Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Economics and Ideologies

I've been watching a series on economic theories that have shaped the history of the last two centuries. It has been fascinating, and sometimes a little depressing, as I listen to the ideologues who 'cherry pick' the bits of each theorists ideas to support their own Utopian vision. There are, at present, a series of shows on television discussing the ideas and theories of various economist who have shaped our current society, among them Keynes, Marx and Smith. The discussions of their work is inclusive, with people from all sides represented.

At present they are dealing with Marx and it struck me today as I listened to his family background, how typical he was of his class. Not many, I suspect, of his adherents, would know or bother recalling that he was the son of wealthy landowning parents. Their vineyards generated enough money for them to give him a very good education and send him to university - no inexpensive venture in that day and age. His home in Trier is certainly not the hovel the poor of his generation huddled in, the Marx family lived in a large and commodious house and had servants to attend them.

Marx, as was pointed out, made a number of important points in his treatise, but some are not remembered, or are perhaps overlooked. For one thing, he did not anticipate that, even as he wrote, education and opportunity were changing the world he lived in. He predicted the working classes would rise up and overthrow their masters - no doubt including himself - to seize their 'rightful share of wealth.' I wonder if the irony of the fact that the 'revolution' he predicted happened, not in the wealthy western European societies he deplored, but in the impoverished and downtrodden east? Worse, it was led by the sons of several minor 'noble' houses, chief among them being the man we know as Lenin. Like Marx, he came from a monied family, had been very well educated and had travelled, sustained no doubt on the 'stipend' his family paid him - and which he and Marx would have said was 'stolen from the workers.'

Marx had some things right, but he had a great deal wrong. One of the commentators, a professor of economics made the case a few days ago that Classic Marxism is unworkable, Leninism, Socialism and Communism can only be sustained by force and threat. Some form of Capitalism, he said, is the natural form of economics in every society.

I had to agree with his final point though. That there will always be inequalities is human, what we need to do is find a way to make our capitalist economies more fair and less biased. Only then can we hope to create a more balanced sharing of wealth.

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