Wall Street's Marxist moment

Zac Bissonnette recently wrote about a quote that is making the rounds on Wall Street. It claims to be a passage from Karl Marx that predicts our current economic predicament:

Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalised, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism. (Das Kapital, 1867)

As a number of people pointed out, the quote is a hoax. You can easily search through all of Marx's writings at marxists.org and you'll quickly find that there is no such passage. But the quote raises some interesting questions: Why is this faux quote making the rounds, and why do people find it so interesting?

One reason might be the increasing fear that people are feeling about the stock markets and even capitalism itself. We've been living in a strongly pro-capitalist environment for decades now -- at least since Reagan was elected, and certainly since the fall of the Soviet Union -- and there has been very little by way of a legitimate leftist resistance to the organization of just about everything on a capitalist basis.

The problem is that capitalism hasn't worked out as promised. Instead of wealth for everyone, we've gotten massive bubbles, falling wages and increasing concentration of wealth at the very top of the socio-economic ladder. Even Alan Greenspan, one of the great theorists and elder statesmen of modern capitalism, admitted that something is deeply wrong with the basic ideas many have held and cherished. And now, as Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme and John Thain's $87,000 mink chairs come to light, a lot of people are starting to feel revulsion toward the system that generated such startling results.

The growing fear may bring some people back to the old critiques of capitalism. Although the quote is certainly false -- as this blog points out, the terminology is all wrong and the basic idea of foreign to Capital volume 1, which predicts that the working class will end up in poverty due to falling wages, not debt and housing they can't afford -- it does capture one key aspect of Marx's argument: that capitalism is severely crisis prone. And right now, that's a hard point to ignore.

On the other hand, it may be that this quote is part of a more or less conscious effort by the right wing to discredit any effort to nationalize banks in the U.S. Make up a quote, attribute it to a vile enemy, and bingo, you've helped (further) delegitimize an option that may make sense -- unless you're a financial capitalist.

In any event, the hoax Marx quote is certainly an interesting sign of the times. I can only hope that it will inspire more careful analysis of our current economic mess, rather than fearful reaction against 'un-American' ideas that may help us out of our dicey situation.

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