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Marx and America

Have we become Marx's America?
by Ben Kuehmichel

Karl Marx wrote his works more than 150 years ago but his ideas yet live on, even here in America. I find it worth considering what of Marx's ideas we have adopted here in America since the foundations of Marx's works have been largely discredited. And what are those foundations? First, Marx adopted Darwin's understanding of the world. The means that Marx rejected the ideas that some supreme being out there exists, created the world, set laws bounding how that world behaves and interacts with that world. It also means that Marx believed society was evolving upward and with the right pushes could allow humankind to create a utopia. Second, Marx accepted a deeply flawed economic understanding in building his works on the labor theory of value. This theory has been discredited by modern economists. The labor theory holds that the value of some object is determined solely by the amount of effort or labor used to create it. It ignores entirely that regardless of what it cost to make something, its value (in trade) is what someone else will offer for it. By building on this wrong economic foundation, Marx believed products should be much cheaper than modern theory suggests. Third, Marx saw how terribly the common factory worker was treated at the beginning of the industrial revolution, yet failed to see that people were moving from the countryside into the city to take factory jobs by the thousands. Marx didn't see that even in the terrible conditions, people were still deriving higher value. I cannot dispute the horrible things Marx saw and agree that the workers were sorely mistreated. However, a book like Oliver Twist did more to sway public opinion toward labor laws then Marx's works did. And once those labor laws were passed, Marx's predictions for a workers revolution broke down.

It is quite possible that someone could make the case for some of these ideas based on different assumptions and then these ideas would require reanalysis within that new framework, but until then I believe we should avoid basing our policy here in America on the discredited assumptions of an academic (Marx) viewing the world in 1848.

Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto laid out his plan for converting capitalist countries into communist ones. In the Communist Manifesto he says:
“We have seen above that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.

… in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.”

It is worth considering Marx’s plan and evaluating where America stands today. Notice how Marx requires a democracy so that the working and non working classes can take over government. In a democracy, the majority can do as it wills. This is why our Founding Fathers avoiding creating a democracy. John Stuart Mill spoke of the “tyranny of the majority” foreseeing how the majority could be just as bad as a dictator. Alexander Hamilton wrote “We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy... It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.” Thomas Jefferson wrote “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” John Adams wrote “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” For this reason, our Founders build a political system which limited to men of means the right to vote. James Wilson wrote “"The most important consequence of marriage is, that the husband and the wife become in law only one person... Upon this principle of union, almost all the other legal consequences of marriage depend.” This is why women did not have the right to vote, since the goal was one vote per household. Voting was further restricted such that a ruffian off the street who couldn’t hold a job or accumulate property and who had an interest in a government handout, shouldn’t be allowed to participate in government. This embodied Aristotle's golden mean and rule by the middle class.

Let us now consider the ten points which Marx laid out for the transition from capitalism to communism.

The first point goes to the heart of most wealth: real property. By taking land from the landowners, tenants would be able to live for free. Here in America, think of the projects, government subsidized rental housing, government subsidized or government insured home loans, rent controls, zoning restrictions, etc. Consider the current housing bail out where the government is handing out dollars to those who bought houses but couldn’t afford them and so the government steps in to make sure they can keep their homes (which they never should have bought in the first place). We certainly aren’t at a place where private property ownership is being abolished, but we do have the government all over the place in regulating, taxing and subsidizing it.

The second point, “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax” is something we have had for nearly a century now. The poor among us pay no taxes and get government handouts, while the rich among us bear more than 50% of the total tax burden (though they are by number less than 5% of us).

Marx’s third point was to make sure that wealth cannot be maintained across generations. Here in America, large estates are taxed at a 45-55% rate. Gifts are taxed at 45% (when larger than the small exclusion). Here in America we try darned hard to make sure the family farm or business must be sold off when the owner dies so the Fed can take half.

The fourth point is that anyone who makes trouble should lose everything. If you take a quick look at how we treat people accused of drug or racketeering crimes you will see the government will take everything they own away before they have even stood trial.

Money and banks is the heart of Marx's fifth point and here the USA scores pretty bad. If people control their money, they control their own economic destiny. If the government controls the money, the people are slaves to the central bank and government. When credit is controlled by those in control of the government, only favored projects can receive the financing necessary to proceed. When money and credit are controlled by a central bank or government and not backed by a precious metal, that institution can manipulate the money supply such that an invisible tax removes and redistributes wealth. This manipulation also allows politicians to manipulate the economy to their advantage. Notice also how in this latest financial crisis, the Federal Reserve (America's central bank) and the Treasury Department have taken actual control of multiple financial institutions and increased their regulatory control over the remaining ones. Money and credit can no longer flow in America without the blessing of the government.

Marx saw that if trade, travel and communication were not controlled by the government the people could hear the news of real events (instead of the government story), relocate when circumstances in one area where bad (instead of equally suffering) and carry on black market trade (which is what happens when the government over regulates the market so it is no longer free). This is one place where America is still relatively free. As Americans we have free access to travel (at least by road) across the entire country. We can communicate freely across phone and internet and via postal service (though that is a government agency). And we can trade across state lines freely and with a number of countries freely. However, in America Amtrak is a government agency as is the postal service. The FAA has strict oversight of any air travel and the FCC strict oversight of all communication medium. Thus we are heavily regulated.

The seventh point is something that has generally not been implemented at the national level in America. However many localities are forming land use plans and using zoning to prevent or encourage certain types of development instead of letting people operate freely.

You can see how dated Marx's work is by the eighth item. In America we have food readily available and export great quantities of it. We have no need for an army of agriculture workers when men with modern equipment (produced by the free market) can provide vast amounts of food cheaply. The first item however is interesting: "Equal obligation of all to work." Here in America if one works hard and becomes wealthy, the reward is early retirement and the ability to set aside work for leisure. In Marx's society, no one can become rich since the goal is "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." The Protestant work ethic could be considered as "The reward of a job well done is another job. The reward of many jobs well done is retirement." In the past and in communist societies working till one dies is a common occurrence. Only the freedom of capitalism allows some men to stop working.

Marx's ninth point also wears thin in the modern day. Replacing this is the green ideology of protecting the environment at any cost. Instead of reducing cities to increase the population of the countryside, the modern communist idea is to preserve nature by forcing men to be as tightly packed as possible. The land use restrictions imposed by many municipalities drive housing prices sky high by limiting the amount of land used for new housing. The green philosophy is that we can place tremendous burdens on industry and the population "for the sake of the planet." And since "saving the planet" is the end, no freedom or cost can stand in the way of achieving that goal.

The tenth point is also something wholeheartedly bought by America. Marx was right in condemning the atrocious use of child labor and the abuse of children. Slaving from dawn to dusk for a scrap of bread was no life. How exactly that differs from spending dawn till dusk in an educational institution and hours afterward doing take home work is beyond me. Marx understood that whoever controls the educational system controls the ideas and actions of the next generation. Public education is very good at achieving its goal: turning out little consumers who won't rock the boat or think to much and who wholeheartedly believe the big benevolent government is their best friend. Why don't we trust the government to protect our free speech? Or to make the best defense decisions? Or to chose the right heath care for us? Why then do we trust government with our children? Marx wanted a "Combination of education with industrial production." That perfectly describes our school to work programs. Instead of educating our children to think and explore and discover, we want to show them how to do a job. Who will invent and innovate when all the masses can do is the job they were trained for?

America slips ever nearer a communist society as generation after generation are trained by a government which ever seeks to grow and expand its role in our lives. How better to take away our freedom and teach us dependence than to do so slowly over multiple generations so that no one realizes how much has been lost? Since human nature is lazy, it isn't hard to get people to hand over hard things. At first the government just does it for you and it saves you time and effort. Then after a generation of the government doing it instead of you, why do you need a right to do it yourself. Especially since you never have done it for yourself. Our Founding Fathers shed their blood to win us the freedom to make our own choices. We have become too lazy and apathetic to exercise our freedom and so the government takes it away from us with barely a whimper heard from us. Marx is winning and we have only ourselves to blame. Can we wake from our apathy and laziness enough to tell the government to go to hell? Or will we even remember freedom enough to tell our children what it was like back when we had it?

It is time to stand up and fight back. Before we can't.