Bryan Caplan  

Marxism as a Senile Industry

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I've never forgotten Frederick Copleston's blunt take on Marxism's 20th-century success in volume 7 of A History of Philosophy:
[Marxism] is accepted, doubtless with varying degrees of conviction, by a great many people today.  At the same time it is arguable that its continued life as a more or less unified system is primarily due to its association with an extra-philosophical factor, a powerful socio-political movement, the contemporary importance of which nobody would deny... [I]t is the Communist Party which has saved Marxism from undergoing the fate of other nineteenth-century philosophies by turning it into a faith.
Or to be a little more blunt, Marxist philosophy was a classic "senile industry."  Massive government patronage kept employment and output high decades after the disappearance of most of the sincere customers.  Marxism didn't just justify "conspicuous production" of white elephants.  It became one.


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COMMENTS (20 to date)
Doc Merlin writes:

Keynesian interventionism suffer from the same issue. It is kept alive only because powerful interests want it to remain such.

Troy Camplin writes:

I have argued for years Marxism was a religion.

1) there is the one true prophet: Marx

2) there is the holy book: Das Kapital

3) there is a promised heaven: the communist utopia

4) belief in Marxism requires faith -- defined as belief in something despite the evidence.

Contemplationist writes:

Its still going semi-strong in the Academy in Humanities departments. Walking thru the building of my English Department in 2006 in Buffalo I noticed several Marx quotations on faculty office doors. Could do no more than sigh

Kurbla writes:

Copleston's claim that "socio-political movement" is "extra-philosophical factor" looks artificial to me. Who is intra-philosophical factor?

Troy Camplin writes:

Contemplationist,

If you think it's frustrating, try being a humanities scholar. Especially one whose idea of using economics to understand literature is to refer to Hayek's theory of spontaneous order. Or one who has published on Hayek's ideas on the mind and on morality:

https://www.ufm.edu/uploads/NOMOI_5_2010.pdf

see pg. 3

bjk writes:

The only reason that mainstream econ survived and Marxism didn't is that mainstream econ bundled itself with finance as part of the credentializing for Wall Street and business careers. Otherwise it would have ended up in the political science department along with Marxism as another relic of the 19th century.

bjk writes:

Put differently, mainstream economics is the classic senile industry.

Contemplationist writes:

Sorry bjk

Most of macro may be ad-hoc and not so enlightening, but Econ has survived due to its fundamental explanatory power, at least a lot more powerful than other social sciences which are a lot more ad-hoc.
Just the basics - Supply and Demand, existence of scarcity, power of incentives consistently applied will survive forever, until at least in the year 2400 the new Progressive government changes our DNA to become more collectivist. =)

bjk writes:

All of what you mention was familiar to Marx and well-known by the 19th century. Anyway, the validity of 19th century economics is not in dispute.

Here is Caplan's charge:

"Massive government patronage kept employment and output high decades after the disappearance of most of the sincere customers."

Check, check, and check.

Contemplationist writes:

Now that I think about it, you're right. The Federal Reserve especially hires tons of economists, and its a fact that at least half the economists in the US work for the government.

whatwhowhere writes:

The Federal Reserve, a private entity, hires capable economists, and was responsible for banking oversight. Greenspan now admits fraud. Sirs you too must be vigilant that a cancerous form of narcissistic capitalist corporatism does not relegate useful capitalism to the history archives that engulfed other forms of social progress.

Contemplationist writes:

Its always amusing when clueless idiots proclaim the Federal Reserve to be a "private entity." Yes a private entity which was created by Congress and whose head is chosen by the President. Amazing

Loof writes:

Why so insulting? That the Fed is a “private entity” is relevant, despite created by Congress whose head is chosen by the President. Is it a form of narcissistic capitalist corporatism that regulates useful capitalism?

Contemplationist writes:

Combining a whole bunch of "ist"s and "isms" may be known as 'thinking' in your neck of the woods, but its mostly rhetorical signalling for status within one's ideological group. So...try again.

The Federal Reserve, no doubt is cognitively (at least) captured by banker interests as it was lobbied for by bankers when it was formed. But so are many other policies. Agri-business and USDA/farm subsidies is another example.

The Fed is less 'private' than even the GSEs like Fannie and Freddie. And Congress can gut it any time it likes. The President can unilaterally change the Fed's ideological balance by replacing governors and/or the Chief.

Loof writes:

No. Just two questions: both rhetorically avoided.

Saying the Fed is “less ‘private’” proves the point of relevancy.

Again, why so insulting? Being “always amused” calling people “clueless idiots”.

Troy Camplin writes:

The Fed is anything but capitalistic. It is given by the federal government monopoly power over money, meaning money is centrally planned. Last I heard central planning was called socialism. Thus, our money is socialist. This is why monetary policy is the driving factor in our business cycles.

Doc Merlin writes:

@Troy
Mostly agreed, except I would say "A driving factor" as I think there is more than just one.

Troy Camplin writes:

Doc,

You would be correct. Wrong article.

Phritz writes:

The Federal Reserve, no doubt is cognitively (at least) captured by banker interests as it was lobbied for by bankers when it was formed.

not entirely accurate. Bankers were involved, but to his credit Wilson did not just rubber stamp their laissez-faire schemes. The Fed. was progressive initially--has become less so (similarly for New Deal regs, mostly gutted by Gingrich and Clinton). Anyway, marxism's failures are hardly more egregious--tho' perhaps a bit sanguine-- than supply siders' failures or Macro 101 (including lil Lord Keynes...)

Troy Camplin writes:

By definition there were, are, and cannot be any laissez faire schemes in the setting up of a central bank or of any centralizing economic authority.

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