least decreasing, lyrics about excessive materialism in favor of ones about the common man’s economic grind…

The Old:

The New:

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