The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 3

A Clientelist Elite, And An Idiotic Idea

On the 30th of April 2018 the New York Times published an opinion piece, “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” by Jason Barker. It was a typical, facile, brief account of the virtue of Karl Marx by an academic – a Professor of English (who and what else?) – who had found employment teaching philosophy in South Korea.

To anyone who might have thought that Karl Marx was the guy who (in his words) “proved” that “the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,” and “that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society ,” and thus triggered the crazy schemes and programs of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, etc., who had to kill a lot of people to make sure that they would not even think about trying to protect their property from the party representing the dictatorship of the proletariat – Barker, true to (con)form(ity), informed the urbane, sensitive, well educated, sophisticated and terribly exploited readers of the New York Times that Marxism had never really been tried.

Barker, like so many academics before him, was true to a dictum (which I know I have used before in this magazine) of another, extremely talented, Marx (Chico) that when one heard the words of Marx, one should believe him, not what one sees with one’s own eyes.

In Karl’s case, anyone who used his eyes could see that while he insisted that it was not consciousness but social being that determines consciousness and that the social “being” of the proletariat was the key to its universal emancipatory historical role of destroying class society, everything Marx said about the proletariat came out of his consciousness; or, more precisely, his imagination, consisting of his reading and philosophy, his rationalizations and selective observations – but nothing from his being as a proletarian. For Marx belonged as much to that class as any other person who has known some workers; or, as in his case, was good friends with (and received money from) someone (viz., his friend Engels who was also coauthor of The Communist Manifesto) who employed them in his factory. Perhaps Marx was so blind to himself that he never noticed the deception he was engaging in.

Likewise, perhaps Barker’s blindness to reality stems from simply not knowing that he is ignorant about the historical connections between Marx, Lenin and Stalin, and why the goal of the program – the elimination of private ownership of “the means of production” – required the kind of theoretical adaptation that not only Marxists but Marx himself made when, in spite of the central argument of his unfinished magnum opus, Capital, that the conditions of socialism had to be generated from the internal contradictions flowing from the development of capitalism reaching its breaking point, he told his Russian “fans” that they could have communism without having to go through the journey of capitalism as Western Europe had done.

Whether ignorant or not, one must be blind, if one does not realize that when the Bolsheviks tried to create the kind of society Marx dreamt of, they got chaos and resistance. Like Marx, there was no serious precedent anywhere ever of what they wanted; although, like Marx, they romanticized the artisan-led Paris commune (itself a product of very specific French political and Parisian conditions in the tumult and aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war), as if it were somehow a prototype of what they were pursuing.

For Marx and the Bolsheviks, socialism was to be a society in which there would be large-scale, spontaneous cooperative harnessing of labour power to produce whatever the society needed. And because there would be no classes and no bourgeoisie to dictate patterns of consumption based upon profits, there was supposed to be unanimous agreement upon social needs. Given that people did not all think it was such a swell idea to have their property taken away from them, or be told what work they had to do and for how long, the mass cooperation that was supposed to emerge out of the unalienated classless condition had to be induced another way.

Historically two common inducements outside of the family, or tribe (which has its own compulsions) have occurred – force (conquest, enslavement, etc.), or renumeration/exchange (you do this for me, and I do that/give this for /to you). The Bolsheviks resorted to option A, thereby leaping back beyond Russian feudalism and creating large scale modern, ideologically induced and legitimated, labour camps for mass slavery (thereby also showing the National Socialists how to go about it), and the creation of a secret police (again, showing the National Socialists how to scout out and deal with traitors to the regime).

That this would occur could only be a surprise to someone who prefers historical fantasy about human social formation over actual development, which proceeds according to certain structural, functional conditions of scale and coordination of resource accumulation and production (the very topic Marxism was supposed to be particularly astute to). That the Bolsheviks were still confronted with chaos – made even worse by a civil war, as, naturally enough, various groups who were in less controllable regions fought against becoming dispossessed and enslaved to fulfil the fantasies of the intelligentsia and their willing followers – led them to resort back, in part at least, to option B.

But Lenin knew that if this was a long-term option, then one could forget the endgame. Stalin remembered that – thus he realized that the only way to salvage the program after Lenin’s death was to get it back on track, and destroy the peasantry and their market base, as well as any opposition to the slaughter that this would entail. (By the way, when Bukharin was pressing for the New Economic Policy, allowing the peasantry to have their own markets NEP, Trotsky was vigorously opposed to it, while Stalin was non-committal – so much for the myth of the tolerant Trotsky).

But given the geopolitical rivalry Stalin was confronted with (for Lenin had taken advantage of a war that had effectually help destroy the old regime), Stalin had to be prepared for the inevitability of another war. That required having a society that was industrially and technologically developed, administratively capable, centrally coordinated and politically committed. No wonder Trotsky’s “wind-baggery” about the dangers of bureaucracy in the face of internal oppositionists and arising external deadly adversaries looked like outright defeatism and treachery (Stalin realized that the geopolitical aspirations of Nazi Germany were not to be confused with the rather lack-luster involvement by a gaggle of foreign powers on the fringes of Russia in the immediate aftermath of the Great War).

The old revolutionary guard had been good at gasbagging about how great their new world would be, distributing propaganda and defying the old regime, inciting mutiny, and then ruthlessly destroying anyone who did not join them. Stalin certainly took all this on board – but (Stalin and those he trusted or needed aside) they were generally useless for actually building a new large-scale centralized state-run economy. Yes, indeed, this was ostensibly a new option – option C. Given it was option B – the market – that Marxism had identified as the root of alienation, and given that the fantasy of simply letting people take and do what they want could not exist, and that this left force (option A) in the form of the state (whose bulwarks were its secret police, originally Lenin’s creation, the Cheka, and the Red Army) as the means for organizing large scale production – option C was really just option A.

And that came back to the basic option that Marxists from Karl on had ever skirted around – production via sheer force of arms and the instruments of authority the state could marshal against those who defied it, or markets? Up until the time communists actually had some power, they preferred verbal dream to tough as boots reality; and hence promised to eliminate both – this was seen as nonsense even by the anarchist lunatic Bakunin, who accused Marxism of being nothing but red bureaucracy and statism. Bakunin was, of course, another of those nineteenth century fabulists who thought that because the bulwarks of civilization (private property, the family, the state, religion, money, law, etc.) created their own (to be sure) serious problems, they could simply be overthrown without human beings being thrown back again into the problems and kinds of crises that these institutions had arisen to overcome.

Stalinist statism was, in other words, the inevitable accompaniment of the attempt to instantiate a rationalist program upon the world, which is a contingent, not a rational creation. And while an ideology is just a chain of ideas, some of which derive from reality; others, like communism itself – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” as Marx famously and ridiculously formulated it – are just words. But once a group of people who share a set of ideas seek to make others do what they want, then they need the state with the modalities of force that it can activate for all those who refuse to obey.

As an ideology Marxism, like anarchism, simply avoided the issue of disputation and disagreement by identifying anyone who did not get on board with the program as class enemies, and thus an enemy of the human race, which was why once the Bolsheviks seized power they upped the dictum of the red queen in Alice in Wonderland, calling “bourgeois” or “agents of the bourgeoisie” anyone they needed to lock up or liquidate because such would not do what they were told. And, perhaps Barker has no memory of this, but back in the day communists generally, and communist intellectuals, including people as smart as Brecht, Benjamin, Tzara, Picasso, Eluard, Aragon – all loved Stalin.

And when Stalin was cleaning out the stable – including the upper ranks of the military (which, contrary to the standard critique of it being potentially perilous to the regime, turned out to be a brilliant move with historical precedent based upon the insight that old generals will generally be a burden because they will want to fight the new war in the old way) – so that a new, more technically proficient, class could build up the economy after all the ruin of the 1920s.

The New York Times also had their man, Walter Duranty, on the ground. He wrote fables for New Yorkers living far away from the slave camps, about what a bunch of treacherous scum Stalin had to deal with. And to be fair to Stalin, the only difference between him and Trotsky, or Zinoviev or Kamenev, and even (sad to say, the golden-haired boy) Bukharin, the other saboteurs was that he was more astute in the battles he picked, and the allies he chose in fighting them. And whereas Trotsky, his one real possible rival to take charge of gulags and mass death to implement the program, was cold and aloof, Stalin could really turn on that big, earthy, goofy smile and ingratiating rustic charm.

As for the great mass of those caught up in the purge, New York Times readers, even had they known, generally could not care less about these unknown people, in a place that was only knowable through the scribble and portal of people like Duranty’s imagination. As with Barker and the readers of 2018, reality should not interfere with a pipe-dream. People usually only change after a great deal of personal suffering, as opposed to suffering that one reads about in newspapers and which befalls others. That is unfortunate, though no less so than the fact that people with idiotic ideas make small and large fortunes out of their imbecilic ideas which, in the long run, only contribute to larger scale human suffering than God or nature, left to their own devices, may have devised.

While I think it highly unlikely that the Sulzberger family today, who have run the Times for generations, and the editors they appoint really want to see their property seized and socialized by the industrial proletariat, they are more than happy to employ an editor who back in the day saw it fitting to inform their readers what a swell guy Uncle Joe was, and now more recently that communism might be worth another go. Maybe that is blindness too. And perhaps it was also simply blindness that led President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who, around much the same time as Barker’s “thought piece,” was also urging anyone who thought him worth listening to that Karl Marx should be celebrated and not be blamed for the crimes of his followers. Perhaps he too was blind to the fact that his power and privilege have about as much to do with the proletariat as my watching Michael Jordan turned me into one of the greatest athletes on the planet.

The idea of communism, from the founder to his followers, and others, who are happy to pitch it as a seriously good idea, seems to create a lot of blindness. It certainly creates idiocy. And let us not beat around any scholarly bushes of etiquette: the idea we are talking about is completely idiotic. Communism, as Marx exclaimed in his notebooks of 1844, solved the riddle of history because it enabled the overcoming of alienation. The logic is pure scholasticism (without any residual virtues that such devotion to logic for understanding God and the soul might have had).

And it goes like this: private property has alienated us therefore we must eliminate it. Or to flesh it out a bit more, our alienation comes from being estranged from our species’ essence, which is labouring. Poverty exists because our essence, our capacity to labour, has been expropriated from us by people who buy and sell us and our essence for their own gain.

Were we to take back our essence, by eliminating private property, and labour, because we saw that by producing something for someone else we have gratified our “authentic…human communal, nature” (the logic is spelled out in Notes he took on James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy), we would also eliminate classes, and thus create the most productive economic system that ever existed. To which one can only respond – wow, how come no other societies ever conformed to the human essence? Maybe, just maybe, what Marx thought was the essence was just an existential attribute or feature that is, in part, a response to necessity. But if it were the essence, it sure waited a long time to be discovered.

The worst thing about Marx’s reasoning and conclusion is not its platitudinous quality – more or less articulated by Montaigne in his essays, “Of Cannibals” (a critique of Europe’s own burdens, mixed up with a romantic paean to primitive life, which, to its credit, was not burdened by bad economics), roundly and brilliantly ridiculed by Shakespeare, when he put parts of it in the mouth of the well-meaning, but imbecilic Gonzalo, and repeated by the cultural (Marxist?) icon of the 1960s and 1970s John Lennon – “imagine no possessions/ I wonder if you can.” Yes, I can, John, and if you had read a bit more between writing some good songs (and let’s face it some real stinkers – can anyone listen to ‘Woman’ without a bucket?), taking drugs and schmoozing up to Yoko, you would know that it ain’t a pretty sight.

If the above logic does not sound idiotic to you, you have not realized that classes are just the name we give to the various groups that are created by the division of labour. In other words, the only way to eliminate classes is to eliminate the division of labour, which is why in his heady twenty-four or -five year old enthusiastic, drunken stupor, Marx came right out with it and proclaimed that the abolition of the division of labour was the means for freeing people from alienation. Good luck to anyone who seriously thinks they can have even modest economic development without the division of labour.

Even the formulation of the problem – the problem of alienation – reveals itself to be the kind of philosophical bothering undertaken by someone who has swallowed and regurgitated too many inebriates and abstractions; as if alienation is even the appropriate term to cover the original lack of resources, territory, a reliable food supply, the desire for women (a major source of conflict among Australian Aboriginal tribes, according to the escaped convict William Buckley who lived with the Aborigines for thirty years), and the kinds of artifacts and possibilities that urban dwelling and its accompanying division of labour historically enabled.

Such a way of thinking – which has now become commonplace among our intelligentsia – involves the belief that scarcity is not a natural existential starting point and problem to be constantly dealt with, but a deviation from our nature and essence. This is the “magic bin” theory of economics – there is a magic bin full of all the goodies we want that we all have a right to access (though Marx did at least think rights’ talk, like justice, was bourgeois nonsense).

Rights claims have become increasingly predicated upon the magic bin theory of economics, as is all too evident in the UN Declaration of Human Rights which identifies all manner of rights that have first to be produced before one can actually have any of them. Marx’s claim that the elimination of the division of labour solved the problems of scarcity and alienation is akin to using beheading as a cure for migraine.

To be fair to Marx, in a footnote tucked away in his posthumously published third volume of Capital, he seems to have substituted the crazy idea of marrying large scale production without the division of labour to the reduction of the working day. That is a remarkable comedown – a little like me confessing that in spite of all my watching of Michael Jordan, I am not the world’s great athlete, but I did like to nurse a basketball in my lap when watching him on the tellie.

As for needing communism to bring about the reduction of the working day – labour hours in communist countries generally lagged behind the West because their economies were not particularly productive, and the flow on of benefits within the workplace could not match the combined benefits of unions, market efficiencies, and state regulations (more often than not the economic benefits were due to the institutional amelioration of potentially disruptive industrial conflict).

And while the Western democracies delivered what could reasonably be argued were relatively limited social/community goods and services (though there are considerable differences between what Western democracies are prepared to offer and pay with public monies), they managed to improve living standards on a far greater scale than in communist countries. And they did it without the extermination of the peasantry and petit bourgeois.

Moreover, in spite of Marx’s reputation and his disastrous impact – from mass murder to spreading ideological idiocy amongst his own class (the intelligentsia) – Marx cannot take any serious credit for the gains to the working class that sprang from their political organization and economic bargaining in the form of labour parties and trade unions.

In England and America, Marxism was never a serious factor within the development of working-class political organization and representation; and in Germany, where Marxism had had most success within the labour movement of Western Europe, Eduard Bernstein, who had been a Marxist and had been close to Engels, dropped the Marxist program, having realized how superior to communism were the social, economic and political gains to be had by focusing upon trade union and parliamentary representation pushing for public education, better welfare conditions, and nationalizing certain industries.

Intellectuals were generally far more attracted to Marxism than to the working-class based political parties – which were, let’s face it, dealing with the dull humdrum, day-to-day of real politics that might help a couple pay the rent, or buy a home, get their kids into a decent school, and be able to pay doctors’ bills, rather than ending history and all exploitation.

Intellectuals generally shared Lenin’s view that trade union consciousness blunted the revolutionary aspirations and potential of the working class – in the USA, Marcuse’ theory of repressive tolerance was a big hit with college kids who had got really bored with all those unhip, square workers, who didn’t have the education to know that “Yeah, man -it’s the system.”

That they preferred the idiotic idea over the day-to-day grind of working-class political organization is all too explicable, if we take cognizance of the kind of economic factors that Marx (falsely) purported to have incorporated into his theory – that is, Marxism was indeed the reflection of the social being of those who espoused it. But it was never a theory that came out of the working class – rather, a theory that was foisted onto the working class. From its inception and in its development, it was a product of the intelligentsia, whose view of social and political progress was predicated upon them supplying the ideas and teaching the rest of society how to conform to their ideas. It was, in other words, a clientelist ideology.

Hence too as communism looked a dead duck in the Western world, outside of communist countries whose intellectuals could no longer bear the idiocy, lies, toadyism, and poverty that Marxism had spawned, Marxism’s home was exclusive to the breeding ground of the intelligentsia, the university. Other potent concoctions of the human mind – all with much the same amount of analytical rigor as had satisfied Marx – were being brewed by people around the same age as Marx was when he knew everything. They knew even more because they had the benefit of having learnt where critique (what they did to others) had to be refined. They were all devoted to making themselves, as students, or professors and intellectuals, the leaders of the great emancipation, the overthrow of domination. They were also one and all concoctions which found a plethora of client groups – if you were a woman, you could take on women; if you were gay, the gays; if you were black, the blacks; if from a former colony, people from the colonies.

By then, the colonies had pretty well all been given back; so now it was a question of post-colonialism; and the thing was to score a career at an elite university by representing the products of colonialism, racism, etc. Of course, in spite of identity guaranteeing representative status – “I am woman, therefore I speak for all women,” etc., those who couldn’t actually claim the identity status of those needing them as their representatives would not always be too bothered by that – especially where race was concerned. One just needed to make a career out of the fact that all (other) whites were racist, or colonialists.

The program was a farrago of idiotic ideas, which took about two minutes to learn. They could be applied anywhere and everywhere; so learning it didn’t require one to study too much history – certainly nothing that revealed the complex details that would illustrate that learning history via a moral principle, such as moral and political progress, is to blind one to history.

While the program lent itself to huge salaries for administrators and human resource types, who could hand out crayons and butcher’s paper to better indoctrinate their captive employees (now including the US military) in whatever piece of ideological imbecility they were pushing at the moment, the theory types in the university could dress up the farrago in the kind of bloviated diction that did at least involve some dictionary learning. Bug-eyed students, who had the initial lobotomy performed in schools and were now just a gangling mass of fretful nerve-ends, were enthralled by the dizzying ideas of their loquacious professors.

Once upon a time people used to go to college to read books, engage in student activities and enjoy a sequestered space of reflection – now students needed trigger warnings and safe spaces to protect them from the horrors that might befall them – they might hear a word, or witness a tragic scene in a play, or learn that an orange version of Hitler had been voted in by all these terrible people. They were the most inexperienced and brainless bottom end of the assembly line of the dialectic, easy to yoke into service, to scream and screech at whoever and whatever they had been told was responsible for making their world a hateful place of oppression.

What had come to constitute oppression, not only according to lobotomized students on grievance autopilot, demanding the sacking of any teacher they heard saying something that made them feel unsafe, varied from someone who was not Mexican wearing a sombrero, to someone who did not think their tomboy daughter should have their sex organs tampered with, to someone who ate meat, to someone who was white, to someone who was black but not woke, to someone who mined or transported or invested in fossil fuel, to someone who expresses doubt about yet to be proven predictions of rising sea-level, to someone who thinks the tactics of dealing with COVID have not been that wise, to someone who still used old-fashioned designations of roles and gender like Mum and Dad – the great persecution is a movable feast alright.

The zombie carnival is the outgrowth of the most grimly earnest self-belief and utterly unshakeable conviction in their own intellectual talent with one absolute (though rarely stated) certainty at the end of it – job prospects, because all institutions now have to be radically overhauled by this particular group representing all the clients of their world (what lay beyond their world did not really exist; thus, the non-problem for feminists of Muslim patriarchy and honour killings).

More, in an age where genuine religion was increasingly some exotic Other which, no matter how cruel its practices to women, deserved respect, provided it was not something Westerners practiced or even knew anything serious about, the platitudes of social justice gave the “hollow” non-binaries, with their own pronouns (to use what might now be an acceptable rewriting of T.S. Eliot’s prescient poem) something to hold on to. You have to hand it to those who live off this dialectic; although the end game is idiotic, the tactic is pretty brilliant – especially in how it taps into one of the most disgusting qualities in human beings, sanctimoniousness.

And the existence of a compliant sector of the population had already been facilitated by all those mindless sit-coms, gameshows, and infantile diversions that the developed world had channeled into living rooms. It was all taking over, while much of the population barely noticed that the free world had become mentally captive to an elite, who believing in idiotic ideas themselves, now required for their own elevated status and careers, making everybody else accept them as true. The proof of its success has been recently put by Victor Davis Hanson in his typically perspicuous essay, “This isn’t Your Father’s Left-Wing Revolution.” Today’s revolutionaries aren’t fighting “the Man” – they are “the Man”:

“Name one mainline institution the woke Left does not now control – and warp. The media? The campuses? Silicon Valley? Professional sports? The corporate bedroom? Foundations? The K-12 educational establishment? The military hierarchy? The administrative state? The FBI top echelon?’

As for the proles, even Marxists tended to ditch them as too ideologically stupefied to help them in their revolution, though it had become apparent to the tertiary educated that the political parties that had been created by the working-classes, as well as the trade unions, offered good employment prospects. Hence, they also took over the various labour parties of the Western world, as they “professionalized” the unions by fast-tracking university graduates into union leadership positions. They had gone to college after all, so they were smart enough to know many of the workers would sentimentally stick with the party of their past while blindly accepting their leadership. It worked for a while, until a majority of the workers realized they were being treated as idiots; and then they started abandoning their patrons and the party they and their parents had generally supported.

If they were white, they were renounced as white supremacists for wanting to preserve any of the values that they identified with, rather than fit into the new client boxes that had been constructed for them to fit into. The problem with the working class, unlike the Woke (again, like political correctness, originally a term the elite used to distinguish its own intellectual superiority, but now used pejoratively by its critics), and indeed the problem with anyone who would not get in step with the Woke, is that they weren’t imbeciles.

The alliance noted above between the inventor of a narrative that purports to solve all the world’s problems, a globalist educator, a media mogul and editor, and a leading (non-elected) “representative” of a political body that is non-democratic (democratic deficit is how EU scholars politely put it) in all that matters is a symptom of the fact that today the Western world’s largest corporations, its wealthiest, its most prestigious elite learning, education institutions and its most prestigious educators, along with its leading political parties and politicians, as well as its most highly paid public servants, military and intelligence operatives, along with its wealthiest celebrities and even sports stars – all agree on how the world should be fixed, and who should do the fixing (them). It can be fixed by a curriculum of imbecility which will create an educational elite who will ensure that all acceptable social ideals are imbecilic, so that our social and political institutions may socially reproduce imbeciles to instantiate the program of imbecility. Brilliant!


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “Sisyphus,” by Odd Nerdrum; painted in 1990.

High Taxes And Unemployment

According to a recent study authorized by the National Association of Manufacturers, President Biden’s proposed tax hikes will indeed cause unemployment. In the view of NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, it is possible to quantify the damage to the economy: “one million lost jobs in the first two years.” The research was undertaken by Rice University economists John W. Diamond and George R. Zodrow.

To be sure, there is some superficial plausibility to this contention of the employers’ association and these economists. If the government takes additional funds out of the private sector, the latter will indeed have less money with which to employ people.

But what will the government do with its additional revenues? Why, it will create other employment opportunities. It might do so by subsidizing industries that will help reduce carbon emissions, such as those that provide energy via wind, water, solar, etc. It will almost certainly hire people to upgrade roads and bridges, and build new ones. The health field can certainly use a few more, ok, a lot more, doctors and nurses; hence, financial support for medical education.

But suppose that Mr. Biden stuffs all this additional tax money into his mattress; e.g., does absolutely nothing with it. Will that not create horrendous unemployment? Not a bit of it. Prices will then be lower than otherwise would have been the case (thanks to the real balance effect), and everyone’s money holdings will be that much more valuable. Since jobs come from revenues, this will also reduce joblessness. Alternatively, and just as unlikely, posit that the Biden administration uses the extra funds garnered by this tax increase to purchase goods and services from abroad. Will that promote domestic unemployment? No, again. For those abroad will use these payments to purchase our products, again increasing job slots.

Lookit, if high taxes cause unemployment, then states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, Massachusetts should have vastly higher unemployment rates than low tax states such as Arkansas, Louisiana Mississippi. But this simply does not occur. Similarly, unemployment rates ought to be positively correlated with high taxes across nations, and that does not prevail either.

Does this mean that Biden’s tax policy is good for the economy? That is highly disputable, and entirely a different matter. All we can say for sure, on the basis of elementary economics, is that this will mean a transfer, or redeployment, but not unemployment. People will be shifted from some jobs, companies and industries to others, based on this plan, but there need be no overall increase in unemployment, after these shifts occur. Yes, there might well be a temporary increase in joblessness while this reallocation occurs, but that would be true of any shift in policy. Should Mr. Biden be required to maintain each and every policy of his predecessor? Not on the basis of increasing unemployment, unless he does so.

It is perfectly understandable for Republicans, the National Association of Manufacturers and other such groups to throw everything possible at this present administration’s tax policy and hope that something sticks. But let us not toss basic economics out the window. Higher taxes, to be sure, have some drawbacks; but unemployment is not one of them.


Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.


The featured images shows, “Highway 99,” by Ronald Debs Ginther; painted March, 1933.

Whatever Happened To American Industry?

Private equity has made me rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Yet private equity can be, as this book shows, a tool of the devil, a corrosive and destructive force in American life. Still, I do not think the story is as simple as Brian Alexander, the author of Glass House, would have it. The town in which he grew up, and which he profiles here—Lancaster, Ohio—has fallen far from its glory days, as have hundreds of similar towns across America. But the responsibility for that lies not just with the shady private equity companies that looted its largest employer, glass manufacturer Anchor Hocking, or with other elements of our rotten ruling class. It also lies with all of us, who bear more than some responsibility for the degradation of our towns, and of ourselves.

Although there are variations, in general “private equity” refers to a certain type of investment firm. Those who manage the firm collect money from investors seeking high returns, and use that money, along with copious additional borrowed money, to buy private companies. They then seek to resell those companies at a higher value within a few years, thereby returning money to investors, and more to themselves, while extracting money along the way. If done competently, those who manage private equity firms can become extremely rich, and they never become poor, since they are not risking their own money. The risks are instead borne by the passive investors, the banks who lend money, and by the companies they buy. Think of those, in most cases, as a goose force-fed to massively increase its liver size. Time is short, and it rarely ends well for the goose.

In my past life, I was a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer; the nature of that business, buying and selling companies, often involves private equity firms. I also studied private equity, and related fields, a great deal in business school, which I attended after being a lawyer. For most of 2020, as I worked toward selling my business, I interacted with a number of private equity companies, who constitute the buyers of most businesses today. This sale process showed, although I already knew them, the differences among private equity firms. As with any firm, each has a personality, and while they are subject to economic incentives, much of their behavior is actually driven by personality. For example, I had signed a letter of intent (an agreement to agree) to sell my company to one private equity company last July. Their personality was a common one for private equity—slick, overconfident, far less smart than they thought, and people I wouldn’t trust to buy me a sandwich, if I were relying on them to bring me the change. Although they were the initial high bidder, it was in their nature, again as is common with private equity companies, to chisel. Failing to read my personality and thinking that I would be desperate to keep a bird in the hand, and so be willing to give up some money for their benefit, they tried to lower the price before the transaction closed. It took me thirty seconds to kill the deal, and I never spoke to them again.

But other firms have different personalities. Soon enough, a bidder that had earlier dropped out, because of the impact of the Wuhan Plague on other companies it owned, came back to the table, offering an even higher price, and quickly closed the deal. This private equity company represented not many investors seeking returns in the traditional way, but family members of one wealthy family (with politics very opposed to mine). This firm’s personality, and all its representatives, were always honest and aboveboard in every way and they were a pleasure to deal with. Moreover, they have successfully continued to run and grow my company, with what appears to be a long-term focus.

Alexander would say that despite differences in personality, private equity firms are all subject to similar incentives—to pump up the value to a third party of an entity they buy, by minimizing expenses and maximizing EBITDA (an indirect measure of cash generated by the company), and then to sell it to someone who will pay them more than they paid for it. And that is true enough. It is equally true that private equity firms extract money from owned companies prior to sale, through fees and special dividends. They often claim that this is compensation for providing guidance, a bogus claim, since except in rare instances those who work at private equity firms have no idea how to run a business (although often those who run the business also have no idea how to run a business), because financial engineering is a completely different skill set from running a business. Hubris is the defining characteristic of private equity, but nemesis never arrives, because of the political power of the financial engineering class.

One might legitimately ask, given that private equity has so many cretins in it, why did I sell to private equity? Because I wanted the money, of course. It so happened that the buyer was the bidder most aligned with all stakeholder interests, not just my interests, although the shift from a firm run by a single man to one run by a larger entity necessarily results in some change, disadvantaging some stakeholders and advantaging others. To be fair to me (something I never fail to do), I should mention that I distributed around ten million dollars to my employees, for although successful entrepreneurship almost always centers on the work of one indispensable man, he cannot do it without others, and the laborer is worthy of his hire. But I would have sold to a greaseball private equity company if that was what got me the most money, if I am being honest. The official mission statement of my company was “The purpose of this company is to put sweet cash in the pocket of Charles Haywood,” and so it turned out. That’s all there is to it. I’m avaricious, not so much for cash as the marker of success, but for what cash will let me do. Perhaps this merely proves I am part of the rot of modern America.

So, of Glass House. As with many books in the genre that combines social analysis with business analysis, the book is somewhat confusing, because it hops around in time and among people. But the basic story is relatively simple. Once upon a time, glass manufacture (not of windows, but of articles) built the modern version of the town of Lancaster, which is some distance southeast of Columbus. The city has plentiful supplies of natural gas, which made it, starting in the late nineteenth century, an ideal place for glass manufacture, an energy-intensive process. The biggest of these glass manufacturers was, and the only one left in or near Lancaster is, Anchor Hocking. Through the lens of Anchor Hocking, Alexander concisely explains glass manufacture, a heavy industrial process requiring hard and dangerous work. This Lancaster was a successful town, and in many ways the image of America in the 1950s, a decade that we are told now was awful, but which was in reality an awesome decade, and the last decade before America hurtled into the pit. Any person in Lancaster could, with a modicum of hard work, have a more than decent life. He wouldn’t be rich (nobody was truly rich in Lancaster, nor were there sharp class distinctions—Anchor Hocking executives drank at the same bars as men who worked the machines), but he would be able to raise a successful family and have a successful life, as success was once defined.

As with many companies, in the 1970s Anchor Hocking ran into trouble. Some of that was the sclerosis that affected many American companies of the era, the result of decades of little competition. In 1982, Carl Icahn bought a block of stock in Anchor Hocking and threatened that he would try to replace management, that is, directors and officers. What he wanted was “greenmail”—to have management repurchase his shares at an above-market price, a practice that is bizarrely not illegal (though a special tax is now imposed on such payments, making them less common today). He got what he wanted, starting a cycle of Anchor Hocking being led around, like a bull with a ring through its nose, by one “investment” firm after another.

The Icahn episode demonstrates a key underlying structural problem with all corporate entities—what is called the “agency problem,” the separation between ownership and control. Those who made the decisions for Anchor Hocking, the officers and directors, were not significant owners, or owners at all in many cases. That means they made decisions with other people’s money, and they could benefit themselves, here by keeping their jobs, at the expense of the owners, the stockholders. Managers say they act (as they are legally required) to benefit the stockholders, not to keep their jobs and perks. But that is at best a half-truth; rare is the manager devoid of self-interest. The agency problem is an eternal challenge for any firm, but in a firm that needs reform, it ensures that reform is unlikely to come except under extreme pressure—often in the form of being bought by private equity. Whatever may be the deficiencies of private equity, as an owner private equity firms take direct, immediate action to benefit the owner, largely removing the agency problem. This means that managers who are fat, lazy, and stupid stay in charge until private equity forces changes; this all-or-nothing approach tends to lead to undesirable outcomes for those who work for or rely on the continued stable existence of a company.

Alexander mostly ignores it, but it is entirely true that American industry in the 1970s and 1980s had fallen behind and needed reform, living large off two decades of riding high and made resistant to pressure by the ever-increasing pie allowing everyone to do well. It is no surprise this led to complacence; that reaction is simply the default for most human creations, whether firms or governments. With the right leadership, complacence can sometimes be avoided, but that leadership is extremely rare. Such sclerosis was before extreme globalization and the ideology of free trade wiped out our industrial capacity, though lean and hungry foreign competitors already were starting to enforce some discipline in the 1970s. (The classic example of this dynamic was the auto industry, whose lunch was eaten by the Japanese.) Anchor Hocking, however, wasn’t much subject to foreign competition (it’s expensive to ship glass across the ocean, although Anchor Hocking did sell overseas, and some foreign glass, especially Mexican, competes in America), and had enormous amounts of difficult-to-replicate tacit knowledge (something Matthew B. Crawford writes very well about). Thus, while it no doubt had become somewhat inefficient, it continued to operate adequately, and it spent money on necessary capital improvements while offering good wages and benefits to workers and being closely tied to the continued success of Lancaster. It’s hard to tell from this book, but there’s no real indication that Anchor Hocking in the 1980s needed to do much differently than it already was. Icahn was looking for a quick buck, not to improve the company.

Coincident with rising sclerosis among American firms, however, was the rise of libertarian economic ideas, epitomized by Milton Friedman, with his idea that the sole purpose of any firm was to make a profit for its stockholders. This was a rejection of the stakeholder view of corporate decision making, in which the corporation is run for the benefit of all those with an interest in its success, in particular the employees (though this concept is too often stretched far from real stakeholders). I used to have quite a bit of sympathy with Friedman’s idea, but it’s become clear that such an imbalanced focus is one of the drivers of American economic decay. On the other hand, it’s also true that the agency problem is real, that managers very commonly line their own pockets and protect their own jobs and perks while lying that they are doing so for all the stakeholders. And more recently, a great many managers have destroyed enormous firm value for all stakeholders by using their firms to virtue signal with leftist agitation, another example of the agency problem, and the most pernicious one yet. The question, again, is where and how to strike the balance in deciding for whose benefit a firm should be operated.

Certainly, we don’t need total laissez faire. The bizarre idea that many supposed conservatives advance, that corporations should be free to do what they want, even monopolistic ones that use their massive power to aggressively advance left-wing goals, is just that—bizarre. It ignores that corporations, which are creatures of the state, are told all the time what they can and cannot do—but only to advance left-wing goals, like forcing small businesses to bake celebration cakes for homosexual “weddings.” The sooner this idea of keeping hands off corporate entities dies, the better. When I am in charge, corporations will work to advance, or at least not hinder, the societal goals of Foundationalism, or they will be dissolved, and regardless of that, no giant corporations at all will be allowed, following Tim Wu’s neo-Brandeisianism.

As for Anchor Hocking, the next four decades of its history were one of decline combined with endless financial engineering machinations. More investments by raiders who demanded short-term returns at the expense of all other stakeholders; spinoffs that lined the pockets of a few; declining quality and declining sales; cutting investment in capital improvement in an attempt to raise cash flow; and all the usual common events in the many American industries choked by financial engineering. The long-standing ties of the company’s managers to the town frayed and then severed. An endless churn of new owners and managers became the new norm, in the corrosive manner modern corporate America endorses. The union was cowed and forced to repeatedly retrench wages and benefits, threatened with shutdowns otherwise. Public money was extracted by one owner after another; school funding was cut in order to meet the demands of voracious new owners. The left-wing critics of the “greed is good” attitude, which tried to justify dishonesty and the quick buck, were, it turns out, correct.

Notably, one short-term owner of the company was Cerberus Capital Management, of which one Stephen Feinberg, a top economic advisor to Donald Trump, is CEO. This simple fact explains a lot about how Trump’s term in office went. Feinberg is laughably described in his Wikipedia profile as a “businessman”; nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a parasitical extractor of value created by others. As Robert Nisbet said, rootless men always betray.

One result of this ruination wrought by financial engineering was that working at Anchor Hocking, which used to be the goal of most young people in the town, became a low-prestige option, where nobody ambitious wanted to work given that upward opportunities were few and the company might shut down at any time. By when this book was written, in 2016, Anchor Hocking was still around, shrunken (as it is to this day, though it seems to be a big seller of bottles for premium liquor), but sadly diminished as a pillar of Lancaster, which itself was, not coincidentally, also sadly diminished. Alexander weaves, among the business discussion, profiles of local residents, not connected to the glass industry, mostly drug addicts. There’s a little too much of this, which becomes repetitive. All you need to know is that like most towns, especially in this area of the country, drug use is ubiquitous and hugely destructive, and a very large percentage of the population cycles in and out of the criminal justice system. The details don’t really matter; what matters is that this is indicative of a blasted and destroyed society. Did that have to happen? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

The root symptom of Lancaster-style societal destruction is the alienation and isolation that characterizes most of America today, even in economically-thriving areas. From that follow numerous secondary harms. Alienation led to the destruction of the virtues that used to be the norm, and which were enforced by the community. Chief among those disappeared virtues were hard work and thrift; as Alexander says, now “Modesty was out; acquisitiveness was in.” As everywhere, consumerism, usually of cheap Chinese crap, substituted for community, aided by easy credit and easy bankruptcy (and more recently by our government printing money). (If you need more proof of the attitude this creates, I passed a bus stop bench the other day, printed with an advertisement, “Bankruptcy By Phone!”) As the community corroded, those on the edges fell out, creating new edges, that also fell out. As a result, it became increasingly difficult for businesses to find good workers, further fueling decline. Numerous other indicia of decay, such as illegitimacy, soared. The result is that Lancaster today is a drug-addled and poverty-stricken town, where most people who work are employed in health care, an industry pumped up by the vicious cycle of poor health leading to yet more social decay leading to more poor health, and where the only people in Lancaster with good jobs are those who work in Columbus and commute, who have no time to participate in the community.

Many locals blame government handouts for the decay, and there is no doubt much truth in that—as Chris Arnade’s Dignity reveals, government handouts are often what allow many people to wallow in degradation. If they disappeared, we’d have a lot less degradation. But even if there were no payments, and if Anchor Hocking and other employers paid the inflation-adjusted wages and benefits they paid in the 1960s, it’s not clear it would be enough for people in Lancaster to lead the lives our consumerist culture demands they live. The deeper problem is societal expectations and changed structures. The most important changed structure is sex roles—a significant degree of our national fracture of community is the direct result of the poison of Betty Friedan and her ilk, and a huge percentage of alienation and atomization comes from mothers being employed outside the home. Aggressively stigmatizing such work, and ensuring that no subsidies go to encourage it, rather the reverse, would go far toward restoring a decent American society, though you’d need to do a lot more than just that to actually reverse decay, or more accurately, forge a new society.

It’s somewhat sad that a core of older residents keeps hoping to renew Lancaster, and trying to do so, and keeps failing. It’s essentially impossible to renew a town without an economic engine and with a broken society. As Alexander notes at one point, a town that works is “governed by a set of long-held rules and customs.” In a world that celebrates emancipation and autonomic individualism, this evanesces, and cannot be recaptured. I found it particularly interesting how Alexander profiles one young man, Brian Gossett, a fourth-generation employee of Anchor Hocking. Gossett rejects “the System,” by which he means the complex of pernicious societal drivers that creates dead-end lives for young people like him. He’s employed (though he quits Anchor Hocking), and he’s not a drug user, but he drifts, atomized within an atomizing society. This is the kind of young man who in another time would have been guided by his elders, and welcomed less autonomy and more community, but now is cast adrift, offered nothing but temptations. Yet, exemplifying the spirit that much of America fails to understand, that of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (also set in Ohio), he and many others want to stay in Lancaster, which is their home. He just doesn’t see a path forward. He’s been betrayed by our ruling class, which runs the System. The solution, which he can’t see but he would no doubt endorse under the right circumstances, is to bring down the System.

You can’t go back. So what does that imply? Saying you can’t go back is not the same thing as insisting that all the nightmarish social consequences of financial engineering are simply natural, the result of “being part of a modern economy.” Still, the type of sclerosis that affected American industry in the 1970s and 1980s is very real and largely inevitable; although Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of creative destruction is overstated and overvalued, it has a grain of truth, in that change disciplines. The problem, I think, is that we got the wrong type of change, benefiting at the expense of most of America a thin slice of Americans (the 1% of the subtitle of Glass House), as well as various foreigners.

How to address this, and try to move ourselves to a sounder, more broadly socially beneficial, industrial economy, that still allows America to move forward to a new dawn (assuming we also solve all the other problems we have, a big assumption)? First, we should start by breaking the political power of the financial engineers—not just private equity, but hedge funds, big banks, and a vast host of other parasites who have manipulated our entire society to their benefit, on every front from taxes to regulation. Half measures won’t do; I’d not just tax the carried interest at ordinary income rates, but implement confiscatory taxation on financial engineering profits, looking backward (separately from my intent to wholly confiscate the fortune of any wealthy person who has funded destructive left-wing programs, such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs’s widow; the assets of all left-wing foundations, such as the Ford Foundation; and all college endowments above a de minimis amount). We also need a robust antitrust regime that allows no single company, or companies under direct or indirect common ownership, to control more than five percent of any given market, whether internet search or breakfast cereal, no matter the source of that control.

By itself this won’t be enough. The American economy produces less and less of value, but this truth is largely concealed by financial chicanery. We don’t need more cheap crap from abroad to feed the destructive consumerist mill, and we don’t need the fictitious increases in GDP that result from everyone buying more cheap crap, or for that matter, expensive crap, every year. Thus, second, we should massively increase tariffs on any goods coming from low-wage countries, or from China, regardless of its wages. NAFTA and all similar agreements should be voided. It’s just dumb that we allow our manufacturing to be stripped from the country, relying on the continued goodwill of our enemies, on that globalism will be stable and wonderful forever. And cheap is rarely better, even if we have been propagandized into that belief. For example, the other day I needed to buy a drill chuck for a metal mill. The gold standard at one time was Jacobs chucks; but now, having been bought by Danaher, a conglomerate driven by financial engineering, they are made in China, and their quality has plummeted. Or, to take another example, a few days ago I tried to purchase a second Ursa garden wagon, for a long time the pinnacle of garden wagons. But I was told they don’t sell wagons anymore, just parts; Gorilla Carts copied their designs and sells Chinese knockoffs. So when China cuts us off, we won’t have any chucks or wagons at all. That, multiplied across a thousand industries, is a big problem. We can kill both consumerism and our dependency by simply increasing tariffs.

Yes, increasing tariffs would likely diminish American exports and cause short-term economic pain; that’s not necessarily desirable, but it would be desirable if the crisis, following the immortal words of Rahm Emanuel, allowed us to make other required social changes, such as eliminate the BS jobs that are most of what our professional-managerial elite does; eliminate the massive racial grift industry of diversity commissars and the like; and end the idea that it is desirable for mothers to work outside the home. A tall order, but in social change, upheaval is usually necessary first, and this upheaval would be worth it. Along with raising tariffs, we should destroy every other pernicious element of globalism, such as allowing American firms to offshore assets to reduce their tax burden, and allowing any immigration, legal or illegal, of any unskilled workers at all. And I should note that as with most of what I recommend these days, none of these are really policy recommendations in the traditional sense, because in the present dispensation they will never happen. Rather, they are parts of the new dispensation, when the present one is destroyed, root and branch.

The goal of all this, and much more, is to create a society where the working class is aligned with the ruling class, as opposed to what we have now, where the ruling class makes degraded slaves of what remains of the working class. Foundationalism will have, to be sure, a ruling class, though no member of today’s ruling class will be in it. The working class will not be in charge, because the working class is not capable of being in charge. Nonetheless, for us, today, the key is the working class, because their aid in the wars to come will be crucial. To prevent them choosing rightly, our overlords rely on sedating the working classes with consumerism, drugs, porn, and video games. Thus, they have become degraded to a great degree, just like all of us. We can see, though, from Brian Gossett, and from phenomena such as Jordan Peterson, that many young people in the working class don’t want those things. The solution is to, at the right moment, weaponize the working class against the ruling class, and against their foot soldiers, the woke professional-managerial elite and the myrmidons of Burn-Loot-Murder, for both of whom the working class, of all races, have nothing but contempt. A new social compact, for a renewed society. Stephen Feinberg can move to Canada or England, or better yet, Mexico, with the one suitcase of possessions he’s allowed. Then Lancaster can flourish again.


Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.


The featured image shows, “The Glass Engraver,” by Charles Frederic Ulrich, painted in 1883.

Karl Marx’s Exuberant Praise Of Capitalism

The bourgeoisie [the capitalist]… has accomplished wonders, far surpassing Egyptian Pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic Cathedrals… [D]uring its rule of scarce of one hundred years, [it] has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than… all preceding generations together… [W]hat earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor? (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Chapter I).

Karl Marx (in collaboration with Friedrich Engels) is known as the greatest foe of capitalism. Further, his views have recently made a considerable comeback in the United States and around the world, first in the “Ivory Tower,” and from there into the culture in general. In fact, Marx made many claims about capitalism, some very positive and some very negative, but he is generally known only for the latter. However, history has shown that most of the negative things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be false and most of the positive things he said about capitalism have turned out to be true, which leaves his exuberant praise for capitalism standing as Marx’s real legacy.

I will discuss Marx’s Marxism, here called “original Marxism,” but which also touches upon Herbert Marcuse’s Marxism of the “New Left,” a peculiar combination of Marxism with Freudian psychology that became popular in the 1960s, and the more diffuse “Cultural Marxism” that arises from an inconsistent alliance between the various species of Marxism and Post-Modernism (the relativist view which rejects the notion of objective truth).

Finally, Marxists, and others on the Left influenced by it, generally called “progressives,” often claim the moral high ground, asserting that it is the Marxists and “progressives” that care about the poor, while the evil capitalists, motivated only by the profit motive, aim to “exploit” and “oppress” them. This is the opposite of the truth.

1. Some Key Terms

It is necessary, first, to begin with a few basic definitions of several key terms, specifically, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, and Marx’s “original” Marxism. The discussion of the controversial notion of “cultural Marxism” is postponed until later on in this discussion.

First, feudalism is an economic system in which feudal landlords own the land and permit the serfs to work the land in exchange for “protection.” However, feudalism appears to be exploitative since the serfs do all the actual work, while the feudal landlords take a considerable portion of what they produce.

Capitalism is an economic system founded on “free markets” in which all economic decisions are made by households or firms that are assumed to act in their own self-interest to maximize their own profit. These markets are “free” because these households and firms make their own economic decisions without being controlled by any central authority, such as the state. Economic freedom is based in the notion of private property. For example, Bill Gates, not the state, owns Microsoft. It is his to do with it as he wishes. He can even destroy the company if he wishes. That is, there is an important connection between capitalism, private property and economic freedom.

One might also add that economic freedom is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for political freedom. Further, since the market is free, there are normally many different private planners throughout the economy. That is, a free market presupposes competition, which, in turn, motivates the competing capitalists to continually improve the quality of their product in order to attract buyers and increase their profit. The fact that the capitalist operates on the basis of a self-interested profit motive opens it to the charge that it too, like feudalism, is exploitative. Marx certainly thought so. However, I will argue later that this gets it precisely backwards.

Socialism is an economic system in which land and capital are collectively owned. Usually this means that land and capital are owned by the state (although it could, theoretically, be owned by some smaller collective such as a commune). A socialist economy is often called a command economy because the state controls the economy in three different ways:

  1. It plans the allocation of resources between current consumption and future investment;
  2. It plans the output of each industry or firm, and
  3. It plans the distribution of the output (goods) between the consumers.

A socialist economy is, therefore, centrally planned because all economic decisions are made by the central commander (the state). In a socialist economy, Bill Gates does not decide what kind of computers to produce. The central planner, the state, tells him what kind of computers to produce. Note that in a socialist economy there is still private property, but it is owned by the state, not by private households or firms. The state owns and controls the airline industry, the automobile industry, the oil industry, and so on.

It is more difficult to give a concise definition of communism, but Marx thinks of communism as a more extreme purified version of socialism in which all vestiges of private property, including that held by the state, have been eliminated. In fact, Marx has theoretical considerations that commit him to the view that it is impossible to know exactly what the communist economy will be like until one actually produces it. This is reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s remark: “You have to pass the bill to know what’s in it.” This is quite alarming, but this particular potential objection to Marx’s communism is not something that I will take up here.

One must also carefully distinguish between Marxism and communism. There is an infamous interview in which a presenter on a New Orleans television station asks Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John Kennedy, if he is a communist, and Oswald gives a somewhat garbled reply that he is a Marxist but not a communist. The presenter, shocked, asks, “What’s the difference?”

In fact, Oswald’s position is logically consistent, if a bit odd. For communism and Marxism are not even the same kinds of theories. Marxism is a theory about historical development, specifically, the view that, starting with feudalism, feudalism necessarily breaks down and turns into capitalism, which, in turn, necessarily breaks down and turns into socialism, which, in turn, necessarily devolves into its purified form, communism. Communism, by contrast, is not a theory of historical development at all but an economic theory. Nevertheless, there is an internal relation between Marxism and communism. Specifically, the Marxist theory of historical development holds that human history is necessarily developing towards the final stage, namely, the economic system of communism.

Despite this internal connection, a communist can consistently reject Marx’s theory of historical development as complete nonsense. Further, a Marxist, who holds that human history is necessarily developing towards communism, might consistently hold that he or she is not happy about this. Such a position would be odd but only because it would represent a certain kind of extreme pessimism: The world is necessarily moving towards communism but one rejects communism. Of course, it is more likely that Oswald, not being a Rhodes Scholar, just did not understand either theory very well.

Although Marx is generally known as a “philosopher,” he claims that Marxism is a scientific theory. Marx sees his view that feudalism necessarily turns into capitalism, which in turn necessarily turns into socialism, which in turn necessarily devolves into communism as perfectly analogous with the view in the science of botany that a seed necessarily turns into a shoot, which in turn necessarily turns into a stem, which in turn necessarily turns into a bud, which in turn necessarily turns into a blossom.

Whereas Hegel had produced a view of historical development that invokes unscientific notions, e.g., the notion of the “World Spirit,” Marx purports to transforms Hegel’s romantic philosophical theory into a scientific theory, which he called dialectical materialism, in which the moving forces in human history are all empirically accessible entities, like material human conditions and behavior. In the Preface to the first German Edition of Capital, Marx compares his discovery of “the economic law of economic motion” of modern societies to Newton’s discovery of the “natural laws of motion.” As an alleged scientific theory, Marxism purposes to render scientific explanations and predictions. It should, therefore, unlike Hegel’s mystical theory, but like Newtonian mechanics, be testable.

In fact, the 19th century witnessed the production of a new range of allegedly “scientific” theories in regions that had previously been the province of philosophers and mystics, specifically, evolution, psychology, and historical development.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory purported to be a scientific theory, invoking an empirically observable mechanism (“survival of the fittest”), to explain why the observed species of living organisms have in fact evolved.

Freud’s psychology purported to be an empirical scientific theory that explains key aspects of human behavior, specifically, human neurotic behavior, by reference to sexual trauma and mental mechanisms of repression.

Finally, Marxism purports to be an empirical scientific theory that explains why human history necessarily moves from feudalism to capitalism and predicts how the capitalist society of his day will necessarily develop in the future.

2. Marx’s Basic Theory Of Historical Development

According to “original” Marxism, the single driving force of history, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism, is class struggle. The guiding idea is that each of these economic systems contains certain “contradictions” that are successively eliminated as history develops. In the feudal system there is an internal “contradiction” between the feudal class that owns the land and the serfs who must labor on the land at a bare subsistence level. This “contradiction” causes the serfs to revolt against the feudal landlords in order to obtain a fairer arrangement. Thus, feudalism breaks down and gives way to the next stage, capitalism.

Marxists hold that capitalism solves some of the “contradictions” in feudalism, e.g., in a capitalist system people are permitted to own their own property rather that work the property of the feudal landlords, but capitalism has its own internal “contradictions.” The “contradiction” between the feudal landlord is replaced by the new “contradiction” between the capitalist, who “owns the means of production,” the factories, machines and so on, and the “workers” who are forced to work for the capitalists. There is a “contradiction” between the two because it is in the self-interest of the capitalists to maximize their profit by getting the maximum productivity out of the workers, while paying them the bare minimum. In brief, the capitalists must push the workers to work harder and harder for less and less until the “workers of the world,” pushed to the brink, revolt and create a more equitable socialist society in which “the means of production” is owned by the collective, the society as a whole, and shared out among the workers.

In a socialist society, the “contradiction” between the capitalists and the workers is, allegedly, eliminated because the workers are themselves parts of the social cooperative that “owns the means of production.” Gone are the feudal overlords who control the lives of the serfs. Gone are the capitalists who control the lives of the workers. In socialism, with these class distinctions gone, the workers are, so to speak, their own bosses, at least in theory. They are members of a cooperative group that decides for itself, not being told what to do by a separate antagonistic class, how economic resources are to be produced and distributed in society. That is the whole point of socialism. Marx divines that since there are, allegedly, no more class oppositions in socialism, the resources will be distributed equally.

In the final stage, the Marxist formula changes slightly. Since all history is driven by class struggles, and since there are no class differences in socialism, the transition from socialism to communism is not driven by class struggle. Since Marx thinks of socialism as a kind of preliminary form of communism, it need not undergo the massive revolutionary change one sees in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, or from capitalism to socialism. The problem with socialism is more minor. It is only that various vestiges of the old capitalist system still cling to the socialist system. Human beings, reared in a capitalist system that values private property, will retain some of these views and desires in the new socialist system. The transition to full-fledged communism, therefore, merely requires eliminating these vestiges in a piecemeal purification process until the full-fledged communist society, completely devoid of private property, is produced.

At this point, there are no longer even the vestiges of class distinctions. Since the dialectical process is driven by class distinctions, and since, in communism, these have all been eliminated, the dialectical process (historical development) comes to an end and human beings can, for the first time freed from the inexorable class struggle, freely decide what they want to do. As Herbert Marcuse, in the last line of his An Essay on Liberation, puts it, “For the first time in our life we shall be free to think about what we are going to do.” Note that this reflects Marx’s (alarming) view that it is impossible to say very much about the last stage of human historical development, communism, until one gets there.

Marx gives a very specific description of this pattern of historical development.

First, Marx holds that human history, like the history of a plant from seed to stem to bud to blossom, necessarily unfolds in precisely the sequence of stages he describes.

Second, Marx holds that it is not possible to skip a step, i.e., not possible to jump directly from feudalism to socialism by skipping the capitalist phase, any more than it is possible to pass from stem to blossom in the history of a plant by skipping the bud stage. For this reason, it would be a mistake, impossible of success, if an overly enthusiastic communist were to try to push the feudal phase to break down into the socialist phase by skipping over the intermediary capitalist stage. It is entirely necessary that human society passes through the specified sequence of stages in the proper order.

Third, the breakdown of one economic stage of a society into the next stage also follows a particular pattern. For example, given two capitalist societies in different stages of development, the one that is at the more advanced stage will break down into socialism before the one that is still at an earlier stage. If, for example, in the late 19th century, England is at a more advanced stage of capitalism than America, then England will fall to a socialist revolution before America does. Marx has a particular picture. In its early stages, capitalism is not fully developed. As such, the “contradictions” in capitalism are also not fully developed.

The further development of capitalism, so to speak, further exposes both the negative aspect of capitalism. Accordingly, there is no danger that capitalism will collapse into socialism at those early stages. It will only be when the “contradictions” in capitalism are fully developed, that is, when capitalism itself is fully developed, that the socialist revolution can and must happen. Since Marx, banished from Germany, was living in England, the most advanced capitalist economy at the time, he witnessed William Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” in which child laborers are mercilessly exploited in order to maximize the profits of the capitalist. Accordingly, he predicted that the socialist revolution would first occur in the most advanced capitalist economy at the time, England.

Finally, Marx explicitly states that the transition from capitalism to socialism involves violence. In his 1872 speech, “The Possibility of Non-Violent Revolution,” he states that “we must also recognize that the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must someday appeal if we are to erect the rule of labor.”

Marx also endorses the need for dictatorship. In his Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx describes the “rule of labor” in the transition to socialism as “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Similarly, Marcuse endorses the need for both force and dictatorship: “The [idea] of “educational dictatorship” … [is] easy to ridicule but hard to refute … [for] to the degree to which the slaves [the American people] have been preconditioned to … be content … in that role … they must be “forced to be free.” (One Dimensional Man, Chap. 2).

Force and dictatorship are central to “original” Marxism. Indeed, this is only common sense. Since people will not freely give up the private property that they believe they have earned, the Marxist or socialist will have to take it from them by force.

3. Marx’s Exuberant Praise Of Capitalism

Although Karl Marx, the man, was emotionally invested in the eventual triumph of communism, it is important to note that Karl Marx the aspiring scientist was no more emotionally invested in the triumph of communism than a botanist is emotionally invested in the fact that the bud normally turns into a blossom. Karl Marx qua scientist simply purports to describe the alleged laws of human historical development, just as Isaac Newton simply describes the laws of mechanics. Karl Marx the scientist simply holds that this is how history does develop, namely, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism in accord with a certain necessary pattern. Qua scientist, Karl Marx does not hold that capitalism ought to collapse into socialism. Karl Marx the scientist simply holds that this is what, in fact, happens and what must happen.

This is, perhaps, why Karl Marx, unlike many of his more enthusiastic followers over the years, was able to acknowledge the enormous virtues of capitalism. Indeed, Marx’s praise for capitalism in the Communist Manifesto is far more enthusiastic than that of many current defenders of capitalism.

Capitalism, Marx tells us, has produced “wonders” far beyond anything produced by the ancient Egyptian, Roman, or Gothic architects. Since those ancient “wonders” are, even today, reckoned among the great accomplishments of humanity, Marx’s elevation of the “wonders” of capitalism above them is high praise indeed.

Further, Marx stresses that capitalism has accomplished all this in a very brief span of about 100 years! During this brief span of time, capitalism has released “more massive and more colossal productive forces” than “all preceding generations” combined! No one in earlier centuries has even had a “presentiment” that such “massive … productive forces” were even possible.

Then, Marx goes on in the same passages to explain that capitalism, by unleashing these massive productive forces, does not merely improve economic conditions, but, rather, “In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature… The bourgeois [capitalists], by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilization. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate.”

That is, capitalism draws the various nations out of their prejudicial self-seclusion and fosters intercourse and interdependence between them. This is not merely economic interdependence but intellectual interdependence as well, leading even to the establishment of a “world literature.” The Chinese and the Japanese now read Shakespeare and the English-speaking West reads the Tao te-Ching and Zen poetry. Thus, capitalism begins to break down “national one-sidedness and narrow mindedness,” which, in turn, brings “civilization” to “barbarian” nations and forces the different peoples to end their “intensely obstinate hatred” of the other.

It needs to be stressed that it is in the very nature of Marxism that capitalism must produce many goods results. Since Marxism has a developmental view of history, in which human societies move through a series of ever-improving stages toward the final resolution at the end, and since capitalism is the intermediary stage just below the glorious advent of socialism, Marx is committed to hold that capitalism must, and has in fact, created many goods results.

Thus, the contemporary “Marxist” who, failing to understand the inner logic of Marx’s system, expresses bitter hatred for the evils of capitalism, is a bit like a botanist who expresses bitter hatred for the bud because it is not the blossom. Marx, by contrast, recognizes that the bud is entirely necessary in order to get the blossom; and, therefore, following the logic of his own system, he is committed, by analogy, to acknowledge the greatness of capitalism. That is why, in the passages quoted earlier, Marx expresses the same kind of wonder at the accomplishments of capitalism that a botanist might express at the blossoming of life in a plant.

For Marx, capitalism is, so to speak, a necessary stage in the blossoming of human development. It is in some ways a shame that Marx is not with us today to correct some of the misunderstandings and excesses of his confused emotion-driven progeny in the “Ivory tower” and the Hollywood hills.

4. Marxism Falsified By Historical Facts

The problem, for original Marxism, is not that capitalism has not accomplished a great deal of good, but that, on Marx’s view, will necessarily collapse as its (alleged) internal “contradictions” become manifest and give way to the even more wondrous economic blossoming of socialism.

However, this has just has not happened as Marx predicted. Whereas Marx predicted that the socialist revolution will occur first in England, where capitalism was most advanced at the time, it did not occur in England but in Russia in 1917, which was still in an abject feudal state at the time. Indeed, although the English economy has become more socialistic in some ways, this has been due to an evolutionary process and a great deal of capitalism has been retained. No socialist revolution has ever occurred in England.

Marx is wrong on at least two counts. First, he was wrong that the revolution would occur first in the most advanced capitalist country at the time, England. Second, he was wrong that it is not possible to “skip a step” and go directly from feudalism to socialism, which happened in Russia in 1917. According to the allegedly “scientific” Marxism, none of this was supposed to happen in the way it did in fact happen. The observed historical facts contradict Marxist theory.

Marxism was also wrong in an even more obvious way that should have been evident to Marx himself, which, surprisingly, has not received sufficient attention. Note that prediction is always risky. Einstein took a great risk when, on the basis of his theory of general relativity, he predicted that when Mercury passes behind the sun, on a certain date, its light rays would be bent by the sun’s gravitational field in an unexpected way that enables observers on Earth to see it when it is still behind the sun. Since that specific rare event had not been observed before, who could be sure what would happen? As it turned out, Einstein was right. His risky prediction was verified. That is good science. Had Mercury not been observed as predicted, a good scientist like Einstein would have been forced to go back to the drawing board and reject or revise his theory.

By contrast, explanation of past events is normally not so risky. For when one attempts to explain past events, one normally already knows the facts about what happened. One would, therefore, expect Marxism to do quite well in its explanation of the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. All Marx had to do was to make sure his theory fit the known historical facts.

However, as Milton Friedman has pointed out, Marx never solved the problem of feudalism that was staring him in the face. The collapse of feudalism and rise of capitalism did not come about as the result of any “class struggle” between serfs and feudal landlords. There was no “revolution” of that sort at all. Feudalism collapsed for a multiplicity of reasons that had nothing to do with its alleged “internal contradictions,” but because of a series of external historical accidents. Recall that there is no place in Marxism for accidents. The inexorable onward march of history is necessary!

One of these historical accidents was the opening up of trade around the Mediterranean and the emergence of the “Black Death” plague (probably brought into Europe via Turkey from China) in the 14th century that killed between 30 and 50 percent of the European population. The combination of these two external historical accidents simply made labor much more valuable. As a result, serfs were enabled to walk off their feudal plots of land and travel to the cities where their labor in that newly emerged market commanded much better wages than they received from their feudal masters. Thus, feudalism collapsed, not because of any Marxist “internal contradictions” in feudalism, but because of accidental external developments that simply made the free labor market of capitalism much more desirable!

In summary, Marxist theory is refuted by the facts.

First, two of Marx’s most basic predictions turned out to be false. The predicted socialist revolution did not occur in the most advanced capitalist economy of the time, England. It occurred in Russia by skipping a step and going directly from a feudal economy to socialism, which is, for Marx, not possible.

Second, even more surprising, Marxism does not correctly describe or explain the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. There was no rising up of serfs in a “revolution” leading to the demise of feudalism and the emergence of capitalism. This was already evident in Marx’s own history books. That is, Marxist theory fails, and rather spectacularly, on all major fronts considered here. One wonders, therefore, why Marxism, like the monster in a cheap monster movie, keeps coming back after one had been entirely certain that it is finally, completely dead.

5. Marxism Is Quasi-Religious Dogma

Karl Popper states a powerful objection against all three of the remarkable alleged new “sciences” that appeared in the 19th century: Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Freudian psychology and Marxist historical materialism. Popper does not argue that these “theories” are false but that they are not even scientific theories. That is, Darwin, Freud and Marx each purport to have created a new science, but there is, in each case, something fraudulent about the claim to scientific status.

In order to make his argument, Popper must provide a criterion that a theory must satisfy in order to be judged to be a genuine scientific theory. Part of his criterion is that the theory must be falsifiable. That is, theory T is a genuine scientific theory only if there are precise specifiable conditions which, if these were to be observed to be the case, would show that the theory is false.

Once again, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, Popper does not argue that these three kinds of theories are false. He argues that these three kinds of theories are not even falsifiable because there is either something about the way they are logically structured or the way they are applied in practice that makes it impossible to falsify them.

Popper’s reasons for judging that these three types of theories are not falsifiable (ergo, not scientific), is different in each case. Unfortunately, since Marxism, not Darwinian or Freudian theory, is our present subject, only Popper’s critique of Marxist historical materialism can be considered in detail here.

Popper’s argument that Marxist historical materialism is not a genuine science is that when Marxist explanations or predictions turn out to be false, which they regularly do, Marxists do not, as a genuine scientist would in such circumstances, go back to the drawing board and revise their theory to take account of the recalcitrant facts.

Recall that, as argued in the previous section, the Marxist explanation that feudalism collapsed because of a “class struggle” between the feudal landlords and the serfs is not verified by the facts. Rather, the emergence of the “Black Death” in Europe had more to do with the collapse of feudalism than any alleged “internal contradictions” in feudalism.

Recall also that the great socialist revolution did not occur in England, where Marx predicted it would occur, but rather that capitalism in England, in a plethora of ways, evolved into better and better forms, for example, in the development of a large middle class that was not in the least interested in a revolution.

Finally, recall that the socialist revolution did occur in Russia, which, as a feudal society, is precisely where Marxism predicts it cannot occur. How, in general, did Marxist “theorists” react to such failures in Marxist theory?

To put it bluntly, they cheated. Consider the fact that the socialist revolution occurred in Russia, precisely where Marxism predicts it cannot occur. Many Marxists have argued that the reason Russia “skipped a step” and went directly from feudalism to socialism is because of the emergence of the great genius of Lenin. That is, normally, the historical process must proceed as described in Marxist theory from feudalism to capitalism to socialism, but in this one special case Lenin appeared and, by virtue of his unique understanding of the historical process, he was able to push Russia, so to speak, fast forward directly from feudalism to socialism.

The problem with that is that it is the essence of Marxism that the development of human history is determined by great impersonal economic forces alone, specifically, class struggle, not by the emergence of individuals. If the development of human history can be altered by the appearance of some individual genius, a Socrates, a Newton, or a Lenin, then obviously Marxist theory cannot predict the future development of human history. For the one thing that Marxist theory cannot, in principle, take account of is individual genius (or even individuality in general).

Just as Newtonian mechanics must fail if individual chunks of matter can sometimes “choose” to diverge from Newton’s laws of mechanical nature and begin to move in their own individual way, Marxist theory must fail if individual human beings, whether this be Socrates, Newton or Lenin can move history in their own individual ways to transgress the vast impersonal, inexorable economic laws of human historical development “discovered” by Marx.

However, faced with these falsifying observations, Marxists have typically made ad hoc hypotheses, e.g., that this direct jump was due to the unique genius of Lenin, solely in order to preserve their theory from falsification. Ironically, although Marx, fancying himself a “scientist” (not some dreamy philosopher or prophet), said that “religion,” in contradistinction to science, “is the opiate of the masses,” Marxism, in the hands of many subsequent “Marxists,” itself became a quasi-religious opiate of the Left that must be protected from falsification, i.e., from the facts, at all costs.

6. All “Historicist” Theories Fail

Popper does not merely argue that Marxism is in fact unfalsifiable and unscientific. He also offers an explanation why all historicist theories, that is, theories that purport to predict the future development of human history, cannot, in principle, be correct. Many “philosophers,” including Plato, Malthus, Hegel, Marx, and Spengler have produced historicist theories that purport to predict how human history must play out. Popper argues there is a fatal, and rather obvious, flaw in all such “historicist” theories.

Popper’s argument is based on the premise that any theory that purports to predict how human history will develop must fail because no theory can, in principle, take account of the future growth of human knowledge. F.A Hayek agrees: “The mind can never foresee its own advance.” (The Constitution of Liberty, Part I, Chap. 2). That is, since it is impossible in principle to know how human knowledge will develop (because, roughly, that would require one to know something before one knows it), and since the development of human history depends upon the growth of human knowledge, it is impossible in principle to predict how human history will play out.

Consider a simple example first. The British economist Malthus (1766-1834), in his Essay on the Principle of Population invoked his “law of diminishing returns” to argue that the trends in population growth in his era must inevitably end in mass starvation. Specifically, he argued that population, when unchecked, tends to grow in a geometrical ratio, while “subsistence” grows only in an arithmetic ratio” and a “slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison with the second.”

Thus, Malthus infers that the point will quickly be reached in which the capacity for food production will not be able to keep up with the needs of the rapidly growing population, ending, inevitably, in mass starvation. But Malthus thinks of the human race too much on analogy with a bacterial colony on an agar base in a Petrie dish. The bacterial colony begins growing at first at an exponential rate when its “food” is plentiful. However, the “colony” soon expands to the point that the finite quantity of the food in the agar base in the Petrie dish runs out leading to mass starvation and the complete collapse of the “colony.”

Malthus also forgets that human beings are not like bacteria. Human beings can become aware of the limitations in themselves and in their environment and take measures to escape his tragic predictions. He forgets that human knowledge will itself increase during this period in ways that he cannot possibly predict. Scientists may discover new kinds of fertilizer or cultivate new more productive species of crops that massively increase the level of food production for a given area of land. New more efficient methods for storing food without spoilage may be discovered and so on.

Malthus’ pessimistic predictions about the inevitably of mass starvation are relative to a certain set of assumptions, e.g., Malthus could not possibly have known anything about current methods in the genetic modification of food, or of human beings themselves, that will enable humanity to sustain itself indefinitely. Taking a bit of poetic license, one might put this by saying that Malthus just assumes that human knowledge will not also increase at a geometrical rate to keep up with the geometrical growth of human population!

In fact, Marxism fails to account for the growth of human knowledge in an even more intimate way. Whereas Popper’s general point is that historicist views cannot possibly take account of the growth of human knowledge, Marx himself provided the new knowledge required to ensure that his own predictions fail! For Marx’s publication of his theories about the “internal contradictions” in capitalism itself represents a growth in human knowledge. His publication of these theories, therefore, adds a factor to the historical equation that is not taken account of within Marx’s theories, namely, the factor that the capitalists themselves can read Marx’s works, learn about those pitfalls in capitalism, and take measures to neutralize them.

The irony is that capitalists, having read Marx’s works, and having no pressing desire for their head to end up on a stake in the town square, can change their behavior in order to prevent Marx’s predicted socialist revolution. For what the great enemy of capitalism, Karl Marx, has actually provided in his published works is a handbook for capitalists to enable them to prevent the glorious socialist revolution. There are, in fact, few thinkers who have done more to protect capitalism from the socialist uprising than Karl Marx. For this alone, capitalists owe Marx a great debt of gratitude.

7. Marxism Replaced By “Cultural Marxism”

Since the “workers of the world” did not go along with the Marxist script and rise up against their capitalist oppressors in a violent socialist revolution, but rather became more and more enamored with capitalism, one might have expected that Marxism would quietly wither away like so many other unsustainable “philosophical” theories. However, since Marxism had become too important to too many people, even becoming a “battle cry” in many parts of the globe which resulted in a plethora of murders, it was destined to be revived, not as a true philosophical or “scientific” theory, but as a cultural force, that is, as “cultural Marxism.”

This is not the typical fate of most failed “philosophical” theories. When, for example, Bertrand Russell’s “logicist” attempt to reduce arithmetic to logic failed, one does see it live on in massive worldwide movements that insist that despite the decisive objections, the failed doctrine must be retained anyways as some kind of cultural tool. At most, one finds a few diehard scholars tinkering with Russell’s “logicism” in some obscure academic history journal or other, perhaps attempting to revive it – which is fair enough. It was, however, inevitable that Marxism would be treated differently and would reappear in the culture in new more deceptive forms.

To hear the cultural Marxists in the “news” and print media describe it, the term, “cultural Marxism” is an extremely controversial term. Wikipedia has an article titled, “The Conspiracy Theory of Cultural Marxism.” Normally, in a real Encyclopedia, as opposed to an indoctrination tool, one would expect to find an article titled “Cultural Marxism” in which some recognized experts are cited who argue that the phenomenon of “cultural Marxism” is real and others who argue that it is not real and, perhaps, that the view that there is such thing as “cultural Marxism” is a conspiracy theory. That is what used to be understood under the rubric of a “fair discussion” in the United States.

By contrast, Wikipedia, by titling its article as it does, is “framing” the discussion of “cultural Marxism” so that the reader begins with a negative attitude towards the whole notion before they even read a single word. The psychological notion of framing is roughly equivalent to the ordinary notion of “spinning.” One “spins” a story, often deceptively, in a way favorable to one’s own agenda in order to prejudice one’s opponents against it, and, in fact, Wikipedia is simply spinning the notion of “cultural Marxism” so that it is already framed by the title for the reader as a discredited notion. Only extremely unsavory “conspiracy theorists” believe that there is such a thing as “cultural Marxism.”

The Wikipedia article proceeds to associate “cultural Marxism” with the extremist Anders Breivik who gunned down 77 people, including many children, in Denmark in 2011 because he referred to “cultural Marxism” in his Manifesto. There is no need to respond to that “argument.” In brief, the Wikipedia article creates a “straw man” notion of “cultural Marxism” that can easily be knocked down and then ritually proceeds to knock it down.

Needless to say, my present claim that the phenomenon of “cultural Marxism” is real does not support any doctrine that justifies any such violent lunacy. For the sake of brevity, I discuss only one example of what I mean by “cultural Marxism” in any detail, the unjustifiable censorship of conservatives and President Trump by Facebook, Twitter and the “news” media that has recently distorted the “culture” in the United States. However, I do briefly mention several other current “cultural Marxist” phenomena that could be profitably taken up in future discussions.

Prior to the presidential election of 2020, Facebook, Twitter and many outlets in the “mainstream media” began censoring “conservatives” on the grounds that they “violate their community standards,” and censoring President Trump because he (allegedly) lies too much. As this article is being written, circa Dec. 4th, 2020, Anderson Cooper announced that CNN would not be showing the speech that President Trump described as “the most important speech he ever made” on the grounds that it is (allegedly) full of lies.

One would think that since most of the anchors and presenters on these “news” outlets have been raised in the United States, as opposed to the Soviet Union or Cuba, it would not be necessary to explain why there is no possible justification whatsoever for censoring conservatives or President Trump on such grounds, that is, no need to explain that it is the “news” media’s job to present all sides of the issues neutrally, because it is the American people alone, in free and fair elections, who are entitled to decide who is lying and who is not. It used to be understood, generally by the 8th grade, that to begin censoring is to start down the road to full tyranny. But, unfortunately, given what has become of our “educational system” over the decades, that is no longer true.

In any case, it is easy enough to determine who is lying in any given case by observing who needs to censor and who does not. However, that particular point goes beyond my present topic. My present more limited aim is only to point out that the “justification,” such as it is, currently offered for the censorship of conservatives and President Trump has its provenance in the “New Left” “Marxism” of Herbert Marcuse that became the rage on American university campuses in the 1960s with the rise of the psychedelic drug culture. That is, Marcuse’s “justification” of censorship, currently practiced by a plethora of privileged organizations like Twitter and Facebook and CNN is itself an example of “cultural Marxism.”

In his essay, “Repressive Tolerance,” the “New Left” “Marxist” Herbert Marcuse begins with a statement of the ultimate conclusion of his essay: “The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.”

That is, Marcuse holds that “objective tolerance” actually requires “intolerance” by Marxists, towards established views. Tolerance is intolerance towards the opponents of Marxism. Yes of course! And “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” (George Orwell, 1984).

Marcuse’s argument for his “repressive tolerance” (i.e., intolerant repression of those he disagrees with) is that even a “liberal democracy,” which purports to allow for an objectively completely free discussion, may actually conceal a “totalitarian organization:” “…In a democracy with totalitarian organization, objectivity may fulfil a very different function, namely, to foster a mental attitude which tends to obliterate the difference between true and false, information and indoctrination, right and wrong. In fact, the decision between opposed opinions has been made before the presentation and discussion get under way–made, not by a conspiracy or a sponsor or a publisher, not by any dictatorship, but rather by the ‘normal course of events.”

That is, since, even in a liberal democracy that guarantees freedom of speech, there is already an established body of opinion that, “in the normal course of events,” resists “alternative” views, the deck is stacked against the Marxists and other rebels. For this reason, “persuasion through discussion and the equal presentation of opposites… easily lose their liberating force… [and] are far more likely to strengthen the established thesis and to repel the alternatives.” Marcuse is clearly disturbed that the Marxists seem always to lose the arguments with “the establishment,” thereby leaving “the establishment” even stronger.

There must, Marcuse is certain, be a reason the Marxists always lose the argument and it cannot be that they have dreadful arguments (See IV, V and VI above). Since the Marxists are completely certain of their views, and since they are certain that they must lose the arguments because of an entrenched advantage “the establishment” possesses “in the normal course of events,” Marcuse infers that Marxists are justified in intolerance towards the established views that the Marxists do not see as “liberating” enough.

This sort of intolerance is currently on full view in the censorship of conservatives on Facebook, Twitter and the “mainstream media.” It is on full display in the attacks on gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos at the “home” of the “free speech” movement, Berkeley, California, for attempting to state views the Left sees as contradicting its view of “liberation.” It is on display on the attacks on teachers, even “progressive” professors, at Evergreen College for stating simple disagreements with leftist students. It is on display in the censorship of the president of the United States, and the 74 million people who voted for him, for having the temerity to disagree with their self-appointed cultural overlords… and so on. In fact, Marcuse’s argument for leftist intolerance against “the establishment” is a textbook case of “question begging.” For the question what is genuinely “liberating” cannot be legitimately assumed by Marcuse but must itself be part of the free and fair discussion.

If Marcuse sat on high above the human fray like a god with a privileged view of the truth, he would be in a position to judge that the establishment has an unfair advantage in debates with Marxists. However, he enjoys no such position. He and his fellow Marxists are human beings, like any other, subject to the same foibles and weaknesses as everyone else. That is, Marcuse simply begs the question against the view that capitalism is more liberating than Marxism. One would think, given Marx’s own exuberant praise for capitalism (discussed in section 3 above), this would have occurred to Marcuse, at least as a possibility. But, apparently, it did not.

Many on the Left today, such as the uberwealthy owners of Facebook, Twitter and “mainstream media” establishments, also, apparently, think they occupy such a superior position, like gods, above the “basket of deplorable” “workers of the world” that they are justified in censoring both them and the president when the latter decline to go along with the script. However, if these uberwealthy cultural actors do occupy some superior position over the “basket of deplorables,” it is their vast accumulation of capitalist dollars, sometimes by dishonest means, that grant them this position, not any privileged relationship to the truth.

One might add, as an additional example of “cultural Marxism,” Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s (AOC’s) complaint in February of 2019 that workers are exploited because they are regularly paid less than the value they create. After all, it is the workers who transform the cow into a pair of shoes that can be sold in the market for a price. The market “value” of the shoes is, therefore, completely created by the labourers. But that is just a re-statement of Marx’s theory of “surplus value,” the view that workers in a capitalist society are not paid for the full value of the wealth they create.

Let us assume Marx and AOC are right. What AOC, who, apparently, has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boston University, fails to point out is that if the worker were paid the full value of what they “create” from the cow, the factory in which they work would go out of business due to an inability to meet their expenses. That would put the worker who “creates” the shoes on the unemployment line, because the factory in which the cow is transformed into shoes will have expenses that cannot be paid. How, precisely, is providing the worker with a job “oppressing” them? But this is no place for a basic lesson in economics or arithmetic. F.A. Hayek is reported to have said that “If socialists understood economics, they would not be socialists.” (Dan Duggar, “Letter to the Editor”).

One might also mention as “cultural Marxism” the sustained contemporary attacks by “progressives” on traditional religious organizations, the family, and the police. The prejudice against traditional religion, the family, and the police comes straight out of Marxist texts. For Marx, religion is “the opiate of the masses,” and the police are an instrument of the capitalists to control the working class. Governor Cuomo’s differential treatment of religious and secular gatherings during the COVID-19 lockdowns is a case in point. The same is true of fact-free “progressive” attacks on the police. To take just one example, “progressives” still routinely use the “hands up, don’t shoot!” slogan from the 2014 Michael Brown case even though the Obama-Holder justice department exonerated police officer Wilson. Given, however, that “progressives” and other “cultural Marxists” have dispensed with the depressing notion of truth, they have been enabled to make this slogan a very useful but false “narrative.”

It does not matter to many of these “cultural Marxists” that many of the poor actually want a greater police presence in their communities. Since, according to Marcuse, the “deplorables” have been deceived by the capitalist oppressors, it is not necessary to take their views into account. Rather, the “basket of deplorables” must, as Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man (pp. 43-44), makes abundantly clear, be “forced to be free.”

Marcuse, like Marx, makes clear that force will be needed to subdue the recalcitrant workers who decline to follow the script. The Marxists certainly cannot permit the “deplorables” to state what they mean by “freedom.” The notion of freedom will be defined by the all-knowing Marxist elites and “forced” on the “basket of deplorables” who, in their appalling ignorance, consistently reject it.

It is crucial to point out that the present claim is not that Gov. Cuomo, Anderson Cooper and other members of the privileged elites are card-carrying Marxists. That completely misunderstands the argument. For the last thing these uberwealthy and powerful elites want is a real Marxist revolution. One does not even want to think about what that would do to the price or availability of Dom Perignon champagne or white truffle oil.

What they want is to enjoy all the fruits of capitalism for themselves even as they display their “moral” bona fides by imposing various Marxist views about censorship, religion, the family and the police on the “deplorables,” who manifestly do not want them. Indeed, these self-gratifying elites see themselves, just as Marcuse sees himself, as moral warriors doing what Marx’s great historical dialectic failed to do when they “force” the “basket of deplorables” to be “free,” not, of course, as the “basket of deplorables” understand freedom, but as they, the “cultural Marxists” define it for them.

“Cultural Marxism” is as real as the censorship of conservatives and the president by the aforementioned massive cultural institutions. It is also real in the constant assaults by “progressives” on the police, the nuclear family and traditional religions, especially Christianity. The purported justifications for this kind of censorship by “progressives” traces precisely to Marcuse’s Marxist notion of “repressive tolerance.”

But Marcuse’s argument for his notion of “repressive tolerance” rests on the childish assumption that Marxists are superior to “deplorable” “workers of the world” whom they purport to represent – that is, it rests, ironically, on the elitism of the all-seeing Marxists or “progressives.”

The truly astonishing fact is that the transparent problem with Marcuse’s self-indulgent question-begging argument for the right to censor his political opponents does not require a journey into the obscure nature of “dialectical materialism” but is as close as the nearest freshman critical reasoning textbook.

8. Marxism In Universities

The common view that there is a strong presence of various species of Marxism, including “cultural Marxism,” in our universities has been challenged. For example, Byron Caplan reports that as the Iron Curtain crumbled, people often joked that “Marxism is dead everywhere… except at American Universities” – but is this an exaggeration?

A representative 2006 survey of university professors by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons concludes that, except in isolated areas, the percentage of Marxist university professors is very small. Specifically, only 17.6% of professors in the social sciences and 5% in the humanities identify as Marxists, but that this number falls to 1.9% in business, 0.7% in computer sciences and engineering, and 0% in the physical and biological sciences. This works out to a mere 3% of university professors overall. Gross and Simmons conclude that this is not particularly alarming.

In fact, Gross and Simmons’ reassuring conclusion is wrong for a number of reasons. Even given their own formulation of the results, they only take account of those professors who self-identify as Marxists. This does not account for the many additional professors who may subscribe to Marxist views but either do not admit to this or do not even know themselves the Marxist provenance of their views. Nor does it apply to the much larger group of “cultural Marxists” in which the “original” Marxist views are reformulated in new, sometimes deceptive, terms to avoid direct association with the discredited Marxist theory of the necessary “class struggle.”

Whereas it was central to original Marxism that classes are defined exclusively in economic terms (ownership of the “means of production”), the purely economic classes of Marx have been replaced by “classes” redefined by “cultural Marxists” in racial, gender or sexual preference terms, which then, in a project called “intersectionality,” must be artificially stitched together into “class” of highly diverse oppressed people. Instead of the class struggle between the “capitalists” and the “proletariat workers,” each defined in strict economic terms, the new “cultural Marxists” refer to the struggle between the “Patriarchy” and the oppressed “class” of females, or between “systemic racism” and the oppressed “class” of “people of color.”

This revisionary project is facilitated by the fact that contemporary “cultural Marxists” represent a curious combination of Marxism with “Post-modernism.” A great deal could be said about Post-Modernism, and in fact, in another context, deserves to be said, but one thing that is manifestly clear is that classical Marxism is incompatible with the Post-Modernist’s relativist replacement of the idea that there is an objective truth, with the idea that there are simply different “narratives” about human history.

One should not be surprised when the Post-modernist “narratives” about “the Patriarchy” and “systemic oppression” turn out to be new unfalsifiable “theories.” For, when the Post-modernists, conveniently, abandon the notion of truth, they also abandon the idea that one can objectively falsify any of these “narratives.”

Indeed, the point and utility of these “narratives” is precisely that it is impossible to falsify them. But since, according to the Post-Modernists, there is no objective truth in these areas anyways, they are still very useful.

Marx, by contrast, was sufficiently old fashioned that he still believed in objective truth and in Marxism as a “science” that will sit alongside the other objectively true sciences like Newtonian mechanics. Marx did not think of Marxism as a mere useful “narrative.”

Thus, although it may be true that only a relatively small percent of professors in the social sciences and the humanities explicitly self-identify as “Marxists,” the relativist language of the “cultural Marxists’” unfalsifiable assertions of “systemic racism and sexism” by “the Patriarchy” are ubiquitous on university campuses. The 2006 study may be correct that there are relatively few self-identifying “original” Marxists on campus; but there is an enormous additional number of professors on campus that embrace the safety of a whole raft of the vague unfalsifiable “narratives” of the Post-Modernist “cultural Marxists.”

It is important to be clear that each of these groups cited by the “cultural Marxists,” black people, Native Americans, women, gay people, transgender people and others have every right to raise objections about the way their group has been treated – and some of these complaints will be correct. The present point is simply that “cultural Marxism” is an artificial framework invented to frame these issues under one unifying quasi-Marxist formula that has far less to do with the reality (another difficult notion for “cultural Marxists”) than it does with social activism.

Unfortunately, linking together what is different just to subsume different issues under some impressive sounding net of jargon can distort the original problems. To take just one example, although there is an ostensible alliance between the “gay” and the transgender community, some “gay” establishments do not permit entry to transgendered individuals on the grounds that the latter are not really “gay.” The unity between the two communities that is useful at election time rapidly disappears on the ground. Further, the tension between the transgender and the “gay” communities can have nothing to do with “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism.”

The reason gays have tensions with transgender people is the same reason that black people sometimes have problems with brown people, or Westerners sometimes have problems with Asians, or Chinese sometimes have problems with Japanese, or the Northern hemisphere sometimes has problems with the southern hemisphere, or males sometimes have problems with females, or “old money” sometimes has problems with “new money,” or moderate feminists have problems with radical feminists and so on is that this is the way human beings are. These tensions and “struggles” are universal and cut across all the different classifications of human beings. These conflicts cannot be reduced to any simple formula suitable for a sociology syllabus or a fortune cookie.

Since much contemporary “cultural Marxism” is really an inconsistent combination of relativist Post-Modernism and “original” Marxism, the resulting view, having abandoned the notion of truth and, with that, the need to provide intellectually cogent definitions, argument, and evidence, is really an easy conglomerate of unfalsifiable “narratives” that are prized precisely because they are unfalsifiable.

Whereas an “original” Marxist, like, for example, Maurice Cornforth, felt the need to reply vigorously to Popper’s charge that Marxism had become an unfalsifiable dogma, the contemporary “cultural Marxist” takes grateful refuge in precisely that unfalsifiability. Since many of the “doctrines” of the “cultural” Marxists are unfalsifiable “narratives,” there is no chance that one of the remaining intellectually rigorous persons will falsify them in the way that “original” Marxism was falsified.

9. Why Are Marxist Theories Popular?

There is another reason why Marxism has enjoyed considerable popularity and why, in some circles, it continues to do so, namely the extraordinary simplicity of its basic picture. The first sentence of Section I of the Communist Manifesto is: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

That is, all of human history, the astonishing genius of ancient Greece, including, for example, the great ancient Greek tragedians, scientists, artists, mathematicians and philosophers, the magnificent development of Roman Law, the emergence of Christianity and Islam, the artistic glories of the European Renaissance, the simultaneous development of the differential calculus by Pascal, Newton and Leibniz, the customs concerning gender relations in China and Japan and throughout all human history, the development of existentialism, phenomenology and analytical philosophy in the early 20th century and so on, are all “explained” as the result of the “class struggle.”

Is this really to be taken seriously?

In his Lectures on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, Wittgenstein, discussing Freud’s view that all neurosis in adults is the result of repressed sexual trauma in childhood, states that people have a tendency to believe Freud’s view because it is “charming.” That is, in opposition to Freud’s claim that human beings have an aversion to contemplating his radical theories about human sexuality, Wittgenstein claims that people actually find such “theories” to be quite charming. People want to believe these kinds of “theories.”

Given the worldwide spread of Freud’s unfalsifiable theories, Wittgenstein is, prima facia, correct. Wittgenstein points out that there is a magical feel to such “explanations” because they purport to explain a whole raft of mysterious phenomena by reference to some secret principle that, once articulated, is seen to be self-evidently true. Jones, learning of Freud’s theories concerning sexual repression, says, “It all becomes clear now. The reason I can’t sleep at night has nothing to do with the fact that I dropped out of school because I partied all the time. It has nothing to do with the fact that I can’t hold down a job because I sleep until noon every day. It’s all because I suffered sexual trauma in childhood, where the fact that I cannot remember any sexual trauma in childhood only goes to show how effective the repression really is!”

Wittgenstein holds, transparently correctly, that such (Freudian) theories explain nothing. What they do that makes them so “charming” is to give people a narrative about their lives that they find comforting in certain ways. The same is true of Marxism.

“Original” Marxism literally explains nothing. It certainly did not explain the transition from feudalism to capitalism about which Marx should have been informed. It certainly did not explain the transition from feudalism to socialism by skipping a step in Russia in 1917. It certainly did not explain why the socialist revolution never occurred in England.

What the simplistic Marxist formula about class-struggle does is give people a narrative that provides a comforting meaning to their lives. The fact that members of community X cannot seem to improve their economic lot in life is not their fault. It is not because members of community X tend to drop out of high school at a rate much higher than the general population. It is not because there are few fathers in the home community X. It is not because there is rampant drug use in community X. It is not because community X has babies out of wedlock at a much higher rate rather than the national average. On the contrary, it is because of the “class struggle” that community X is stuck where it is. It is because community X is “oppressed” that it cannot better itself in life.

The fact that some members of community X, in fact quite a lot of them, the ones who finish high school, the ones who do not use or sell drugs, and the ones who do not have babies out of wedlock manage to get into good universities and end up multi-millionaires is not to be mentioned because the vacuity of the Marxist “explanation” is immediately exposed.

In response to all such simplistic explanations, not just Marxism or Freudianism, but even “mechanistic” theories in the philosophy of language that purport to “explain” some vast range of hitherto mysterious phenomena, Wittgenstein, in his “later” period of philosophy is said to have told his friend Drury that he considered using as a motto for his book the sentence from King Lear: “I will teach you differences.”

Wittgenstein explained to Drury that his method is the opposite of Hegel’s. Whereas Hegel always wants to say that things that look different are really the same – his aim is to say that things that look the same are really different. That is, Wittgenstein’s point is that human life is far too multifarious, nuanced, and unpredictable to be explained by such simplistic theories.

Theories like Marxism and Freudianism are comforting because they purport, by means of some simplistic formula, to enable one to escape the mystery and challenges of life. In fact, the problems of human life can be resolved, to the degree that they can be, only by getting into concrete situations and working to resolve them. This is a hard business. There are no guarantees. No one was given an instruction manual at birth that explains what one must do to be successful.

This is the correct intuition behind parts both of “American pragmatism” and “existentialism:” Solving the problems of human life and society will not be achieved by adverting to some “philosophical” theory, but, rather, this essentially requires work, sometimes by trial and error, even working blindly in real world contexts. This is the way the world is. It would be nice if the key to understanding human life and society could be summed up in such a simplistic formula, but, alas, it cannot.

The German “existentialist” and “phenomenologist” Martin Heidegger, in Section 4 of Being and Time, makes an analogous point that is worth explaining: “The question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself.” That is, Martin Heidegger, the arch- philosopher, who sat forever in his little shack in the Black Forest filling notebook after notebook after notebook with endless philosophical remarks, is attempting to convey that one does not solve the real problems of existence by philosophizing. Philosophy’s attempt to conceptualize the entirety of life and existence in all its elusive dimensions is a wonderful thing. It is among humanity’s greatest achievements. But do not expect some “philosopher,” whether it be Plato, Hegel, Marx or Heidegger to propound some simple formula (“All human history is the history of class struggles”) that resolves the genuinely hard problems of life, e.g., the problems of economic inequality, mental illness, gender differences and inequities and so on.

The attempt to resolve such problems by citing simple philosophical formulas is, rather, an escape from the problems of life (philosophy as an “escape mechanism”). It is among the greatest of ironies that philosophy, which, ideally, is supposed to help one understand human life, and which, done properly can actually, within limits, do so, can also readily become a means to escape from the challenges of life into simplistic unworldly dreams. As the French existentialist Albert Camus observed in The Rebel, with considerable anguish, “philosophy… can [unfortunately] be used for anything, even for turning murderers into judges.”

10. Marxism Does Not Solve Any Problems

It is a noteworthy fact about Marxists, and others on the Left influenced by Marxism, that faced with a dire social problem, they never seem to take the most direct and obvious ways to solve the problems! Since Marxists do little else but talk about solving social problems, this might seem like an astonishing claim. However, there is a vast difference between talking about solving social problems, or, in the case of Marxists, talking about a future social revolution that will somehow solve them, and actually setting out to solve them.

But before we discuss the Marxist reluctance to solve any actual social problems, it may be useful, by way of analogy, to discuss the difference between the way a “common sense philosopher” like Norman Malcolm (influenced by Wittgenstein and G.E. Moore) attempted to solve philosophical problems, for example, the problem of perception, and the way a great German philosopher like Immanuel Kant approaches such problems. Consider as example the problem how we can know that this little item on the dining room table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one.

Malcolm will first look at the contexts in which we say that someone claims to know something about a perceived physical object. He then examines the sorts of things we normally say about the perception of physical objects, including what we say about errors in perception and how we correct mistakes in perception. He then looks at scientific views about the causal relations between physical objects and human observers and asks how we integrate these scientific views with our ordinary views about perception of such objects. Finally, he proposes a certain common-sense solution to the question how we can know that this item on the table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one.

The great Kant will not, of course, condescend to do any such thing. Kant wants a revolution (to be more precise, a Copernican Revolution) in the way we think about virtually everything, of which the “solution,” such as it is, to the question how we can know that the object on the table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one, is one tiny (vanishing) part.

In order to bring about his “revolution,” Kant distinguishes a plethora of mental faculties, sensibility, understanding, imagination, apperception, judgment, Reason, and a few more that he discovers along his laborious journey, not to mention that he also distinguishes between empirical and transcendental versions of some of these. These are all linked together into a vast system that reaches into virtually all areas of human life, including even religion, morality, aesthetic judgments and the nature of human freedom.

After three Critiques and a plethora of lesser works, and approximately several thousand pages (depending on how one counts) of dense near incomprehensible text, which, he tells us only constitute the “Propaedeutic” to “The System,” not “The System” itself, Kant informs the exhausted reader that the “solution,” such as it is, to the question how one knows that the item on the table is an acorn and not a plastic replica of one requires one to accept the whole system. Nothing less will do because the “System” of human knowledge is an “absolute” unity. One is either all in or not. If you do not accept the whole System there is no helping you.

The present point is that Marx’s “solutions” to social problems are much more like Kant’s “solutions” to conceptual problems than they are like Malcolm’s solutions to conceptual problems, although Kant’s revolution” clearly involves less rioting and bloodshed than Marx’s.

Since both Kant and Marx are German philosophers that worship “The System,” in one or another in the plethora of its “Absolute” but vastly different manifestations, Marxists, like Kant and Hegel, cannot not go directly at the problem. That is the strategy of lesser human beings like Malcolm. Rather, Marx tells us, one cannot really solve the problem per se but must rather bring about a “revolution” that will somehow, in a way specified only in the most general terms, someday “solve” the problem. The communists at the end of history will, in ways we cannot yet quite understand, settle the matter for us once and for all.

To illustrate with a concrete example, consider a Marxist confronted by a community of starving children. The Marxist does not typically propose feeding the children. But not only do Marxists not propose feeding the starving children. They do not even want anybody else to feed them either. Marxists are particularly outraged by the practice of charity, particularly any religious practice of charity, from coming in and feeding the children.

As Cihan Tuğal points out, “The Left usually dismisses charity as demeaning intervention into the lives of oppressed classes, an obfuscation through which exploitation is legitimated. Few arguments by Marx and Engels are as deeply ingrained in Marxism as their statements on charity. [For such traditional conceptions of charity] upheld interdependence between God, the rich, and the poor as sacrosanct.”

That is, for the Marxist, feeding the starving children is “legitimating” the exploitation that led them to starve in the first place. Indeed, Marxists tend to hold that by feeding the starving children one reinforces the denigrating picture of rich people (that would be the capitalists), motivated by their superstitious religious beliefs that were created for no other purpose but to prop up the exploitative capitalist system, pseudo-beneficently swooping in from above to save the starving poor in the name of their illusory tyrannical God, thereby defusing the social pressures that, if allowed to fester, will eventually explode in the glorious socialist revolution. It would be an outrage, and simply will not do, to permit the “oppressors” to solve the problem (feed the children).

In fact, of course, this Marxist view is a cynical caricature of charitable giving. There is literally nothing about charitable giving per se that “legitimates” exploitation. Further, there can be no doubt that many of these starving children will, having been able to survive because of the charitable giving, grow up into careers of their own and work to raise the standard of living in their communities – if, that is, Marxists actually want to solve the problem.

Fortunately, however, one need not stoop to the horror of charitable giving, especially charitable giving by religious organizations, in order to see the way in which the Marxist always prefers some future “revolution” to actually trying to solve the social problems. For, in contrast with the Marxist, the capitalist does directly address those social problems.

Consider again our community of starving people! Rather than attempt to foment a revolution that might, someday, somehow, find a way feed them, the capitalist looks at this community as a possible market. They do a study and conclude that the community can, at its current level of poverty, support one profitable McDonald’s restaurant with about 10 staff (2 managers and 8 helpers).

The McDonald’s is set up and begins operation. Let us suppose that all the managers and staff come from the poor community and that some of the patronage at the restaurant comes from outside the community. After the McDonald’s has been in operation for a few weeks, the community has the same monetary resources it had before the McDonald’s began operation, but now it has in addition the wages of the 10 workers that have been working at the restaurant.

After a sufficient amount of time has passed, another capitalist does another study and concludes that given that its spending power has been increased slightly by the addition of the McDonald’s, this poor community can now also support a profitable gas station that will employ 2 managers and 8 staff. After this gas station has been in operation for some time, the spending power of the community has been increased again due to the addition of 10 new wage earners.

After several more of these small capitalist ventures have added several new small establishments, each with a new group of wage earners, to the community, perhaps a small newsstand, a coffee shop, and a drug store, the number of wage-earners added to the community makes it capable of supporting a much larger profitable operation, perhaps an Olive Garden that employs 10 managers and 40 employees. This kind of establishment can pull in much more wealth from outside the poor community.

The community is, by means of the productive power of the capitalist profit motive, the one to which Marx himself admits extravagant praise, gradually increasing its spending power and standard of living. This will not happen overnight, but in a few decades some of the members of this formerly poor” community will have risen to the point that they can themselves become capitalists who launch additional profitable enterprises in their own community or other poor communities, thereby, step by step, raising the standard of living in those other poor communities as well.

As an aside, this illustrates another false assumption of Marxists, namely that capitalists and workers constitute two exclusive classes, where the one oppresses the other. In fact, in the natural progression of capitalist societies, workers, over some time, can themselves become capitalists and fund new operations that raise the standard of living in their own or other poor communities. The Marxist does not give due regard the fluidity of the two “classes.” It is as if, when an economics textbook distinguishes buyers and sellers, the Marxist forgets that buyers are also sellers.

Let us then suppose that one of these newly emerged capitalists eventually become wealthy enough to buy him or herself a Mercedes, while the other members of the community are by that point still stuck with small inexpensive vehicles. The Marxist or socialist sees this as the establishment of an oppressor class driving fancy cars and an oppressed class still stuck with small unimpressive vehicles.

But this too is a mistake. For someone, to be more precise, a factory (in fact, it will take several factories) of people, will have to build that Mercedes, and additional workers will be needed to service it. It is true that this Mercedes-factory may be in some other community, but since the labor is cheaper in poor communities, this will likely be another poorer community. This means more jobs for poorer communities, which means, in the long run, more spending power in those poor communities. Eventually, some of the sons or daughters of these poor communities will themselves be driving a Mercedes, and when they do, they are not “oppressing” other members of the poor community. On the contrary, they are helping to make it possible for future members of poor communities to raise themselves, over a period of time, to the point that they too can afford a Mercedes.

The “profit motive” of the capitalist is not, as Marxists and “progressives” often claim, an evil exploiter of poor communities. Quite the contrary – the profit motive is a concrete consumer satisfaction mechanism for lifting poor communities out of poverty. Marx is right that capitalism’s economic productive power is literally one of the great “wonders” of human history.

Recall also that Marx states that in addition to its enormous economic productive power capitalism has fostered the “universal inter-dependence of nations.” It has made “national… narrow-mindedness… more and more impossible.” It has fostered the rise of “a world literature.” It has drawn “the most barbarian nations into civilization” and forced them to abandon their “obstinate hatred of foreigners.” It has, borrowing Ronald Reagan’s words, forced formerly hostile nations to “tear down that wall” and start trading and talking and befriending each other.

This is not Adam Smith or Milton Friedman speaking. This is Karl Marx speaking. Indeed, Marx celebrates the fact that capitalism has produced “wonders” like nothing else that had been seen in the entire history of the human race up to the time of its inception, not merely economic but intellectual and cultural. As Marx himself knew, the capitalist profit motive is the greatest boon, by far, to poor communities in the history of mankind that the world had ever seen to that date.

Given that Marx celebrates the fact that capitalism has been such a force for raising people out of poverty in the world, indeed, according to Marx’s “dialectical materialism,” a necessary force for raising people out of poverty in the world, one wonders why capitalism is denounced today by “Marxists” and other “progressives” in such shrill terms as evil and oppressive. Have these “Marxists” and “progressives” forgotten that Marx held that capitalism is a necessary stage in the gradual liberation of the human race? For if they do remember this, why do they not acknowledge all the goods that capitalism has produced and then set about in a calm and reasoned manner, in partnership with the rest of us who do acknowledge that there are remaining injustices that need to be eliminated, to solve these remaining problems?

The answer is that Marxists (and the “progressives” influenced by them) in capitalist societies positively do not want to solve the social problems. Although it has been disputed, Vladimir Lenin is said to have affirmed the claim by the Russian revolutionary “philosopher” and Marxist theoretician Georgi Plekhanov (1856–1918) that “the worse things are, the better they are;” by which he means that the more desperate suffering people there are in society the closer one is to the glorious socialist revolution. That is, as difficult as this is for normal people in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” to believe, the Marxist requires poverty and hopelessness if its socialist and communist goals are to be realized one day. R.C. Tucker remarks that “in the present [capitalist] phase of society” this principle, “the worse the better,” is implicit in “the Marxist structure.”

Thus, if one ever wonders why things never seem to get better in “progressive” US cities, despite constant complaining by their progressive governments about “systemic oppression,” and also why these “progressive” governments react angrily at attempts by outsiders to step in and solve the problems, as Nancy Pelosi and others reacted angrily to Donald Trump’s exposure of the poverty in these communities, and even called him a racist for wanting to solve these problems, this is an important part of the answer: Marxists and “progressives” need lots of poor desperate people, if their “revolution” is ever to succeed, and place themselves, the “progressives,” in full power.

The fact that Marxists and “progressives” are not actually interested in solving the problems is, however, an embarrassment. It does nothing for the Marxist or progressive cause du jour. One must, therefore, by a variety of means, ensure that no one is permitted to say this in public; ergo the Marxist and “progressive” support for censorship, perhaps by accusing people of racism for the sin of trying to solve the problem.

11. Marxism “Abolishes” Morality And Religion

It is, given the argument of the preceding section, ironic that Marxists and their “progressive” leftist progeny often claim the mantle of “morality” and “compassion” for their views. In fact, Marx explicitly rejects “all morality” and religion: “Communism … abolishes all religion, it abolishes all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis” (Communist Manifesto, Sect. II).

The communist “abolishing” of “all” morality and religion should not be surprising. Since the scientist as such merely describes what happens and does not say what ought to happen, the Marxist, qua alleged scientist, cannot consistently assign any moral superiority to the socialist or communist stages over the capitalist stage of society.

Since, however, many scholars correctly detect moral language in Marx’s account of the historical dialectic, Marx appears inconsistent. He seems to want a socialist or communist morality under the guise of a descriptive scientific theory. Marx qua scientist tells one what must happen, while Marx qua moralist reassures one what ought to happen. What is the truth? Can Marxists consistently claim the compassionate moral high ground or not?

Many scholars have argued that Marxism does have a moral dimension (e.g., the claim that socialism and communism are morally superior to capitalism), and that this can, by the usual scholarly procedure of making numerous distinctions and qualifications, be seen to be consistent with Marxist claim to be a “scientific” theory. These discussions are very interesting and good points can be made on both sides. However, these discussions are suitable for the philosophy classroom. Note, however, that the argument in the preceding section that Marxism cannot legitimately claim the moral and compassionate high ground is not based on such abstract theoretical points. It is, rather, based on the way Marxism treats people in the real world: “The worse things are, the better they are.” Far from being “moral” or compassionate, the Marxist in reality typically sees human beings as pawns whose well-being and happiness must be sacrificed for the sake of the ultimate goal, the establishment of a full-fledged communist society.

It is one of the ironies of the way Marxism, “progressivism” and capitalism are commonly represented in American society, especially in the “Ivory tower,” that Marxism and “progressivism” are described in glowing moral terms, while capitalism is represented as immoral and heartless. The Marxist or progressive will “liberate” the poor from their oppressors, while the heartless capitalist will view the poor solely through the lens of the evil “profit motive.”

This imbalance is, no doubt, brought about by the massive and effective marketing (note the irony) campaign by the Marxists and the “progressives,” who quite effectively play the “victim card” for the poor (the workers). In fact, the truth is the reverse of this (which is one of the reasons recent “cultural” Marxists had to abandon the notion of truth). Whereas Marxism and its “progressive” progeny are theoretically committed to see individual flesh and blood human beings as pawns in the historical dialectic, and, as argued in the previous section, do in fact see them that way, even to the point that they have no wish to ease the social pressures by actually solving any social problems, it is the free-market capitalists who are committed, not just in theory, but in the real world, to value the wishes of real flesh and blood human beings. For, in a genuinely free market, the capitalist can only succeed by satisfying the consumer.

That is, in a genuinely free market, it is the consumer who, with their decisions what products to purchase or not purchase controls the behavior of the capitalists! Whereas the Marxist sees individual flesh and blood human beings, the “proletariat,” as pawns of the historical dialectic, capitalism reverses this and makes the capitalist the pawn of the real flesh and blood consumers who, by their purchasing behavior in a free market determine which capitalist ventures succeed and which do not. It is the capitalist who, truly, can say: “Power to the people (the consumer)!”

The moral of this section is that the capitalist needs more effective spokespersons throughout the culture and in the “news” media. For capitalism, properly understood, actually owns the “moral high ground.” In the real world, as opposed to Philosophy 101, the verdict is not even close. The proper image of capitalism is not “oppression.” It is freedom (the free market in which the consumers exert control over the capitalists).

Unfortunately, the Marxists and “progressives” have, because of their dominance in the “Ivory tower” and the “news” and entertainment media, many effective marketing agents (again note the irony). By contrast, the capitalists, who actually have the much stronger “moral” case, need better marketing agents. It is the supreme irony that Marxism and socialism sell so well in capitalist countries where their unscrupulous agents can market (again note the irony) them, earning for themselves many capitalist dollars and acquiring considerable power with slick slogans about “equality,” “the redistribution of wealth,” “economic justice” or “economic democracy” and the like.

Marxism and socialism do not, however, sell so well in Marxist or socialist countries, as in Cuba, where the desperate citizens will often risk their lives floating on patched inner tubes across 90 miles of shark-infested waters to leave the socialist paradise and get to the capitalist United States.

12. Conclusions

Karl Marx is most well known as the preeminent critic of capitalism. Capitalism, he tells us, in the jargon in which he has couched his “theory,” harbors an internal “contradiction” between the capitalist oppressors and the oppressed workers that determines that it will necessarily fall to a socialist “revolution.”

However, as history has shown, most of the negative things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be false. Feudalism did not collapse into capitalism because of a “necessary” revolution by the serfs against their feudal landlords. Various historical accidents, including the emergence of the “Black Death” in Europe, in ways entirely comprehensible in free market economics, made feudal labor more valuable and the serfs simply picked up their knapsacks and left their feudal landlords for better wages in the cities. The socialist revolution did not occur in England, where Marx predicted it, but in Russia, where he said it could not possibly occur, etc.

However, Marx also said many very positive things about capitalism. Indeed, his exuberant praise of capitalism is unmatched by many of capitalism’s most famous supporters – and most of the positive things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be true. In fact, Marx agrees with Milton Friedman that capitalism has been the greatest mechanism for lifting people out of poverty the world has ever seen to date. Although Marx got that part right, subsequent “Marxists” have not, in general, noticed.

Furthermore, as Popper has shown, Marx may have intended Marxism as a “scientific” doctrine, but he failed to recognize that his publication of his Marxist views changes the historical equation that he describes in his publications. There is nowhere in Marx’s works that recognizes the possible influence that his publication of his views about the flaws in capitalism will have on the historical development of capitalism – a stunning blind spot.

Fortunately, capitalists, warned by Marx’s publications about the inevitable fall of capitalism in a socialist revolution, modified capitalist behavior in order to avoid Marx’s predicted dire outcome. That is, it is partly thanks to Marx’s publication of his theories that his predictions did not come true – a particularly intriguing instance of Popper’s view that no “historicist” view can be successful because no “historicist” view can predict the future growth of human knowledge. For, Marx’s own contribution to human knowledge, his publications of his theories, added a factor to the historical equation that is not recognized within any of his theories – and, in fact, that factor had a role in falsifying his predictions about the inevitable downfall of capitalism!

As a result of these great failures of Marx’s “original” Marxism, subsequent “Marxists,” were faced by a dilemma. They must either retain Marx’s original view that Marxism is a “science” and admit it has been falsified by the historical facts, or they must decide that Marxism is a mere “narrative” that is neither true nor false but is only useful in advancing various activist political agendas. The “Cultural Marxists,” in an inconsistent alliance with “Post-Modernism,” have chosen the latter. That is certainly the easier path.

Having abandoned the notion of truth and retreated into their own “safe spaces” of unfalsifiable quasi-religious dogmas, they need not accept the burden of showing that their version of “Marxism” is falsifiable or genuinely scientific because it is not falsifiable and is not a genuine science. Nor need they accept the burden of showing that Marxism is true because it is not true. Once one dispenses with the notion of truth, everything, even the impossible, becomes possible, and very easy, at least in the academic “world of words,” if not in reality.

As a consequence, what is left of “Marxism,” such as it is, only lives on, for the most part, in those self-enclosed bubbles most far removed from reality, certain privileged parts of the “Ivory Tower” and the capitalism-created walled mansions in the Hollywood hills. Engels said that even in his own day, Marx himself stated, “cequ’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas marxiste” (“what is certain is that [if they are Marxists], [then] I myself am not a Marxist”).

Marx himself was a genius, though ultimately wrong about a great deal. That is no shame. It is the normal judgment of history about geniuses. But most of the views that pass for Marxism now are pale quasi-religious dogmas of utility, both for profit and self-gratification, for certain privileged, out of touch elites (but that does not make them less dangerous).

Given that Marx’s critique of capitalism has failed in multiple ways, while his exuberant praise of capitalism has largely been vindicated, it would be foolish to abandon capitalism in favor of these dreaming quasi-Marxist “narratives” prevalent in the “Ivory Tower” and the walled compounds in the Hollywood hills.

Indeed, capitalist countries would do even better at lifting their people out of poverty if their privileged and well-heeled “Marxist” and “progressive” elites did not oppose solving social problems in the hope that fostering hopelessness will hasten the glorious socialist revolution. For if there is one thing that Marxists of all stripes fear even more than Christian charity, it is capitalist solutions to social problems – for the simple reason that capitalist solutions work; and, for the sake of “the revolution,” that is the one thing Marxists and their “progressive” progeny cannot tolerate and, therefore, must censor.

Dr. Richard McDonough works in Anglo-American analytical and Continental philosophy, with a special focus on post-Kantian German thought, as well as psychology. He is the author of The Argument of the Tractatus and Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. He has taught in various countries, retiring from James Cook University in Australia. He lives in Singapore.

The image shows a detail from “Mexico Today and Tomorrow,” a mural by Diego Rivera, painted in 1935.

Capitalism And Freedom. A Conversation With Walter Block

We are greatly pleased and honored to present this conversation with Professor Walter Block, the leading libertarian thinker in the US. Professor Block holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair at Loyola University New Orleans. He is the author of over two dozen books and more than 600 articles and reviews. Just recently, a petition was started by some Loyola students to have Professor Block fired for his “views.” Professor Block (WB) is here interviewed by Dr. N. Dass (ND), on behalf of the Postil.

ND: Welcome to the Postil, Professor Block. It is a pleasure to have you with us. For the benefit of our readers, who may not be aware of what has been happening to you at Loyola University, New Orleans, would you please tell us how the Cancel Culture decided to come after you?

WB: A Loyola student, M. C. Cazalas, who had never taken any class of mine, not ever once spoken to me, started a petition to get me fired for being a racist and a sexist. As of 8/5/20 she garnered 663 signatures, some of them Loyola students, but not all of them. An actual former student of mine, Anton Chamberlin, started a counter petition to get me a raise in salary. As of this date it has been signed by 5,646 people, again some of them Loyola students, but not all of them. I’m not likely to be fired for two reasons in addition to this gigantic signature disparity. One, I have tenure; that still means something, even in these politically correct times. Two, the president of Loyola University, Tanya Tetlow, bless her, responded to this get me fired initiative with a statement strongly supporting academic freedom and intellectual diversity. She and I do not see eye to eye on political economy, so this is even more of a credit to her than would otherwise be the case.

ND: What do you think lies behind this Cancel Culture? Is it a failure of education? Is it an excess of humanitarianism? Or, it is simply an expression of student radicalism, which has always been part-and-parcel of university life?

WB: My guess is that all of these explanations you mention play a role. According to that old aphorism, “If a man of 20 is not a socialist, he has no heart; if he is still a socialist at 50, he has no brain.” There must be something in human development that renders young people more vulnerable to socialism, cultural Marxism, cancel culture, snowflakeism, micro aggression fears, etc., than their elders. Unhappily, far too many middle aged and older people also succumb to the siren song of socialism. I think the general explanation for this general phenomenon is biological: most of us, except for a few free enterprise mutants, are hard-wired for government interventionism. A zillion years ago, when we were in the trees or in the caves, there was no biological benefit to be open to free enterprise, markets, capitalism. Hence, these genes had no comparative advantage.

ND: Should we regard Cancel Culture as dangerous? Is freedom really in peril? Such questions come to mind, given the tragic end of Professor Mike Adams.

WB: Yes, very dangerous. Economic Marxism was a dismal failure. Everyone can see the results in Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, the old USSR, Eastern Europe, Mao’s China. But cultural Marxism is more insidious; it is more difficult to see its errors. Yes, there are racial and sexual divergences in wealth and income, and it is far too easy to attribute these results to economic freedom.

Poor Mike Adams. His is an extreme case, since he committed suicide, presumably due to the Cancel Culture. But apart from his demise, that case is only the veritable tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds if not thousands of academics who have been canceled, fired, forced to endure re-education camps, demoted, etc. The university with but very few exceptions is now a totally owned subsidiary of people who call themselves “progressives.” They really should be called “retrogressives” since they oppose civilization, freedom, prosperity. That is, they are really opponents of human progress.

ND: Lenin famously said that Communism was Socialism plus electrification. Likewise, can we say that the Cancel Culture is Socialism plus the Internet?

WB: Wow. That’s a good one. I wish I had thought of it. I’m grateful to you for sharing it with me. Before the internet, there were NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Between them, they almost totally dominated the culture; they had an important impact on the outlook of the nation. Now, with the internet, one would think there would be far more heterogeneity. And, to some degree, there is. But the main players, nowadays, that “Big Five” now plus the electronic major media, keep canceling out libertarian and conservative voices. This does not constitute censorship, only government can do that (on the other hand, it cannot be denied that they are dependent on the state for favoritism). But until and unless people with divergent views set up successful alternatives, the voices of the left will continue to dominate.

ND: The student petition against you cites, among other things, your supposed “defence” of slavery. Of course, this is a misunderstanding of your position. Perhaps you could clarify for our readers what you actually say about slavery, especially the concept of the voluntary slave contract, which indeed goes back to the Classical world.

WB: Suppose, God forbid, my child had a dread disease that would kill him. He could be saved, but only at the cost of $10 million. I do not have anything like that amount of money. You, on the other hand are very rich. You’ve long wanted me to be your slave. So, we make a deal. You give me these funds, which I turn over to the doctors who save my child’s life. Then, I come to your plantation to pick cotton, give you economics lessons. You may whip me even legally kill me if I displease you. As in all voluntary interactions, we both gain, at least ex ante. I value my son’s life more than my freedom. The difference between the two is my profit. You rank my servitude more highly than the money you must pay me for it, and you, likewise, gain the difference.

Is this a valid contract? Should it be enforced? This is highly controversial even in libertarian circles, but in my view, you should not be accused of assault and battery if you whip me, nor murder if you kill me, since I have given up my legal right to object (this is very different than indentured servitude, which does not allow for bodily harm).

In 2014 The New York Times interviewed me about libertarianism (they were doing a hit piece on Rand Paul), and I gave them this example as a hypothetical. They quoted me as saying that actual slavery, of the sort that existed in the US up until 1865, was legitimate. I sued them for libel. We settled the case. I received monetary compensation, plus an addendum to their original article. It reads as follows: “Editors’ Note: Aug. 7, 2018. An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the views of Walter Block on slavery. While Mr. Block has said that the daily life of slaves was ‘not so bad,’ he opposes slavery because it is involuntary, and he believes reparations should be paid.”

I defended, only, this hypothetical slavery, in order to draw out the logical implications of voluntary interaction. As for actual slavery, it is an abomination, an evil, a horrid rights violation. That the New York Times would write as if I favored the latter, when I only supported the former, certainly counts as “fake news.”

ND: Given the fact that you are the foremost libertarian thinker in the US today, and your book series, Defending the Undefendable I and II, which came out in 1976 and 2008 respectively, is widely regarded as a libertarian “cult classic,” from a libertarian perspective, is Cancel Culture a just use of political and social coercion?

WB: You are very kind to say that of me. Thank you. There is no one who hates cancel culture more than me. I am tempted to say that it is coercive. It is, but only indirectly. Suppose all universities, without exception, were privately owned, and under the control of faculties and administrations all of whom were leftists. They did not relish heterogeneity of opinion, and thus only hired professors, outside speakers, invited visiting scholars, who represented their viewpoint. Would this be coercive? Of course not. People should have the right to do as they wish with their private property, provided, only, they did not violate the persons or property rights of others. Religious organizations, nudists, tennis players, all have the right to exclude those who do not subscribe to their tenets. However, the cloven hoof of government is all over the educational system. It is based on coercive taxation. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Money mulcted from the long-suffering taxpayer is funneled into institutions of higher learning, where Marxist studies, feminist studies, black studies, queer studies, are the order of the day. It is only due to coercive taxes that Cancel Culture is coercive; but for this element, it would not be.

Of course, without government putting its big fat thumb all over education, there would be more intellectual diversity in this industry. So the cure for the Cancel Culture is separation of education and state, similar to what all men of good will support in another arena: separation of church and state.

ND: This brings us to the nature of education itself. Is there a proper libertarian theory of education, given the underlying libertarian idea that any acceptance of an institution is enslaving?

WB: Yes, there is indeed a proper libertarian theory of education: it should be totally privatized. My motto is, “If it moves privatize it, if it doesn’t move, privatize it; since everything either moves or does not move, privatize everything.” I have applied this aphorism to pretty much everything under the sun in my publications, including streets and highways, rivers and oceans, space travel and heavenly bodies. Certain, I would include education under this rubric. Information generation should be as private as bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes or cars. You want some, pay for it. You want to offer your services in this regard? Open up a school and attract customers.

But what about the poor? Will they not get an education? Of course they will. They obtain bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes and cars; schooling would not be an exception. For people who are too poor, the tradition in private education, at whatever level, was to award scholarships to bright recipients. There would be no such thing as compulsory education (a 12 year prison sentence for those whose inclination leads them to want to work instead), any more than there should be compulsory purchase of bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes or cars. Any acceptance of any coercive institution may not be enslaving (we should reserve that word for far more serious rights violations), but it is despicable. Education should not be an exception to the general rule of privatization.

ND: Perhaps we can draw back a little and turn to some larger issues. You describe yourself as an Austrian School economist. Would you please explain what that is?

WB: Austrian economics has no more to do with that country than Chicago School economics involves that city. It is so named because its originators, Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, Mises, Hayek, all were born there. It is sometimes called the free enterprise school of thought, since the public policy recommendations of virtually all of its practitioners strongly support economic freedom, private property rights, laissez faire capitalism. But Austrianism is an exercise in positive economics, not the normative variety.

Its main contribution is that economics, properly understood, is not an empirical science, but, rather, an exercise in pure logic. It starts with certain basic premises which are necessary and undeniable, and deduces all of economics from them. For example, man acts. To deny this is itself to perform a human action; therefore the criticism necessarily fails. Austrian economics consists of synthetic a priori statements, which are both necessarily true and also have real world implications; they explicate economic reality.

We have already mentioned one of them above: all voluntary trade is necessarily mutually beneficial at least in the ex ante sense. Here is a more pedestrian example. I buy a shirt for $25. I inescapably value it more highly than that amount, otherwise I would not buy it. Well, there was something about that shirt, maybe not the shirt itself, that I ranked in that manner. Perhaps I had pity for the shirt salesman, or wanted a favor of him, etc. Ditto for him. He valued my money more than the shirt, so he also profited. The Marxists might say this is (mutual?) exploitation (perhaps the richer person always takes advantage of the poorer one?), but this is abject nonsense. Voluntary exchange is not a zero sum game, where the winnings of the winners must equal the losings of the losers. No, in commercial interaction, both parties gain, otherwise they would not agree to participate.

Since laissez faire capitalism consists of nothing more or less than the concatenation of all such events (buying, selling, renting, lending, borrowing, gift giving), we may conclude is it necessarily beneficial to all participants. True, ex post either party may later come to regret the commercial interaction, but that is entirely a different matter. Can we test this economic law? The mainstream would aver that if we cannot, it is not a matter of science. Well, yes, it is not a matter of empirical science, rather, it is an aspect of logic. No one in his right mind “tests” the Pythagorean Theorem, or that triangles have three sides or the claim that 2+2=4. But that doesn’t mean these laws are not “scientific” in the sense of providing important true knowledge about reality.

Austrians also disagree with mainstream economists on a whole host of other issues. For example, monetarism (we tend to favor free market money, not fiat currency), business cycles (we claim they emanate from government money and interest rate mismanagement, not markets), monopoly and anti trust (Austrians see no role for the latter), indifference, cardinal versus ordinal utility, interpersonal comparisons of utility (mainstreamers support, Austrians oppose).

ND: The term “fiat money” is much bandied about nowadays. Is the concept of fiat money misunderstood or misused, given that money as the legal tender of a state does give paper money legitimacy as a medium of exchange? Or do you think such legitimacy does not exist?

WB: Milton Friedman was the host of the justly famous “Free to Choose” television series. However, when it comes to monetary matters, this scholar’s views are not at all compatible with that title. Most times when people were really free to choose the financial intermediary which overcomes the double coincidence of wants, they selected gold (and sometimes silver). Nevertheless, Friedman was a fervent opponent of this free market money. Why? Because it costs resources to dig it up initially, and more to store it. These expenses could be almost entirely obviated with fiat money, created by the printing press and/or central banking, he argued. But shoes, fences, chairs, also cost money. The proper question is not Can we reduce expenses? Rather, it is, whether or not these outlays are worth it? Even more important, the issue is, Who gets to choose whether or not they are worthwhile? Central planning oriented Friedman chose to ignore the decision in favor of gold of the free market; he urged the imposition of fiat currency.

Why do statists support this type of currency? There are three and only three ways for the state to raise funds. First, taxes. But everyone knows full well, even low information voters, who is responsible for that. Hint: it is not the private sector. Second, borrowing. Ok, those with the meanest intelligence might not be too sure of who is behind this mode of finance; but everyone else knows it is the government. Third, fiat money, created out of the thin air by the state apparatus. The beauty, here, from the point of view of the centralists, is that the resulting inflation can be blamed on all and sundry: on capitalist greed, on nasty consumers buying too much, even on otherwise beloved labor unions. Economists in the pay of government always stand ready to demonstrate that the correlation between prices rising and the stock of fiat currency in circulation is not a perfect one. Well, of course it is not, given varying expectations. But it is an insight of praxeology, the Austrian method, that the more money in circulation, other things equal, the higher prices will be.

ND: Much of your work centers upon anarcho-capitalism. Would you explain how you understand this concept, and why you feel it is important? And how would you answer the charge that anarcho-capitalism is utopian?

WB: Anarchism is important, because one of the basic building blocks of the entire libertarian edifice is the non-aggression principle (NAP). This means that all human interaction should be voluntary. No one should coerce anyone else. But the government, necessarily, engages in taxation. That is, it levies compulsory payments. One of the beauties of libertarianism is its uncompromising logic. Its willingness, nay, passion, to apply the NAP to all economic actors, with no exceptions. Well, if we apply the NAP to the state, we can see that the latter fails. Oh, their apologizers have all sorts of excuses. The income tax is really voluntary. Tell that to the IRS! That taxes are akin to club dues. Yes, if you join the tennis or golf club, you have to pay dues. But you agreed to do so. In sharp contrast, no one ever contracted to be part of the US “club.”

The “capitalist” part of “anarcho-capitalism” is also important. It distinguishes us from the left wing or socialist anarchists such as Noam Chomsky. They oppose the government, to their credit, but would also outlaw profits, money, private property, charging interest for loans, etc., in violation of the NAP. It also, very importantly, separates us from the Antifa and Black Lives Matter anarchists who are currently trying to take over streets, highways, and large swaths of Seattle, Portland and other US cities. They, too, oppose free enterprise.

Is anarcho capitalism utopian? Well, yes, I think it is in some sense. That is, due to my understanding of sociobiology, I don’t think a majority of people are now capable of living up to the NAP which underlies this system. On the other hand, the nations of the world are now in an anarchistic (not anarcho-capitalist) relationship with one another. A state of anarchy now prevails between Argentina and Austria, between Brazil and Burundi, between Canada and China, etc. That is, there is no world government controlling their interactions. The only way to solve this anarchism would be to install a world government. So anarchism is not utopian in the sense that very few people would want to go down that path.

ND: Some of the thinkers crucial to libertarianism, such as, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman favor limiting the reach of government. Anarcho-capitalism, on the other hand, seeks the end of government itself. How do you reconcile this fundamental difference?

WB: I don’t reconcile it at all. I am a big fan of all the scholars you mention. On a personal matter, it was Ayn Rand who converted me to a position of limited government libertarianism, or minarchism. I met her while I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, and, then, a blissfully ignorant enthusiast of socialism. I have learned from all of the authors you mention. However, they are all statists, of a limited variety to be sure, but statists, nonetheless. Instead, I would say that the thinker now most crucial to libertarianism in general, and to anarcho capitalism in particular, is Murray N. Rothbard. I am a Rothbardian, and I follow him in rejecting the criticisms of anarcho capitalism offered by the half dozen scholars listed above.

ND: In your important analysis of the pay-gap between men and women, you have come under fire from feminists who say that you do not take into account that as supposed patriarchy disappears, the pay-gap decreases. What do you say to such critics?

WB: Thanks for your characterization of my analysis. Actually, I have done only just a little bit of actual research on this matter. Rather, I am a follower of Gary Becker, Thomas Sowell, and Walter E. Williams on this issue who have done far more than I on this matter. I will take credit, however, for popularizing this analysis.

What’s going on here? Roughly, there is a sexual pay gap of some 30%. This means, again on average, that for every $10 a man earns, a woman’s pay is $7. What determines wages in the first place? Productivity. This divergence should not raise hackles when it occurred two centuries ago. Why not? Because male productivity then way higher than female. Most jobs required physical strength, and men, again only typically, are stronger than women.

But nowadays, very few employment slots require brute strength. So why does the gap still occur? It is simple; wives do the lion’s share of housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, child care, shopping, etc. But everything we do comes at the expense of not being able to do other things as well, if at all. Ussain Bolt is the fastest sprinter on the planet, but he is not a good cellist; Yo Yo Ma plays that instrument exquisitely, but his time in the 100 meters is nothing to brag about. This marital asymmetry specialization, alone, explains virtually all of this 30% pay gap.

There are two bits of evidence that support this contention.

Yes, the pay gap between all men and women is some 30%. But that between ever married males and females, people who are now married, widowed, separated, or divorced, is much higher. It varies, but is something like 60%. What is the pay gap between men and women who have never been touched by the institution of marriage? They are not married, widowed, separated or divorced. It is zero. Let me repeat that. There is no pay gap here. Now, in actual research, you never find 100% equality. A more accurate way of putting this is that the ratio between male and female earnings ranges from something like 90% to 110%, depending upon country, age, occupation, schooling, etc. But, for all intents and purposes the gap simply does not exist for the never marrieds.

Here is a second bit of evidence countering the claim that free enterprise is inherently sexist. Suppose this gap really were due to discrimination against women. Then, we would have a situation where the productivity of both genders was $10, but the fairer sex was paid only $7. But this would mean that industries where women predominate would be more profitable than others. There is no evidence supporting this. It would also imply that extra profits could be garnered ($3 per hour) from hiring a woman. As entrepreneurs added women to their payrolls, their wages would inevitably rise. To what level? To equality, since pay scales tend to reflect productivity, which we now assume are equal. But we see no indication that firms are beating the bushes to employ more women, except, recently, when the virus of virtue signalling began to predominate.

If patriarchy, defined as unequal household and child care tasks were to end, then, yes, the pay gap would also decrease, presumably almost to zero, since the marital asymmetry hypothesis would no longer be operational. But not quite. Pregnancy and breast feeding will always separate the genders. Then, too, men tend to take more dangerous jobs, and this too, will separate sexual remuneration. However, if the end of patriarchy is defined more broadly, so as to obviate these differences too, then I would expect the gap to disappear. But this is not the world we live in. Biology, once again, intrudes the best laid plans of the feminists. There are still strong differences between males and females. Many would say, thank God for the difference!

ND: In your view, is capitalism weakening, especially given how easily Communist China has exploited it for its own gain?

WB: Weakening? I would say the very opposite. The Chinese economy has catapulted thanks in large part to their adoption of at least some aspects of capitalism. The Russians, too. This is evidence, I think of a strengthening of this system.

ND: How do you think capitalism will manage tech monopolies

WB: Capitalism is incompatible with monopoly. If there is monopoly in existence then, to that extent, there is no capitalism. But to make sense of this claim we must have the Austrian view of monopoly in mind, not the mainstream or neoclassical one. What is the difference between the two?

In the (correct!) Austrian perspective, monopoly is a government grant of exclusive privilege to conduct a certain kind of business; anyone who competes with this monopoly is a criminal. Examples include the US post office and the system of taxi cab medallions which operates in major cities such as New York. Those who engage in such activities without permission from the monopolist are subject to fines and imprisonment. A very dramatic example of this phenomenon was depicted in the movie Ghandi when people went to the sea to obtain to water so as to access the salt therein. They were savagely beaten by the police. Why? There was a monopoly of salt granted by the British government, and these people were violating it. That is crony capitalism, not laissez faire capitalism.

Given this, there is a serious question as to whether or not there are at present any tech monopolies. Some are given special legal privileges by government, and, to that extent are monopolisitic, and thus, entirely incompatible with laissez faire capitalism.

The (incorrect!) view prevalent amongst most modern economists is very different. They would include the foregoing as monopolies but also, quite fallaciously, add on density or concentration. For example, when IBM was the only producer of computers, it was deemed a monopoly, based on the fact that it was the only one in this industry. This company never came within a million miles of trying to forbid competition (the Austrian perspective); it was deemed a monopoly solely because at the time it was thought to have no competitors. It had 100% “control” of the industry.

This concept is intellectually dead from the neck up. It is arbitrary. It depends upon how the “industry” is defined. If narrowly enough, pretty much anyone can become a monopoly; if widely, then no one is or can be. For example, I am the sole producer of Walter Block services, narrowly defined. There are other libertarian economists, to be sure, but none are exactly like me. On the other hand, if we define this “industry” broadly, I am only one of several hundreds of thousands of practitioners.

Let us take a less unique example. If the industry is defined as providing dry breakfast cereals, the concentration ratio will be high. If we include wet breakfast cereals too, this ratio will be lower. If we add all breakfast ingredients, ham and eggs, not just cereals, it will decrease even more. Adding all food, not just for breakfast, will further reduce it. Well, which is correct? Plaintiffs want to define the industry narrowly, so as to render a high concentration ratio, or monopolization, whereas the defense sees the matter in the opposite way. The point is, there is no rhyme or reason to this entire matter.

Bill Gates and Microsoft started way out in the boonies in Seattle. He didn’t grease the palms of either party in Washington DC. How to bring him into line? Why, declare him a monopolist! All of anti-trust legislation is a disgraceful sham.

ND: What about encroaching robotization? If human labor is largely side-lined, what will capitalism become?

WB: I am not a Luddite. I do not think that machinery, computers, robots, etc., are a threat to human kind. Indeed, I maintain that the very opposite is the case. The more non human help we can access from such sources, the less will our lives be “nasty, brutish and short.”

Either we will run out of jobs that need doing, or we will not. In neither case will artificial help emanating from this source prove to be a difficulty. Suppose we become aesthetes, and are satisfied with our present standards of living, a few decades from now. Then, we will have a achieved a “post scarcity” state of the economy. Thanks to machines, and everyone will have a sufficient number of them, we can all sit back, relax, and “play” all the livelong day. No problem here. More realistically, we will never run out of thing we want. We will always seek more than we have. We will want to eradicate all diseases, live forever, comfortably, explore the core of the earth, the bottom of the oceans, other planets in this and additional solar systems. With the help of robots, we can accomplish more of these goals than other wise, but we humans will still be called upon to labor so as to attain, these ambitious goals.

Ned Ludd was faced with knitting machines which would allow one worker to do the jobs previously needing 20 people. He “reasoned” that 19 people would then be rendered unemployable, and proceeded to burn this new machinery. His heart may have been in the right place (if we abstract from the fact that he destroyed the property owned by others), but the same cannot be said for his head. He reckoned in the absence of the fact that these 19 people would now be freed up to create new goods and services, impossible to attain previously, but now within our reach.

But the same exact situation presents itself right now. Instead of looking at the secretaries and typewriter workers unemployed by computers, those. who labored for Kodak and are no longer needed, ditto for zoom reducing the need and the employment needed for travel to attend meetings, focus on the fact that all these “unemployed” people are now free to produce goods and services otherwise unobtainable. At one time, about 85% of the US labor force was needed to be on the farms, in order to feed ourselves. Nowadays, the figure is something like 2%. Is this a tragedy for our economy? To think so is to revert to simple Ludditism. It is a failure to understand basic economics. The more help we get from inanimate matter, the better off we shall be

ND: As an economist, are you hopeful about the future of the West?

WB: Milton Friedman was once asked, What is the future course of stock market prices? His response was, They will fluctuate. I say the same thing as the future of the West. It, too, will fluctuate, I expect. If Biden wins the next election, political correctness will threaten Western civilization. If Donald, less so. My hope is that Rand Paul will be the president in 2024. Then, our civilization will take a turn for the better.

ND: Thank you so much for your time. It was wonderful speaking with you.

WB: My pleasure. Thanks for putting these questions to me. They were challenging, and made me think.

The image shows, “New York,” by George Bellows, painted in 1911.

Subsidiary And Free Enterprise

Subsidiarity is the Catholic social doctrine which recommends that whenever we face a problem, other things equal, the most decentralized institution we have at our disposal should be the one mobilized to solve it.

For example, if it is a choice between the national and the state government as to which should be brought to bear to address a challenge, and there are no other considerations, then we should rely on the latter, not the former. Similarly, we should favor in this regard the city over the state government, the borough rather than the city, the town instead of the borough, and the neighborhood association vis-à-vis the town.

Let us allow a major advocate of this doctrine to put it into his own words.

According to Pope Pius XI, in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno: “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” (emphasis added)

There are strong parallels between subsidiarity and the free enterprise system. We cannot of course equate the two, but the analogy is strong. Decision-makers such as entrepreneurs, business owners, workers, are subsidiary to government. If there is any clash between them, it is the state that prevails. The government taxes firms, not the other way around. Capitalists are regulated by public servants, not vice versa.

What is the case for preferring free enterprise to government other than subsidiarity? The market consists of nothing but voluntary trade, buying, selling, renting, lending, borrowing. In each and every case, assuming no anti market fraud, both participants necessarily gain at least ex antel and in the overwhelming number of cases, ex post, too. Consumers, under free enterprise, can exercise their dollar vote several times per day; but in the political system, even under full democracy, they can enter the ballot box only once ever several years.

Moreover, the people are constrained with a package deal in the latter case, but not the former; they cannot pick and choose policies except for referendums, as they can in the market. Thus, consumers have far more control over businesses than do voters over politicians.

The empirical evidence attesting to the benefits of the free market system vis-à-vis political regulation is overwhelming; there are several almost controlled experiments that demonstrate that: East and West Germany, North and South Korea, for example. The poorest countries tend to rely on socialism; the wealthiest, on capitalism.

Given the strong parallels between capitalism and subsidiarity, one would expect that advocates of the latter would look positively on the former. They are not quite as alike as the two proverbial “peas in a pod” but the resemblance is strong. But this expectation is erroneous. Supporters of subsidiarity are bitter opponents of the free enterprise system.

Consider the following:

“…all products and profits, save only enough to repair and renew capital, belong by very right to the workers….The easy gains that a market unrestricted by any law opens to everybody attracts large numbers to buying and selling goods, and they, their one aim being to make quick profits with the least expenditure of work, raise or lower prices by their uncontrolled business dealings so rapidly according to their own caprice and greed that they nullify the wisest forecasts of producers ” (Pope Pius XI, also in his 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno)

Continues this author: “… the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. Destroying through forgetfulness or ignorance the social and moral character of economic life, it held that economic life must be considered and treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority, because in the market, i.e., in the free struggle of competitors, it would have a principle of self direction which governs it much more perfectly than would the intervention of any created intellect. But free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life – a truth which the outcome of the application in practice of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated. Therefore, it is most necessary that economic life be again subjected to and governed by a true and effective directing principle.”

How are we to account for this bifurcation? It might well be that this devotee of Catholic social thought suffers from a hate capitalism syndrome, so deeply embedded that no amount of evidence, nor considerations of logic, can overcome it. He wants to support subsidiarity, which means allowing markets to run the economy. But he finds economic freedom objectionable. He wants to have his cake, subsidiarity and hence laissez faire capitalism, and eat it too, support government control of the economy. He does not see the tension in this position, not to say logical contradiction.

The middle name of “free enterprise” is practically “subsidiarity.” No, “free subsidiarity enterprise” does not roll off the tongue all that easily, but that is only, perhaps, because we are not used to it. From a substantive point of view, it is just about a tautology.

If they want to be coherent, the proponents of Catholic social thought are logically obligated to favor capitalism, not condemn it. I’m not going to hold my breath until that happy day comes around. On the other hand, miracles sometimes occur!

Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shook his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.

The image shows, “Vegetable Market in Venice,” By Camillo Bortoluzzi, painted in 1894.

Privatize The Highways

There were problems with highway closures at both ends of Canada. The crisis is over for now, but perhaps we can learn something from this difficulty. Indeed, it will occur again.

Things were so bad in Newfoundland that military troops had to be brought in to engage in blizzard cleanup. Part of this effort was devoted to road clearance.

What is going on at the other end of Canada? A few days ago, there were highway closures in relatively balmy British Columbia. In the Lower Mainland parts of Highway One were covered with sheets of black ice. There were more accidents than you can shake a stick at, particularly in the section of this major roadway between Chilliwack and Abbotsford, B.C.

What was the word from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation? There were lots of excuses, good ones, but gridlock, slowdowns, jack-knifed trucks and fender benders were the order of the day.

According to Ministry of Transportation South Coast regional director Ashok Bhatti: “We are using calcium chloride and a combination of techniques, but it has been challenging … We are hitting it with everything we’ve got.”

He continued: Work has been done overnight, but to no avail. With temperatures below -15C and winds that blow salt and sand off the road, no solution was in the offing.

In the event, safety and transportation were restored when the temperatures rose, and, thanks to the rain, the ice, snow and slush were swept away.

Notice what is missing here? There was no vestige of competition. The presumption of the Ministry was that they were in charge, there was no possible other option, they were doing their best to rectify the situation.

Other firms in other industries, too, face difficult tasks. This occurs all throughout the warp and woof of the economy. Sometimes failure occurs elsewhere as well. But, in the private sector, there is always a “fail-safe” mechanism undergirding the entire process: competition. If a given firm faltered, there would be others anxious and eager to take its place. Moreover, different companies could try alternative strategies. If one of them worked, others could follow suit.

But not on the nation’s highways. There, monopoly, central planning, was the only possibility.

What might have been done had competition been allowed. That is, if there were privately owned highways?

One possibility would be the “conga line:” a long line of specially fitted tractors, one after the other, brushing away the ice. This is the technique utilized at some airports. These vehicles travel at a snail’s pace, but at least roadway connections could remain open. “Slow but sure” is perhaps better than nothing at all. If need be, it would not be beyond the scope of private enterprise to use actual military style tanks as snow plows.

Another is to place metal that can be heated just below the concrete of the roadway. People with sloped driveways use this method of melting the snow and ice. The difficulty here is that this is a tremendously expensive option. Costs could be reduced by treating only one lane in this manner instead of all three, but, even so, the expenses would be vast. Would it be worthwhile to maintain automobile travel and reduce accidents? This is something only the free marketplace can answer. This is at basis an entrepreneurial matter.

Are There Other Options?

It is difficult for a mere economist to anticipate the market. If shoes had always been the province of government, and a wild and crazy free enterprise economist had advocated privatization, the objections would come thick and fast. How would resources be allocated between sneakers, slippers, boots and other kinds of footwear? Where would shoe stores be located? How many of them would there be? Who would supply shoe laces?

In the event the market addresses all these difficulties, these are non-problems. And so would it be in the case of roads. Yes, highways are long thin things. People think their provision must necessarily fall to the government. But railroads exhibit similar geographical elements. Privatization in that realm is not unknown.

There are perhaps more important reasons for engaging in this process than black ice. In Canada, some 4,000 people perish each year in motor vehicle accidents. Competition between road owners, as in the case of every other good and service known to man, would undoubtedly lead to improvements in this regard too. Fatalities are not at all the product of drunken driving, speed, vehicle malfunction, driver inattention; those are only proximate causes.

The ultimate cause is the inability of the road managers to deal with these challenges. How could they do so? This can only be speculative, as in the case of shoes, but, perhaps private highway owners could address not velocity, but its variance. Instead of minima and maxima speed limits for the entire highway, do so for each lane.

For example, 120 kilometers in the left lane, 100 in the middle, and 80 on the right. Would this reduce traffic fatalities. Hard to tell. The problem is, such experiments are not now undertaken. They would be, under free enterprise.

Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shook his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.

The image shows, “A Cart on the Snowy Road at Honfleur,” by Claude Monet, painted 1865 or 1867.

Modernity And Freedom – A Paradox?

Can one be modern and also free? There is a paradox here that bears examination. Modernity implements specific conditions (limitless progress and expanding production of goods, both fueled by relentless consumption). These conditions are determined by the grand trinity of capitalism, namely, economics, technology and science, each of which is said to be the guarantor of the summum bonum.

Life thus becomes a continual negotiation with processes of acquisition, not for necessities but for indulgence. This is the consequence of surplus, where gluttony is a virtue, and obesity its mark. Such consumption and production of goods also requires elaborate boundaries, which are the bureaucracies and hierarchies that dictate how we are to live and what we are to do. In such a vast machinery, what use freedom?

But modernity also creates problems that it cannot solve. For example, the packaging of consumer goods turns into highly sophisticated garbage that neither nature nor mankind can safely undo. And since countries are supposed to be run like efficient, profitable companies, politics sallies forth to solve all the problems of life. This leaves education rudderless, so that it can neither be instrumental nor idealist, thus devolving into a bureaucracy to manage the young.

Further, the refusal of God necessitates the bettering of mankind, down to biology. This turns society into an ever-expanding mechanism of profitable manipulation, that is, progress. Such manipulation of what it means to be human leads to tribalism (packaged as diversity and pluralism), which the strongest boundary of all. Such problems have no real solutions – and thus any critique offered can never get past describing all that has gone wrong (aka, the thriving outrage industry).

In the meanwhile, there is limitless expansion and profit, which now demands that the resources of the entire planet be controlled by monopolies. And when these resources themselves become insufficient, there lies the exploitation of neighboring planets (the key purpose of space exploration). Such is modernity. What function can freedom possibly serve in such a vast engine?

This ultimately leads to another problem – that of freedom itself. What does it mean to be free in modernity? Is it simply unhindered self-expression? Unfettered thought and speech? If so, then such unconstraint runs smack into the boundaries of consequence and human rights, and thus fritters away. Everyone knows how to repeat the mantra – that words and actions have consequences and must be used with great responsibility. What does modernity need more?

Human rights, responsibility, or freedom? There might be the jurisdictional approach of pegging freedom as a right (such as, the First Amendment in the United States), but this merely creates another boundary, which still must contend with all others (responsibility, rights, justice). Since freedom has no purpose in modernity, it can be easily defused through legal and political interpretation. Statutes are nothing more than agreements and are easily denied or broken.

Next comes a far trickier issue. Is freedom simply anarchy? No rules, no judgment, no boundaries – Paul Feyerabend’s injunction of “anything goes” run rampant? Or, must we take Nietzsche to heart and “live dangerously,” forever fashioning our own limits, our own values, our own laws – to become Uebermenschen? Such freedom, like modernity, also creates problems that it cannot solve. Indeed, what are people demanding when they cry, “Freedom!”?

The freedom from want is far different from the desire to speak one’s mind unhindered. Wittgenstein is correct – the world of the poor is different from the world of the rich, because indulgence can never be the same as necessity. In this context, that peculiar phrase, “the marketplace of ideas” (wrongly attributed to Mill) is often bandied about. The logic of modernity is obvious here. The wise consumer (informed by industry information) browses a plethora of products and chooses what appeals.

Those that favor this adage do so out of a belief that the marketplace offers the surest guarantee of freedom – the individual’s ability to make the right choice. This trust in the wisdom of the consumer is not only naïve but anti-freedom. The consumer buys not to express freedom, but to satisfy desire. Because modernity does not need freedom, for most consumers freedom is made undesirable and will never be bought – rant as its hawkers may.

The marketplace will promote the products that favor it – and it will destroy all competition. Those that advocate a “marketplace of ideas,” therefore, cannot complain that they are being censored – for the modus vivendi of capitalism is never fairness in the marketplace but dominance of the marketplace. Modernity is all about control which, again, makes freedom pointless.

Where does all this lead us? When providence was eliminated from life, it was supposed to bring about a never-ending expansion of self-determination. Again, the logic of modernity and the marketplace strategically deployed – the belief being that if you remove barriers to trade, all trade will flourish. Likewise, nothing could hold humanity back once it got free of old superstitions.

However, the variety of determination available to humanity has proven to be limited. Human potentiality hits a brick wall in human gluttony. Humanity will always be Icarus. Modernity seeks to blunt the ensuing disappointment by one rather powerful strategy – diversion (or, more consumption). In the end, the pampered human body considers freedom to be a hindrance, like the superstitions of old.

But if freedom is still deemed to have any value, it must break free of modernity and its agendas of physical determinism, which are concerned with more barriers (especially political utopias). Neither should freedom be described as a wild free-for-all, which too is a version of physical determinism. Instead, freedom can only be achieved when it is once again held as a process of ethics. Until that is clarified, any call for, and pursuit of, freedom will be illusory because it will only be a further expansion of modernity.

The words of Elizabeth Anscombe serve as a reminder of what freedom ought to be: “My actions are mostly physical movements; if these physical movements are physically predetermined by processes which I do not control, then my freedom is perfectly illusory. The truth of physical indeterminism is then indispensable if we are to make anything of the claim to freedom.”

Freedom may begin when we realize that it is the by-product of ethics.

The photo shows, “In the Train Compartment,” by Paul Gustav Fischer, painted in 1927.

Monopolies, Or More Is Less

The death of the free market at the hands of monopoly has gotten a lot of recent attention. By far the best book about this problem is Tim Wu’s The Curse of Bigness, which through a “neo-Brandeisian” lens focuses on how monopoly destroys the core frameworks of a free society.

This book, The Myth of Capitalism, comes to much the same conclusion from a more visceral starting place—why have wages stagnated even though the labor market is tight and corporate profits are soaring? The answer is corporate concentration, and Jonathan Tepper is, like Wu, offering concrete solutions.

The problems that monopoly causes are not disputed in any relevant way by anyone but a few University of Chicago ideologues. The difficulty is that all possible solutions are opposed by the ultra-powerful, ranked in armed array.

One traditional way of dealing with such concentrations of power is populism, of the Left or Right. On a good day, we get Theodore Roosevelt; on a bad day, someone less attractive. It is therefore no surprise we see populist realignments arising across the political spectrum, with both conservatives and liberals girding for battle against the neoliberal kingmakers who dominate the Republican and Democratic parties. The question is whether the populists have enough will to start, then finish, the fight. As Warren Zevon sang, “Some have the speed and the right combinations / If you can’t take the punches, it don’t mean a thing.”

If the new populists, the neo-Brandeisians, do have the will, this book offers some tools. It is less cerebral than Wu’s, aimed at people who have to be told who Leon Trotsky was (“a Marxist revolutionary,” if you’re curious). Tepper’s basic point is that we no longer have the free market (what he incorrectly calls “capitalism”), because most industries no longer have relevant competition.

It is not because of monopoly, which is usually very obvious, but rather the less noticeable oligopoly, where a handful of firms dominate but competition, to a casual observer, appears to exist. The inevitable result of oligopoly, as Tepper (along with what appears to be a co-author, Denise Hearn) shows and nobody who lives in the real world doubts, is tacit collusion on all fronts, pricing and otherwise, to avoid competition. In an oligopoly collusion is nearly as certain as death and taxes, even if done without any formal agreement.

Tepper demonstrates in several compelling ways that competition is dying. Mergers have reduced the number of firms in almost all industries, while antitrust enforcement has declined over the past four decades to nearly nothing. Since 1995, the word “competition” has declined by 75% in annual reports to shareholders of public companies.

Tepper offers a variety of technical measures to demonstrate his point, and I don’t think anyone disputes this. (If anyone does, I’ve missed it). He then lists an astonishing number of industries that are nearly totally consolidated (although someone should tell him that Purdue is the university and Perdue is the chicken company). Airlines and cable TV, obviously, but also beer, bacon (all those different brands in the store are owned by Smithfield), milk, eyeglasses, drug wholesalers, crop agriculture, and very much more.

Why is collusion to avoid competition bad? Tepper believes that oligopoly is literally destroying the country, and he’s pretty much right (though a lot of other unrelated things are simultaneously destroying the country). Obviously, everyone pays higher prices. But higher prices are the least of collusion’s evils.

The most evident problem for most people is that oligopolies, in Tepper’s words, killed your paycheck. Stagnant wages, the problem that sparked the writing of this book, lead to higher inequality, social tension, and societal destruction.

And a big cause of stagnant wages is corporate concentration, which directly lowers wages for workers, since oligopolies act as monopsonies (buyer price-setters) in the labor market, especially in smaller labor markets. It is not an answer to say that workers should go where the jobs are. The wages are often no higher there, and people are loathe to leave their communities and people, as they should be. (This is one of the key points of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy).

It’s not just monopsony. Tepper also focuses on a particular burr that chafes me, non-compete agreements. These have exploded, and are commonly found now even in burger-flipping jobs. They are an abomination. (None of my employees, in any position, has to sign a non-competition agreement, on principle. I don’t care if my employees compete with me. Of course, I’m so wonderful to work for that nobody would ever quit).

Non-competition agreements are an offense against God and man, and it is not a coincidence that California has, for 150 years, forbidden them and developed Silicon Valley as a result. That rule should be extended nationwide, immediately, federalism be damned.

Beyond wage stagnation, lack of competition leads to lack of innovation. Again, this is a commonplace, known when the Sherman Act was passed (in 1890), but conveniently forgotten when the money flows to the right political pockets. Less competition means less investment in winning competitions.

Oligopoly also means that startups can be bought out with offers they can’t refuse, not dissimilar to Pablo Escobar’s famous demand to choose “plata o plomo.” And aside from buyouts, startups suffer direct attacks made possibly by the disproportionate power of oligopolists, such as Google’s suppression of, or theft of the data of, any type of business that might compete (not just in search, but in any type of data that Google thinks it can monetize).

Occasionally one hears the halfhearted response that we have monopoly or oligopoly because big companies provide what consumers want and do a better, more efficient job. Tepper, like Wu, sneers at this explanation. The reality is that most giant companies are actually less efficient; there is such a thing as diseconomies of scale.

Even back in the day, when Standard Oil was forcibly dismembered, the pieces collectively were more valuable than the monopoly. Again, nobody with any sense defends oligopoly; they just dodge or ignore attacks, and laugh all the way to the bank (Jamie Dimon’s bank, or another one of the oligopolist banks).

Covering all the bases, Tepper also criticizes common ownership cutting across publicly traded firms, noting that index fund investing has exacerbated the problem, since entities like Fidelity have large stakes in nearly every company, including those that are putatively competitors. He touches on the problems with CEO pay, too, which are covered in more detail in Steven Clifford’s The CEO Pay Machine, suggesting better alignment of incentives through workers being granted shares, restrictions on stock buybacks, and lockups on manager-held shares.

Government actively assists the process of oligopoly formation, and not just by failing to enforce the antitrust laws. Enforcement of those laws is corrupted by the ideology of Robert Bork and by highly compensated economists who spin fantasies of future consumer price reductions that never arrive.

On those rare occasions when the government attempts to enforce the laws, the courts side with the oligopolists (as in today’s decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, rejecting the Trump administration’s attempt to block Time Warner’s merger with AT&T, where, bizarrely, the burden of proof appears to have been put on the government).

For another example, Congress forbids the sale of insurance across state lines, effectively creating oligopolies; Obamacare, largely written by insurance companies, did not change that at all. And Congress, along with administrative agencies, eagerly obeys the commands of oligopolists to increase regulation.

That may seem odd, until you realize what many people miss, that big companies always favor any regulation that falls harder on smaller companies, both due to compliance costs and as barriers to entry, and moreover they often write the laws and rules specifically to favor themselves.

The classic example of this is Mattel, when found importing toys contaminated with lead paint, got a law passed that required expensive third-party lead testing for all toy sellers—except for themselves, who were allowed to do it cheaply internally. Or, to take another example, what penalty did Equifax pay for massively exposing consumer data due to incompetence? None, because if you’re big enough and spread enough gold around, the regulations don’t really apply to you.

Government action is even worse and has greater impact than it appears, because beyond simple inefficiency and inequality, many of these oligopolies now themselves exercise the powers of government. Tepper offers Progressive economist Robert Lee Hale’s definition of government: “There is government whenever one person or group can tell others what they must do and when those others have to obey or suffer a penalty.”

By that token, certainly, all the Lords of Tech, from Google to Facebook to Amazon, are government, as are, in their own spheres, all the other consolidated industries. (And, of course, often these companies impose penalties on those who do not toe the line on their political ideologies; it is not just business penalties that are at issue). We are not that far off the classic science fiction dystopia where corporations are the government, and can impose their will on all sectors of society.

If everyone not in the pocket of oligopolists agrees that corporate concentration is a problem, why isn’t anything being done about it? Silly rabbit, it’s because all the money and power is on the side of the oligopolies. All these companies spend huge sums lobbying, and it’s been shown they get massive returns on the dollars spent.

They lobby to prevent antitrust enforcement; Google was the second-biggest source of campaign contributions to Obama. They lobby to add regulations. But it’s also the revolving door, at every agency and every level of government, that means oligopolists get what they want. Google, a particular target of Tepper, is one of the biggest offenders, with hundreds of its employees shuttling back and forth into and out of the government, collecting money and power both coming and going.

So far, so bad. These companies also use their power in perniciously creative ways, some of which Tepper does not mention. For example, it is well known that Amazon is the major source of income for many smaller businesses (and plenty of larger ones) that sell on its platform, and uses the data it obtains about such sales to benefit itself and eliminate the profits for those businesses, increasing its own monopoly power.

I don’t sell through Amazon; I’m a contract manufacturer, and thus invisible to Amazon. But one day last year an Amazon functionary called me up. They asked us to develop a brand in our industry (in essence, food, which we put into containers) which would be sold on Amazon. We could set the prices; the proposed deal was that we’d both profit if we developed an attractive brand, since Amazon would push it and we’d make money on the sales.

I figured this was a scam, since I am cynical and think Jeff Bezos should be put in a ducking chair, but set up a conference call anyway with a team of Amazonians. After buttering me up, they glibly mentioned in passing that, among other standard boilerplate in the agreements they’d send me to sign, which were of course trivial (but not negotiable), there was an unimportant standard provision: that at any point Amazon could buy this entire new brand from me, lock, stock, and barrel, for the lesser of $10,000 or fees actually paid to lawyers to register trademarks.

But, they assured me, this was just so they could “help me if there were any legal challenges.” A total lie, of course. What they were, and are, doing is suckering people who, unlike me, are not former M&A lawyers, by, at no cost to Amazon, throwing up hundreds or thousands of brands; seeing which succeed; then stealing them from their creators, who eagerly sign documents without paying any attention, hoping to hit the big time. A small thing, perhaps, but indicative of a cheater’s mentality. Fifty lashes for Jeff Bezos at the whipping post in the town square!

Tepper offers a long list of excellent solutions. Vastly more aggressive antitrust enforcement, using bright-line numerical rules about corporate concentration. Slowing down the revolving door. Common carriage rules for internet platforms that sell third-party services (not only Net Neutrality, presumably, but also other services, such as Amazon’s selling platform).

Creating rules that reduce switching costs, such as portability of social media data. All these are good, though I’d go farther. For internet common carriers, I would include rules that forbid viewpoint discrimination. I’d break up all major tech companies, and probably break up almost all existing corporate concentrations. I’d totally forbid the revolving door. Regardless, I find nothing deficient in Tepper’s solutions.

But these are all egghead solutions from eggheads, vaporware in the ether. Billions of dollars are being raked in by the powerful, and then distributed to protect their interests. The oligopolists will never accept a single one of these solutions.

Tepper works as an advisor to hedge funds (it is no surprise that those particular concentrations of power, which are also extremely pernicious and often eagerly participate in creating and extending the problems identified in this book, receive a grand total of zero attacks in this book). He is lucky he does not work for a think tank or other vulnerable entity.

Google, for example, brutalized Anne-Marie Slaughter’s New America Foundation in 2017 when it dared to have on staff an academic team who suggested that more antitrust enforcement against Google might be a good idea. Attacking the oligopolists is like chasing a demonic greased pig—even if you catch him, he’ll probably wriggle out of your grasp, and if he can’t, he’ll kill you.

What’s the answer, other than pitchforks? (I’m all for the pitchforks.) Well, divide and conquer, probably. We should serially use Saul Alinsky’s Rule 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

This will probably have to be done at the intersection of two other unpredictable factors. First, some especially spectacular bad behavior by a target, which implies that the each sequential target will have to first identify itself. Second, action by ambitious politicians, probably of the Left but maybe of the Right, willing to use this as a signature issue.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be an economic illiterate, but she’s ambitious and self-promoting enough to take on such a task, and tough enough to ignore the pressure and attacks from the oligopolists. Bernie Sanders maybe, too, but he’s so old his heart probably can’t take the punches. This is a task for the young.

On the Right, I can’t think of anyone—Trump, of course, but he lacks the discipline and has shown a disinclination to actually act populist (thanks, Jared and Ivanka)! Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney aren’t going to do it. Maybe J. D. Vance, if he ever runs for office, but he strikes me as not nearly vicious or ambitious enough.

But with any luck, the problems themselves will call forth the problem solvers. History shows us that for every action, a reaction—though, unfortunately, often one with unintended side effects. Within reason, though, I’d happily risk the side effects to destroy the oligopolists.


Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Puck & the Mechanical Knight – A Modern-Day David & Goliath,” a political cartoon from the later 19th-century.