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Archive for July 17th, 2009

At Angry Bear, Robert Waldmann has a post putting the commonly quoted Marxian credo in context. He writes, in part,

Marx believed that “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” to the same extent that he was an anarchist — that he wanted to eliminate the state, that is, rather less than not at all. IIRC Marx wished for the state to seize ownership and control of the means of production, rather a huge expansion of the power of the state than an elimination of same.

To make an analogy, I think that Marx considered it a good proposal to eliminate the state *and* give to each according to his abilities to exactly the same extent that Arthur Laffer aims to increase the amount of money the federal government has to spend…

Later Marx had this problem that his few German followers (the Eisenachers) decided to join with the Social Democrats who had the inexcusable fault of being led by Ferdinand Lassale not Karl Marx. Hence the Gotha program and its only lasting fruit “The critique of the Gotha program.” The phrase was torn from the context of the proposal that all workers be paid the same equal wage. Marx said that was nonsense. He made an argument which was a bit ahead of his time asking if this mean all workers get the same wage so single workers are rich and large families supporterd by one worker are poor ? Makes no sense (he actually didn’t even mention compensating differentials so he was ahead of his time but behind Smith who was way ahead of his time and, come to think of it, ours). So he was arguing *against* equal wages. He said no way so long as we need wages to convince people to work…

I don’t believe Marx’s promises about the withering away of the state and the joy of work (comparing our work efforts one can at least understand how Karl and I have very different views about work). I therefore interpret the Critique of the Gotha Program as implying, in practice,
“from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, starting on the first of never.”

He then notes that the only time we really see that phrase, without “not” elided away, is in Acts of the Apostles. Fun stuff. He concludes,

OK so history is a prankster and karma is a bitch. Driven by envy and ambition, Marx decided to claim that, when it came to wages, Ferdinand Lasale was an impractical impossiblist extremist just like Simon Peter. As a result, many people have decided that Karl Marx was an impractical impossiblist extremist egalitarian just like Simon Peter. This is crazy. Not quite as crazy as the idea that one can be both a Christian and a crusader or both a Christian and a Republican, but crazy.

In closing, I note that I am both an atheist and a reasonable moderate, so I agree with Karl Marx and, like Marx, reject the impractical dreams of St Peter (at least for the foreseeable future).

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