There’s a hilarious video I can no longer find of a British comedy show sketch. Four stereotypical young anarchists come into a messy flat, and one of them passes out copies of Marx and Engles’ Capital. He says something like “OK, if we’re going to proper revolutionaries, we need to actually read this book, yeah?” “Yeah!” And with great, revolutionary gusto, they all open their copies and the leader starts reading: “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity….” As he reads he starts getting more despondent and the others start looking distracted. After a few weighty sentences, he finally slams the book and says, “Ah bugger this. Let’s go kill someone!” “Yeah!” And off they go.
The sketch pointed out what most people, especially people who live in the U.S., have no clue about:
Karl Marx’s greatest work is not a revolutionary propaganda, it’s an political/economics theory book. There’s a reason why it’s called Capital and not Socialism or Communism. It’s a very, very detailed examination of capitalism as a basis of socio-economy. I can be tough to get through but it’s the best examination of capitalism there has been. Because it was written during early capitalism and Marx and Engles couldn’t have predicted global market capitalism, they did get some things wrong — but the basic explanation is sound as much today as it was 150 years ago.
To help the average person understand the tome, SF author Steven Brust has followed up his fascinating blog series on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (arguably the father of capitalist economics) with a series presenting and discussing Capital. In his latest posting, he highlights a passage in which Marx quotes Benjamin Franklin!
“…It is the expression of equivalence between different sorts of commodities that alone brings into relief the specific character of value-creating labour, and that it does by actually reducing the different varieties of labour embodied in the different kinds of commodities to their common quality of human labour in the abstract.”
Here we have a footnote, in which Marx cites Ben Franklin, quoting him as saying, “Trade in general being nothing else but the exchange of labour for labour, the value of all things is…most justly measured by labour.” The point, here, is that, just as we are able to reduce the linen and the coat to values because they embody human in labor, so, too, the labor of producing them is, economically, reduced to abstract human labor.
(Emphasis mine.) I was quite intrigued by this inclusion, and I can’t help wondering what the American founding fathers might have thought about modern capitalism and Karl Marx’s assessment of it. I do know Thomas Paine would be turning in his grave if he knew what Glenn Beck and the Tea Party were doing with him. Check out some of these Paine quotes:
“Pay as a remission of taxes to every poor family, out of the surplus taxes, and in room of poor-rates, four pounds a year for every child under fourteen years of age.” Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man
“It is painful to see old age working itself to death, in what are called civilised countries, for daily bread… pay to every such person of the age of fifty years … the sum of six pounds per annum out of the surplus taxes, and ten pounds per annum during life after the age of sixty… This support, as already remarked, is not of the nature of a charity but of a right.” Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man
“Create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property.” Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice.
Yeesh! Sounds like a socialist, don’t he. 🙂
Speaking of Glenn Beck, back to Ben Franklin, in that same paragraph in that same essay Franklin wrote that Marx quotes from, Franklin wrote, “Now Silver and Gold being of no permanent Value….” That must be very awkward for Beck and his “BUY GOLD NOW before the inevitable mass economic collapse occurs!” advertisers.
Anyway, with the intent of blogging a comment on just this Franklin quote used by Marx, I started searching for an image of Marx and Franklin together with absolutely no anticipation of actually finding something I didn’t have to Photoshop together. But then I found one: a still from a short video advertising Glenn Beck’s How to Argue With an Idiot. (Ugh! I feel dirty linking to that. But don’t let is be said I’m not fair in providing info.) It’s a short that is essentially a blatant ad hominem attack in which animated Marx and Franklin provide no info specific to the real people and serve only as mouthpieces in an extremely juvenile screed.
So this video makes Marx sound like an idiot in suggesting a progressive tax (which I’m not even sure Marx ever advocated) and then Beck-Ben “counters” not-Marx’s progressive tax by illustrating that the current tax situation is unfair. So…what’s Beck’s stance? Is the progressive tax Marx-level stupid? If so, why point out we don’t have a progressive tax situation? And why present the current unfair tax situation as if promoting a progressive tax as a solution while mocking it? It makes no sense. (Not surprising from the guy who professes churches who advocate Christianity, er, social justice I mean, are preaching Naziism and Communism; and warns that government “czars” is the Obama’s way to endorse socialism. 1. Nixon started the whole czar thing and Reagan made it famous with his “Drug Czar,” and 2. the Russian czar was the king that the communists rebelled against and expelled. Idiot.)
That aside, Beck-Ben presents the evil unfair tax numbers:
The top 1% are responsible for 40% of income tax,
the top 10% are responsible for 71% of income tax, and
the top 50% are responsible for 97% of the income tax.
OMG! Doesn’t that look evilly unfair!? You know what? Le’s just assume these numbers are correct. I’ll give him that. But any fact can look however you want it to look with divorced from any context. Of course, that’s what Beck’s best at: taking spurious and unconnected information and making false conclusions. Let’s add some more facts.
The top 1% owned 43% of the nation’s financial wealth,
the next 19% owned 50% of the nation’s financial wealth.
(The bottom 80% of the population owned 7% of the nation’s wealth.)
So, according to Beck, the top 50% paid 97% of the income tax; yet, the top 20% owned 93% of the wealth. Catch that? Even though half the nation paid 97% of the tax, only 1/5th owned 93% of the wealth.
Yeah, those tax numbers are unfair…in the direction opposite what Beck suggests!
Finally, Beck reveals the sociopathic outlook of the conservative when his pseudo-Franklin dumps on the poor for having the audacity of getting a tax refund. Oh no! The people in our society that struggle to even afford food and shelter aren’t having to pay income tax, when those who have problems deciding between the 3rd multi-million-dollar house or the 2nd private jet have to pay less than their fair share based on the grotesque percentage of wealth they own?
Why, that’s eeeviiil! Those slackers who work two jobs just to make ends meet and are still below the poverty line, need to belly up and give up their daycare money so that the 1% who own nearly half the nation’s wealth can feel better about using lawyers and accountants to take advantage of tax shelters and loopholes that no one in the lower 80% of the population have available to them.