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View Diary: Marx for Dummies 1 (193 comments)

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  •  I loved your article, (7+ / 0-)

    and I think it's a pretty good basic explanation of Marxism. Still, I disagree with it, not because you didn't explain it well, but because I think Marxism is a very simplified description of a society.

    It's in a similar way to when neoliberals talk about "free markets produce more welfare than planned economies", ignoring facts such as that that only would work on horizontal, competitive markets, and that centrally planned economies are not the only alternative. Marxism also ignores things that were explained later on.

    For example, in your doughnut shops example, this is a classic game theory problem: the shops as a group are not better by cutting costs or quality. They only do that because there is a competitive pressure, and there are ways to alleviate this pressure without shutting down the capitalism system that they work on.

    Another angle on the same example: If shops cut quality as well as costs, why don't consumers stop consuming there? That's a feature of informational economics that says that there's "imperfect information" in the system and that causes market failures. If people would know that a shop is making doughnuts with stale bread, they would stop shopping there (and yes, as long as there's competitive pressure, that happens in real life).

    I'm using examples of orthodox economics, but my argument would also be valid for other areas. For example we could argue that people are not rational and that this irrationality is one of the reasons as to why most workers can't invest successfully in the stock market. That would be from behavioral economics.

    In short, my point is: giving an analysis of the insights and theories of Marxism is great, and it should be required knowledge for anyone who wants to study our societies. And it's very helpful sometimes.

    But assuming that Marxism is correct while ignoring later development of economics (and the other social sciences -- though a lot of marxists don't like the word "science" being applied there) is like making a car with 1880's technology.

    p.s.: By the way: XXI century cars are of much higher quality that the first ones. Doesn't that go in the face of the "quality will go down" theory of Marxism? (* insert debate of the role of government here, but that debate actually proves my point: there's more to modern society that just "capitalism" *).

    •  First, I said nothing (25+ / 0-)

      about planned economies and explicitly said that Marx is not giving us a political theory or a solution to this.  There are a variety of ways we can respond to these things if they're true.  Planned and centralized economy is one possible response; one that turned out historically to be a disaster.

      Second, Marxism is an open theory.  What I describe in this post is the basics.  However, things get far more complicated with the rise of things such as finance capital and other forms of capital.  

      Third, the rationality of workers with regard to investment is largely irrelevant.  Workers lack the capital that would allow them to invest in ways that they could meaningfully live off of.  As a consequence, we're doomed to sell our labor to live even in those circumstances where we're perfect investors.

      Finally, obviously there are limits to how far businesses can cut quality before people stop patronizing these establishments.  We seem to be witnessing this right now with Wal-Mart.  Nonetheless, capitalism is characterized by a downward trend with regard to the quality of its products for the reasons I outline.  We see this readily in the entertainment industry and Hollywood.  Every year we get zillions of shows and movies that are essentially the same.  Why is this?  Two reasons.  First, capitalism is conservative, preferring to invest in commodities that have already successfully created profits rather than investing in new and untried products.  This is why genuine cinema always has a hard go in Hollywood.  It's easier to produce the latest disaster blockbuster, rather than films like Melancholia that might not be a commercial success.  Second, it's easier to hire writers that write by form and genre, rather than original writers and directors.  I give this example because we readily see it in our experience.  It's just not true that capitalism always creates the highest quality and most innovative commodities.  Quite the reverse.  It seems to produce a lot of mediocrity.

      •  Well, I never said (4+ / 0-)

        that you were advocating planned economies, or that you said Marxism did so. My example was for the NEOLIBERALS who say that the corporativist capitalist is the only option against the "scourge of planned, central economies".

        Secondly, the other examples are debatable. I for one think that most workers are indoctrinated in a life of labor by our school system, and that THAT's the reason we're "doomed to sell our labor". I can certainly think of a "capitalist" system where people are taught from early on to invest and own businesses (as we teach people to own their own houses, even if we're currently having problems to fulfill that desire). This would be a system where society thinks it's natural for older people to own businesses and other kinds of assets and younger people to do labor. Though I reckon it might not be longer called capitalist in the Marxist sense.

        But in any case, they were only EXAMPLES. I think you're missing my point - and indirectly you're reinforcing it - Marxism is a simplistic theory. So I'm very glad to see a good analysis of what it is, but almost every time I see it, I see the diarist - not Marx, the diarist - making a subtle political point also. As in "I'll show why this is false". "True" or "false" are absolutes. The observations of Marxist theory rely on the assumptions made by Marxist theory. When you use other frameworks you reach different conclusions.

        I can insert a positivist argument about the role of real world evidence here, but I'll leave it for another occasion. I'll just say that for the moment, SOME industries have lowered their quality, and SOME industries have improved it. It's not the doomsday scenario some Marxists preach.

        Things are much more complex and so I can't be "marxist" as in "I use marxism as my main theory of society". There are too many other approaches that have validity too, and that reach different conclusions.

        •  Marx would agree with (11+ / 0-)

          you on the role that education plays.  This is what he calls "ideology" and what Althusser would later call the "ideological state apparatus" (ISA).  These are mechanisms that both form workers and that make capitalism seem "natural" and like the only possible system.  That said, you can't simply explain these things by schools, media, mistaken beliefs, etc.  People have to live.  In order to live they must eat.  In order to eat, they must work.  Most of us have no other option but selling our labor to live.  It would be nice if we could just wave all this away by properly educating people and correcting their beliefs, but that's only part of the story.  Changing beliefs might lead people to organize, but you still need a production and distribution system to meet the needs of consumption.

          I would suggest that your being uncharitable in your criticism here.  This is a post that is a couple thousand words designed to make Marxist thought accessible.  There have been thousands of pages written on these things and entire forests of trees killed responding to the points you make.

          •  Here is where Marx's materialism plays (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jeffersonian Democrat, JosephK74

            a key role. In Marx's scheme, ideas arise from material conditions. Consequently, one must consult with material realities before attempting form ideas for coping with them. The test of any theoretical system is in how accurately it comports with material realities. Unfortunately too many ostensible Marxists have stood this principle on its head.

            Nothing human is alien to me.

            by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:02:07 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  First of all, love the diary....secondly, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Dustin Mineau

            I just wanted to contribute one interesting note about labor, food, unemployment, and monetary systems.
            According to many prominent MMTers (modern monetary theory subscribers).....the whole notion of unemployment is necessarily a monetary phenomenon.  Before modern (plausible time scale of perhaps ~5,000 BCE) monetary systems, there could not really be any unemployment (in the modern sense of actively looking for work and not being able to find it) as without a money system everyone contributed to feeding, clothing, housing the clan, group, etc.  Once you introduce a monetary system and especially when you apply that system through force and taxation....only then could we have the phenomenon of looking for work that pays in a particular currency and not be able to find it.  
            This is why MMTers, generally, presume that the natural rate of unemployment is basically zero, and any unemployment is the result of the monopoly supplier of the currency (generally a state run, with private bank help enterprise) not providing enough currency to provide for people's savings desires + the ability to consume every ounce of production that society is capable of at full capacity=employment.....just a thought on the nature of unemployment and labor

            "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens

            by Auburn Parks on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 07:06:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  And even more (0+ / 0-)

            trees responding to the counterarguments you make.

            But you're right. I'm being uncharitable. I actually like Marxism (even though I'm not a "follower", like I said) and I think there are good insights. What I don't like is absolutes. We're not "doomed to sell our labor". A very poor construction worker from a slum probably is. A well-educated middle-class person with car debt and lots of hobbies is not.

            I know it's a sensitive topic in DailyKos, but I'm just arguing for non-black & white thinking.

            And yes, I loved the article and plan on sharing it.

        •  You're doomed to sell your labor because (4+ / 0-)

          1) Very few people end up being successful entrepreneurs (capitalists).  By this I mean going from proletarian family backgrounds (e.g. not given a position in a family business) to successful business owner.
          2) Most businesses fail because of the brutal competition in the market.  These people get thrown back into the pool of workers.
          3) Most people are not born into or given opportunities to attempt entrepreneurship.  These people are life-long proletarians.
          4) Marx sums the dilemma of the 2nd and 3rd group quite well: they have the freedom to sell their labor, or starve.
          5) Which leads us to the welfare state: the realization that capitalism will beggar people leads to state assistance programs.  It checks the social unrest brought about by abject poverty.  The state steps in and provides a social solution for the effect of the marketplace.  This cycle replicates itself in many aspects of our lives, beyond hunger (including workplace safety, unemployment insurance, etc).

          There are, of course, Horatio Alger's in society.  These provide the template by which the system celebrates the possibility of "making it" or being upwardly mobile.  But this narrative is becoming increasingly untenable as more people realize the inequalities produced by the system.  The 1% discourse and increasing media attention to social inequities help dispel the myth of Alger.

          •  I don't think it's just (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            that most businesses fail to be successful.  I think more profoundly it's that most people lack the capital to start a business or meaningfully invest.

            •  For both Vespertine and Joseph, (0+ / 0-)

              well... I'm an entrepreneur. I'm not rich but make a good living. My dad came from a proletariat family but my own family was completely middle class. He worked in Government so he could improve his life through government pay (thus not a pure capitalist society, of course, and that would've been hard in one... i'm not a Randian to think that!).

              He later put me and my brothers into private schools (i don't live in the US and here that's the only good education you can get at the primary & secondary level). I later earned a professional degree from a public college.

              So I had the chance to improve my quality of life. A business of mine "failed" (as in I abandoned it for a better prospect) and now I have another one. All of this under a capitalist-mixed system. And no, I'm not special. I like what I do, and I work in IT, which is a booming and low-entry-cost industry (I can't imagine doing this in aerospace!), but I do think there's space in our societies for more entrepreneurship, and that government can help. That it SHOULD help.

              Maybe I'm just an outlier but I don't think we're "doomed" to anything. And entrepreneurship CAN and SHOULD work and that's probably one of my few (very few) defenses of a capitalist society. Problem is we do need the insights of Marxism to avoid believing too much in the "pull yourself from your own bootstraps" hype, which I do think it's wrong.

              That's my main point.

              p.s.: BTW, I didn't have capital to start my business. It was hard, yes. I think it should be easier, too.

        •  If your point is that Marxism must be open to (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jeffersonian Democrat

          incorporating new information and ideas in order to be viable, I've no argument with that.

          However, what do you mean by validity? Are you using it as a synonym for factual? There are innumerable social theories that have a superficial plausibility but fail when confronted by realities that contradict their axiomatic premises. What is your criteria for determining "validity"?

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:08:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My criteria for determining validity (0+ / 0-)

            is a pretty positivist one: as long as a theory allows us to predict reality and helps us navigate a complex world, it's a valid theory.

            Though I don't want to fall on the naive assumption that we can actually predict the future with 200 data points (as some economists) I do think that if my theory is having problems reconciling itself with reality, the theory is the problem. Not reality.

            I am aware of the epistemological problems of this. And some theories may be worse "predictors" but better tools for "interpretation", so they have some validity in my book too.

      •  Capitalism's conservatism (10+ / 0-)

        is precisely what has being throwing roadblocks in the development of non polluting energy for the last four decades.

        I sometimes wonder how much farther along we'd be if the Koch brothers had spent their billions on research instead of looking for ways to disinform about climate change.

        •  It's not conservatism (3+ / 0-)

          It's that the market forces companies to produce as cheaply as possible.  Unless the market valorizes your green production techniques (i.e. organic agriculture), you're forced to produce as cheaply as possible. Competition trumps social and environmental concerns.  A business that goes "green" without turning it into profit goes out of business.

      •  Planned and centralized economies were (1+ / 0-)
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        by no means a disaster. They may have folded in the late 80s, but they provided rapid economic growth and a decent standard of living. They may not have caught up with the west, but that is the thing - they were always much poorer to begin with.

        •  They failed far earlier than that. (4+ / 0-)

          People lived in pretty horrible conditions because the system couldn't figure out how to decide what needed to be produced where and how to distribute it to meet consumption needs.  Technology is creating the conditions to resolve this problem today, but that's another story that I won't discuss here.

          •  The planned economies were no utopia (0+ / 0-)

            but ordinary people did not live in horrible conditions.( I'm mostly referencing the Eastern block, here.) There was full employment, public housing, healthcare etc in most of these countries. Most people did not live in material deprivation. Now compared to the West of course, wages and living standards were markedly lower, but again these countries had always been much poorer. This is also true even if we compare communist China(pre-1979) with say India. It beat India in economic growth, health measures, nutritional measures etc.

          •  I do agree that there were systemic (0+ / 0-)

            problems with the structure, and perhaps technology is helping solve this today. (Walmart, anyone?)

        •  This is incorrect (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jeffersonian Democrat, JosephK74

          Many planned economies (Japan, Korea, Germany) developed economic sectors that put them at the forefront of the global economy.  These were state-planned capitalist economic sectors, wherein the state picked "champion" industries and heavily invested in them.  A similar example of state planning is "infant industry protection."  Countries like the US erected tariffs to protect certain domestic industries so they could grow to the point that they'd be competitive in the international marketplace.

          We need to think beyond the "free market" vs. "state-planning" dichotomy.  Both are capitalist, but the state is heavily involved in structuring the operations of both.

      •  Alot of mediocrity (heavy meta!) (3+ / 0-)

        for sure.

        here as so often. people should be wary. Observing your responses as well as the questions, there is a tendency to go to the anecdotal, and be answered in the counter-anecdotal. That is not a good debate. It speaks of people more concenred with making their own point than listening to the other person´s point.

        A discussion in which people learn from each other shouldnt consist of "Let me tell you how I am right" statements. It should rather consist of "let me see if I understand your point correctly if I rephrase it like this" statements, coupled with "but I dont understand the following points about it".

        I hope you get what I´m saying. your diary is a really nice and very well pitched opening, as you see from the responses. But in the ensuing discussion with commenters, you lose a lot of opportunity to influence minds by this inflexible, closed approach.

        a problem which I know well myself, in ordinary life. Still, something to improve.

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