Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A dismal scientist writes

Jeffrey Sachs - "probably the most important economist in the world" - is a Professor of the dismal science. True to form, his latest writing fails to shed light on the nature of capitalism. One paragraph of his opinion piece for huffingtonpost.com exemplifies this:

"The great scholars of capitalism, from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes, understood full well that a functioning economic system depends not on greed, but on moral sentiments and an acceptable social contract between the rich and the rest of society. The rich can make money, of course, but they must not flaunt it or consume it frivolously. Instead, they must invest their wealth for social benefit, whether in business or in philanthropy, or in both as in the case of history's most celebrated capitalist-philanthropists, from Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. It is only the dangerously arrogant rich or the servants of the rich who believe that morals don't matter in the great matters of finance. "

Well, Smith did make "an important step towards an understanding of what makes capitalism tick" but by comparsion Keynes was clueless. He dismissed Marx's Capital with these smug words:

“How can I accept a doctrine which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete text-book which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world? How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, whatever their faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement? Even if we need a religion, how can we find it in the turbid rubbish of the red bookshop? It is hard for an educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe to find his ideals here, unless he has first suffered some strange and horrid process of conversion which has changed all his values.”

Sachs does not mention the greatest scholar of capitalism, but this is unsurprising given that some textbooks of economics are Marx-free zones. The rich Sachs refers to are the capitalist class, they do not make money, although in times of quantative easing you might be forgiven for thinking so. Marx revealed that they enrich themselves at our expense: we the working class produce all the wealth in society. Furthermore, Marxism reveals, as no other theory can, how capitalism came into being, what its dynamics are, why it must exploit and what it must be replaced with. Morality does not exist in a timeless social and economic vacuum; the current (basically liberal) notions of rights, obligations, justice, etc. misrepresent the exploitative social relations of capitalism and are inappropriate to the struggle for socialism.

Carnegie did indeed assert that "all personal wealth beyond that required to supply the needs of one's family should be regarded as a trust fund to be administered for the benefit of the community," but why should we accept crumbs when the bakery is ours for the taking? With "from each according to ability, to each according to need" applied globally it will not only be possible but achievable in the foreseeable future to eliminate poverty, malnutrition and the other ills inherent in global capitalism. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

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