All the world will be America ….

by Chris Bertram on March 3, 2011

Brad DeLong writes :

Karl Marx wrote that the “country that is more developed industrially… shows to the less developed the image of its own future…” Karl Marx was wrong.

Is it just me that thinks it is odd for DeLong to write this? It used to be a commonplace for people to say that Marx was wrong about this. But the people who said that he was wrong were typically leftists , and their reason for saying it was the claim that Marx had failed to anticipate imperialism, the “development of underdevelopment” and all that stuff. So for them, Marx was wrong, because he thought that capitalism would develop economies everywhere, whereas they thought Lenin had shown that it would force some societies into a permanent state of underdevelopment. But DeLong is, by his own repeated admission, a “card carrying neoliberal”. And surely “card carrying neoliberals” believe in a future of globalized markets, urbanization, universal prosperity and (the cynics amongst us would add) strip malls and McDonalds. So am I missing something here? How do “card-carrying neoliberals” disagree with Marx on this point?

{ 139 comments }

1

ajay 03.03.11 at 12:14 pm

Well, it’s such a woolly quote that you could argue either way. Marx was wrong because, for example, South Korea didn’t grow from a farming state to an industrial power by going out and seizing colonies to serve as captive markets for its industrial products: therefore Britain didn’t show South Korea the image of its own future. Even more obviously, Britain didn’t build its own heavy industries by consciously trying to emulate the heavy industries of other countries, so Britain didn’t show Meiji Japan the image of its own future either.

He’s right in the very simple sense that the future of a less developed country is (one hopes) to become richer and better-educated with more factories, which is where developed countries are at the moment. But this is like saying “all women grow to resemble their mothers” – and then arguing that all women grow to resemble their mothers in the sense that women grow to become older women, which is what their mothers are.

Without knowing which way DeLong is going to go, it’s really rather difficult to discuss this in any depth, so I’m tempted just to use it as a hook for another quick post taking a jab at DeLong for being a neoliberal. Oh, wait.

2

Erik 03.03.11 at 12:30 pm

I don´t think you should read anything into it.

As “A” comment on Delongs blog:
“ indeed there seems to be a ritual requirement in the U.S. to have any mention of Marx paired with ‘he was wrong,’ the same way any mention of the Prophet needs to be paired with “peace be upon him” in Islamic countries.”

3

stostosto 03.03.11 at 1:00 pm

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time Marx would have been wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time DeLong would have been wrong either. And it certainly wouldn’t be the first time DeLong was wrong about Marx.

4

Neel Krishnaswami 03.03.11 at 1:05 pm

How do “card-carrying neoliberals” disagree with Marx on this point?

By paying at least minimal attention to history, and noticing that “convergence” doesn’t happen automatically, and requires well-intentioned and imaginative leadership, organized and politically energized populations, and a great deal of attention and sensitivity to local conditions? Which is to say, base-and-superstructure analysis is false.

There’s a difference between saying “neoliberalism is awesome” (de Long) and saying “neoliberalism is automatic” (not de Long). The first point of view is capable of observing obvious facts — for example, Russia sucks politically, and this is in large measure due to poorly-planned and executed liberal reform — and acknowledging their facthood.

5

Antonio Conselheiro 03.03.11 at 1:19 pm

You’d think that at this point in history DeLong would have had more productive uses for his time than attacking Karl Marx and proving that, believing as he did, a non-hypocritical Karl Marx would have had no choice but to crawl into a hole and die.

I doubt that, even if Karl Marx actually had crawled into a hole and died, or if he had lived entirely on potatoes and cabbage he raised himself, DeLong would have failed to attack Marx’s personal character. He just would have found a different flaw — bad hygiene perhaps, or sexual misconduct.

Brad should just confine himself to the positive, and praise the free-market utopia we live in while marvelling at Greenspan’s brilliant management of the economy.

6

christian_h 03.03.11 at 1:33 pm

In a shocking development is is possible to find a quote from Marx proving he was not able to correctly predict the future in every detail. Who knew?

7

Lemuel Pitkin 03.03.11 at 1:35 pm

DeLong is a smart guy, but as anyone who reads him regularly knows, his higher brain functions are suspended when the name of Marx comes up.

“Karl Marx drew on Smith and Ricardo. Karl Marx was wrong.”
“Karl Marx was born in 1818. Karl Marx was wrong.”
“It’s a sunny day out today. karl Marx was wrong.”

All perfectly valid reasoning in Delong-land.

8

stostosto 03.03.11 at 1:36 pm

9

Lemuel Pitkin 03.03.11 at 1:38 pm

(It’s even funnier in context since DeLong is explicitly *agreeing* with Marx in the post. Couldn’t make it any clearer that “Marx was wrong” is ritual or instinctive at this point.)

10

Nils 03.03.11 at 1:49 pm

Card-carry neoliberals don’t believe that the countries of the South will “catch-up” with the rich world. Rather, they believe that these countries will/should be integreated into the global economic system as junior, subordinated members — providers of commodities and sweated labor to the knowledge workers of the North.

11

Lemuel Pitkin 03.03.11 at 1:53 pm

Also-

In the original passage, Marx is saying that industrial capitalism, in continental Europe and Germany in particular, will develop along the same broad lines as in England. Was he really wrong about that?

As for the global South, obviously it wasn’t Marx’s main focus. But almost all the most important thinking on the ways that capitalism produces divergence rather than convergence between North and South has come from people in, or influenced by, the Marxist tradition, from Engels to Luxemburg and Bukharin to Singer and Prebisch to Frank and Wallerstein to people like David Harvey today. It’s another comical thing about DeLong that he is always attacking Marxists for failing to regard Marx’s work as a religious text, when no one actually does so except anti-Marxists like DeLong. Isn’t there a term for the rhetorical device of attacking someone for failing to conform to your own imagined criticisms of them?

12

Erik 03.03.11 at 1:54 pm

@Lemuel Pitkin
Good point.
A true shibboleth of the card-carrying neoliberals?

13

john b 03.03.11 at 1:56 pm

DeLong is a smart guy, but as anyone who reads him regularly knows, his higher brain functions are suspended when the name of Marx comes up.

s/”DeLong”/every vaguely-respected mainstream liberal US commentator.

14

Antonio Conselheiro 03.03.11 at 1:58 pm

Marxists in 1970 or so told me that the Vietnam War was about the opening of Asian markets. I disagreed and thought that the causes of the war were political and institutional, but I was probably wrong. In any case, there are many today who justify the war by claiming that it made it possible to open Asian markets.

They also talked about the reserve army of the unemployed and immiserization. People laughed at them and pointed at how the American working class was sharing in the benefits of development. But then the reserve army of the unemployed was globalized, and the institutional protections of the American working class were destroyed one by one, a process which is expected to continue.

15

ajay 03.03.11 at 2:01 pm

8: which makes it even more obvious that he was wrong, given that the context includes sentences like “in England the process of social disintegration is palpable” (this written in 1867) and that the whole process predicts “the natural laws of capitalist production working with iron necessity towards inevitable results”.

Inevitable, note that. In other words, industrial development may be slower or later getting started in some countries than in others, but it will follow the same course in all.
This is, of course, rubbish.

16

ajay 03.03.11 at 2:02 pm

11: of course he’s wrong, unless you’re going to argue that Russia, Britain, China, France and Japan all followed the same course of industrial development.

17

Erik 03.03.11 at 2:03 pm

@Antonio Conselheiro
Look under the heading “2. You know that you are getting old when explaining how Marx was wrong now makes you a Marxist”
http://www.interfluidity.com/v2/1171.html

18

ajay 03.03.11 at 2:04 pm

14: “They also talked about the reserve army of the unemployed and immiserization. People laughed at them and pointed at how the American working class was sharing in the benefits of development. But then the reserve army of the unemployed was globalized”

You surely aren’t suggesting that the globalised working class is getting more and more immiserated, are you? As in: considerable more misery now than in, say, 1970? good grief.

19

Louis Proyect 03.03.11 at 2:18 pm

Jim Blaut and I used to debate DeLong on the PEN-L mailing list. Blaut was an opponent of Eurocentric theories that were basically a liberal adaptation of Marx’s formula that DeLong says he disagrees with now. But at the time, he was a big supporter of this “diffusionist” argument. There are two things to consider. First of all, the late Marx of the letters to Zasulich period (cf Teodor Shanin) had come to disavow this approach. Second of all, I believe that DeLong has been shaken by world events that go against the grain of the Fukuyama TINA zeitgeist that was prevalent when we had these debates with him a decade ago. In a sense, he is coming from the same place as Jeffrey Sachs who is sounding much more like Ralph Nader nowadays. Objective conditions have a way of doing that.

20

Chris Bertram 03.03.11 at 2:19 pm

ajay. It seems to me that you’re being ridiculously picky here. Obviously one can make the case that Marx was wrong by making increasingly fine-grained comparisons between different countries in order to show that they are different. But for the quoted sentence to come out as true, I think a broad similarity in industrial (or even post-industrial) civilizations is all that’s needed. Like I said: urbanization, markets and McDonalds. And maybe liberal democracy too, if you want the Fukuyama version.

You make the point that Marx also believed that all countries would take the same route to get there. Clearly, the “fine-grainedness” point applies again, but in any case the “same-route” thesis is an additional claim to the “similar future” one. Marx may have subscribed to it, including in the text that surrounds the quote, but it isn’t clear that it is germane here.

But playing ball with you for a moment on that. If Marx’s thought on routes is encapsulated by “the natural laws of capitalist production working with iron necessity towards inevitable results”, isn’t some version of that also believed by “card carrying neoliberals” – or at least very many of them?

21

polyorchnid octopunch 03.03.11 at 2:32 pm

I think you’re all wrong about this interpretation. Marx is simply saying that when you look at what is now called developmental history, you’ll see the same broad themes emerge, including rural flight to cities, concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands, and exploitation of workers, backed by state power in the service of capital. Generally speaking that is pretty much how it has gone in most cases of the transition from agrarian to industrial societies; we certainly experienced that here in Canada.

It could very well be argued that the first person who broke some of those patterns was Henry Ford, who realised that by paying his workers enough to form an industrial middle class, he might end up less wealthy relatively speaking to his worker, but more wealthy in absolute terms. The hope of neoliberalism is that this is the future that modern industrial societies will reveal to undeveloped societies. This particular apple cart has been upset by the globalisation of capital and the nationalisation of labour, resulting in a situation globally speaking more relevantly similar to pre-Ford industrial patterns. This has allowed capital to reverse workers’ gains in the West by using the ol’ divide-and-conquer strategy, and is the root of all the calls in the North American business press for Western workers to accept that they must see their wages fall to third world norms in order to be able to find work. In the Marxian view, this is an inevitable result of capitalism; in the neoliberal view, this is due to the lack of global labour mobility. In my view, it’s the result of a culture that has moved more and more towards instant gratification as it has forgotten the lessons of famines past thanks to the green revolution, encouraged by those who gain from a consumerist culture.

Also, Brad might simply be accepting that in fact the future revealed by the West in the post-war period might not in fact be the future that is in store for the third world. There are forces growing that may destroy industrialism and globalisation, such as environmental degradation, global warming, and peak oil, all of which he has accepted in the past. The big threat to globalisation is peak oil; globalisation as currently practiced is wholly dependent on cheap energy to move those goods halfway around the world. All that said, when those forces hit the tipping point, it’s all going to come down and people will be moving back to the farm… or dying of starvation. How we have treated the places we live will have a huge impact on how well we make that transition.

There is of course the possibility of disjunctive events that might change this. For example, if some lone genius figures out vacuum energy (see IIRC Planck: enough energy in a cup of water to boil all the world’s oceans) that will change the future we face. However, this is not assured no matter what the tech salvation people might think.

22

Antonio Conselheiro 03.03.11 at 2:39 pm

No, but the American working class is. Around 1960-1970 the prosperity of the American working class was used to disprove Marx, but since then the mechanisms causing and maintaining that prosperity have been dismantled, and it now looks like a politico-military historical blip.

At Sepia Mutiny I recently saw the claim that the top 10% in Indian society is not as economically well off (PPP adjusted) as the bottom 10% of American society. I didn’t believe it, but checking numbers suggested that it might be true. The Indian prosperous or wealthy class is tiny, and the Indian middle class really isn’t very wealthy. A family of four making $10,000 in the US is the poorest of the poor, whereas in India they’re doing pretty well.

When someone from the 19th century reserve army actually got a job, they personally became better off. But collectively that dynamic kept wages low for everyone.

From a universalist utilitarian point of view, this is all a good thing. Share the wealth. But the long-term consequences for Americans are pretty grim. With a declining or even a static standard of living, politics tends to become ugly, and we’re seeing that. For the two American parties to promote a universalist utilitarian trade policy, when a large chunk of their constituents were not part of the greatest number whose greatest good was being attained, but rather part of the lesser number whose good was being reduced (and theoretically compensatible but not actually compensated, per Kaldor Hicks), could only produce a large embittered and hopeless class and a poisoning of the political dialogue. Since we haven’t seen the worst yet, and since the optimistic prophets and economists have lost most of their credibility, I think that this makes progressive politics a very poor bet, in the US at least.

Of course the argument can be made, and in fact was made by radical thirdworlders of the 60s such as the Weathermen, that Americans are overfed and have it coming to them.

One of the reasons Mexico hasn’t taken off is that as soon as Mexican wages started to improve, jobs were offshored to Thailand or wherever. And Bangla Desh is still there, ready and waiting. (Mexico is not a poor country, globally speaking; PPP per capita it’s about in the middle of the pack).

So anyway, as a Kantian or utilitarian idealist I would feel a lot better about this if I didn’t happen to live here. But there is one other factor. The impoverished masses of Asia aren’t the main ones benefitting. Globalization has coincided with the concentration of global wealth in fewer and fewer hands and stranglehold of finance over everything else.

People here think they’re players, but they’re not. They’re just watching from the sidelines and making timid suggestions which will go unheard while the real players do what they do.

23

chris 03.03.11 at 2:40 pm

I think a broad similarity in industrial (or even post-industrial) civilizations is all that’s needed. Like I said: urbanization, markets and McDonalds

That’s a bit too much goalpost-moving for my taste. If you’re not demanding any specificity of similarity, then it’s too easy to say “industrialized countries are all alike, they have industry in them”.

But let’s look at urbanization then — the US’s suburbanization, long commutes, white flight (even if you reinterpret it in class terms so as to apply it to less ethnically divided countries) and car-dependent/promoting policies are very different from the urbanization and lower car ownership/usage of Europe or Japan. China is arguably not locked into one path or the other yet, although it’s pretty evident that the US’s path is horribly wasteful, so it’s hard to believe they would choose to follow it knowing where it leads.

Capital-worker relations are very different in the US and in many other industrialized countries.

The US is also rather slow to follow the European trend of declining religiosity, if it is doing so at all.

I don’t know if it’s just my US perspective that makes it seem like the US is an outlier in a lot of trends, but the fact that that kind of outlier exists at all seems to refute Marx rather than to vindicate him, if his remark is to mean anything specific and meaningful.

24

Straightwood 03.03.11 at 2:41 pm

Marx was correct in one crucial respect: the internal contradictions of Capitalism will blow it apart. Look around you at the wreckage of the last financial meltdown, and guess what the next one will be like. Like cocaine-addicted lab rats, the plutocrats can’t stop until they kill their own system (and themselves).

25

Chris Bertram 03.03.11 at 2:59 pm

For the benefit of “chris” @24 and others who may be confused, there’s no assertion that “Marx was right” in my post. Rather the claim is simply:

Marx believed in global convergence.
Card-carrying neoliberals believe in global convergence.
So it is odd for a CCNL to say “Marx was wrong” on this specific point.

(But also responding to “chris”: the lives of most ordinary people in the cities of N America, Europe, Australasia etc are really quite similar to one another, you know. And they are utterly different from the lives of most peasants. The ex-peasants who go to live in Seoul or Shenzen (etc) will soon have lives more similar to their fellow urbanites in Malmo or Portland Oregon than to the lives their ancestors lived…. assuming we don’t all fall off the ecological cliff. )

26

Sebastian (2) 03.03.11 at 3:01 pm

I don’t see how being a neoliberal is the same as being a naive modernization theorist. Neoliberals believe that free trade, market institutions etc. are preferable . They don’t necessarily believe they’re inevitable.

27

Chris Bertram 03.03.11 at 3:06 pm

That’s a fair point Sebastian (2) except that IF they are preferable (because they deliver faster growth and prosperity) then they would probably also be inevitable, because those countries that failed to adopt would fall behind. The fallen behind countries might then either adopt or, perhaps needing help from more advanced countries, only be granted it on condition that they adopted ….

28

ajay 03.03.11 at 3:08 pm

It seems to me that you’re being ridiculously picky here. Obviously one can make the case that Marx was wrong by making increasingly fine-grained comparisons between different countries in order to show that they are different. But for the quoted sentence to come out as true, I think a broad similarity in industrial (or even post-industrial) civilizations is all that’s needed.

And you can just keep broadening that similarity until they all match, or until you hit chris’ truism of “industrialized countries are all alike, they have industry in them”. My point was that the quoted sentence is so vague that it’s vacuous to condemn DeLong for disagreeing with it (or indeed agreeing with it) unless you know what form that disagreement is going to take, and, since you haven’t heard his lecture, you don’t know that.

My own view is that the sentence is pretty hopeless in terms of predictive value: if you went up to a Russian in 1890 and said “I predict that the iron laws of development mean that Russia will grow to resemble Britain as it industrialises over the next half-century”, I do not believe that that Russian would be terribly impressed by your accuracy when you dropped in to see him again in 1940, even if you were to point out triumphantly that the Donbass, like the Midlands, now had a lot of steel mills.

One of the reasons Mexico hasn’t taken off is that as soon as Mexican wages started to improve, jobs were offshored to Thailand or wherever

Hasn’t taken off in what way? Economy’s been growing OK per capita, I thought.

29

Antonio Conselheiro 03.03.11 at 3:09 pm

My local high school visited the Amish on diversity day. They’re very white, but probably more different than the average American than most visible minorities. They’re not converging.

30

ajay 03.03.11 at 3:14 pm

IF they are preferable (because they deliver faster growth and prosperity) then they would probably also be inevitable, because those countries that failed to adopt would fall behind. The fallen behind countries might then either adopt or, perhaps needing help from more advanced countries, only be granted it on condition that they adopted ….

In its assumption of an unavoidable drive towards greater economic efficiency, that sounds a bit neoliberal itself, to be honest. What’s to stop an economically inferior system being perpetuated because it gives disproportionate benefits to the people in power?

31

Antonio Conselheiro 03.03.11 at 3:16 pm

Mexico hasn’t done what it was claimed it was going to do.

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34733.pdf

Poverty levels in 2008 are slightly below what they were in 1992. Progress was confined to 1994-200.

32

Lemuel Pitkin 03.03.11 at 3:21 pm

I think you’re all wrong about this interpretation. Marx is simply saying that when you look at what is now called developmental history, you’ll see the same broad themes emerge, including rural flight to cities, concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands, and exploitation of workers, backed by state power in the service of capital. Generally speaking that is pretty much how it has gone in most cases of the transition from agrarian to industrial societies

That’s a really unhelpful sentence to start a comment with. Your interpretation is shared by probably a majority of people on this thread, including Chris B. Certainly by me.

33

William Timberman 03.03.11 at 3:33 pm

Ah, sanity. I also bristled at the flip Professor DeLong’s dissing of Marx, because, of course, he ought to know better. Then again, as an American of the respectable class, he has to say such things. It’s almost a nervous tic, as Erik@2 points out.

Fortunately, this thread has saved me the disagreeable task of saying — somewhere — much of what has already been said here. I thank you, one and all — and no doubt my cardiologist would thank you too, if he only knew. (Unlike any number of practitioners in this advanced age, he’s a charitable man. He’d rather see my blood pressure lowered than my wallet emptied, or my health insurance canceled.)

34

Chris Bertram 03.03.11 at 3:33 pm

Ajay are you arguing against (a) the global convergence thesis or are your arguing (b) that neoliberals don’t embrace the global convergence thesis? Since I didn’t assert the truth of the global convergence thesis, then if you are arguing against it then you are not arguing against me.

_And you can just keep broadening that similarity until they all match, or until you hit chris’ truism of “industrialized countries are all alike, they have industry in them”. _

Private property, competitive markets, codified legal system, bureaucratization, mass media, political parties, elections, communications networks, high degree of urbanization, mass public education systems, …..

All looks rather different from the ancien regime. And I think that’s enough specificity to give content to the thesis, independently of its truth.

_What’s to stop an economically inferior system being perpetuated because it gives disproportionate benefits to the people in power?_

Well you’re right insofar as the Soviet bloc lasted quite a long time….

_that sounds a bit neoliberal itself, to be honest._

Since my point was that neoliberals are more or less bound to adopt what Sebastian called “naive modernization theory” that’s not surprising.

35

Lemuel Pitkin 03.03.11 at 3:43 pm

Re 34, if there’s one thing that bugs me about CT, it’s the tendency to substitute claims about someone else’s hypocrisy for arguments on substance.

Seriously, Chris, you do think Marx was right to predict some broad similarities in the development of capitalism in different countries, right? So why do this coy “I’m not saying anything one way or the other” thing? Surely the substantive question here is much more interesting that whether DeLong is internally consistent, no?

36

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.03.11 at 3:47 pm

“industrialized countries are all alike, they have industry in them”

They all have industry. Privately owned. Labor is provided by hired workers. Goods are traded in a market, in exchange for money. Yes, they are all alike.

37

Empty inbox 03.03.11 at 3:49 pm

“more different than the average American”

Transatlantic preposition tangle alert.

38

ajay 03.03.11 at 5:38 pm

Ajay are you arguing against (a) the global convergence thesis or are your arguing (b) that neoliberals don’t embrace the global convergence thesis?

Neither. I’m arguing that your attempt at a gotcha of DeLong is based on shaky foundations, because the sentence of Marx in question is so vague that it could be interpreted in a lot of ways from “obviously false” to “truism”, and unless you can give a bit more detail on a) what DeLong is arguing and b) what Marx was talking about, it doesn’t work as a gotcha.

Since my point was that neoliberals are more or less bound to adopt what Sebastian called “naive modernization theory” that’s not surprising.

What’s surprising is that you yourself seem to believe that a more economically efficient system would automatically spread and become universal. In 27 you argue that if free market neoliberal policies are economically more efficient then they will inevitably spread across the world – in short, you are backing the global convergence thesis. I don’t think this is the case.

The question of whether neoliberal policies are actually superior is a separate one, and I realise that you haven’t taken a position on this.

Private property, competitive markets, codified legal system, bureaucratization, mass media, political parties, elections, communications networks, high degree of urbanization, mass public education systems,

…not all of these are present in all industrial economies, either now or in the past.
And some of them are so incredibly vague that they have been shared by every civilisation in history. (“Communications networks”?)

All looks rather different from the ancien regime.

OK, now you’re apparently saying that the “ancien regime” didn’t have private property or bureaucracy or competitive markets or a codified legal system. That’s not true.

39

ajay 03.03.11 at 5:49 pm

Mexico hasn’t done what it was claimed it was going to do. Poverty levels in 2008 are slightly below what they were in 1992. Progress was confined to 1994-200.

Your link shows steady progress in poverty reduction from 1996 to 2006, with an uptick in 2008 (i.e. when the Great Recession hit). That looks pretty good to me. The reason it hasn’t improved much on 1992 is that 1994 was the worst economic crisis in recent Mexican history, and it’s taken a decade of steady reduction in poverty to get back to pre-crisis levels.

40

Antonio Conselheiro 03.03.11 at 6:02 pm

The net from 1992 to 2008, more than a decade and a half, is very little improvement. Yes, if you toss out the bad years, things do look better.

41

polyorchnid octopunch 03.03.11 at 6:12 pm

Lemuel@32: it’s very relevantly different from what preceded it. What’s the big problem here? I think maybe all the social scientists here are confusing what they do with actual science. Here’s the deal about social science; it’s all contingent on culture and social context. This means that you’ll never see things work out exactly the same way twice. However, as Vonnegut (IIRC) used to say… history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.

You’re just not going to get the kind of predictability you get out of either physical or information sciences. There is always going to be sloppiness in how the results turn out; you can only really point to general goals and/or results. Deal.

42

piglet 03.03.11 at 6:13 pm

Most interesting about this thread is the title: “All the world will be America ….”

When Marx wrote, England was in fact “more developed industrially” than its rivals (fn1). Is that true for the US today? Doubtful. Is it a reflex to see America always in that way?

(fn1) And my understanding is that Marx wasn’t even considering the colonized countries of the South (which we now call “less developed”) here; he was writing about Europe, am I wrong?

43

Freddie 03.03.11 at 6:27 pm

Is ajay Alan Jacobs?

44

chris 03.03.11 at 6:27 pm

Part of the list @34 has existed since the mandarins and the Code of Hammurabi, and part (the political parts in particular) isn’t universal in industrialized countries even today.

And some of the items suggested as “convergence” in this thread are so general they’re completely useless — even societies that explicitly forbid private property ownership have markets where goods are exchanged for money, they’re just illegal markets. That’s as much a “convergence” as all those societies where people eat, excrete, and sleep. And nobody has to look at a more industrialized country to see that their future contains private property being exchanged in markets, because even Third World countries already have that in their present, and have had it since ancient times.

45

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.03.11 at 6:47 pm

Are you saying that any systemic analysis of socio-economic conditions is impossible? Things happen because of (cf. #4) “well-intentioned and imaginative leadership, organized and politically energized [for no apparent reason] populations”, culture, religiosity, etc.; it’s all random, accidental, it that it?

46

polyorchnid octopunch 03.03.11 at 7:31 pm

Henri@45: Who are you asking that question of?

47

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.03.11 at 7:37 pm

Chris 44, Ajay, and everybody else here who implicitly or explicitly denies that there are clear trends in the evolution of capitalist societies.

48

polyorchnid octopunch 03.03.11 at 7:56 pm

@Henri: actually, I have to admit that I fail to see how urbanization, capital concentration, state power utilised in the service of that concentrated capital to permit greater exploitation of labour can really be considered so broad as to be meaningless…. after all, you don’t see any of those things in largely agrarian societies; instead you tend to get feudalism.

I also can’t help that Fordism (which really got the ball rolling on the middle class in North America) has been brushed aside… perhaps because it was an innovation that came after Marx, and therefore can’t be used to beat on him. Can’t help but notice that Ford did it over the objections of his fellow plutocrats, also, too. Ford was a dick in many ways, but one risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater when you dismiss or ignore what he did, and what the effect was on the relative power of the US over the long term vs. the Rest Of The World(tm). Oh hey… take a look… since Fordism was broken, what’s happened to the relative power of the US since?

49

Zamfir 03.03.11 at 8:40 pm

Most interesting about this thread is the title: “All the world will be America ….”

It’s a play on Locke, who wrote that “in the beginning, all the world was America”, meaning primitive Indians.

50

bianca steele 03.03.11 at 9:09 pm

@49
Sounds good. Everyone’s heard the common American expression, “Too many Indians, not enough chiefs.”

51

Lemuel Pitkin 03.03.11 at 9:11 pm

Zamfir beat me to it. But I think meant more precisely that land was not scarce.

52

bianca steele 03.03.11 at 9:13 pm

More seriously, I thought everybody is a neoliberal now, so why shouldn’t a neoliberal accept the one-time leftist criticism of chauvinistic western/northern development theories (even if it hadn’t filtered to mere centrist liberalism a while ago)?

53

chris 03.03.11 at 9:30 pm

actually, I have to admit that I fail to see how urbanization, capital concentration, state power utilised in the service of that concentrated capital to permit greater exploitation of labour can really be considered so broad as to be meaningless…. after all, you don’t see any of those things in largely agrarian societies; instead you tend to get feudalism.

But feudalism IS capital concentration and state power utilized in the service of that capital to permit greater exploitation of labor. Capital and labor are called “nobles” and “serfs” respectively.

It’s true that feudalism isn’t urbanized, I’ll grant that. Industrialization and urbanization do tend to go hand in hand.

As far as Henri’s broader point, I’m certainly not saying that it’s impossible to analyze societies; only that you have to use variables that vary. The existence of trade in some form in human societies is not a variable, it’s a constant. The existence of codified law isn’t quite a constant over *all* societies, but by the time Marx was writing, it was already extremely widespread, so that nobody could really look to it as a development in their future. Ditto private property (the *extent* of private vs. communal property varies quite a bit, but then, it varies between different industrialized nations too), bureaucracy, and political factions. “Communications networks” is so vaguely expressed that it fits practically everything, including traveling minstrels and couriers on horseback.

On the other hand, not all industrialized countries have elections (let alone non-sham ones), and mass media is not at all the same institution if it is a government-controlled propaganda organ (which is/has been true in some industrialized countries but not others). If you lived in 1950s Libya and thought your future would resemble the then-existing U.S. you would be in for a rude shock in several respects, and I’m not at all sure the same isn’t true for 2010s Libyans.

ISTM that most of the characteristics that are both genuinely new and genuinely broadly shared by industrialized countries are of the “industrialized countries have more things made by industry” sort, and sufficiently large differences between different industrialized countries exist that taking another country’s history as a template for your own is very often misleading in important ways. The only things that can really be scored as wins for the convergence theory are urbanization and education; in both cases, as long as you don’t look too closely at the details.

So in order to interpret Marx as saying something that isn’t clearly wrong in the light of later history, you have to water down what he’s saying to the point that he’s hardly saying anything at all. (Unless, I suppose, it’s anachronistic to take the industrialization/urbanization connection for granted; it’s obvious today, but if it was unknown or disputed in Marx’s time, that would count for something.)

54

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.03.11 at 10:15 pm

‘Country with more developed feudalism shows to the less developed the image of its own future’ – that would be true too. And, once you’ve accepted that these socio-economic stages are real, it even sounds trivial, doesn’t it?

55

Chris Bertram 03.03.11 at 10:21 pm

Well done Zamfir, you got it exactly.

56

john c. halasz 03.03.11 at 11:32 pm

“But apart from this. Where capitalist production is fully naturalised among the Germans (for instance, in the factories proper) the condition of things is much worse than in England, because the counterpoise of the Factory Acts is wanting. In all other spheres, we, like all the rest of Continental Western Europe, suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development. Alongside the modern evils, a whole series of inherited evils oppress us, arising from the passive survival of antiquated modes of production, with their inevitable train of social and political anachronisms. We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead. Le mort saisit le vif!”

Umm… does that sound like a claim for uniform “development”? What Marx specifically says in the preface is that he derives his account of the “capitalist”- (the term post-dates Marx)- mode of production primarily from English sources and evidence, because England was then the most advanced level of its development, and thus the closest analogy to a “laboratory” available to political economy. And he is attempting to develop the “laws of motion” for such “modern societies”, i.e. the industrial commodity producing “base”, in which production is for the sake of realizing profit through exchange-value, rather than directly for use, (which is also a significantly a monetary production economy). And it’s those “laws of motion” that will increasingly take hold in other less developed societies and thus contain the *image* of their future development. Because those “laws of motion” entail the “imperative” of capital accumulation and exploitation, whereby capitalist production must ceaselessly expand, intensively and extensively, in order to maintain the “value” of capital through the rate-of-profit. Hence from its very inception and historical emergence, industrial capitalism is already a “global” phenomenon and, due to its “imperative” for ceaseless expansion which is the key driver of the whole system, will become increasingly globalized.

However, I fail to see how that rough thesis entails that the further, futural, projected development of industrial capitalism would occur somehow uniformly, always in the same manner, via the same pathways and on the same schedule. Marx is offering a generalized conceptual account of an industrial capitalist economy, an “ideal type” of such an economy, and its dynamics. Not a set of precise localized predictions based on deterministic “covering laws”, which, er, could scarcely be possible, given the intrinsic limits of the “evidence”. But Marx did in fact provide some conceptual means for considering uneven and alternate pathways of capitalist development, such as the distinction between “formal and real subsumption”, the difference between a sector, territory, etc. coming under the sway of capitalist accumulation and exploitation, while maintaining its more-or-less traditional, given form or m.o., and the reconstruction of that economy entirely in terms of the capitalist mode of production and accumulation process. And given the emphasis on the dynamic disequilibria characterizing his account of the crisis-ridden, but inevitable global expansion of industrial capitalism, a highly uniformitarian account would be hard to make out.

It’s not a matter of Marx having been 100% right or wrong. It’s a matter of having some acquantaince and understanding of the actual conceptual contents of his work, before spouting off about what an idiot he was.

57

terence 03.04.11 at 2:13 am

Is Delong really a neo-liberal (in the sense that he wholly buys in to the tenants of the Washington consensus) or is that just his way of saying ‘I’m an orthodox economist’ in a manner that packs additional rhetorical punch.

If the answer is merely that he’s an orthodox economist, then what he’s saying isn’t odd. Maybe a decade or so ago mainstream economists tended to buy the convergence argument that all we needed to do was reduce barriers to economic integration and the poor countries of the world would catch up. But now I think most orthodox economists believe that convergence is conditional, and won’t automatically occur in the presence of unfavourable geography (the Sachs hypothesis – held by a minority) or that it won’t automatically occur in the presence of poor institutions (the Acemoglu argument).

58

terence 03.04.11 at 2:14 am

oh, by the way, great blog title.

59

Brad DeLong 03.04.11 at 2:27 am

You know, you might generate more light and less heat if you would simply quote me in context rather than out of context:

>There is a growing faction in the academy arguing that education for global citizenship requires that students learn some “global history.” Certainly our Political Economy major here at Berkeley has placed a lot of its chips on this bet. But is this a good bet? What is the value of “global history” for the student and analyst of modern political economy issues, anyway?

>Karl Marx wrote that the “country that is more developed industrially… shows to the less developed the image of its own future…” Karl Marx was wrong. Nevertheless, past examples of globalization, marketization, industrialization, democratization, bureaucratization, et cetera do provide a set of benchmarks, contrasts, and perhaps–for those people making their own history but not as they choose today–models. One of the intellectual bets of the Political Economy major is that we will all be better at analyzing and understanding the world today if our knowledge of the world of the past is deep and strong.

>How is this working out for us?

60

Lemuel Pitkin 03.04.11 at 3:09 am

Well, quoted in context it looks worse. “Karl Marx was wrong” is not followed by any explanation of what he was wring about or why he was wrong about it. Just a list of points on which “we” agree with him. So maybe now that you’re here, you can amplify. How was Marx wrong, exactly?

61

Lemuel Pitkin 03.04.11 at 3:16 am

(OT, but it’s interesting that the line in Hamlet analogizes excessive passion as a fire that gives out more light than heat. We’ve reversed it, presumably because today’s light sources give off waste heat but our heat sources, unlike Shakespeare’s, don’t give off waste light. perhaps DeLong, who’s written some interesting things about the economic history of lighting, could do something with that.)

62

zamfir 03.04.11 at 7:03 am

@lemuel, that’s interesting. Though I don’t think those situations are symmetric, not even roughly. Heat sources produce very little ‘waste’ light, and what they produce gets mostly turned to heat in its vicinity anyway. And Elizabethans could probably use all the light they could get.

So the problem of a lots-of-light heat source is not that it is wasteful, but gthat it is misleading. It looks bigger than it is, it does not give you the warmth that its looks suggest.

63

Chris Bertram 03.04.11 at 8:35 am

Brad @59 I don’t think I’ve treated you unfairly here, whereas I don’t think the same can be said for some of the occasions when I’ve featured on your blog. A better (more light, less heat) response would have been to explain why as a “card-carrying neoliberal” (a phrase you’ve proudly used on several occasions) you do or do not buy into the global convergence thesis. Anyway, I’m very happy to have you comment here, noting for the record, that this attitude is not reciprocated by you, since you delete, without explanation, perfectly respectful and considered comments (by me) to your posts.

64

Tim Worstall 03.04.11 at 9:18 am

“Henry Ford, who realised that by paying his workers enough to form an industrial middle class, he might end up less wealthy relatively speaking to his worker, but more wealthy in absolute terms.”

It’s a nice story about Ford and one that’s often told. It’s not all that accurate though (and certainly not the version of it which says that he was deliberately paying his workers enough to be able to buy the products they made).

These numbers are from memory but are broadly correct. In the year he introduced the $5 a day wage he was producing 200,000 cars. From a permanent establishment of 13,000 workers. His own workforces’ buying power was an irrelevance to his sales (and much more so after WWI when production soared).

What was relevant is that in the previous year he had gone through 50,000 workers to get that 13,000 permanent establishment. The $5 a day wage sharply cut his hiring and training costs as people stayed with him.

Oh, and it wasn’t in fact a $5 a day wage. It was $2.50 a day topped up with a bonus if you lived the American way (“American” as defined by Ford of course, no booze, gambling, living in sin etc etc). Women didn’t get the bonus unless they were the only earner in the household.

Ford’s insight was nothing to do with paying enough to create a market or a middle class. It was that by paying more than everyone else he got the cream of the crop and also managed to get them to stick around.

Which, since we’re discussing Marx, is exactly what Karl pointed out would happen. As long as there are competing capitalists competing for the profits that can be extracted from labour, as productivity rises so do those profits possible, meaning that those competing capitalists will bid up wages in order to get that labour they can extract profits from.

It’s monopoly capitalism (monopsony, a word invented later) that immiserates, not competitive capitalism.

Which leads to my favourite observation about this exploitation of labour. It’s the Soviet system, where the State was the monopsony purchaser of labour, that actually did manage to deliberately hold down wages so as to increase profits. Those supposedly following Karl managed to create exactly what Karl was warning against.

65

ajay 03.04.11 at 9:51 am

Are you saying that any systemic analysis of socio-economic conditions is impossible? Things happen because of (cf. #4) “well-intentioned and imaginative leadership, organized and politically energized [for no apparent reason] populations”, culture, religiosity, etc.; it’s all random, accidental, it that it?

Excluded middle fallacy, as pointed out by chris.

66

dsquared 03.04.11 at 10:41 am

Karl Marx wrote that the “country that is more developed industrially… shows to the less developed the image of its own future…” Karl Marx was wrong. Nevertheless, past examples of globalization, marketization, industrialization, democratization, bureaucratization, et cetera do provide a set of benchmarks, contrasts, and perhaps—for those people making their own history but not as they choose today—models.

To be honest, feeding this into the ShorterTech Precis-O-Matic 3000, it looks like the summary is going to be: “Karl Marx was wrong. Nevertheless, Karl Marx was right”.

67

garymar 03.04.11 at 11:15 am

“Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.” Google told me this is even part of lyric sung by Dean Martin.

Or was bianca s. being sarcastic?

68

Random lurker 03.04.11 at 11:47 am

“But feudalism IS capital concentration and state power utilized in the service of that capital to permit greater exploitation of labor. Capital and labor are called “nobles” and “serfs” respectively.”
I think that a general problem regarding the apparent lack of “convergence” of capitalist societies is that we tend to project our world in the past and think that the past was more similar to us than it actually was.
For example, regarding feudalism: the “state” didn’t actually exist, since feudal relationships were private relationships of subordination. Something like the state began in renaissance cities and developed during modern age ut to the ancient regime, but that were in facts societis that kept a feudal superstructure ona a manifacturing (ie: capitalistic) basis; serfs were not labor because they could not sell their labor force, and most importantly nobles where not capitalists because there wasn’t a market to sell products to, so they couldn’t produce for profit.

69

Anarcho 03.04.11 at 12:10 pm

Talking of claims that Marx “was wrong”, I remember flicking through a turn of the century copy of The Economist in which the editorial proudly proclaimed that the 20th century proved Marx was wrong — capitalism had not produced a deeply divided class system in which a mass of wage-slaves toiled for a capitalist elite. Elsewhere in that same issue was an article explaining how unequal America had become in the last 30 years!

Yes, really, the same issue of the magazine disproved its own editorial! That, I thought, was a truly grand example of the power of ideology.

And, obviously, as an anarchist I can happily agree that Marx got a lot wrong — in his critique of Proudhon, his arguments for “political action”, the notion of a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, his vision of centralised planning, and so on. In all this, the critiques by anarchists were proven right. However, in his analysis of capitalism he got a lot right — but, then again, he was building upon Proudhon and his analysis of exploitation happened in production, how machinery was used to enrich the few at the expense of the many, and so on…

70

Neel Krishnaswami 03.04.11 at 1:22 pm

Are you saying that any systemic analysis of socio-economic conditions is impossible? Things happen because of (cf. #4) “well-intentioned and imaginative leadership, organized and politically energized [for no apparent reason] populations”, culture, religiosity, etc.; it’s all random, accidental, it that it?

In every realistic situation, there are always a metric truckload of significant causal factors, and measuring these factors ranges from difficult to impossible. This is not a claim that everything is structureless and random, but rather the observation that there are too many important factors in action for neat and tidy little systemic explanations to work. You can’t say anything intelligent about the big picture without a mountain of data at hand, and that data is not going to be clean.

71

stras 03.04.11 at 2:02 pm

DeLong is a smart guy

DeLong is not a “smart guy.” Like many in his field, he’s a dipshit with an almost comically unearned reputation for intelligence.

72

chris 03.04.11 at 2:08 pm

To be honest, feeding this into the ShorterTech Precis-O-Matic 3000, it looks like the summary is going to be: “Karl Marx was wrong. Nevertheless, Karl Marx was right”.

I would express it as “Karl Marx was wrong to make such a sweeping claim, but there’s some truth to be found somewhere in his general vicinity.”. Different nations’ histories develop in different ways for reasons idiosyncratic to those respective nations, so you can’t actually use a more-developed nation to predict the future of your own nation. But when your own nation’s history actually arrives, you will probably identify some similarities in retrospect, even though you couldn’t have reliably predicted in advance *how* your future would resemble the other society’s present.

I can’t speak for DeLong, of course, but that seems to me to be more or less what he’s saying too. It’s easy to find similarities in hindsight (indeed to some extent this is just data mining; *any* two human societies are likely to resemble each other in *some* respects, whether there is any connection other than both being made of human beings or not), but Marx is making a claim about *prediction* that cannot possibly be sustained.

On the other hand, john c. halasz appears to be saying “Sure, the literal meaning of what Marx said is wrong, but only a dummy would interpret Marx literally here, given the context of his other work”, which may be defensible on some level, but sort of seems like deliberately reinterpreting him with the benefit of hindsight in a direction that makes your interpretation less wrong than what he actually said. You don’t have to have an anti-Marx bias to feel distaste for such a practice (at least, I think you don’t).

A partly right and partly wrong statement can accurately be described as *both* “right” and “wrong” depending on which parts you emphasize, so it makes a great bone of contention, especially when it comes from a famous controversial figure like Marx. But if you actually *say* “Marx was half right!” “No, Marx was half wrong!” then you might spoil the fun by realizing that you’re not actually disagreeing.

73

Andrew 03.04.11 at 2:52 pm

The problem Chris is that I don’t think whether neoliberals and Marx both believe in an ultimate global convergence is relevant to DeLong’s point.

DeLong’s point is that we cannot look at time 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. of a more developed nation’s path, and then say “okay, so this less developed nation currently corresponds to time 2 of the more developed nation; next for the less developed nation is correspondence to time 3, then time 4, and so forth.” Global history is not so easily predictive, and paths of development are not identical. Iceland, for example, taken at any point where it is more developed than Egypt, does not at every such point show the image of Egypt’s future. Taken literally the quote is simply wrong.

That point holds true even if – and I’m not sure I agree – neoliberals believe that ultimately we’ll all end up in broadly the same place. What happens while we converge is important, and history may be more or less useful in predicting what happens during that convergence.

Now, there’s a broader question here of whether DeLong misrepresents Marx (I like Halasz’s comment @56). I think that’s a fine question, and that we can spend some time discussing what Marx “really meant” by the quote.

74

john c. halasz 03.04.11 at 3:15 pm

@72:

Nope. If you’d bothered to actually read the German preface, Marx is quite aware of and emphasizes the limits of what he’s offering, he is specifically addressing the continental European context, the specific referent is just his “laws of motion of modern society”, and what he *literally* says is that the most advanced form of society is the *image* of the future of less developed societies. You don’t get to replace the actual contents of what Marx said with your own positivist-technocratic fantasy of social-scientific prediction.

Aside from which, 150 years later, Marx was something more than “half” right about the spread and dominance of capitalism across the world.

75

Chris Bertram 03.04.11 at 3:31 pm

The key to understanding the disputed sentence in Marx is the paragraph that immediately precedes the one in which we find it. In that paragraph, Marx is addressing real or hypothethical Germans who might be tempted to think that the observations that Marx makes in Capital don’t apply there, are just about England, etc. Marx tells such people that they have no reason for their complacency, that _De te fabula narratur_, that England just shows capitalism in its purest form.

Coming soon to a cinema near you! In other words.

More generally than Marx intended, I think, we can say that the sort of urbanised society first found in England (circa 80% urbanisation for the first time in history) would later be replicated across the developed world (with some places still making that country to city transition even now). Read a few good detective novels or watch a few films noir set in different countries …. wildly divergent sui generis societies? Or not?

76

Myles 03.04.11 at 3:33 pm

It’s a nice story about Ford and one that’s often told. It’s not all that accurate though

It’s generally told by people who haven’t a clue what ‘efficiency wage’ in economics is. Ford was paying efficiency wages.

(The example I was taught was Whole Foods: is it absolutely necessary its employees above-market wages, as Whole Foods does? No. Is it better for the business that they be paid well? Yes, because it’s Whole Foods, and not Wal-Mart.)

77

chris 03.04.11 at 4:46 pm

Aside from which, 150 years later, Marx was something more than “half” right about the spread and dominance of capitalism across the world.

Really? He anticipated the rise of mixed economies and welfare states like the ones in Scandinavia? Workplace safety regulations, workers’ compensation, overtime pay, collective bargaining? That seems a little different from what is normally described as his critique of exploitative capitalism (and a lot different from the contemporary capitalism he was actually talking about).

Should the US take Sweden or Germany as the image of its future, or vice versa, or neither? Which, if either, should a third world country look at now to see its own future? And do any of them really represent the spread of capitalism as it existed and was understood in Marx’s time?

ISTM that the only way to resolve these questions in a way that defends Marx is to dismiss the differences as unimportant (!) and water down the label “capitalism” enough to lump in both of them *and* the dark satanic (totally unregulated) mills Marx was actually talking about as insignificant variations on a theme.

what he literally says is that the most advanced form of society is the image of the future of less developed societies

Right. The image. Not the funhouse-mirror image. Not bearing some vague relationship to be filled in in hindsight. What you see is what you’re going to get. I almost feel like you’re talking about a completely separate word that happens to be spelled with the same five letters, here. The breathtaking audacity of Marx’s claim (if taken literally) is precisely what makes it so hard to believe that someone would try to defend it on a literal level.

You don’t get to replace the actual contents of what Marx said with your own positivist-technocratic fantasy of social-scientific prediction.

Social scientific prediction IS the actual contents of what he said! You quoted it yourself!

78

Lemuel Pitkin 03.04.11 at 5:01 pm

I would express it as “Karl Marx was wrong to make such a sweeping claim

But as Chris explains at 75 (much more patiently than I would have) Marx didn’t amke any such sweeping claim! He was talking specifically about Germany, and to a lesser extent continental Europe in general. People like you and DeLong can’t seem to help arguing with the imaginary Marx in your heads.

79

William Timberman 03.04.11 at 5:18 pm

@74, 75

I’m tempted to say amen, but then good preachers don’t need reinforcement, and even enthusiastic assent doesn’t add a lot to the conversation.

As to the question of global convergence, which is the substance CB was aiming at, and not, presumably, BD’s flippancy, my take is that Marx, whatever theoretical aspect of our political and economic future he was addressing at a given moment, did indeed believe that capitalism would lead pretty much all of us to the same dismal place…unless, unless….

I’d also argue that Fukuyama (as but one example of the modern theories of global convergence) also believes that we’ll eventually wind up in the same place — a much nicer place than Marx foresaw. He deals more with the politics of this convergence than its economics, which in my view is just a trifle too convenient, given that the dark, satanic mills which still exist are enough to dampen anyone’s fervor who actually goes and looks at them. No matter, though, so long as excelsior is the order of the day. Right?

Given their differences, is it really helpful to mention these two ideas of global convergence in the same paragraph? Yes, probably, as both are arguably an expression of the kind of Western idealism which only a Ronald Reagan, we’re told, could still pledge allegiance to without smirking.

MLK thought that the moral arc of the universe bent toward justice. Marx, in an optimistic moment, might have said that it bent toward socialism. Even so, both had some idea of the deep nastiness which lies along the way, which makes them moral thinkers in a way that Fukuyama clearly is not. There’s entirely too much in his version of the end of history of the rooster on the dunghill, boasting that he’s been on the winning side after all.

Frankly, I don’t know who, if anyone, is going to turn out to be the Nostradamus here. What I do think I know is that proper engineering and management skills were never going to be the guarantors of the New Jerusalem, now matter how smart any of us are, or how many aircraft carriers we collectively possess.

A little humility should always accompany predictions about the future. Marx clearly was steeped in it, most neoliberals just as clearly are not. That may not be enough to judge the probability that their predictions will come true, but it is something to keep in mind.

80

john c. halasz 03.04.11 at 6:06 pm

@77:

The problem is with your critical reading skills. How does “image” translate into “precisely specified model” or “photographic reproduction”? “Image” connotes something vague, not a Platonic Form. And likely Marx is being common-sensical here: as the “revolutionizing” process of capital accumulation takes hold in less developed societies, (partly, no doubt, from the transfer of investment surpluses from more developed ones), those societies enter into increase communicative contact with their more developed antecedents, and hence the image of those precedents influences the agents within that society. That is how to read the word “image” *literally*. And there is no strong and highly generalized claim to be derived from the mere use of that word.

As to “social science”, your idea of what such might entail is obviously not the same as Marx’. Marx specifically calls his work a “natural history”. Whether he is specifically alluding to Darwin or just to older versions of that topic, it’s not a highly predictive affair, but rather concerns the taxonomy of emergent and evolving forms and kinds. (I would guess that in his own mind, there was echoing his earlier counter-position to Hegel, that prior history is really “pre-history” and history proper only begins with that emergence of capitalism). That’s a distinctly limiting, as well as, delimiting move. (And BTW the “laws of motion” refers to Hegel and not to Newton). Marx is offering a map and necessarily a rough one, not a steering-wheel.

No one is arguing here that Marx somehow got everything “right”. He wasn’t, nor did he intend to be Nostradamus. And there are plenty of arguable criticisms that one could make of Marx’ work: that he perhaps was too economically reductive or deterministic, that he lacked an adequate account of the state and the political and the role they play in “development”, that he relied too much on a conceptual logic and its postulated “identities” in projecting unknowable future developments, that he perhaps under-estimated the self-stabilizing properties of “market economies”, etc. But it’s also not the case that he got things entirely wrong, and offered no compelling insights. Adventitiously and relativistically citing this or that hindsight detail ad hoc without knowing or addressing the actual contents of the work, however, scarcely serves as a critical procedure for sorting out those “rights” and “wrongs”.

But while you’re at it, why are you citing Sweden or Germany in discussing contemporary globalized capitalism, rather than, say, China, India, Mexico or Egypt?

81

chris 03.04.11 at 7:49 pm

How does “image” translate into . . . “photographic reproduction”?

Doesn’t that pretty much speak for itself? What do you want, a quote from the dictionary? Maybe you thought he was talking about public relations, or one of the other metaphorical uses of “image” that doesn’t involve actual images? Except that doesn’t jibe with the idea of reading him literally.

“Image” connotes something vague

Connotation is in the mind of the beholder, I guess, but it certainly doesn’t *denote* something vague. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I don’t dispute that your interpretation of Marx makes him less wrong than my interpretation of Marx. But it’s precisely the practice of interpreting Marx in a way that makes him less wrong than (IMO the more straightforward reading of) what he actually wrote that I objected to at comment 72, and I don’t think you’ve really addressed that objection other than to say “my interpretation is better than yours”.

Certainly, if he had written “suggestion” or “hint” or even “prophecy”, I’d agree with you (prophecies being notorious for unreliability and/or Delphic ambiguity). But “image”, particularly when used in a context of predicting the future, seems to me a stark contrast with words that connote vagueness and uncertainty.

At this point it seems clear that there’s a misunderstanding *somewhere*, but it still looks to me like Marx having too much confidence in his own theory (a common failing in people who invent grand unifying theories, especially in the social sciences), and you rushing to defend him after the fact.

But it’s also not the case that he got things entirely wrong, and offered no compelling insights.

Good thing I didn’t claim that he did, then. See, e.g., my comment 72, particularly the last paragraph. I believe that Marx, like most people, was right about some things, wrong about others. Therefore, I am neither a Marxist nor an anti-Marxist, and consider both terms nearly useless and even dangerous, as tending to promote all-or-nothing views of a complex body of thought.

But while you’re at it, why are you citing Sweden or Germany in discussing contemporary globalized capitalism, rather than, say, China, India, Mexico or Egypt?

China is capitalist now? Since when? In fact, it might provide a counterexample to the idea that industrialization must necessarily be accompanied by capitalism — wait a few decades.

And damned if I know what Egypt is going to be when the dust settles. Certainly I’m not going to point to any particular other country as the image of its future! (And if I did, how would I know which one to choose?)

Anyway, I thought Marx said the more industrialized countries provided the image for the less industrialized ones; clearly the US, Sweden or Germany are all more industrialized than any of the countries you listed. (Assuming we can agree on per capita measures; otherwise China or India might win on sheer volume of industry, but that seems to me obviously meaningless.)

On the other hand, Taiwan or Japan might be good additional examples of countries that are highly industrialized without all becoming images of each other and the previously highly industrialized countries. (Ironically, despite the fact that Japan was imitating them deliberately!)

82

geo 03.04.11 at 7:59 pm

It’s fair, of course, to ask (as some people here have) for a certain amount of specificity in Marx’s claim about convergence, but also only fair to acknowledge (as other people here have urged) that his claim referred to similarities of the largest, most general sort. Given Marx’s theoretical ambitions, it makes sense to formulate his claim in the terms and categories most distinctive of his theory. So perhaps one ought to understand him as saying, roughly:

1) An increasing proportion of the world’s population will make a living by selling their labor power rather than by producing for their own subsistence, as many still did in his time.

2) An increasing proportion of trade and investment will take place on globally integrated markets, rather than nationally self-contained ones.

3) Competition will force wages (and benefits) down (immiseration), a tendency countered to an unforeseeable extent by technological innovation (increasing productivity).

4) As the reserve of previously unexploited natural and human resources (ie, of primitive accumulation) diminishes, the rate of exploitation must intensify, or the rate of profit will have a tendency to fall. This tendency too can be countered by technological innovation, at least temporarily.

Put this way, it seems to me that Marx’s vision was spot on. But is this a good way to put it?

83

bianca steele 03.04.11 at 8:28 pm

And there are plenty of arguable criticisms that one could make of Marx’ work: that he perhaps was too economically reductive or deterministic, that he lacked an adequate account of the state and the political and the role they play in “development”, that he relied too much on a conceptual logic and its postulated “identities” in projecting unknowable future developments, that he perhaps under-estimated the self-stabilizing properties of “market economies”, etc.

These are all criticisms that AFAIK are usually made by the marxian left against liberalism (including left-liberalism). But maybe that was your point. It’s certainly true that they are also made by traditionalists against secular liberalism (including neoliberalism), as I think is pretty well known.

84

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.04.11 at 8:37 pm

On the other hand, Taiwan or Japan might be good additional examples of countries that are highly industrialized without all becoming images of each other and the previously highly industrialized countries.

But of course they are, in marxist terms, images of each other and of the previously highly industrialized countries. Same relations of production.

85

kharris 03.04.11 at 8:58 pm

DeLong does not have to disagree for the prescribed reason in order to disagree. Is it generally anticipated that Kenya will soon look like Belgium? If not, the it is generally accepted that Marx was wrong, without regard to the reason. The little tiny world of arguing over Marx is a little tiny world. Aren’t you insisting that DeLong exist inside that little tiny world? Maybe he just had, you know, a thought…

86

Rich Booher 03.04.11 at 9:12 pm

87

mds 03.04.11 at 9:35 pm

China is capitalist now? Since when?

Since factories in Shanghai started extracting profits for global capital from surplus labor? Just hazarding a guess.

(Between this and classifying feudalism as capitalism, I’m beginning to see where some of the trouble might be coming from.)

88

john c. halasz 03.04.11 at 10:12 pm

@81:

Nope. “Image” traditionally contrasts with “idea” or “concept”: it’s an indeterminate likeness, an analog pattern, a “physiognomy”, in contrast to something clear and precisely defined. There’s no reason to suppose that Marx wasn’t staying within that tradition. Your interpretation is anachronistic, as unwarranted as your facile assumption that the reading of words is acontextual and self-evident. (Of course, there were photos back then, though not nearly as pervasively as nowadays. Marx could have written “daguerreotype”, if he’d wanted to).

As for my interpretation being better than yours, well, that’s just the point: there are better and worse interpretation and no complex work is self-evident in its meaning. But your claims strike me as having little understanding and engagement with the actual contents of Marx’ work. As to the issue of the original post, developmental “convergence”, the line in question, and the whole preface in which it occurs, doesn’t provide a basis for claiming that Marx held to a strong and uniform version of such a notion. Rather his claim is a broad, but more limited one: that the capitalist mode-of-production with its “relations” and “forces” would increasingly spread and penetrate across the globe. But that is not a “linear” progress, but a “dialectic” process, always one step back for every two steps forward, with lot’s of twists and turns, and would occur at varying rates and in varying ways, depending of the geographical and historical conditions of the time. It’s hard to see how it could occur otherwise, both given Marx’ presuppositions and in general. And there is in that some general progress in the emergence of modern capitalist societies, if only technically. Such a broad, weak version of “convergence” is not only reasonable, but arguably true. So it’s not a matter of Marx having been simply flat-out wrong in his “prediction”.

Furthermore, it’s not clear to me what sort of predictions you think are possible of feasible in “social science”, nor that you grasp what Marx’ historical prognostications and projections amount to as “predictions”. They are not deterministic accounts of what will happen when and where and under what precise conditions, but rather outlines of general tendencies involved with the dynamics of the capital accumulation process. Whether Marx is right or wrong in the general outline of those tendencies and their interactions, deliberative reasons can be extracted from that account and assessed. It’s not soothsaying. But “Capital” is also a contribution toward the self-organized movement for working-class emancipation that it projects, intended to guide its response to the dynamics of capitalism, in terms of potential point of intervention. Hence much of futural course of events is in the hands of future agents, for whom it is impossible to predict any exact course of events. Marx might have been over-confident in his accounts of the tendencies, with his emphatic talk of “inevitability”, but they are nonetheless a set of future potentials, not deterministic predictions, which are beyond the limits of any such social “science”. (I don’t see how one can intelligibly read Marx without granting an implied account of and appeal to human agency, though, Lord knows, some have tried). One might reasonably “know”, for example, that a major financial crisis is imminent, but that’s different from knowing precisely when, where, and how it will break out, let alone what the range of responses to it might be. I suspect you might hold to a less limited account of what social science can accomplish, in the demands you make upon Marx’ “predictions”.

It’s fine by me if you want to play the game of comparative political economy, even ignoring any contributions that Marx or subsequent Marxian thinkers might have to offer. And if you want to indulge in retrodictions about the historical events of the subsequent 150 years, that’s easy enough. But neither amounts to a cogent criticism to sort out truth from error, rights from wrongs, in Marx’ body of work. For that you have to engage with its actual contents, rather than just imputing your own ideas, anachronistically, to it.

As to Red China, much of its developing industrial “platform” is FDI from MNCs, and it’s a major player in today’s global capitalist economy, however you might want to characterize its mysterious regime.

89

geo 03.04.11 at 10:48 pm

Footnote to 82: I suspect two other important predictions flow from Marx’s theory: viz., concentration and financialization. But I don’t know how to express those processes in the terms/categories of the theory.

90

LFC 03.05.11 at 3:25 am

stras @71 wrote: DeLong is not a ‘smart guy.’ Like many in his field, he’s a dipshit with an almost comically unearned reputation for intelligence.

I don’t often read DeLong and I don’t like it that he deletes serious comments from his site (see C.B. above), but I’ve seen little or no evidence to support stras’s view of his intellect. I have heard DeLong speak in public on one occasion. I may not always agree with him, but I would not call him dumb. Could say more, but I’ll leave it at that.

91

William Timberman 03.05.11 at 4:50 am

Rich Booher@86

Derivatives, albeit linguistic ones. Very timely. I giggled at your deadpan delivery, then this untranslatable bit of cuteness popped into my head: Einbildung ist auch eine Bildung. Also very timely.

92

Lee A. Arnold 03.05.11 at 6:10 am

I told all my friends the day Ronald Reagan was elected that it meant the world would be profoundly socialist in 100 years. I’m sticking with my prediction: only 70 years to go! I just don’t see how people are going to keep putting up with this crap. Nobody wants to worry about money and productivity won’t be a problem. We will all be gobbling cognitive enhancers and designing starships. The only real problems in the meantime are (1) a possible climate heat-spike that destroys agriculture, and/or (2) maniacs getting hold of nukes or nanotech and poisoning the whole place. But capitalism is an historical phase and the Enlightenment’s psychology is ultimately fractured and self-limiting. On his most important point, Marx hasn’t been proved wrong yet.

93

Myles 03.05.11 at 10:18 am

I told all my friends the day Ronald Reagan was elected that it meant the world would be profoundly socialist in 100 years.

Doubtful. America was the 20th century power with the most potential to reach socialism (continental geography meant that its electorate could more or less ignore international economic preferences, whatever its other faults), and it became obvious in the later half of the Cold War (around Carter’s time, really) that the American Project, you could call it, was being abandoned. (Britain was about the worst country possible to be the socialist pioneer, because it is the most internationally mercantile of the great European nations.)

This might sound like a bizarre statement, but I think American history leading up to the Reagan era, despite superficial economic appearances, was a philosophical and psychological experiment in egalitarianism, a key basis for socialism. Democracy, in the full sense of the word, is egalitarian, and America is a fundamentally democratic country (in broad rather than just political senses of that word). It very often considers itself a meritocracy, but the American use of that word was deeply incoherent; meritocracies are not democratic. People who have not lived in the U.S. and received education in the country are usually unable to appreciate the point, but much of the country’s norms are structured around democratic rather than meritocratic instincts. (American professors are about the only serious professors in the world who give significant points for strenuous effort and conscientiousness.)

What kept the old American sense of democracy together, of course, was the fact that American ideal prized nation-identification above class-identification. One was an American first and a preppy, or [pick your cultural category] second, if not third or fourth. It is not a surprise that it is during wartime that countries became tremendously more socialist, because the overriding sense of identification with the nation made egalitarian distribution within the nation, which became then one’s primary identity, logical and inevitable. This sense, however, was always present in American history, because America was for many not just a geographic entity, but an idea, and it is quite easy to let an idea become predominant in one’s life (case in point: Marxism).

The Cold War, for the first time, broke the primacy of that identification, because the idea of America, which had been a somewhat quixotic development within Western history, became secondary to the preservation of the Western Enlightenment idea as a whole, which existed on a higher and more important plane. And once that has taken place, it’s difficult to go back. It’s also very difficult to keep going with the broader idea, never mind the practice, of democracy once you really answered for the existence of the West as a whole more than America as a piece of territory with a certain population. It is inevitable that in taking up the Cold War, America will have had suborned its unique and quixotic fork of Western history to the main narrative. (this is a paleoconservative critique, and although modern paleocons are more or less ethno-nationalists, if not straight-up racists, the analysis in this case is not necessarily mistaken.) And it did begin to happen quite quickly, so that by Ronald Reagan’s time the American sense of national solidarity has been more or less broken.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing for civilization: the last time a national sense of solidarity was so lacking (although not as fundamentally and decisively as it has been since Reagan), America actually managed to produce good art and literature (James Whistler, John Singer Sargent, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound; all to some degree contemporary with the Gilded Age), for entirely predictable reasons that absent that solidarity one is also no longer bound by the national parochialism the primary of national solidarity produces.

94

tib 03.05.11 at 1:44 pm

@20, I take DeLong to be suggesting that Marx and Fukuyama are both wrong, for the same reason. Which is why attempts to narrow Marx’s point in that quote fail to engage DeLong. Regardless of what Fukuyama thinks neoliberalism is not liberalism interpreted in light of Marxism.

95

Andrew 03.05.11 at 2:08 pm

So it seems the discussion has circled back to CB’s and Ajay’s exchange as to whether Marx’s images were low or high resolution, the latter implying that Marx’s statement is false, and the former leaving room for Marx’s statement to be true.

I don’t think the reading that Marx was referring only to Germany quite holds up, since he makes his argument to the hypothetical and skeptical German reader by making a much more general claim regarding the relationship between more and less developed countries. It is this more general, major premise that is at issue. Nor do I think it well supported, at least in the preface, that Marx had only in mind general qualities of urbanization, since he used that major premise to make more precise claims.

John @88, I appreciate your point, but would you agree that the variance allowed by Marx in his convergence was quite limited? The German workers, after all, in Marx’s telling, were going to end up as miserable as the English; social disintegration was going to occur across Europe and the US; and so forth. Would you disagree that the variance was much greater than Marx may have anticipated, to the point where one cannot comfortably rely on the more developed society as a vision of the future of the less developed?

96

Norwegian Guy 03.05.11 at 2:39 pm

What I think is missing in the discussion is the time scale involved. Marx didn’t say that all capitalist countries would be identical in a very short time, but that the development would be in that direction, because of the pressures of capitalist competition. And this is a process that seams to be is still ongoing. For instance, John Quiggin wrote a post a couple of month ago about how unemployment rates in Europe and North America were converging. And, while Germany and Sweden are different from the USA today, it’s not like if right wingers in Europe, including the current German and Swedish governments, are trying to make the countries more similar to the USA.

So the question is more if Japan are more similar to Britain today, than it was when Marx wrote this in 1867? And is it really unlikely that Kenya and Britain will be more similar in 144 years than the countries are today?

97

Castorp 03.05.11 at 7:55 pm

Myles you make a good argument. The main problem I see with it though are the interrelated issues of the South, the Senate, and race.

98

Myles 03.05.11 at 8:57 pm

The main problem I see with it though are the interrelated issues of the South, the Senate, and race.

I think uniquely racial issues in America are being subsumed into Brazilian-style race issues outside the old South, and the old South as a cultural identity is itself slowly shrinking. The switching of Southern support to the GOP is often seen as a merely cosmetic and tactical move, but in fact it was coincidental with the end of the explicitly and exclusively “Southern” regionalist vote.

In any case, this is not my area of interest or familiarity; as a non-American, I have never been able to share its racial obsessions (both racist and anti-racist), because they are not universal, but uniquely American, problems; Mandela and Martin Luther King are not parallels.

99

Myles 03.05.11 at 9:25 pm

(Which raises the question of whether D^2 was right in thinking that the best solution to the American race problem is massive patronage and bring-home-the-bacon politics; I am inclined to think that he’s right in the general outline, although the specific details differ. In fact, the best long-term solution to American socioeconomic disassociation are probably this sort of thing as well; that’s pretty much the only way you can reconcile free trade and jobs protection.

The problem, of course, is when this sort of things takes on political, rather than just pragmatic, dimensions. For example, when American trade policy in cars became more or less the fiefdom of Detroit automakers and unions and unbelievably shitty cars resulted, when the Michigan congressional delegation should have just gone in for massive federal patronage and a congressional mandate that all future car factories be built in the great state of Michigan, whether Nissan, BMW, or Fiat. This sort of thing is, to my mind, morally more justifiable than clearly malevolent tariffs and “voluntary” restrictions on Japanese exports.)

100

Castorp 03.05.11 at 9:34 pm

Myles, I think you made an interesting argument about the potential for socialism in the US, but if you make an argument like that then you can’t avoid the racial issue–even if you don’t understand it or think it isn’t unique to the US. If you are interested Alesina, Glaeser, and Sacerdote do an admirable job of explaining why the US doesn’t have a European-style Welfare State here:
http://www.wcfia.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/423__0332-Alesina11.pdf

101

Myles 03.06.11 at 12:59 am

I am vaguely aware of the Alesina et al paper (can’t read the paper now; busy). I think their thesis is right; even on an intuitive level, it makes very good sense.

In a sense I am not really talking about the same thing as Alesina et al; they’re discussing the viability of European social democracy; I am talking about a conceptual step beyond that, to democratic socialism. I am saying America was the most likely country potentially capable of eventual democratic socialism (which has never been practically demonstrated). What has been given up by the Cold War is the future possibility of democratic socialism in America, whereas Alesina et al concerned the present-day absence of social democracy.

On some level, my argument is similar to arguments that Wilhelmine Germany could have turned into a social democratic nation rather than a militaristic one; not necessarily likely, but intensely possible given the right circumstances, whereas some outcomes were not structurally possible to begin with (e.g. an Gladstonian liberal society).

Mind you, I don’t like either social democracy or democratic socialism, and find both to be erroneous developments of Enlightenment rationalism; I much prefer European classical liberalism (i.e. Freie Demokratische Partei).

102

Myles 03.06.11 at 1:07 am

(Future is used in the relative, rather than absolute, sense. The socialist future might have already occurred in an alternate universe, depending on how and when the contingent social conditions, such as the race-and-welfare society conundrum, have evolved.)

103

Lee A. Arnold 03.06.11 at 3:09 am

Myles, I don’t understand your certainty that because something hasn’t happened in a straight line, it therefore will not happen. I also don’t understand your certainty that what has happened in the past, is what will happen in the future.

Here is what will happen in the future, barring an environmental disaster: (1) the entire world will develop economically; (2) medical science will bring everyone up to the same cognitive intelligence levels; and (3) everybody is going to be sick to death of the same old 80-20 Pareto distribution of income and property. What happens next? I have no idea, but it won’t be business as usual.

104

hartal 03.06.11 at 4:25 am

Isn’t Marx referring to his German or perhaps continental European audience only in that quote– not the whole less industrialized world, much less agricultural colonies?

Brad DeLong is certainly not this type of liberal, but liberalism has not been incompatible with social Darwinism, even in the case of John Maynard Keynes as John Toye has shown (it’s been ten years since I read his Keynes on Population though). Keynes does not even seem to have had the confidence of universal progress that Condorcet expressed. So not all liberals have believed that the rest of the world would industrialize, or was even capable of industrializing on the basis of science and rational methods.

105

hartal 03.06.11 at 4:58 am

106

Myles 03.06.11 at 6:10 am

Here is what will happen in the future, barring an environmental disaster: (1) the entire world will develop economically; (2) medical science will bring everyone up to the same cognitive intelligence levels; and (3) everybody is going to be sick to death of the same old 80-20 Pareto distribution of income and property.

I hardly should think this sort of masturbatory, make-believe fantasy merits a proper response. This is the sort of sheer delusion that makes me almost sympathetic to Toryism; well, not quite.

107

geo 03.06.11 at 6:33 am

Myles, I don’t think you’ve quite done justice to Lee’s point. As I understand him, he’s merely pointing out that the present national/global distribution of wealth is so obviously irrational that it can’t possibly survive once a civilization has attained a certain level of literacy, leisure, and economic security. Drastic inequality, like theism, nuclear weapons, chattel slavery, the disenfranchisement of women, compulsory heterosexuality, and belief in a flat earth, may persist for a very long while, but human stupidity hath not an infinite lease.

108

Myles 03.06.11 at 7:34 am

As I understand him, he’s merely pointing out that the present national/global distribution of wealth is so obviously irrational that it can’t possibly survive once a civilization has attained a certain level of literacy, leisure, and economic security.

I merely need point out (2) to you to refute any claims of sanity. The notion expressed in that point has only caused me to snicker. And if you take out number (2), then there’s no rational, material basis why (3) will necessarily happen. Smarter people are (approximately) more productive, and more productive people gain (approximately) more wealth. Number (1) may well happen, but on its own it’s also an entirely banal point.

The “pure” version of Marxism (as opposed to democratic socialism, or social democracy or whatever have you) is predicated on a notion of full, biological human equality, as Lee so revealingly wrote, “everyone up to the same cognitive intelligence levels,” that has no basis on any kind of objective or earthly reality, not to mention being incredibly sinister in its civilizational implications (a world with no differentiation in ability is, ipso facto, a world without culture or aesthetics).

And of course, being indescribably horrific in its implications for human autonomy. What if individuals don’t want to be genetically engineered to be equally as smart as ever other human. What if individuals are happy being, and choosing to be dumber? Shall we then abandon the entire Marxist project? I think it’s not entirely unfair to characterize Lee A. Arnold’s Marxist vision as being dependent upon a eugenicist vision, in the original meaning of the word.

109

Myles 03.06.11 at 7:42 am

(And no, I didn’t set out to limn Lee as an eugenicist. Funny though how it falls out, like some forgotten souvenir of an embarrassing voyage, as soon as you subject his points to a vigorous bit of analytic shaking.)

110

Myles 03.06.11 at 7:53 am

And yes, points (1) and (3) can stand on their own as possible courses of history, but that’s not actually the argument Lee is making. Marxism is possible, perhaps even desirable or probable, but that’s not Lee’s vision; his Marxism is of an altogether different kind, and is more or less crackpot folk-Marxist Utopianism. If it were not the case, he wouldn’t have included point (2).

I take my words back about what the “pure” version of Marxism is predicated upon. I meant to say what Lee thinks pure Marxism to be.

111

Chris Bertram 03.06.11 at 9:23 am

I’m going to resist the temptation to enter this particular sub-fray. Myles, you have commented enough in this thread.

112

Tim Worstall 03.06.11 at 4:15 pm

(1) the entire world will develop economically; (2) medical science will bring everyone up to the same cognitive intelligence levels; and (3) everybody is going to be sick to death of the same old 80-20 Pareto distribution of income and property.

Umm, if we’re talking internationally, then 1) and 3) contradict each other. If the entire world develops economically (by which I assume you mean convergence, that China/Upper Volta/the USA are all at the same level of economic development) then we won’t have the same division of income that we have now. For that division of income is predicated on the point that various parts of the world are not equally economically developed.

If you mean an 80/20 split within specific societies, well, why won’t people put up with that? As they do now?

(Heading wildly off track I’d argue that income disparities are a great deal less important now than they ever have been. Being at the bottom of the income distribution in the UK does not mean being near death, it did not all that long ago. Being at the bottom of the UK income distribution now means having housing, education, health care (the last two certainly comparable to what 93% of the population is getting, the first of the three nearly so) plus a low income. Actual cash income just isn’t as great a marker of inequality of consumption as it used to be.)

113

Myles 03.06.11 at 4:59 pm

Myles, you have commented enough in this thread.

Very well.

114

bianca steele 03.06.11 at 6:20 pm

Hm, p. 5 of the Marx-Engels reader says bourgeois society is characterized by antagonism, specifically for economic reasons. Arguably a neoliberal can’t accept this, and if a neoliberal can, then we need a new word for what we’ve been calling “neoliberalism.”

115

dictateursanguinaire 03.06.11 at 6:59 pm

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. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation 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 liability 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 labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

‘No less important were sewer systems, garbage collection services, parks, hospitals, health and accident insurance schemes, public schools, labor unions, orphanages, asylums, prisons, and a great variety of humanitarian and charitable enterprises aimed at relieving the sufferings of the poor, sick and unfortunate. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century these and other inventions came into operation almost as fast as the swelling towns created the need for them. As a result, revolutionary feeling tended to recede in the most highly industrialized countries […]’

First bit is from Communist Manifesto, second is from McNeill’s A World History. The irony being that Marx was wrong about the proletarian revolution basically because people started listening to policy plans for sopping up the excesses of capitalism. He wasn’t Nostradamus, no, but he was pretty prescient. Also, McNeill notes that the places where revolution did happen – China and Russia – resisted industrialization and Marx’s more mild “working within the system” suggestions from CM. Just general food for thought

116

dictateursanguinaire 03.06.11 at 7:00 pm

*because people started listening to HIS policy plans …

117

dictateursanguinaire 03.06.11 at 7:10 pm

‘The “pure” version of Marxism (as opposed to democratic socialism, or social democracy or whatever have you) is predicated on a notion of full, biological human equality, as Lee so revealingly wrote, “everyone up to the same cognitive intelligence levels,” that has no basis on any kind of objective or earthly reality, not to mention being incredibly sinister in its civilizational implications (a world with no differentiation in ability is, ipso facto, a world without culture or aesthetics). ‘

so wrong! Haven’t you ever heard (and yes, I know this is not exactly how Marx phrased it) “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” ? That is clearly a recognition of naturally occurring inequality. The idea is that, even though natural inequality exists, it shouldn’t mean we don’t strive for relative equality in politics or economics (operative word: relative.) You sound like a friend of mine who once asked me if I wanted a world like “Harrison Bergeron” (where everyone is forced into literal biological equality) and if not, why I even bothered reading Marx. The problem is that no major thinkers believe in that vision of the future (maybe some forgotten utopians of the 19th century but certainly not Marx.) That straw man is set up again and again, and it still remains a (poorly-done) caricature of anyone on the left who matters.

118

geo 03.06.11 at 7:38 pm

Tim @112: But if inequality of income doesn’t translate into significant inequality of condition, then why object to equalizing income?

119

Lee A. Arnold 03.06.11 at 10:54 pm

Myles, you missed the point I was making, but narrowly. Yes, the main defense of capitalism is that some people do things better, and so they ought to be rewarded. The point of my (#2) is that a basic change in that condition is essential in every theory of why capitalism is likely to be diminished or transcended. Now why would that change?

If it isn’t a cognitive enhancement bringing everyone to Einsteinian and athletic levels, and so eliminating “different abilities” as a reason for the 80-20 distribution of wealth, then there are always other candidates.

Therefore, if the present acceleration of medical science does not qualify to you as having “any kind of objective or earthly reality”, or you do not wish to guess about its likely outcomes, or you suppose that people will have to be forced to take pills to make them smarter or healthier or prettier (because somehow you are unaware of the booming markets, both legal and illegal, in health supplements and cognitive enhancers and cosmetics), or you have been misled in your psychological studies by an informant who told you that he has chosen “to be dumber”, then let’s start with something else.

I am not a Marxist so far as I know. (Although I thought the saying goes, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” not your “notion of full, biological human equality.”) So let us go to Schumpeter, brilliant Austrian economist, brilliant critic of Marx, in the book where he first used the term and described the process of “creative destruction” — and then went further, to give his own reasons why capitalism will fail:

(A) The growing obsolescence of the entrepreneurial function, as technological progress increasingly becomes the depersonalized and automatized business of teams of trained specialists. (B) Capitalism’s destruction of the protective political psychology in which it arose, and the bourgeoisie’s psychological inability to provide a substitute. (C) Capitalism’s destruction of its own institutional framework, both in unavoidably attacking the economic ground of the small producer and trader, and in devaluing and displacing the proprietary attitudes toward “private property” and “free contracting” among most of the actors in the bigger units. (D) Capitalism’s rationalistic self-defense can never deduce, much less guarantee, a glorious future that will assuage the extra-rational concerns of the have-nots in the present.

Now, these are adumbrations of a very dense set of arguments in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942), chapters 12 and 13, and so any objections to them should first be referred to the book.

My point is, and was, different: that every one of them goes to a growing disconnection between effort-ability and reward. That will be the game-changer.

What I really wanted to read, though, was why you think the U.S. has somehow fundamentally changed. The reason I believed Reagan’s election would accelerate the eclipse of capitalism is because I was certain that he would make things worse. As he did: Reaganism led in a quarter-century to the present unmasking of an almost completely corrupt financial system and the governments that bailed it out. As headline news. It doesn’t get any better than this! I’m not much of a Marxist nor a Hegelian, but I think they had it right about the contradictions. Still I might agree, it may go back and forth a few more times, so 70 years may be a bit too soon.

120

Lee A. Arnold 03.07.11 at 12:00 am

Tim Worstall, Within democratic societies, people put up with the 80-20 distribution now for at least two reasons: the belief that it is fair to give the greater rewards to the greater abilities, and the existence of a large welfare state which meliorates the worst outcomes.

Standards of living rise for everybody, but I’m not sure that it is correct to say that “income disparities are a great deal less important now.” The last few decades saw a (minor) worsening in the distribution of incomes. At this moment, we are all presented with the enormous political question of the welfare state budgets. The recent bailouts of the entire financial system and most of its wealthiest actors were followed, in the U.S., by extending the tax cuts favoring the wealthiest. Now the Republicans have decided to balance the budgets on the backs of the teachers unions! I would argue that we appear to be heading into a new historical phase of greater unrest concerning income disparities, and it may be a long phase, unless the capitalists are smart enough to just shut up and pay their taxes.

121

geo 03.07.11 at 12:35 am

Lee: Yes, the main defense of capitalism is that some people do things better, and so they ought to be rewarded. The point of my (#2) is that a basic change in that condition is essential in every theory of why capitalism is likely to be diminished or transcended.

Not every theory. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of any theory that argues this. Marx doesn’t: he claims that capitalism is inherently unstable. Mill doesn’t; he simply argues that the working class will gradually grow too enlightened and self-confident to allow itself to be exploited. Ruskin and Morris don’t: they find that industrial capitalism produces an intolerably ugly, ungracious, anti-social form of life. My preferred contemporary theory of democratic socialism, Michael Walzer’s in <Spheres of Equality, argues specifically (drawing on Marx’s “from each according … to each according” remark, though not on Marx’s analysis of capitalism) that who produces more doesn’t matter; goods, honors, and power ought to be distributed according to their telos (though he doesn’t use that word).

I would say simply: it seems incredible that civilization won’t move on from here, that we won’t figure out a way of living together that doesn’t involve so much insecurity, drudgery, ugliness, danger, and deceit. I’ll be perfectly happy (figuratively speaking — I’ll have been dead for centuries) to call that state of affairs socialism.

122

geo 03.07.11 at 12:40 am

Sorry! The last sentence of the first paragraph should read: “My preferred contemporary theory of democratic socialism, Michael Walzer’s in Spheres of Justice, building on Marx’s remark about “from each according … to each according,” argues that who produces how much doesn’t matter; goods, honors, offices ought to be allocated according to their telos (though he doesn’t use that word). “

123

Lee A. Arnold 03.07.11 at 1:43 am

Geo, hi, you are right, not every theory. And there are also inhumane and cataclysmic scenarios. But it looks like the base of Schumpeter’s theory.

But I have a question for you. Mill wrote, “The very idea of distributive justice, or of any proportionality between success and merit, or between success and exertion, is in the present state of society so manifestly chimerical as to be relegated to the regions of romance.” (Socialism 1869, p.31)

To which Adam Smith might have agreed, a hundred years before: “The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of… The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher [i.e., a natural scientist] and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education…” (Wealth of Nations 1776, ch.2)

So would it be better to say that, for philosophers in this time period (which included Marx), every human was pretty much the same? If so, then any theory of socialism would not have entertained the question of difference unless it distinguished ability from effort (and yet Mill is careful to distinguish both from success). Is the notion of greater abilities justifying greater rewards really a later (and occasionally self-serving) ideological development, buttressed by the ratiocinative demands of advanced scientific study, and the development of IQ tests and so on?

But the only part of Mill I have studied is his Logic. So I will also ask you: did Mill have a theory of how things might change, or was his position one of exhortation? Would the welfare state have sufficed, for him?

124

john c. halasz 03.07.11 at 1:47 am

I don’t know if it effects this late wayward discussion much, but I think it’s reasonably clear or likely that older Marx expected the transition to socialism to occur, whether peacefully or not, within a few generations of when he was writing, i.e. at much low levels of technological development than have since been obtained. Due to the “forces-of-production” having exceeded the limits set by the prevailing “relation-of-production”, of course.And some of his reasoning is fairly obvious. That oligopolistic concentration of production, which geo mentioned above, at high levels of technical efficiency and extensive scale means that production has already largely been socialized anyway, such that fully socializing it would be but a small step. And, economically speaking, it also means that competitive market-based pricing has largely been suspended and replaced by administrative mark-up pricing. But that prognosis and expectation has clearly failed, as capitalism has proven far more capable of sustaining technically efficient, but socially inefficient and wasteful, overproduction than Marx surmised, rather than being replaced by more deliberative guidance mechanisms, more in accordance with human and natural ends and limits.

125

john c. halasz 03.07.11 at 1:47 am

Somebody needs to close the italics.

126

geo 03.07.11 at 5:45 am

Lee: As I understand Mill, he acknowledges great individual differences in ability but, because the web of causation — economic and other – is so thick and intricate, it is impossible to estimate individual contributions to the social product with any exactness. But beyond that, he was simply a humanist, and thought that as working-class literacy, organization, and self-confidence increased, the workers would impose a more just and rational social order, which might very well include markets and competition but would definitely include far less hierarchy and inequality, not to mention drudgery. I don’t know if that’s a theory or not. Certainly he expected enlightened folks like all (well, most) of us on CT to contribute our exhortations, for whatever they’re worth.

127

Leinad 03.07.11 at 5:48 am

hope that helps.

128

Tim Worstall 03.07.11 at 10:38 am

Having written this, apologies for going wildly of course again:

“Standards of living rise for everybody, but I’m not sure that it is correct to say that “income disparities are a great deal less important now.” The last few decades saw a (minor) worsening in the distribution of incomes.”

Indeed, but my argument is rather that changes in that distribution of income are less important now than they were. Tyler Cowen urges us to look at the distribution of consumption as being more important. With which I would agree.

But I would go further. Much further in fact. 100 years ago income differentials might mean the difference between no fridge and a fridge (sorry, don’t know when firdges were actually invented), or between sufficient calories and insufficient, between a car/carriage and Shank’s Pony.

Today income differentials in any of the advanced industrial countries means a difference between a generic fridge and a Smeg, sufficient calories and exotic calories, a second hand clunker or a new Merc. Income differentials, in terms of physical standards of living, just aren’t as important as they used to be.

And I did get rather angry with a report on wealth differentials a year or so back in the UK. Bottom 10% have £8 k in assets, top 10% £800k, leading to a wealth difference of 100:1.

Numbers they go to by entirely ignoring the existence of the welfare state (that is, they measured wealth before the influence of taxes and benefits, not after). Yer average bottom 10% er in the UK has access to social housing for life at a preferential rent. This is an asset, of course (worth some £60k on average). They deliberately excluded the State pension, including only private pension accruals, in their calculations of wealth. That State pension of course has a value as an asset: £40k maybe? Etc, etc, etc. The wealth differential simply isn’t as large as it was portrayed, for we all have an asset of great value: that very welfare state itself.

“Tim @112: But if inequality of income doesn’t translate into significant inequality of condition, then why object to equalizing income?”

I don’t object to some equalizing of income. Or wealth. I do object to two things: 1), discussions of how much equalizing there should be without a calculation of how much we already do and 2) the idea that complete equalizing is either desirable or possible if we are to continue to have incentives.

As Smith has been used above, I’m entirely happy with Smith’s idea about how muc redistribution there should be. The linen shirt example (a linen shirt is not an essential, but if you live in a society where not being able to afford one makes you poor then not being able to afford a linen shirt makes you poor in the eyes of that society). We even have a good estimate in the UK of what the linen shirt means in the UK today: from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a pre tax income of £13,800 or so a year. Which is actually where the “living wage” number of £7.60 an hour comes from.

I’m just fine with that as a goal: redistribution until all have the standard of living implied by that number. The abolition of poverty if you like.

Where I argue is that few seem to note the next point. The current minimum wage (£6.00/hr ish) would be, if income tax and national insurance were not charged on it, the same post tax income as that £13,800 would be post tax. So we can eliminate poverty among those who work full time full year simply by not taxing the poor so damn much: by making the personal allowance equal the minimum wage.

Just fine by me: indeed, the think tank I’m a part of (the Adam Smith one) advocates this as policy. Yes, even if taxes have to rise elsewhere to pay for it.

129

ajay 03.07.11 at 10:44 am

Geo: 1) An increasing proportion of the world’s population will make a living by selling their labor power rather than by producing for their own subsistence, as many still did in his time.

2) An increasing proportion of trade and investment will take place on globally integrated markets, rather than nationally self-contained ones.

3) Competition will force wages (and benefits) down (immiseration), a tendency countered to an unforeseeable extent by technological innovation (increasing productivity).

4) As the reserve of previously unexploited natural and human resources (ie, of primitive accumulation) diminishes, the rate of exploitation must intensify, or the rate of profit will have a tendency to fall. This tendency too can be countered by technological innovation, at least temporarily.

Put this way, it seems to me that Marx’s vision was spot on.

Spot on on points 1 and 2, neither of which took a tremendous amount of predictive power in 1868. (Of all people, Alfred, Lord Tennyson had predicted something similar thirty years before.) Point 4 is also arguably correct.
But he wasn’t spot on with regard to point 3. Immiseration has not happened. Nowhere are wages and benefits significantly lower today than they were in, say, 1960. (Growing inequality is a different issue.) Immiseration was his big idea, and it’s not correct.

130

Random lurker 03.07.11 at 10:52 am

“Also, McNeill notes that the places where revolution did happen – China and Russia – resisted industrialization and Marx’s more mild “working within the system” suggestions from CM. Just general food for thought”

I believe that Marx regarded his ten points as a description of communism, not as a milder “working within the system” version.

We don’t see those points as very revoluctionary (as the “public schools” point) mostly because our society became more socialist than it was in Marx’s times (wich sorta proves Marx right, imho).

131

Neel Krishnaswami 03.07.11 at 1:57 pm

Isn’t Marx referring to his German or perhaps continental European audience only in that quote—not the whole less industrialized world, much less agricultural colonies?

I think that’s a very narrowly provincial reading, and so is a view that Marx likely wouldn’t have taken.

For example, one of the biggest differences between British and German industrialization was that the Brits conquered a quarter of the world and butchered millions of people while industrializing. The Germans didn’t — they waited until after they industrialized to try their hand at empire and mass murder. I take this to mean that Britain did not provide an image of German development, on the grounds that not creating millions of corpses while industrializing constitutes a pretty big difference.

I don’t think this is an ahistorical reading, either. The trade union movements in Britain at the time were self-consciously universalist — for example, during the American Civil War, the trade unions in Birmingham opposed proposals to break the Union blockade of the Confederacy, despite the fact that this had greatly obstructed flows of cotton to the mills and had put many thousands of laborers out of work. So I further think liberals and leftists in the 19th century would have shared the view that this would be a big difference.

132

chris 03.07.11 at 3:49 pm

But he wasn’t spot on with regard to point 3.

Thus that useful phrase “countered to an unforeseeable extent”. See, if you read it right, any state of affairs can be harmonized with that “prediction”.

That, of course, makes it no prediction at all. Even if it is fair to say that Marx hedged to the point of hardly saying anything definite at all, and not an ex post facto reinterpretation, that still leaves him hardly saying anything definite at all — in which case he’s not wrong, as such, but hasn’t really predicted the future either (if he was ever trying to do that in the first place).

Yer average bottom 10% er in the UK has access to social housing for life at a preferential rent. This is an asset, of course (worth some £60k on average).

Is it really for life? That is, if they become richer next year, are they still entitled to stay in the cheap housing if they choose, or are they booted out in favor of some other person/family that is poor that year? I don’t know the details of the UK system, but it seems to me that in the latter case, it would be misleading to describe what they have as an “asset”; it’s more like in-kind income provided to them only as long as they meet the conditions to continue receiving it.

But maybe this late in an only peripherally related thread is a poor time to bring up this sort of thing.

133

geo 03.07.11 at 5:27 pm

Tim: That sounds pretty good to me. Does your think tank have the ear of the American government, by any chance?

Chris: True, it’s not a precise, completely falsifiable prediction like those of, say, neoclassical economics. On the other hand, if one could model wages in the absence of technologically derived increases in productivity, and on the assumption of capitalist control of the state (ie, no full employment policy, unlimited mobility of capital, limited mobility and organization of labor), wouldn’t wages be squeezed?

134

Tim Worstall 03.07.11 at 5:42 pm

“Is it really for life? That is, if they become richer next year, are they still entitled to stay in the cheap housing if they choose”

Yes. It’s even (under quite restrictive rules) inheritable.

“Tim: That sounds pretty good to me. Does your think tank have the ear of the American government, by any chance?”

Sadly no….and for most of the British authors of this blog, it was an unhappy time when we had the ear of the UK government as well…..

135

dictateursanguinaire 03.07.11 at 7:09 pm

“I believe that Marx regarded his ten points as a description of communism, not as a milder “working within the system” version.

We don’t see those points as very revoluctionary (as the “public schools” point) mostly because our society became more socialist than it was in Marx’s times (wich sorta proves Marx right, imho). “

Well, Marx’s communism was a classless, stateless society. So these would be “the road to communism” (to hijack Hayek’s phrase) but they would not constitute communism (for Marx.) Otherwise, under that definition, we’d be close to communism worldwide, yet Marx would certainly not agree.

As to your second para – yeah, that was the point I was trying to make, that Marx has so far been wrong largely because we’ve significantly tinkered with capitalism. It might have gone under in the U.S. in the early 20th century (as briefly did in Germany) and what saved it were two very not-laissez-faire measures (being the ND and WWII.) My point is that people who want to say “Marx was wrong, capitalism was right” generally are poor readers of history. And make no mistake, Keynes and his followers were certainly capitalists and not radicals. But they understood that unreconstructed capitalism will, as Schumpeter thought, eventually undermine itself because a significant chunk of the population will get short changed. One doesn’t need to be a Marxist to appreciate the fact that a mixed economy has pretty clearly proven itself to be preferable to state socialism or anarcho-capitalism.

136

Lee A. Arnold 03.07.11 at 7:19 pm

dictateursanguinaire: “Marx has so far been wrong largely because we’ve significantly tinkered with capitalism. “

We also had complete disruptions by two (2) world wars, the bad example of Marxism in the Soviet Union, and the rise of capital-owned, one-way mass media (radio and TV) to dispense its propaganda unilaterally and at leisure too. So maybe the 20th Cent. was just a diversion.

137

William Timberman 03.07.11 at 7:33 pm

So maybe the 20th Cent. was just a diversion.

This is looking more and more to be the case, especially as concerns the part between roughly 1960 and 1980 (making allowances for different national timetables.) Who knew at the time that the Wirtschaftswunder would turn out to be as evanescent as miracles usually are? Who but Marx, I would say, but none of the serious people listen to him any more. (They read him, yes, but who listens to him?)

138

john c. halasz 03.08.11 at 2:55 am

@ 129 & 132:

Nope. Marx did offer a highly specific account, from which highly generalized predictions could be derived, in terms of the dynamic interaction of specified tendencies. But it doesn’t involve a dependence on an absolute immiseration thesis. He did after all distinguish between absolute and relative “immiseration”,- (and, in fact, similar pairings are to be found throughout his work, such as, e.g., the difference between absolute and relative surplus-value). It’s obvious that, as productivity and output rise, real wages would also have to rise, in order to absorb such increased output. That is, in fact, to simplify a bit, one of the main points of LTV accounting: the aggregate “mass” of labor-values would amount to what is required to sustain full employment and wages sufficient to continuously sustain aggregate demand. (And BTW as output and productivity increase, labor-values don’t: if the former double, then the per unit labor-value has halved). So wages can and do and even must rise, perhaps even above their “value”, during boom phases, but capital accumulation and the “imperative” to maintain its “value” also increase. And Marx’ specific claim is that the asymmetry between distribution to wages and profits under capitalism will entail that a permanent “equilibrium” sufficient to sustain AD can’t be lasting obtained. In the early stages, absolute immiseration does obtain, as craft workers’ livelihoods are destroyed and peasants driven off the land, but, in later periods, standards-of-living do and can rise. “Absolute immiseration” then obtains within and across cycles only as a result of depressions. And it’s still an open question as to whether Keynesian demand management can fully counteract that tendency, even if it prolongs the lags by which it might take hold. But then again, though we now know more about economic policy than obtained in Marx’ time, it’s still a matter that what theories are formed and what policy options are “chosen” is very much dependent on the conflicting interests that they serve. And the failure to adopt optimal policy responses nowadays or the continuing rationalization of obviously failed policies is itself in need of explanation.

So your crude Popperian technocratic falsificationism, combined with your manifest ignorance of any actual Marxian contents, just amounts to a “social scientific” know-nothingism and nihilism: Marx must be obviously wrong, simply because you say so. Without specifying the ways in which he is wrong, or offering any alternative account.

geo @133:

Do you really think neo-classical economics offers precise, falsifiable predictions?

139

geo 03.08.11 at 3:24 am

john: Do you really think … ?

No, I was just trying to get a rise out of somebody. :-)

Comments on this entry are closed.