fredag 4 maj 2018

Why do people still praise Marx?

Every so often someone comes up with an article in praise of Karl Marx and suggesting that we should take another look at what he wrote. If you have a subscription you can read the latest offering, in the FT of all places.

What Engels observed in England in 1840s Manchester was not capitalism. It was the consequence of the large scale land enclosures which had taken place between 1760 and 1840, which had transformed a self-sufficient peasantry into a class of wage slaves with no land rights. The bit about wage slaves was correct; the process by which this happened on the ground was described in detailed by the Hammonds in The Village Labourer.

The periodic economic crises which characterised the US economy, and indeed, the general development of the US, were analysed by Henry George in his book Progress and Poverty, published in 1879, which promptly became a bestseller, remained so for half a century and is still in print and available on-line.

George contradicts Marx, obliquely, by defining his initial concepts rigorously and noting that there are THREE factors of production, Land, Capital and Labour, as opposed to the TWO factors postulated by the Marx and his followers - Capital and Labour; Marxist theory buries the concept of Land by rolling it into the category of Capital (and sometimes wealth. Any possibility of analysing the particular and specific characteristics of Land economics, and its role in the economy, is thereby stymied.

Unsurprisingly, this suited the landowning interests, since the role of land was effectively airbrushed out of economics theory, with whole textbooks devoting just a paragraph to the the topic. Even Catholic Social Teaching did the same thing, with the original encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII, published in 1891 burying land under the category of Property. Keynesians did the same thing. So does Pickety, as does everyone who regards land as wealth, or refers to a housing crisis without making it clear that it is underpinned by a failure in the land market.

If there is one nineteenth century writer on political economy who needs to be re-evaluated, it is not Karl Marx but Henry George.

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