I agree with that assessment. Being an optimist, I expect capitalism to pull billions of people out of dire circumstances over the next decade or two.
+1Plus, keep in mind that when Marx was writing Das Kapital average global GDP-per-capita was $870; in the UK it was like $3,000 and in the US $2500; since then global GDP-per-capita has increased by a factor of 10 and an even greater factor in the industrializing countries Marx thought would lead the revolution. I think that was very difficult to visualize or imagine at the time.
The jury is still out on capitalism. It is trying mighty hard to fail. Capitalism helped to destroy the old aristocracies, but it is producing new ones. The correctives to capitalism that were forged in the 19th and 20th centuries are being dismantled. Caste societies are quite durable. (My guess is that Chinese socialism will prevail in the coming century.)
The Chinese socialism that is turning into capitalism?The coming century, huh?So Marx got over 150 years and he hasn't been right so far. What's going on today that wasn't going on in 1848 that makes you feel like you've got a better shot?
Dare I ask the criteria for "success" at play?If it's purely based on the existence of any improvement in quality of life over a given century, then by that measure feudalism was a rousing success over previous regimes, as well. One would expect we'd have to consider something more than just the existence of improvement and start looking at things like "how much" and "how widespread." Or, to take a different tack, e.g., does a wealthy first world require a sweatshop-riddled third?Given the ongoing stagnation (can anyone say they don't know people still persistently un- or under-employed?) and the periodic necessity to suspend the free operation of capitalism and allow a state to step in lest everything explode, I'm going submit that your position something of a stretch.The principal thrust of Marx's political economy is that crisis is baked into the system, owing to the growth of capital itself, such that it is a periodic inevitability. As such, the idea that he "hasn't been right so far" strikes as a statement more rooted in ideology than science.
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Right but under "success" I am including "survival". I know Marx says capitalism is successful on certain metrics, but the persistence for 150 years after the manifesto is a legitimate challenge to the whole Marxian edifice.Which is not to say there's nothing in Marx of value, of course.
I think that when one judges a theoretical framework explicitely developed to interprete long-run historical patterns of social and economic change, the appropriate time horizon is not so clearly one which self-evidently challenge the Marxian prediction. To cite again Schumpeter, "in these things a century is a short run". However, the truth is that at this level of generality there is no hope to solve the issue. "When" does not matter. Proof or refutation of a causal mechanism is all that matters. Moreover, if someone prove Marx wrong on this, Marx will surely loose value. Enough with hypocritical adulation of the "classics" -promoveatur ut amoveatur, Marx would have surely hated it.A possible mechanism is hinted at by Sam Bowles here.
With all due respect, it should be clear to anyone possessing an even slight acquaintance with the history of economic thought that such a line of argument is disastrously wrong. In fact, Marx was the very first political economist to predict the success of capitalism, and praise it. The Manifesto is just that. As he wrote in the preface of A critique of political economy, "no social order ever perished before all the productive forces for which there was room in it had been developed". However you want to interpret ambiguous parts of Marx, you have to accept what he clearly did not say: he was no stagnationist or theorist of the crash. Instead, he clearly believed that communist society will have spontaneously emerged from the success of capitalism, not from its failure. Schumpeter diplayed to have understood well this point on Capitalism, socialism and democracy. You can oppose Marx's ideas, but you have no right to misrepresent them.
See above.I never said Marx didn't praise capitalism. Of course he did. He did not expect it to survive, though."Spontaneously emerge" is an awful euphemistic take on the internal contradictions of capitalism, even if I do you the service of neglecting all the revolution stuff.
1. If you acknowledge that Marx's theory is compatible with capitalism spreading all around the world, then you can't argue that the success of capitalism proved him wrong. Not without at least some specification of your argument. Of course, the details would have ruined the punchine. But punchlines are fine insofar they actually work, and unfortunately yours does not. True, after much praising there was critique and prediction of eventual transition to a more productive and socially equitable social organization. But -pace Popper- it was a conditional prediction, and no date was attached to the manuscripts. Moreover, while his "capitalism-specific" theories turned out to be either wrong or theories of the cycle, the larger framework of historical materialism has not reached, to this day, to such a dead end. Indeed, today everyone is attempting to do some historical materialism -just look what Acemoglu has done of his career. It's incredibly funny to read mainstream economists debating relations and forces of production without even knowing it. Seriously: that increasing wealth and technical knowledge will shape again the structure of property in the economy, as it did at least twice since the late Pleistocene up to now, is not unlikely at all. Let alone "proved wrong". Capitalism still has a lot to do, Africa is yet to come. But to indulge on the success right now seems to me to be just curious.2. If social revolutions are endogenous -and they are, as property relations are constrained by productive forces- then the process is really spontaneous in a genuine Hayekian way. No planner, liberal technocrat or golpist avantgarde would be needed. Hard to proove? Sure. Maybe there is no causal mechanism for such a story. Stil a rigorous refutation is missing. Hayek's critique, by shifting the battleground on the deficit of procedural rationality within capitalist economies, paradoxically improves the chances for Marx to be right.
Well... This is a naive at best, I'm not a Marxist, and I'm not even a socialist. But Marx thought nations could only achieve development by the means of capitalism. So no, the success of capitalism doesn't prove him wrong, and in multiple things he has turned out to be right.I disagree with Marx's political ideology as well as Marx's economic theory, but his criticism of economic theory are worth reading and many times spot on.
The beauty of making ambiguous predictions with no time-frame. If your predictions are wrong, they either weren't predictions, or they have yet to come to pass. An even more pernicious fudge: the predictions are always right!"Instead, he clearly believed that communist society will have spontaneously emerged from the success of capitalism, not from its failure."When? How? Where? Why? And another pertinent question: wasn't he just talking out of his rear end?
Not even remotely comparable to the beauty of restricting the scope of your research program to conveniently minimize the rigour-productivity tradeoff. Marx never argued his research program was completed. The opposite is true: in different occasions he explicitely referred to future scholars. Personal ambition may have prevented him to make calls for collaboration more explicit, but it never undermined his awareness that big questions need a lot of time to me answered.This has nothing to do with the epistemological status of a theory. There is no implication of absolute truth and no unconstrained prediction can be detected in Marx's case. Had it been the case, the theory would have been surely compromised in that specific form, although that would not have prevented reformulation. But this is not required, since Marx was keenly aware of the need to specify causal mechanisms and to produce clear explanations. The difficulty to do so in face of the gigantic nature of his project cannot in any way be used against him, and can be considered an epistemic fault only at the cost of admitting plain ignorance on the issue of scientific epistemology itself. Research programs may have difficulties which Popperians would consider epistemic fallacies but the fault is on their side. If there's one thing Lakatos got rights, that is it.So failure to specify *at this point in time* the details of a mechanism leading to a post-capitalist economy is not at all the same as failure due to the logical structure of the conjecture. If the conjecture is expressed in dialectical terms and therefore it contains paradoxes, you can be sure there is no way to predict anything at any time. That would be the case of an impossible prediction -at least a "technological" prediction aiming at scientific status. Instead, failure to predict at any given moment due to *partial ignorance* is indeed the norm in any field of science. That's because the practical activity of researchy effectively takes time. Again, Lakatos dixit.Note that I'm not in any way defending Marx's conjecture in arguing that way. I'm just defending his right to be treated as anyone else in the realm of science. Again, it has been utterly typical of cold-war Popperianism to mishmash these two quite different aspects. Specification of Marx's theory is not a "marxist" issue. Anyone can develop his thought, which is a layered edifice with different degrees of accuracy: general principles are fairly clear, many details are unclear and in any case sooner or later the scholar is be forced to go on his own, which is desirable -as science does not live on founding fathers- and possible -for Marx was wise enough to be clear on his basics. The co-evolution of forms of property and technology, capitalism as a wage labour economy, alienation as "lack of voice" on allocative decision-making. Strikingly clear, if just one reads Marx and not Marxists or anti-Marxists.The choice "provide solution now or you can't explain anything" is patently a false one. On that benchmark, neoclassical economics would have been dead a long ago. Nobody uses these standards for neoclassical economics, and that's fair. I just claim a level playing field.
Meanwhile, to avoid sounding like defending the indefensible, I can just notice how Marx's theory in fact *does* predict phenomena. I will not refer to macro events, which would be too easy although the objection is equally too easy -macro-prediction is a field on which many false claims appear true but that does not prove wrong all of them. Wage behaviour is still predicted extremely well by business cycles theories such as the Goodwin trade cycle and the efficiency wage hypothesis. All in all, Marxian meso-explanations revolving around somewhat definite periods or phenomena like cost-inflation or stagflation in the '70s are far superior to competing ones. Marxist accounts of the onset of capitalism are leading in their fields, if severely ostracized in the last decades. Do I have to write references?
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Daniel Kuehn is a doctoral candidate and adjunct professor in the Economics Department at American University. He has a master's degree in public policy from George Washington University.