Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Idea From Karl Marx

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I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine on the world’s economic system. It all started out when he talked about Milton Friedman’s idea on free market. Friedman believes that the best form of economy is when the government do not intervene with the economy and leave the market completely 100% free. Basically, no welfare, no subsidy, no social services. The market should be left on its own alone, which will result in striving competitions and the ‘invisible hand’ will put everything into places nicely.

And i immediately thought of Karl Marx, the man who opposed free market aka capitalism. Contrarily to popular belief, Karl Marx is not an ‘evil guy’ who spread ‘evil’ ideology (whenever the word communism is mentioned, we automatically think of Karl Marx). Most people do not have clear idea of his philosophies and more importantly, Karl Marx did not established the so called evil communist nations (Lenin, Stalin, Mao). Just because some murderers loves eating apples, it doesn’t mean that every apple lovers are murderers.

Let me share with you briefly how did Marxism begin.

Max Weber, a German sociologist, wrote a thesis (in his work The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) arguing how the rise of Protestantism (with other form of Abrahamic religions) have influenced heavily on the economic institutions throughout the history. You might think – religion had an impact on the economy systems? I must be kidding.

Actually, it is pretty much similar to Steven Levitt’s work in his book Freakonomics, where he argued that there is a correlation between legalized abortions and crime rates – basically, legalizing abortions will reduces crime rates. When i first read the abstract of the topic, i kept wondering how two seemingly unrelated subjects could have influenced each other. But once i read in detail, i immediately got the idea that there are many things in this world which we can’t just use ‘common sense’ to perceive them. After all, common sense is what told the ancient people that the Earth was flat and the Earth is at the center of the universe.

Back to Max Weber’s work, he argued that the emergence of religion has resulted a form of ‘acceptance’ by people that the existence of different social classes is justifiable. If you’re born rich, you’re lucky because it is God’s will. If you’re born poor, you have to accept it because it is also God’s will. Plus, everyone should obey the ruler because he is the God’s representative (or something along the lines). Hence, the serf and feudalism system emerged where the poor people (peasant) work at rich people’s farm (landlord) and everyone is expected to accept this destiny gracefully.

Napoleon Bonaparte, the legendary French leader has once said :

Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.

Rebellious by nature, after reading work from Weber (and also Feuerbach’s work The Essence of Christianity) Karl Marx denounces religion as the ‘opium of the masses’- just like opium, it actively control their will and make people obsessive with it without questioning these beliefs. It is the most destructive force to humanity.  Karl Marx also believes that as long as people project their longings onto God, people would passively accept material conditions and injustice in the real world.

Now, what is this ‘injustice’ Karl Marx was talking about? It is basically the injustice between the rich and poor and the injustice between employer and employee … something which most people will neglect or will accept without questioning. 

Suppose that a girl, let’s call her Kelly, works at a bakery shop. She spends 12 hours a day in the shop baking cakes and the shop will sell the cake at $10 each. Suppose that the shop manage to sell 30 cakes a day, that means the daily revenue will be $300 daily. However, she is only paid $60 daily for her wages ($5 an hour).  The rest of $240 will be kept by the bakery shop owner. This is how capitalism works.

Therefore Karl Marx argued, if Kelly is the one who did all the work for the shop why is she not paid her full value or perhaps sharing profit with the owner of the bakery shop? The owner of the shop afterall, did nothing but only giving instructions on what to do and merely having ownership of the shop. Kelly is the one who did all the hard work.Karl Marx criticized this economic system and called it a form of ‘exploitations’ where the rich people exploit the poor people as modern-time slavery.

Let me explain more about exploitations using back the same bakery shop example. The cake is sold for $10. Suppose the cost for making that cake is $2 and in a fair and square world, the remaining $8 profit (for each cake)should be divided between the owner and Kelly, making it $4 for each person. However, in the capitalism world which is driven by profit, the owner or employer will want to maximize his/her profit. So, how will the owner maximize the profit? By giving a minimum wage to Kelly, which is $5 every hour, and the owner keeps the rest of the profit for himself/herself. If Kelly is not happy with $5 wage, the owner can simply kick Kelly out and find another person who is happy to receive the minimum wage. That’s the ‘cruelty’ perceived by Karl Marx with capitalism.

Karl Marx is extremely critical with the people for accepting this ‘injustice’ by default. Why are owners entitled  to profit derived through our sweat? Because they own the property, we respond. But why should we accept this legal system? Marx asks. Why did we not reject such unfair system? Why do we have to follow the ruling class’  beliefs, laws, culture, religion, morality and patriotism? Since human being is the most fundamental aspect of the economy, shouldn’t the economic system emphasizes on the population? Why do we have to divide and categorize people into so many classes? Can’t we all be a classless society where we are all equal?

This is the most fundamental reasoning of Karl Marx and the essence of Socialism.

 My view.

Capitalism still wins. What Karl Marx did was to point out at the weakness of capitalism. However, reversing weakness does not necessary give you strength. Karl Marx is certainly a fascinating guy with some glowing idea and philosophy of his own. What he missed is he didn’t take account of human’s nature in engaging in competition and our relentless desires to achieve the unachievable (hence invention and innovation). Putting it shortly, human being gets bored easily and we always crave progressions.

It is not difficult to understand the difference between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism focus on individual’s benefits where individuals are motivated by his/her own interest. Socialism focus on collective benefits where individuals are motivated by social, groups or community’s interest.

Since capitalism is so effective, it is pretty self-evident to me that human being are inherently selfish and we always put our self-interest first before the social group or community.


Written by elan85

July 22, 2008 at 1:28 am

Posted in Economics, Philosophy

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