Marx described the just society as “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Without more, this is impractical as it requires individuals be willing to work sufficiently hard to make the necessary goods and resources available despite a complete disconnect between the quanity and quality of an individual’s labour and his or her “reward.”
This formula is, obviously, easier to fulfill the “cheaper” it is to meet society’s “needs”. For example, in an economy based on subsistence agriculture, it would be impossible to implement because, even at full capacity, the economy is unable to meet the society’s “needs.”
How close does Capitalism come to fulfilling this vision of a just society? Capitalism is extraordinarily efficient. As a result, the “needs” of an individual are quite cheap. In fact, even the poor in most Western liberal democracies have a higher standard of living than the very wealthy of even 150 years ago. Even most of the very poor have access to housing, indoor plumbing, electricity, television, food, education, etc.
This is not to say that everyone in a Western liberal democracy has access to everything they want. “To each according to his wants” however, wasn’t Marx’s dictum.
Capitalism also seems to come fairly close to “from each according to his ability.” No Western liberal democracy is a perfect meritocracy. Nonetheless, it does seem to allow an individual great scope to discover and use his or her abilities.
There is quite a bit more to it than that. Among other things, Marx wasn’t entirely happy with the whole “selling yourself on the open marketplace” thing. Thought it alienated people and whatnot. It was that intrinsic battle between capitalists and workers that caused the problem with capitalism, not it’s inability to support needs. (On the contrary, he thought that it could, just that it wouldn’t, because capitalists could pretty much dictate wages however they pleased as long as there was a “reserve army of the unemployed” to keep down labour demands.)
On the other hand, he was pretty keen on capitalism’s ability to eliminate scarcity and satisfy most needs if the opportunity presented itself, and if nothing else the threat of his system has probably contributed to the relative comfort of workers. Unless you’re some sort of doctrinaire free marketeer who thinks unions are useless and bad and that it all has to do with the growing economy. Which, actually, is a valid point in and of itself; there’s no doubt that everybody has benefited from the growth of the economy, but questions do still arise about how much unions and labour militancy affect the polarization of the rich vs. the poor.
Funny that that “Kollectivise now!” kid seems to have prompted…what? A resurgence of discussion of marxism on this board? Libertarian is probably shaking with disgusted rage right now.
Modern shareholder capitalism - in which retirement schemes investing in capital markets spread ownership of the means of production and distribution across the population - seems to suit Karl’s ends rather well. Thanks to mutual funds, IRAs etc, we all own a bit of the industry that, in his day, was the preserve of a cigar-chomping 1% of the population.
Hemlock, not to totally disagree with you, but the stock market and mutual funds and the like haven’t really accomplished anything close to what Marx would appreciate. We don’t really gain economic power by buying into mutual funds or individual stocks. I have always had the sneaky suspicion (read: I thought it was his whole point) that Marx really wanted everyone to be equally active and equally valued in everything, from politics to economics, and seemed to completely overlook the whole idea that I don’t have to hate my boss and yet remain a non-bootlicker. Of course, I don’t blame him, I think the time he lived in very greatly affected the way in which he viewed the world (as it does to all of us).
I don’t think any capitalist country is one bit closer to achieving a level of existence that communism is supposed to provide. Workers don’t really have any economic power (and I don’t think the stock market has ever been a tool for the common man), corporations have a lot of political power for not being able to vote, virtually nothing of importance to an economy is publicly owned, trends in privatization are (at least currently) on an upswing… in general, I think we are pretty much on the exact opposite course in life.
My intent was to focus on what Marx saw as the ultimate end of creating a communist society without delving deeply into the excruciating details of what he thought necessary to achieve that end. Now I’ll admit that Marx had not even the slightest conception of the amount of material wealth available in modern society. On the other hand, he did not accept the subjective definition of “need” inherent in a market economy. His entire concept of the utopian state necessarily pre-supposes that society’s “needs” are objectively pre-determined and that the economy be structured to satisfy those needs. I’m not aware that Marx specifically lays this out anywhere, but I’d assume that the list would include, adequate food, shelter, medical care and free time. These were all in extremely short supply to workers during the early days of the industrial revolution.
It’s true that Capitalism has created a great range of income disparity. However, being “very poor” in a modern Western liberal democracy, especially in Europe, is a purely relative definition. The “very poor” would be comfortably well off – or in some senses, wealthy beyond imagination – compared to anyone living in the mid-ninteenth century.
You could even argue that, in terms of absolute living standards, the gap between rich and poor has narrowed dramatically in the last 150 years. 150 years ago, being very poor probably meant starving or freezing to death. By contrast, being very rich, as opposed to merely wealthy, is, today, relatively meaningless because there is a practical limit to consumption.
One could even argue that many “luxuries” are now more-or-less freely available. The rich fly first class, the “working class” (or the economically-minded) fly Easy Jet or Southwest. While this creates a class distinction, it obscures the fact that both the rich and the “working class” have access to air travel.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that there has been any closing of the gap between rich and poor, but that the poor have benefited enough that the gap isn’t as brutal (and often fatal) as it would have been in Marx’s time.
Of course, add in the third world and this whole debate becomes a lot more complicated…
The poor in modernized western democracies might be doing alright, but honestly, they arn’t the ones who we are standing on top of in order to maintain our standard of living.
In a global economy, we have to look around the world for the people that make our goods. These people arn’t living in modernized western democracies and they arn’t doing very well.
But as Erislover pointed out, Marxism isn’t all about acheiving a certain level of comfort. You have to factor in the psychological problems of being alienated from one’s labor, and the philisophical impossibility of freedom that creates.
did a search on the thread for “technology” and did not find it.
how much technology was invented by rich land owners. ford didn’t start out rich and the wright brothers didn’t get rich like ford. i think far too much is attributed to the abstraction called CAPITALISM.
and about being efficient. how much do american consumers loose on depreciation of automobiles every year? it’s easy to appear efficient if you COOK THE BOOKS. 100,000,000 cars loosing $1000 depreciation annually is $100,000,000,000 loss to the economy. but our capitalist economists pretend not to know about planned obsolescence. it’s REAL EFFICIENT.
Marx died in 1881 the first cars weren’t built until 1885 & 6. is the capitalism - marxism dichotomy technologically obsolete. i NEED $20,000,000 so i can go on a space flight.
Well, this is a completely different point. First, it’s an oft-repeated myth that Western industrialized countries somehow maintain their standards of living by exploiting the very poor. In point of fact, labour in extemely impoverished countries is almost completely irrelevant to Western economies. Every single worker in, say, Africa could be caught up in the rapture and no one in an industrialized country would even notice.
Now, we certainly do extract some resources from Africa. But this is, once again, a separate question. This has nothing to do with exploiting workers. In fact, many companies extracting resources in these impoverished countries would, for the most part, be extremely happy if they didn’t have to deal with the local population at all.
Yes, I know, I can hear you from here. “But the entire continent of Africa is like a reserve of the unemployed that keeps wages for workers low in other countries!” Well, not really. The problem is that African labour currently has no value. The lack of legal and physical infrastructure in much of Africa makes it non-competitive even if the workers were working for free. Now it’s true that Africa could eventually become a threat to South Korea and China if it develops its human capital by providing sufficient and effective education and if it develops its legal and physical infrastructure so that international companies can make cost-effective use of that capital. If, however, they were to do all that, they would start turning into industrialized nations and would no longer be quite so crushingly poor. This is exactly what South Korea did and what China is doing today.
Second, the richest industrialized nations could still provide a surfeit of basic necessities without any input from the least developed countries at all. True, standards of living wouldn’t be quite so high, but there would still be plenty of food, shelter, etc. North American and European agricultural production, for example, doesn’t rely on significant inputs from poor countries. Certain fresh fruits and vegetables might be in short supply, but the “needs” of society would easily be met, and to spare. But now that I have wasted all this time responding, it occurs to me that your point would make an excellent GD topic and would probably be better addressed in its own thread!
First, as a general observation, Marx’s psychological theories have not proven particulary useful, if “theories” is not, indeed, too strong a word. Second, and more fundamentally, they are irrelevant in the context in which some rich Western liberal democracies find themselves. Many people are not “alienated from their labour” because they no longer need to work in order to obtain basic necessities. This is not to say that permanent unemployment is a particularly jolly life. Nonetheless, in a number of Western countries, the permanently unemployed are still provided with sufficient food, housing, etc.
Obviously, these people do not enjoy a very high standard of living relative to those employed in well-paying jobs. Just as obviously, however, they are not poor in any absolute sense. Indeed, you could make the argument that the permanently unemployed enjoy (at least potentially) the ideal life style. They have the resources to enjoy, simple, virtuous living and yet have unlimited free time in which to develop themselves intellectually, pursue art, culture, philosophy, etc. True, very few people actually do this at any socioeconomic level, but that’s a different problem!
The point is that capitalism, as harnessed by liberal democracy, is well on its way to creating the worker’s paradise envisioned by Marx. Whether this will actually make for a happier society is not entirely clear to me, however.