Wednesday, May 9, 2012

John Lanchester on Marx

I know very little about Karl Marx, but this beautiful essay by John Lanchester convinces me that his analysis of capitalist economics was indeed profound to the core, right, wrong, sometimes short-sighted, but penetrating and still relevant to our situation today. Very much worth 20 minutes of your time:
Consider these passages from The Communist Manifesto, which Marx wrote with Engels in 1848, after being kicked out of both France and Germany for his political writings:
Capitalism has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities. Capitalism has agglomerated population, centralised means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.
Capitalism has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’.
Capitalism has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades. Capitalism has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.
Capitalism cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the means of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the capitalist epoch from all earlier ones. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed.
In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes.
Commercial crises put on trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of the entire capitalist society. In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed.
It’s hard not to conclude from these selected sentences that Marx was extraordinarily prescient. He really did have the most astonishing insight into the nature and trajectory and direction of capitalism. Three aspects which particularly stand out here are the tribute he pays to the productive capacity of capitalism, which far exceeds that of any other political-economic system we’ve ever seen; the remaking of social order which accompanies that; and capitalism’s inherent tendency for crisis, for cycles of boom and bust.
Read it all here.

6 comments:

  1. Sounds more like the talk of a tarot reader. He uses all of the right words and talks about the things that you can see but provides only the insight that is already in the mind of the reader. The 19th century saw numerous financial crises. To call them "inherent" doesn't add much to the conversation.

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    1. Thank you for posting this. It answered lots of questions which I had.
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  2. Thanks for the link, quite the clever substitution of capitalism for bourgeoisie.

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  3. I am not sure I buy into the "capitalism is in crisis" concept due to running out of resources - one of the first things I learned in economics is that we study it because people have unlimited wants and the world is a finite place that cannot satisfy everything. We have always had limited resources.

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  4. The quality of your blogs and articles and worth appreciating.
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