Arnold Kling  

Folk Beliefs, Locke, and Marx

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In my latest essay, I write

Folk Marxism looks at political economy as a struggle pitting the oppressors against the oppressed. Of course, for Marx, the oppressors were the owners of capital and the oppressed were the workers. But folk Marxism is not limited by this economic classification scheme. All sorts of other issues are viewed through the lens of oppressors and oppressed. Folk Marxists see Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as oppressed. They see white males as oppressors and minorities and females as oppressed. They see corporations as oppressors and individuals as oppressed. They see America as on oppressor and other countries as oppressed.

I believe that folk Marxism helps to explain the pride and joy that many people felt when Maryland passed its anti-Walmart law. They think of Walmart as an oppressor, and they think of other businesses and Walmart workers as the oppressed. The mainstream media share this folk Marxism, as they reported the Maryland law as a "victory for labor."

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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

COMMENTS (19 to date)
David Thomson writes:

“The vast majority of college professors are folk Marxists”

This is why I calmly and thoughtfully advise everyone to treat liberal arts professors as idiots until proven otherwise. Many, if not even most, are intellectual sluts. They deserve no respect. This is especially true for those who “earned” tenure. Slutting on behalf of the leftist establishment is often an unofficial requirement. I have been saying this for a number of years. Alas, some folks have likely dismissed me as some sort of nut case. In a few years from now, however, it will be the common wisdom to generally perceive soft science university teachers as useless whores.

The now retired John Kenneth Galbraith is an intellectual mediocrity. His writings are pure garbage. And yet, Galbraith is one of the most famous professors who ever taught at Harvard. This fact alone should make one sick to their stomach.

ed writes:

Arnold writes:

However, even reporters in the mainstream media who are not openly supporting the enemy take this folk Marxist view when they refer to "the insurgency."

Maybe we call it the "insurgency" because it's, you know, an insurgency? And we say "occupation," because we're, like, occupying the country? These seem like pretty neutral words to me, and I don't think for a minute that the insurgency is "opressed."

Josh writes:


Great essay! Your folk-marxism idea seems to perfectly explain a lot of what liberals think.

It also scares me... I don't know how you can argue with someone who sees things in those terms. If you see two people interacting and decide that one of them is oppressing the other, how can anyone convince you otherwise... It's like abortion - if you see (or don't see) life in a fetus, how can anyone convince you otherwise. [And I think the contempt the liberal left has for the political right seems very similar to the contempt pro-lifers have for pro-choicers (and vice versa).]

But when two people look at the same situation and one decides there's a crime being committed and the other decides there isn't, there's no way to even begin debate. Our common morality is all that we have to base a debate on, and if it's no longer common, the only thing we can do is try to yell louder than our opponent. Sounds very familiar...

My personal view is that this is the reason to have a small federal gov't. At least when the states decide, people will have a choice: those who see trade (or abortion, etc) as beneficial can move in together, while those who don't can move elsewhere and restrict those things as they see fit.

Lord writes:

Perhaps they see it as a victory for the taxpayers who would otherwise have to bear much of the cost and a victory in having private companies provide for it rather than increased government.

T.R. Elliott writes:

I think Arnold Kling is feeling oppressed. Oh, poor boy. Maybe because you're libertarian utopia will never come to be? And never was? And is fundamentally unstable?

I can see how you feel oppressed though. All those bad liberals and main stream media--boy, isn't it funny how all the oppressed ones you mentioned happen to be those you don't particularly care for.

Very convenient.

Randy writes:


Re; "I don't know how you can argue with someone who sees things in those terms."

There is a way. You simply form the argument around the ways in which they themselves are the oppressors. Leftist movements are always power based, and any use of power will have some victims. And it is usually possible to show that the ultimate victims are in fact the very people they thought they were trying to help. Leftists have a habit of omitting the unseen. Follw the argument further than they are used to, and show them the victims. Cast them in the role of the oppressor. Use the terms they understand. This doesn't alway work, but I have had some success.

Great essay, Arnold!

Jody writes:

Great essay!

I'm immediately going to start using the term "folk Marxism" in my every day language without first taking the time to completely understand the intricate usages that you orignially envisioned and incorporate the concept into a bit of settled (in-my-mind) knowledge which I'll term "folk Klingism"

Bill writes:


I too have had some success in framing the debate in the way you mentioned. I've also had success with environmentalists by using a property rights argument--with strong property rights, no one is allowed to pollute the air, land, or water that will end up at someone else's property. I also use Christian philosophy when arguing with Christians. Using the philosophy of a debating opponent to support one's position works well for me. Arguing while using competing and contradictory philosophies often ends without any meaningful result.

dearieme writes:

It's also pretty apparent in American accounts of your War of Independence!

rakehell writes:

"Under folk Marxism, the oppressed class has inherent moral superiority to the oppressor class -- recall the quote which opens this essay. Class membership trumps individual character in determining moral standing."

The reason why people espouse folk Marxism is that they realize that their personal traits have counted for little in the economic world. They've seen class membership trump individual character in determining economic standing.

It doesn't seem at all odd to me that initial unequal distribution of property and property rights will lead to conflicts.

James writes:


Nice essay, but one quick comment. Folk Marxism is not unique for looking at political economy as a struggle pitting oppressors against oppressed. What makes Marxism, folk or otherwise, unique is that it confuses who oppresses whom. Rather than bypassing the issue of class oppression, Lockean values facilitate a class analysis based on a proper understanding of who is actually oppressing whom. See eg the essay Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis.


What's wrong if a libertarian does feel oppressed? I mean, we are the ones who seem to be on the losing end in many ways, having to put up with more government that we believe is justified. And when we have the nerve to discuss the dissatisfaction we feel over this state of affairs, nonlibertarians even complain about that. You don't think that's oppressive?

Dezakin writes:

Arnold, you're loosing credibility with me.

This is political theory nonsense that has nothing to do with economics except identifing some archetypical motives of collectivists. Fine for a social studies project, but inordinately partisan with sweeping strawman arguments that rathole down into squabbles about foreign policy.

Now you're denigrating the 'liberal media.' Its a bit of a trite cliche by now.

David Thomson writes:

"Now you're denigrating the 'liberal media.' Its a bit of a trite cliche by now."

Trite cliche? The evidence is overwhelming that the MSM is decidedly leftist. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman are among a number of scholars who provide convincing empirical data regarding this disgraceful situation. Why are you so lacking in knowledge? You are truly humiliating yourself.

Cyberike writes:

Some media outlets may lean slightly left, but there are others who lean slightly (or heavily in some cases) to the right. I think people exhibit their own biases when they accuse others. The louder the accusation, the stronger their personal bias.

James writes:

Saying that the media lean left or right doesn't mean much without reference to some central tendency. For what it's worth, Groseclose and Milyo at UCLA did a study of media reports and used Congress as their sample for central tendency.

Abstract: We measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major
media outlets. To compute this, we count the times that a particular media outlet cites
various think tanks and policy groups, then compare this with the times that members of
Congress cite the same groups. Our results show a strong liberal bias: all of the news
outlets we examine, except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times,
received scores to the left of the average member of Congress. Consistent with claims
made by conservative critics, CBS Evening News and the New York Times received
scores far to the left of center. The most centrist media outlets were PBS NewsHour,
CNN’s Newsnight, and ABC’s Good Morning America; among print outlets, USAToday
was closest to the center. All of our findings refer strictly to news content; that is, we
exclude editorials, letters, and the like.

David Thomson writes:

Speaking of the left-wing MSM. Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times is the new poster boy representing leftist journalism:

This idiot also admits to earning over $75,000 annually! The liberal establishment sure takes care of its own.

W. Kiernan writes:

Let me get this straight: are you saying there are no oppressors, and no oppressed? Or are you just showing off another pretty little verbal insult?

David Thomson writes:

“Let me get this straight: are you saying there are no oppressors, and no oppressed? Or are you just showing off another pretty little verbal insult?”

Gosh darn it, I’ll pretend you asked me this question. There is no such thing in the United States as a class of oppressors and a class of the oppressed. You must be thinking of Communist China or the former Soviet Union.

Gem Hudson writes:

That is just their promoted agenda. Get popular with this society and die hard later. Don't worry. Be happy until the dollar starts sliding into a crisis. Than you can start worrying.

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