Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Marx, Capitalism and the "Uncertainty" Problem

"Was Marx Right?"  from the Harvard Business Review Blog is fascinating and worth attention and analysis.

 We hear everyday that American business is sitting on mountains of cash but they refuse to expand and hire workers.  Why?  One word appears more often than any other in their answers: “uncertainty.”  Perhaps they’ve been reading Marx. He lays out all kinds of reasons, utopian in his day, reasonable in ours, that would give rise to a plague of “uncertainty” in the minds of those who make economic decisions in the global economy.

But perhaps Marx was wrong about all this, just another evil alarmist whose predictions about class struggle and revolution failed to materialize, or just failed.

John Gray on the BBC thinks so.  But John Gray isn’t about to provide solace to the uncertain.  More alarming than Marx, Gray makes a good case that capitalism is doing itself in.

Here’s an excerpt.  The entire essay is worth pondering.  Just don’t show it to those capitalist pantywaists who are frozen in uncertainty.  It would turn them from comatose into a state of total rigor mortis.

A Point of View: The revolution of capitalism

. . . In a society that is being continuously transformed by market forces, traditional values are dysfunctional and anyone who tries to live by them risks ending up on the scrapheap.

Looking to a future in which the market permeates every corner of life, Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto: "Everything that is solid melts into air". For someone living in early Victorian England - the Manifesto was published in 1848 - it was an astonishingly far-seeing observation.

At the time nothing seemed more solid than the society on the margins of which Marx lived. A century and a half later we find ourselves in the world he anticipated, where everyone's life is experimental and provisional, and sudden ruin can happen at any time.

A tiny few have accumulated vast wealth but even that has an evanescent, almost ghostly quality. In Victorian times the seriously rich could afford to relax provided they were conservative in how they invested their money. When the heroes of Dickens' novels finally come into their inheritance, they do nothing forever after.

Today there is no haven of security. The gyrations of the market are such that no-one can know what will have value even a few years ahead. . . .

Capitalism has led to a revolution but not the one that Marx expected. The fiery German thinker hated the bourgeois life and looked to communism to destroy it. And just as he predicted, the bourgeois world has been destroyed.

But it wasn't communism that did the deed. It's capitalism that has killed off the bourgeoisie.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Labor Day -- 2011

As conservative political forces work hard to turn back the clock on government regulation, it's worthwhile to recall the conditions which created the needs for such governmental action.  Jack London's autobiographical story, "The Apostate" is a good place to start.  This comes from The Library of America "Story of the Week"

The Apostate

Jack London (1876–1916)
From Jack London: Novels and Stories

Jack London worked a number of odd jobs during his childhood years in West Oakland, California: delivering newspapers, sweeping salon floors, and setting up pins in a bowling alley. After he completed grammar school in 1890 at the age of fourteen, he found employment at the nearby Hickmott’s cannery, where he spent twelve to eighteen hours a day stuffing pickles into jars—at ten cents an hour. The work was strenuous, tedious, and robotic, and the long hours kept the teenager from his favorite pastime: reading in the local library. As Alex Kershaw notes in his biography of London, “There had been no attempt to outlaw child labor in California, nor was there health and safety regulation, nor any limits on hours worked.” Toward the end of the century, some states began passing laws prohibiting factory and quarry work for children under fourteen, but evasion was widespread and enforcement was spotty. . . .