PLSC 118: The Moral Foundations of Politics

Lecture 12

 - The Marxian Failure and Legacy


We previously established that the reality of scarcity invalidates Marx’s core idea of superabundance, and mortally wounds his theory. Certainly, his historical predictions about worker-led socialist revolutions around the world were off-mark. Today, Professor Shapiro presents more of the shortcomings of the Marxian tradition. These include Marx’s failure to account for the ability of the state to buttress capitalism and stave off the conditions needed for its self-destruction, the lack of a declining tendency in the economy-wide rate of profit, and the incoherence of a labor theory of value. It becomes clear that the Marxian theory is riddled with holes. However, Marx does leave two important legacies in his wake: a good critique of markets as distributors of either good or harms in society, and a power-based argument about freedom.

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PLSC 118 - Lecture 12 - The Marxian Failure and Legacy

Chapter 1. Failures of Marxism and the Legacies of Marxism [00:00:00]

Professor Ian Shapiro: Okay, this morning we’re going to finish talking about Marx, and we’re going to focus on the failures of Marxism and the legacies of Marxism, and the failures are connected to the legacies in important ways that we’ll unfold as we proceed with today’s discussion.

I began this already on Monday by talking about the difficulties with Marx’s assumptions about scarcity and superabundance. And we saw that just as Mill couldn’t banish politics from politics through the mechanism of a neutral definition of harm, Marx is unable to banish politics from politics by somehow wishing distributive conflict could, in principle, go away. We saw that that notion of superabundance that informs his communist utopia is incoherent in principle, and that means that distributive conflict is endemic to human society no matter how much wealth there is. And some principles for the distribution of income and wealth are going to have to be argued about and defended regardless of what is produced in society, or what could be produced in society.

The second failure of Marxism is well known, but we should, nonetheless, mention it, which is that his historical predictions turned out to be hopelessly wide of the mark. Not only was he wrong in 1830 and 1848 when he thought that communist revolutions were about to sweep through Europe. They were both (a) not communist and (b) quickly reversed, in any event, within a couple of years.

His larger historical predictions were also wrong. He thought communism would come, socialist revolutions, for reasons that you now know because we’ve worked through the macro theory. He thought that socialist revolutions would occur in advanced capitalist systems that had become uncompetitive because of the replacement of competitive capitalism with monopoly capitalism, and in fact where we saw revolutions bearing the communist label was in peasant societies: in Russia, and in China, or in Eastern Europe in countries where it was actually more or less imposed from the outside by the Soviet Union after World War II. We didn’t really see any society go through the sort of path Marx was thinking of in his larger teleological theory of history, namely from feudalism, to capitalism, to socialism, to communism. It simply didn’t happen.

And as the reversals of the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 remind us on a smaller scale, Marx’s bigger idea that there’s some purpose or direction to history seems questionable by the first decades of the twenty-first century. History doesn’t go in a single direction, and this is a theme to which we will return, but you can see movements toward more egalitarian systems and then movements away from egalitarian systems. You can see democracy created and then you can see it collapse into authoritarianism, so that there isn’t a single teleological or directional focus of history of the sort that Marx was looking for.

So on the big predictions, Marxism doesn’t look very good from the vantage point of the twenty-first century. But some of his smaller predictions were also wrong in ways that in some respect is more interesting for our purposes, and so I’m going to go back through some of his arguments and focus on things that were wrong with those arguments that we can, nonetheless, draw some interesting conclusions about as we go on our way in examining the moral foundations of politics.

And I’m going to start with his macro theory and talk about some difficulties with that, and then I’m going to go backwards into the micro theory. So we’re doing the reverse, if you like, of what we did on the way in. We started with the micro theory and we saw how that generated the macro theory. Now we’re going backwards through the macro theory, and then we will go back into the labor theory of value and the assumptions about workmanship that underlie it that he took over from Locke and secularized and modernized, as you know.

Chapter 2. Failures of Marxism: Macro Theory [00:05:01]

So if you’ll recall from Monday’s lecture, Marx’s macro theory was an invisible hand theory like Smith’s, except it was a malevolent invisible hand whereas Smith’s was a benign invisible hand. And one element of it was the argument about the potential for liquidity crises, that there would be the possibility that people would horde money, that money would stop flowing through the system, and the system would thereby become sclerotic.

It is the case that capitalist systems have the potential for liquidity crises, but one of the things Marx greatly underestimated was the capacity of capitalist states in capitalist societies to address things like liquidity crises and other things as well, we’ll see. It’s almost as if he didn’t really take it seriously when he and Engels said, in The Communist Manifesto, that the state in capitalist society is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. He underestimated what the state could actually do to preserve capitalism.

A good example, in the early years of this system was a huge liquidity crisis in Mexico where the whole Mexican economy was on the verge of complete collapse, but the western governments, led by the United States, put together a fifty billion dollar package to pump liquidity into the Mexican economy until the crisis was over, and they succeeded. And so we didn’t see the kind of collapse in the Mexican economy that that liquidity crisis had the potential to create. So the argument about the potential for liquidity crises is valid, but we have no particular reason to think they can’t be managed once the sources of liquidity crises are understood, and governments have the levers available to them that were made available to the Mexican government during the Clinton Administration in the U.S.

Secondly, Marx has this argument about the declining tendency in the rate of profit. As I said to you, every classical political economist believed that there was a declining tendency in the rate of profit in market systems, and they thought one of their jobs was to account for it. They thought it was definitely the case that there is this phenomenon, and you had to explain why it occurs. In fact, if we look over the long course of capitalism since the nineteenth century, it’s far from clear that there is, as an empirical matter, a long-term declining tendency in the rate of profit.

In Marx’s case, as you know, his story about the declining tendency and the rate of profit had to do with the increasing capital intensity of production. That as capitalists compete by relying more and more on what he calls constant capital, there’s less and less fresh value created, and so what capitalist entrepreneurs do at the margin to be more profitable in the medium run makes them less profitable. So the capitalist who puts the spinning jenny in increases his profits in the short run, but when there are spinning jennies in every cotton factory in the economy the rate of profit is lower than before the first spinning jenny had been put in. And Marx identified that as the basic dynamic driving the declining tendency in the rate of profit.

Two problems with it; one is that it assumes there’s this sort of finite number of industries. Because you could grant his argument and say, “Yeah, it’s true that the rate of profit in the cotton industry will fall as it becomes more and more capital intensive,” but there are all kinds of new industries that are going to come into being all the time. So capital will flow eventually into other industries and they’ll start out with big profit margins, and then the profit margins will get competed away, but then capital will so somewhere else. So unless you have this idea that there’s a sort of fixed number of lines or production such that once profits start to fall in all of them they’re going to fall economy-wide, there’s no particular reason, even working from Marx’s own premises, to think that he’s come up with any lasting account of why the rate of profit would fall in capitalist systems.

Moreover, even putting that problem to one side, if you think about it, even if it is the case that making production more capital-intensive reduces profit margins in the long run, nonetheless, if productivity goes up at a more rapid rate than capital displaces labor in the production process then you wouldn’t necessarily see the rate of profit fall. So if the rate of increase in productivity exceeds the rate at which capital is displacing labor, or to put it in Marx’s jargon, constant capital is displacing variable capital, then there’s actually no reason to expect the rate of profit to fall. So it all depends on how much more productive capital makes labor, and there’s no theoretical answer to that question. It’s an empirical question. So even though Marx thought there was a declining tendency in the rate of profit it’s debatable whether in fact there is, and it’s certainly not the case that his theory explained why it should occur.

His third argument, competition eliminates competitors, and because production is becoming more and more capital intensive, entry costs are going up and you’re not going to see new people coming in to the market. I told the story about NASA and the O-rings on the Challenger blowing up. There was nobody to come into the market and take over then, so you have a monopoly, a not-very-efficient monopoly producer who lacks the incentive to innovate, and we have the sorts of problems we saw that developed with Morton Thiokol in that instance.

So that’s also true only under a fairly restrictive set of assumptions which might not turn out to be true. After all, there are some industries in which there are economies of smallness. Think about Apple Computers invented in somebody’s garage in California completely upending IBM and the big established capital-intensive computer firms, and totally transforming that market. So it’s not necessarily true.

Marx had in his mind nineteenth-century industrial production, steel works, cotton factories, this sort of thing, but it’s a very historically-bounded perception of what it is that goes on in economic systems. And there might be all sorts of sectors in the economy that tend to resist the development of monopolies, and in which there are various economies of smallness that actually lend themselves to the constant entry of new players that keep revitalizing the system. And I think the information technology revolution that has accompanied your generation would be exhibit A in defending that proposition.

Under-consumption, or sometimes it’s said over-production, obviously it means the same thing. The way we put it into Marx’s sort of conceptual scheme was the argument that the workers collectively couldn’t buy everything they produced. Smith believed that. Ricardo believed that. Marx believed that, and early theories of imperialism were partly dreamed up in order to explain that; that you get imperialism partly as a result of the search for new markets to address the endemic weak demand in capitalist systems.

Marx is not the only person who thought there was endemic weak demand in capitalist systems. Indeed, Keynes, the great English economist of the first half of the twentieth century, and the theorist whose ideas informed the policies to end the Depression also thought there was endemic weak demand in capitalist systems because of a diminishing marginal propensity to consume. Keynes’ idea was if you have no money and I give you a dollar you’ll spend it, but if you have a million dollars and I give you a dollar you’ll save it. And so when you get into recessions the problem is weak demand, and so you get the Keynesian answer to recessions or depressions is to spend money at the bottom, for governments to do that largely through borrowing.

And this is, of course, what first, the George W. Bush Administration in its final year, and then the Obama Administration in its first year, have been doing. A classic Keynesian response to what’s now being called The Great Recession to prevent it from becoming a great depression. Namely, the state borrows money, tries to spend it in the part of the economy that will stimulate demand and then will get the economy going back up. So, again, this is an example of Marx’s chronic underestimation of the capacity of the state to do things that will stave off crises, or manage crises, or prevent them from becoming catastrophically bad. And so I think we’ve seen a vivid illustration of that in the last couple of years.

Finally, working class consciousness; as all of these other things were going on and making the system creak at the joints and become less and less functional, Marx thought that the workers would start to become a class-for-itself. The workers would start to see that they were getting ripped off and get angry about it, become mobilized and militant, and reach the point where they believe that they had nothing to lose but their chains.

Now there are two problems with that. One we already mentioned last Wednesday. This is that Marx was half-right in thinking that people judge their utility by what others get. They don’t just ask the Reagan question, “Am I better off than I was four years ago,” they do pay attention to what others get, but they generally, and this is the part where he was wrong and a hundred years of industrial sociology has now pretty much established this, they tend to compare themselves to similarly-situated people.

So workers in the auto industry compare themselves to steel workers or coal workers, not to the executives who run the firms in which they actually work, and that’s true up and down the occupational scale. I think I mentioned a professor would be much more upset to learn that their salary is five thousand dollars less than the professor in the next office than they will be to learn that their salary is five hundred thousand dollars less than the attorney who lives down the street. People compare themselves to others, but to similarly-situated others, not to people very far from them in the socioeconomic order. And so that kind of militancy doesn’t eventuate.

More importantly, Marx actually conflates the relative immiseration of the proletariat with the absolute immiseration of the proletariat. So if we went back through the slides and we went back to the discussion of the theory of exploitation, remember when we did that little exercise and we saw that you would all actually agree to be more exploited on his definition than less exploited when you had the choice of either going to a ten-hours working day with new technology or an eleven-hours working day without it.

But that measure was a relative measure. It was what you get as a proportion of the total surplus as compared with what the capitalist gets. It wasn’t an absolute measure, and we saw that it’s perfectly possible for the rate of exploitation, as he defines it, to go up while the level of wages remains constant or even increases. So wages might be going up as well as exploitation at the same time. Well, but if that’s true you’re never going to reach absolute immiseration. You’re never going to actually reach the point where workers are literally falling into poverty. And if it’s the absolute immiseration that has to trigger the militant action, the working class consciousness, it’s not going to happen.

And indeed, here again Marx greatly underestimated what governments can do to make sure that the workers don’t reach the point where they have nothing to lose but their chains. In the 1950s, an English Marxian political economist called Ralph Miliband, whose son now is a British cabinet member, by the way, David Miliband, and is the likely next leader of the Labor Party after they lose the elections in May to David Cameron. David Miliband’s father, Ralph, wrote a book called The State in Capitalist Society in the 1950s — I think it was 1954 but don’t hold me to it — in which he said, “The welfare state is capitalism’s best friend.” The right always attacks the welfare state, but it’s capitalism’s best friend because it buys off working class discontent, and it ensures that workers have a stake in the existing order, and that they will never reach this preverbal situation where they have nothing to lose but their chains.

So when you work your way through this macro theory it’s riddled with holes and doesn’t add up to the collapse of capitalism and not, therefore, particularly surprising that capitalism didn’t collapse in the ways that Marx predicted.

Chapter 3. Failures of Marxism: Micro Theory [00:21:52]

But now let’s dig in a little bit more to the micro theory, and the micro foundations of Marx’s thinking, because I think this is where we will find some interesting lessons for our own project in this course going forward.

At the heart of the micro theory is the labor theory of value, and we’re going to say something about three aspects of it. We’re going to talk about Marx’s assumptions about living human labor, the moral argument behind the labor theory of value, which many people you will find in this room find appealing despite the problems with the labor theory of value, and then some alternative formulations of what it is that he was trying to do.

If you think back to when we were doing the exposition of the labor theory of value I said that Marx defends it, living human labor-power as a source of value, by saying it’s the only thing that creates fresh surplus value, okay? So one difficulty is, and John Roemer points this out in that piece that I had you read, it ignores the contribution of dead workers. That living workers, for instance, when we talked about the introduction of machinery, the spinning jenny or whatever, what about the workers who made the spinning jenny? Aren’t they part of this calculation? Aren’t they being exploited either by the capitalist or by the living workers who use the spinning jenny? So if you took it seriously you’d have to say those exploitation indexes are way too simple because they don’t capture the contribution of dead workers.

But then a second thing it doesn’t capture, the labor theory value assumes the capitalist contributes what, nothing? But why isn’t it the case that the labor that the capitalist performs also goes into the creation of the surplus? And again, I think you’ve got to imagine, get yourself back into this nineteenth-century mindset where intellectual work doesn’t seem particularly important. You’re just running these big factories. But, of course, when we think about what the role of entrepreneurial ideas is in the creation of productive systems, it’s absurd to say that the work of the capitalist doesn’t contribute anything to the value of what’s produced. But then you get into the problem, well, how do you discover what is the result of the work of the worker and what is the result of the work of capitalist, and there’s no mechanism for dealing with that.

And then what about the fact that the worker in Marx’s typical model has a spouse at home feeding him, making his sandwiches as he goes to the factory and so on and so forth. What about the spouse at home? Why is it just the worker who’s being exploited? And various theorists have said if you take Marxism seriously on its own premises, it seems that, again, just as with the dead worker, the stay-at-home spouse is either being exploited indirectly by the capitalist or is being exploited by the worker who goes to work for whom she is doing unpaid labor. And so we’ve had a series of feminist critiques of the labor theory of value. 

And this gets recognized in daily life. There is a very interesting 1986 divorce case in the State of New York in which a couple had gotten married, he had gone to medical school, she had stayed at home and darned his socks and made sandwiches for him, and helped him through medical school. Anyway, many years later they get divorced. And apart from the usual issues in the divorce, the court said that the stay-at-home wife had a property interest in her husband’s medical practice that was a byproduct of the work that she had put into it by darning his socks and making his sandwiches, and he went to class and built up his practice. And so they awarded her a forty percent property interest in the practice and required him to maintain life insurance in her name for the rest of his life so that her property interest could be protected.

So what you can see once you start to do this, you know, I’ve just given three areas where this runs into trouble, once you take seriously the idea that labor-power, the capacity to work, is the source of value, why zero-in in this monomaniacal way on what one worker does in the production process? What about all of the others who contribute to the productivity of the process either directly as with the capitalist or indirectly? And of course once you make this point about the stay-at-home spouse, what about the Sunday school teacher that drummed the work ethic into the worker? Didn’t that Sunday school teacher contribute something to the productivity of the worker and so on? So you’re going to get this huge web of indecipherable entangled entitlements if you’re trying to trace out who contributed what work to the creation of something of value.

More fundamentally let’s dig into the assumption that making creates entitlements. After all, for Marx this is what seems to give the theory its ideological edge. As I said, it’s a secular version of Locke’s workmanship. It’s the claim that workers produce something for which they’re not compensated. They produce something and the capitalist takes it, right? That’s the claim. And when we were doing the exposition of that I said that what differentiates labor-power from all other commodities is that it’s necessary for the production of every commodity. It’s the common denominator of all commodities.

Remember I gave you the example; I said if I have a certain amount of money and I spend it on a meal, I consume the meal and it’s gone, whereas if I spend it paying somebody to paint my house, at the end of having consumed their labor-power I have a more valuable house. If I go to sell the house I’m going to get more from it than I would have gotten but for not having had it painted. And so that’s the idea that the consumption of living human labor-power leads to the creation of fresh exchange value, whereas mere consumption of a meal doesn’t. 

Terrible argument. What’s wrong with it? Nobody can see what’s wrong with it? Come on. It’s a terrible argument, hopelessly bad argument, anybody? Yes, ma’am?

Student: Could the meal’s value be that it keeps you alive?

Professor Ian Shapiro: Say a little more. You’re dead right.

Student: So the meal, even though you can only use it once, it is necessary for the sustained value of yourself.

Professor Ian Shapiro: Okay, and just take that thought a little further. Where does it go? You’re dead right.

Student: So the value is constant, or something?

Professor Ian Shapiro: Well, not exactly, but the point is it’s just wrong to say when I consume that food it goes, because after all I have more calories of energy which I could then use to paint my own house with, let’s say. Of course I might sit on the couch and watch the Super Bowl and just get fat, but that’s my own decision, right? I can use that energy to paint the house.

So a very interesting Cambridge economist called Piero Sraffa wrote a book called The Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities. Even though it’s about an 80-page book, it took him thirty years to write. That’s a whole different story which I don’t have time to go into. But this is what he said that’s of interest to us. He said, “Imagine an economy that has three commodities, corn, books, food, I’m sorry, corn, books, labor. Corn is food; corn, books and labor.

Yes, it’s true that it takes labor to produce corn and to produce books. Yes it’s true that it does not take books to produce corn or labor, but it’s not true that it doesn’t require corn to produce labor and books. So corn, or food, or anything that’s necessary for the production of labor-power is going to have the same property that labor-power has. It’s going to be present necessarily, directly or indirectly, in all lines of production.

And so Sraffa said, based on that idea, you can do a corn theory of value for this economy that will have exactly the same mathematical properties as the labor theory of value, and then you can have your theory of the exploitation of corn by capital, the rate of exploitation of corn by capital that will be exactly analogous to the rate of the exploitation of labor by capital. There’s no difference, mathematically identical.

Why is that interesting to us? It’s interesting to us because it shows you that whatever Marx says about exploitation merely being a technical notion, it’s not. It’s a moral idea. Colloquially we talk about the exploitation of natural resources, but we don’t say that the corn owns what was produced with the corn. We don’t say the corn was exploited in the way the worker was exploited, we just don’t.

Think about an intermediate case; the horse down a mineshaft in a coalmine hauling trucks of coal from the face to the elevator that’s going to take it out. We could do the whole Marxian story. We could say the horse covers the cost of its feed in the first hour of the day, and it works ten-hour days, so the other nine hours it’s producing surplus that accrues to somebody other than the horse. Is the horse exploited? Yes? No? Nobody thinks the horse isn’t exploited. 

So a much trickier case, and the reason it’s tricky is some people are much more open to the idea of animal rights than others, right? So Locke said animals were the waste of God put there for our use, but we’re not that hard-hearted, some of us. So if you think of the horse as in some sense a kind of moral agent then it’s not a happy thing that it’s being exploited in this sense. But whether or not we want to say the exploitation is unjust — not just cruel if the horse is suffering, but unjust — depends upon some prior idea that creatures are entitled to the product of their labor.

That’s the workmanship idea. And that is why even if you reject the labor theory of value, you’re still left with this nagging idea that there’s something to workmanship. Most people are not going to want to totally get rid of workmanship. If I write a book I think, “I put all that blood, sweat, and tears into that book, it’s mine. It’s mine, my work.” Somebody takes it, “You’ve stolen something that I made.” It’s a very powerful thing in people. 

But not everybody accepts it, right? Not everybody accepts this idea, this very individualist-centric conception that we own what we make. We have this kind of exclusive — to go back to the language of Locke in The First Treatise, that God made us with the capacity to be miniature gods, to have the same ownership rights over what we make as he has over his creation.

Look at Chief Seattle. He has a very different view. “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Very different view of the world and our place in it; not man-centric.

One of the reasons we start this course with Locke is this is where the individualism comes from. It’s this workmanship ideal. Doesn’t look individualist at all in Locke’s formulation because at the end of the day, it’s a theological argument; it’s an argument about God having maker’s rights over his whole creation. But it’s the move of saying we are miniature gods that can behave in a god-like fashion, and then secularizing it, which leads to the individualism.

Or consider something that Robert Nozick, a writer we’re going to read later in the class, pretty soon, actually, starting next week — he makes fun of the labor theory of value. He says,

Why does mixing one’s labor with something make one the owner of it? Perhaps because one owns one’s labor (self-ownership, if you like), and so one comes to own a previously unowned thing that becomes permeated with what one owns. Ownership seeps over into the rest. But why isn’t mixing what I own with what I don’t own a way of losing what I own rather than a way of gaining what I don’t? If I own a can of tomato juice and spill it into the sea, so that its molecules (made radioactive, so I can check this) mingle evenly throughout the sea, do I thereby come to own the sea, or have I foolishly dissipated my tomato juice?

Why is it that we want to say when I put effort and energy into something that it’s mine? Very, very perplexing and tricky thing and we will come back to it in considerably more detail later in the course when we read John Rawls, because interestingly it’s not until we get to John Rawls that we find anyone who’s really willing to radically question workmanship and the self-ownership postulate that goes with it.

Okay, so Marxism seems problematic, so what’s left? And I think there are really two main things left. One is a negative argument that comes out of Marxism, rather than any of its positive claims, and that is the fact that his theory of exploitation fails doesn’t mean that he lacks a good critique of markets as distributors of either good or harms in society. We could go back to our story about Trump and the bag lady, for example. The Pareto superior result in that example, if you remember, was for the bag lady to die because there was no Pareto superior exchange that could occur between Trump and the bag lady.

Markets reflect the inequalities that come into them, but they don’t give any account of the justice of those inequalities. So there’s this problem, if you like, of the tyranny of the status quo, and we saw that in the economic realm with the analysis of that problem, and in the political realm when we talked about the corn dealer problem with Mill, right? That the market systems are biased towards the status quo, but market principles are purely procedural principles. They tell you nothing about how you got the status quo, and so there’s a kind of garbage-in/garbage-out problem with market systems.

Nozick, we will see, makes this point explicit when he says any remotely plausible theory of justice is going to have to have three parts, a theory of justice in acquisition (i.e. a theory of staring points), a theory of justice in transfer (i.e. a theory of exchanges), and a theory of the rectification of past injustice (i.e. a theory for addressing accumulated injustices of the past). And Nozick will, for reasons which we will go into, thinks he has accounts of all of those things.

But it’s the negative argument of Marxism, that markets are not justified by reference to the failure of Marx’s own alternative theory, is good. If you’re going to have a justification for the distribution that occurs through markets it’s going to have to be something else. It’s going to have to be provided. Maybe it can be provided, but so far in the utilitarian and neoclassical traditions it hasn’t been provided. So there’s a kind of unfinished agenda there that’s put on the table by the Marxian critique of markets even though Marx’s answer to that problem, is unconvincing.

And then I think secondly what Marxism leaves us to address is not an argument about the sources of value. The labor theory of value is just a hopeless analytical mess, and can’t be resuscitated. There’s no way to fix the labor theory of value. But there is an argument about freedom. Remember where we started; I said unlike the conventional wisdom that Marx is an egalitarian, no. He’s a theorist of freedom. His utopian ideal is a world in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all, where our labor in not alienated. We saw that the utopian version of that is unsustainable.

Nonetheless, Marx’s definition of class, when you think about it, is really an argument about freedom. When he says you’re working class if you have to sell your labor power to somebody else in order to live, it’s the compulsion, right? It’s the compulsion. It’s not whether you choose to. I like lecturing here having a captive audience of people who have to listen to me ramble on endlessly. It makes me feel good, but that’s not what makes me working class, right? It’s that I have to work for somebody else in order to survive. It’s that element of compulsion. That’s your lack of freedom.

So as Roemer puts it in the essay that I put on the syllabus, it’s that there’s a class monopoly of the means of production which creates that power; that some people have the power to insist that other people work for them. So it’s really not about the calculus of contributions and who puts what, and whether the rate of exploitation’s two point three-three, or one point six or anything. It’s not about that. It’s really about the distribution of power in the production process. And if we’re going to take anything from Marx that is of enduring value it’s going to be an argument about power. It’s going to be an argument which says that a world in which we organize things so that one class effectively has power to control a different class’s behavior, that is an unjust world. And much of the neo-Marxist literature that people take seriously jettisons the labor theory of value and explores this power-based argument as the root of what it was Marx was trying to get at with the concept of exploitation. See you on Monday.

[end of transcript]

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