My Inadvertent Marxism
We have met the enemy and they are partly right.
I'VE BEEN ACCUSED of Marxism twice in the last two months. Once online, and once in person. Both times I was surprised—mostly because I know almost nothing about Marx.
I'll probably end up reading him, sooner or later, especially if this keeps happening.
On the first occasion the accusation came from a college dean in a small Christian college. Oddly enough, I think it was sort of a compliment. He listened to my ramblings about economics, and the way wealth got distributed, and I detected sympathy, if not full approval. Then he told me I sounded like Karl Marx, and suggested I read Marx's philosophical essays.
I found this encounter both instructive and gratifying—not because he took my economic fumblings seriously, but because he gave me a perfect example of one of my other prejudices: the idea that real people don't fall easily into the rigid categories dictated by the culture war.
If the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O'Reillys were right about this country, the last person in the world to see any value in Marx would be a dean of a small rural Christian college in a red state, who also happens to be a minister.
But the world is more complex than that.
The second time was more recent, and happened in the comment section of a web site that had linked to one of my posts here. It was also instructive, but not as gratifying. This case fits all the stereotypes.
To be fair, the commenter missed the joke, and so misinterpreted my post to be more extreme than it was, but nevertheless her reaction was to claim that my point was straight out of the Communist Manifesto.
I wouldn't have minded that so much, though I blush to admit that if I ever read the Communist Manifesto, I have no clear memory of it. What bothered me was that this single claim was her entire case against me.
The reasoning goes this way:
- That idea is found in the Communist Manifesto.
- That idea is incorrect.
Try as I might, I can't see any logical connection between those two thoughts. Even if the Communist Manifesto is the root of all evils (though, oddly enough, I remember a different candidate) isn't it even remotely possible that it might contain some things that are, nevertheless, true?
Wouldn't it be a good idea to judge ideas on their own merits, and not on their guilt by association with a political movement?
What if, just for arguments sake, it turned out that some of the ideas promoted by Marx were simply true. What if the people who called themselves Communists blew it, not because of Marx's ideas, but for completely different reasons?
Oddly enough, in both cases the ideas that got me labeled Marxist were the same:
- I suggested that wealth is created by productive labor (that is, work which actually produces results). I find it hard to believe that anyone questions this.
- I suggested that the extremely wealthy, who own half of the wealth in this country, do not perform anywhere near half of the productive labor in this country. Again, I think this is hard to dispute.
- I pointed out that money is power, that great wealth includes the power to influence political parties, politicians, and ultimately the government, as well as the direct power to influence thousands of peoples lives in multiple ways. Any objections?
- I went on to suggest that this state of affairs seems to be unfair.
- I added that aside from the unfairness, the concentration of so much power in so few hands is a danger to the very idea of democracy. When the chief campaign contributors, the owners of the press, the payers of the lobbyists, and the employers of much of the populace are the same small crowd there's a serious question as to how long any real democracy can survive.
- I suggested that the best solution was steeply progressive taxation. This takes some unpacking. A steeply progressive tax plan would:
- Provide the funds to balance the federal budget.
- Make it possible to provide everyone with health insurance. (Which plan is not the issue. Funding is.)
- Rescue Social Security.
- Address the root causes of poverty.
- Restore our educational system to best in the world, and make education free to all, at all levels.
- Restore a balance of power to the country, allowing the average citizen closer to the same power to influence government as the extremely wealthy.
- Encourage the largest corporations to break up into smaller ones (in order to pay less taxes), thus restoring a truly free market which can then regulate itself with less government intervention.
- Encourage all businesses, especially the larger ones, to pay better wages and create jobs. If tax rates are higher, the actual cost of employees, whose wages are deductible, decreases.
- Decrease the wealth gap between the rich and the middle class, which has been impoverishing those who do the actual productive work.
- Decrease the taxes on the middle class, to help those who do that work support their families, buy a house, take an occasional vacation, save for retirement.
- Cure the present, and future, economic crisis. There is insufficient demand because those who would spend their money don't have enough money to spend. They don't have enough because there is a finite amount of wealth in the country, produced by a finite amount of work, being done mostly by the working poor and middle class. The bulk of this wealth is currently being skimmed off the top by the extremely wealthy. This leaves far too little to sustain the economic health of the nation. Far too little to trickle up, creating greater wealth.
- Fix our crumbling infrastructure.
- Decrease crime by creating the jobs and wealth to move the poor into the middle class.
- I did not suggest that the government nationalize any industry, create a dictatorship or single party system, or infringe on anybody's rights. In fact, some of the goals listed above (a balanced budget, less micromanagement of business by government) would be considered Conservative goals.
- I actually believe that it is in the interest of the wealthy as well as the poor to take this step. A healthier economy, and a healthier society, benefits everyone. A rising tide lifts all the ships.
As I said, I haven't read Marx. But if this is what he had in mind, then I don't mind—being called a Marxist.
And I almost made it through this whole post without once mentioning Harpo.
At least, that's what I think today.