The essential problems of Marxism

I was inspired to actually read some of Marx’ works, though not in the original language (I once spoke German but it’s been too many years).  With my reading material being internet sources, I’m not positive as to the exactness of the translation/interpretations – German is a notoriously hard language to translate as the feelings/ideas conveyed by one word, simply don’t have exact translations/interpretations that are less than a paragraph in length, and assume a certain social understanding that I don’t have.

That being said though, I think Marxism has some of the same essential flaws that Capitalism – in the sense that modern Libertarians and Republicans understand Marxism – suffers from.  They are in some ways more similar than they are different.  And I’m not talking about socialism!  Different beast that shares characteristics of both!

Now let me state clearly that I’m no student of Marxism but I probably know more than the average conservative in this country because I actually READ some of the original works in question.  I’m also no student of Communism or of Capitalism though again, I’ve actually READ scholarly works, and critiques of some of those works, as well as derivative works, unlike many of my fellow citizens on both sides of the political fence.  Because I read, I can’t help but form opinions that gel with neither fans nor enemies of said political/economic schools.

Both Marxism and Capitalism assume an endlessly expanding economy.  This is the essential feature of the Marxist theory of declining rate of profit – because the market expands, the value and price declines, forcing lower worker pay and higher work load in order to keep the owners’ profits at the same level.  This is true IN AN EXPANDING ECONOMY.  It cannot be true in a contracting one, or even in a steady state one.  There may be price deflation as people lower their prices to try to sell product, but deflation isn’t what Marx’ theory applies to, nor does he even address a deflationary economy as far as I can tell.

Both Marxism and Capitalism assume, along with an endlessly expanding economy, an endless amount of innovation.  This, of course, forces the market to constantly adapt as people make the same product at a lower cost with better features  and thus the above occurs – declining rate of profit.   This too, is only possible in an expansionary economy.  In a shrinking or steady state economy, there is little incentive for people to think about making things more efficient, except as directly affects their own living situation.  It isn’t something that businesses will have spare capital with which to invest, in order to increase their rate of profit.  In a contracting or steady state economy businesses do NOT invest.  That is plainly true if you look at the financial books for many Wall Street companies over the past several years.  Businesses hold onto their capital in case they need it.

Finally, both Marxism and Capitalism assume money is the sole form of exchange.  Given that Marxism is less than 200 years old, and capitalism is really only about 500 years old, this is patently not true for most of human history!  Money is only efficient as a method of trade if there are luxury goods to be had that must come a long distance:  silk, in ancient times, iphones today.  For the vast majority of regular business, there are other equally efficient forms of exchange.  Barter can fulfill quite a few needs if one is fairly self sufficient and possesses skills that are desirable.  It may not be preferred now, because our entire society is focused on money, but that has not always been true and it probably won’t be true in the future.

Now, to be fair to Marx, many of his criticisms of capitalism are spot on – and some of his solutions, such as worker owned business, simply make sense for the health and well-being of the community – but he lived in the largest age of expansion the world has ever seen, and he can be forgiven if it never occurred to him that it might someday end.

We need to realize that neither Marxism nor capitalism have the answers.  Capitalism has had a long run but it has proven to be the instinct of the lemmings, driving humanity over the brink of the biosphere cliff.  What then shall we design?  It must be sustainable over the long term, allow for both needs and wants (luxury items), fun and recreation, and not create wants that must be satisfied by any means necessary (as capitalism creates).   I have a few ideas, but they’re ideas that can’t work in the present milieu – capitalism needs to crash and burn first.

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