Systems Matter Part 2: Poles Apart

What is the most efficient method possible to successfully utilize the resources of planet earth in order to meet the needs of the planet’s inhabitants? Each answer will reflect the varied respondent’s world view. Two diametrically opposed views are represented by two different men who lived almost exactly a hundred years apart.

Adam Smith was a well trained and intuitive economist and teacher. He was raised in Scotland and influenced by an agrarian and mercantile culture that operated under the British monarchy. The country also operated under the significant prominence of the Magna Carta.

Until 1215, kings and queens had ruled England with an iron hand. But then, King John’s rebellious barons won from the monarchy a series of concessions that established for the first time a paradigm- shaking, constitutional principle. The signing of the Magna Carta established for the first time that the power of the king could be limited by a written document. It is historically considered the first nationwide emancipation document that became the cornerstone of liberty and the mainline defense against arbitrary and unjust treatment of the citizens.

In his studies, Smith became intrigued with the question “why are some countries rich and other countries poor?” It appeared that some countries experienced relative wealth and others knew only misery and poverty. Why did that difference exist?

Adam Smith’s intellectual curiosity compelled him to travel the world and conduct his research. Perhaps he could discover the reason why some countries were rich and others poor. Currently, most people just abbreviate the title of his book and refer to it as Wealth of Nations. But the true title of his book is An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. His work explains what he found to be successful components of economic systems that were producing wealth for their nations and satisfaction for their constituents.

A hundred years later, on the other side of the world, another intellectual was writing. He, too, was writing within the context of his world view. Karl Marx was born in 1818 in Prussian Rhineland. The Marx family was Jewish, but disconnected from their Jewish faith. Karl’s father was appointed a local magistrate a year after his formal conversion to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Karl Marx received no formal Jewish education, but his Jewish self- consciousness was unavoidable.

Marx’s educational background was eclectic and scattered. The doctoral dissertation that he presented to the University in Jena in 1841 was entitled The Difference between Democritean and Epicurean Philosophies. Young Karl Marx felt his task of philosophical reason was to

“Criticize whatever exists, whether in social institutions, religious doctrines, or the realm of ideas, for what exists is limited, always incompletely rational, and politically open, illusions, self deceptions, group delusions, plain factual errors were to be exposed, the incompletely rational, the spurious, and the idolatrous would be recognized, and partly by being known, righted .”

Philosophy, for Marx “turns itself against the world that it finds.” In 1842 he became first a contributor, then the editor of a politically extreme newspaper in Cologne, where he met Friedrick Engles, the son of a wealthy fabric manufacturer and merchant. A year later they moved to Paris and aligned themselves with French radicals and communists. In 1849 he was deported from France and moved to London.

Except for the brief time with the radical newspaper, Marx was unemployed and earned no money to support his family. For the rest of his life, Friedrick Engles had to give Karl Marx money to keep him in housing, clothes, food, and necessities for his family. In 1848, they together wrote Manifesto of the Communist Party, and in 1867 Marx wrote Das Kapital. The following is an example of Marx’s views regarding free market capitalism: 

''The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.''

Karl Marx spent his lifetime fully expecting that the masses of the world were going to suddenly and violently rise up at any time and completely abolish all elements of freedom, capitalism, and free trade in exchange for the redistribution of the wealth that they had not earned but could now suddenly possess by murder and brute force.

Even though the rhetoric continually emphasized that the governance of the proletariat would be carried out by the masses of the workers themselves, at the top there was never any question that a small group of elite thinkers and philosophers, the politburo, would be in total control of determining just how equal all the “equals” would be. Marx’s claim was that “the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The most important principle of communism is that everyone is one and no private ownership of property or production is allowed. Previously accumulated wealth, property, and all means of production, as well as all wealth flowing from future production, is to be held by everyone and distributed to everyone equally, “from each according to his abilities, and to each according to his need.”

Additionally, under communism there is an abolition of all rights of inheritance; emigrants and rebels lose all property rights; all procedures of banking and credit are centralized and owned by the state, as well as are all means of transportation, communication, and education. Each person voluntarily submits to the state to determine occupation, education, residence, and lifestyle. Religion is outlawed and resistance to the state is punishable by death.

But there was always the enduring confidence promoted that through communism’s economic and political system of equality, protection, fatherly care, and provision for everyone, there would be lasting personal peace and sufficiency forever.

Next Week: Investigating Free Enterprise

(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson’s new writing project on Cultural Economics)

© Dr. James W. Jackson  

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