Harvard Review looks to Marx


'There might have been something in what Marx said about capitalism' is the conclusion reached by one columnist for one of America's foremost advocates of capitalism. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Umair Haque, author of 'The New Capitalist Manifesto' reckons we need to look at Marx afresh.
Haque establishes from the off that "I'm a staunch believer in capitalism" and is keen to establish too that "I don't think Communism is the glorious future of mankind". But, he says, there may be "a tiny mote of insight or two hidden in Marx's diagnoses of the maladies of industrial age capitalism".

Marxist concepts

It's worth reading the full post, and the discussion that follows it, which is linked below. But, in short, Haque takes a number of Marxist concepts and looks at them against a backdrop of current world economic events. There's plenty of food for thought.

  • Immiseration: The failure of wages to keep pace with productivity over decades, leaving wealth to accrue to those at the top, would certainly seem to back up Marx's view that capitalism would exploit workers both ethically and economically.

  • Crisis: Marx spoke of "poverty in the midst of plenty" when examing what he said would be chronic, perpetual crises of overproduction. Haque says a modern interpretation would be "too little demand chasing too many disposable widgets, resulting in a massive global debt crisis, as vanishing middle classes took on more and more debt to compensate for stagnant real wages."

  • Stagnation: Marx's theory that real rates of profit would fall has been widely challenged. But Haque says if we bear in mind that he talked about "real" rates, not the profit created by transferring value rather than creating it, then he "might have been on to something".

  • Alienation: Marx said that as workers became divorced from the output of their labour, so they would lose a sense of purpose. Haque says: "If sweating over the font in a PowerPoint deck for the mega-leveraged buyout of a line of designer diapers is the portrait of modern 'work,' then call me alienated." There's more, but for that you should read the link below.

Any discussion of Marx, as Haque acknowledges, is bound to provoke partisan debate. Bound too to draw criticism from theorists who claim to have a deeper understanding. But Marx devoted a lifetime to developing the most through analysis of the capitalist system, so it would be foolish to write it off.

Applied analysis

There's an increasing recognition that any discussion of Marx has to look at his analysis, rather than how that analysis has been applied. As one of the HBR comments online recalls, Marx once observed a gathering of French Communists and said: "If this is Marxism then I'm no Marxist."

But it's that connection between theory and practice which, perhaps, makes Marx so controversial – and especially so at a time when blind faith in market capitalism seems utterly misplaced. Possibly his most astute observation was that "philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it".

Link (opens in new window)

Marx on the Harvard Business Review
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