A Post-Work Proletariat? Marxist Thought and The End of Labor

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In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could. — Rüdiger “Rudi” Dornbusch

 

Technology fundamentally changes the relationship between labor and capital. As machines get better producing the things that people need and want, humans may find it difficult to generate economic value from their work. In a future where this connection has been entirely severed, capitalism and economic self-interest cease to provide structure for society. New organizing principles are needed. Utilitarianism is well suited to fill this vacuum and Marxist thought offers a pragmatic framework for implementing utilitarian impulses in the political and economic domain.

In his seminal work, The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx popularized the notion of the proletariat as an impoverished class of industrial wage-laborers. By his definition, the class of people that compose the substrate of the proletariat has not existed in developed countries since the early 1900s. Furthermore, the potential for a worker’s revolution seems to be rendered inert if we posit that the end of labor itself is near.

However, the etymology of the word, rather than its Marxist usage, suggests something different. The origins of the word ‘proletariat’ can be traced back to the Latin, proles, a word used in the Roman census to describe the lowest class: those whose only contribution to society was having children. In a future where human labor has been entirely divorced from economic productivity, most individuals in society would have no utility beyond passing their genes on to the next generation. Severing the link between economic productivity and human labor threatens to create an idle class, a new proletariat, who are incapable of providing economic value to society. This post-work proletariat will not be defined by wage-labor, but by an idleness brought about through labor market inadequacies.

Will this idle class be destitute and penniless: abandoned by a system of resource allocation that made their labor an anachronism? It is not difficult to imagine, in a society such as this, an elite class, that controls the means of production, consolidating an unprecedented degree of power and wealth. This Luddite vision of the future conceives of automation as a profoundly destructive force, one that could transform inclusive democracy into a bourgeois oligarchy.

However, to others, automation is a panacea. These proponents of technological innovation envision a type of fully-automated “luxury communism” — the means of production owned collectively and operating autonomously — where every material desire can be made real (for free!) by an intelligent robot. For these people, the end of labor is not a harbinger of collapse, but rather a freedom so elusive that humanity had myopically believed it impossible. Should we dare to hope for such an outcome? What should be our aspirations for a society without work and what principles should guide us?

Outcomes are important. This is the lesson taught by utilitarian thinkers. Actions, individuals and societies should be judged upon their consequences, their outputs. Society should aspire to produce the best outcomes for the greatest number of its citizens. When viewed through this lens, success is merely a maximization problem. How should society allocate finite resources in a manner that maximizes the quality of life of individuals living in it?

Marx provides a utilitarian theory of allocation: communal ownership. Rather than following the capitalist model, in which certain individuals are entitled to the immense wealth spun off from their private enterprises, Marx contends that the profits of industry should be distributed “to each according to his need.” In The Utilitarianism of Marx and Engels, Derek Allen discusses the utilitarian underpinning to Marxist teleology:

Marx contends that, since wages and profits vary inversely, “the interests of capital and the interests of wage labour are diametrically opposed.” Whatever enriches the capitalist impoverishes the worker. … Whatever is in bourgeois interests is against the interests of the majority of society. To secure freedom for the majority wage labor must be abolished

The nature of the accumulation of capital results in an expanding underclass of laborers and a shrinking bourgeois minority. The end point of capitalism, as Marx understood it, is extreme wealth inequality. When a vast majority create no economic value and are therefore incapable of providing for themselves, the system is broken. Utilitarianism does not privilege the rights of the minority at the expense of the majority. Thus, the utilitarian response to this inequality is to strive for a more equitable distribution of wealth.

However, there is no use in pining for a utopian society that only can exist in theory. Progress is path dependent. Humanity’s future is a function of today’s conditions. Rather imagining the elements of an ideal society, pragmatism suggests looking for sources to guide the development of an attainable one. The work of Karl Marx not only provides a theoretical optimum — communal ownership of the means of production — but also a realistic pathway to its realization. While his original theory of an industrial working class rising up against its capitalist oppressors has proven false, an updated teleology predicated on the end of labor regains intellectual vitality.

 

Automation and Society After Labor

Automation ultimately renders human labor obsolete and magnifies the return on capital. While vast swaths of workers face declining wages, a small class of capitalists capture the growing profits that previously were spread more broadly. The end of labor centralizes wealth, while simultaneously seeing the emergence of an idle proletariat.

The age of automation became inevitable the day the first computer was created. The steady march of innovation has reduced the typical computer’s physical size, lowered its price, and simultaneously increased its computing power. For decades, this ongoing technological innovation complemented, rather than replaced, human labor. Computers could not perform the physical tasks done easily by humans. Basic intuitions about cause and effect were out of the reach of machines. In the words of Steven Pinker “hard problems [were] easy and the easy problems [were] hard.” This paradox seemed to be an inviolable law of artificial intelligence. However, in recent years skills that were once considered deep within the domain of human expertise, such as vision and the language processing, have been replicated by deep learning programs.

“The Great Decoupling” that Andre McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson describe in The Second Machine Age is the manifestation of the shift from technology that enhances human labor to that which supplants. While economic productivity continues to increase, wages stagnate. The wealth generated by artificial labor is captured by a tiny fraction of society, those who control capital, rather than the broad middle class that used to work for wages.

The dynamics that Marx witnessed during the industrial revolution now play out again with greater intensity. Marx, while wrong in many ways, was prescient in others. In Wage-Labor & Capital, he outlines the cyclical force of competition, the tension between the wage-laborer and the capitalist, and the teleology of capitalism. He describes the dynamics of automation: “Machinery produces the same effects [as competition between workers], but upon a much larger scale. … [W]here newly introduced, it throws workers upon the streets in great masses.” Automation is the process by which capital is substituted for labor. Automated machinery replaces human labor at a fraction of the cost, often with greater accuracy and speed. Human workers simply cannot compete. In discussing how machines reduce the wages of workers, Marx also explains how automation expands the size of the new proletariat:

In addition, the working class is also recruited from the higher strata of society; a mass of small business men and of people living upon the interest of their capitals is precipitated into the ranks of the working class, and they will have nothing else to do than to stretch out their arms alongside of the arms of the workers. Thus the forest of outstretched arms, begging for work, grows ever thicker, while the arms themselves grow every leaner.

Automation devalues labor and multiplies capital. Economies of scale and winner-take-all effects sharply bifurcate society. The winners, who control the automated machinery, win big. Yet the losers, far greater in number, are left with virtually nothing. This includes the middle and upper-middle class that succeeded in a society where labor retained its value. The lawyers, the doctors, the civil engineers that composed the professional class will also join “the forest of outstretched arms, begging for work” as their jobs are automated.

Eventually society reaches an inflection point. Without new rules, the end result is dystopia. With new rules, utopia is possible. The outcome depends on whether society adopts inclusive, redistributionist policies or chooses to continue traditional practices of laissez faire capitalism. If the political economy can adjust to the realities of automation by providing for the idle class, the future will tend towards “luxury communism” rather than Luddite dystopia. However, if no changes take place, the gap between the richest and the poorest will continue to grow.

Marx would predict that the new proletariat, by nature of its majority, should be able to enact socialist and redistributionist policies. Though he foresaw the need for violent revolution, it is possible that an inclusive democracy might make such extremism unnecessary. If these changes are enacted, society might look radically different than it does today, but the outcomes would be broadly beneficial. The immense wealth generated by automation could be shared with the workers whose labor has been replaced. The means of production do not need to be seized, but the profits generated would redistributed to those made idle.

From this perspective, the post-labor society should be judged by how effectively it implements utilitarian principles. To be sure, such redistribution infringes on deontological property rights and would be judged harshly by libertarians. However, a utilitarian would see that, while a minority is dissatisfied when their wealth is taxed, the benefits to society overall outweigh their concern.

 

Criticisms of Teleology & Marxism

Of course it is necessary to defend any teleology against events that change fundamental assumptions. Teleology is merely an extrapolation from present trends that seems to lead inexorably to a singular outcome. Marx’s original teleology suggested that industrial manufacturing would be the final iteration of the capitalist system — he did not foresee the shift among western nations to a service-oriented economy or the massive wealth that would be unlocked by the Internet revolution. In presenting a similar, albeit updated, teleology, it’s important to outline the most important assumption that are necessary for its realization: human labor must become, for all intents and purposes, obsolete. If there were still ways for a critical mass of individuals to engage in economically productive behavior, transitioning from capitalism would remain difficult.

It’s also important to address the criticisms of Marxism more generally. Marx’s revolutionary teleology has proven incorrect in many ways. The industrial collapse envisioned by Marx failed to occur. His imagined legions of revolutionary workers never materialized. His ideology of revolution coopted by professional revolutionaries, rather than the workers who it was meant for. Criticisms of Marxist thought tend to fixate on its inability to forecast the broad prosperity that would spring from capitalism.

This is a misunderstanding of Marx’s argument. The proletarian revolt is but a revolution deferred. Marx believed that the worker uprising would come at the peak of capitalism, as the system imploded — not that worker’s could never benefit under a capitalist system. Indeed, in Wage-Labor & Capital, he writes that “the rapid growth of capital is the most favorable condition for wage-labour” as the growth of capital implies increasing employment, other externalities of capitalism notwithstanding. By replacing labor entirely with capital, automation will bring about both the peak and the end of capitalism. This is the critical moment when the capitalist system could evolve or be replaced. Whether this development takes the form of abrupt revolution or incremental change depends on how the transition is managed.

Beyond Marx’s failure as a prognosticator, further criticisms of Marxism attack the expropriation and redistribution that is inherent in the theory. This is the libertarian critique. Property rights are at the core of libertarianism. To philosophers like John Locke and Robert Nozick, the defense of such rights is the sole legitimate purpose of government action. A strong defense of property seems to preclude redistribution. Yet a reexamination of Locke’s Labor Theory of Property, under the assumption that human labor is economically irrelevant, shows that Locke’s and Marx’s views are quite compatible. The Labor Theory of Property, which provides the intellectual underpinning for the libertarian conception of property rights, states that property is derived through mixing personal labor with a natural resource:

The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.

Without labor, the libertarian understanding of property breaks down. In a future where robot automatons can  produce any good, who owns their output?  If no labor input was required, by what principle should the capitalist be the sole beneficiary? There is no obvious justification for property rights. Indeed, An elite bourgeois minority that captures all the economic output without mixing in their (or any) labor is an easy target for redistributionist efforts. Separating human labor from economic productivity debases the Lockean justification for property rights. In this context, the abolition of property rights is hard to criticize when the institution of private property itself has been rendered obsolete.

This paper is not intended as a broad defense of Marxism as it could exist in the world today, but rather an exploration of whether Marxist principles have anything to say about organizing society after the end of labor. Automation, by substituting human labor for capital, accelerates the centralized accumulation of wealth. Those who control capital stand to benefit disproportionately, while workers who are replaced lose their income. The structure of society must change if it is to withstand the economic shock of the end of labor. Marxist thought is relevant as it suggests a vision for society, undergirded by sound utilitarian logic, which would be capable of doing so.

While “luxury communism” seems somewhat fantastical, I am hopefully optimistic that, in the short term, redistributionist policies such as a negative income tax or a universal basic income will ease the transition from a labor to a post-labor economy. A socialist society, where the economic benefits of automation are distributed more broadly, will be better equipped to manage and mitigate wealth inequality than a capitalist society that refuses to address the problem.

 

 

Bibliography

Allen, Derek P. H. “The Utilitarianism of Marx and Engels.” American Philosophical Quarterly 10, no. 3 (1973): 189-99. http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/20009494.

 

Merchant, Brian. “Fully automated luxury communism.” The Guardian, March 18th, 2015.

 

Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. The second machine age: work, progress, and prosperity in the time of brilliant technologies. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

 

Marx, Karl. 1978. Wage labour and capital. Foreign Languange Press Peking.

 

Locke, John, 1632-1704. The Second Treatise of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration. Oxford :B. Blackwell, 1948.

 

No Shortcuts to Democracy: A Refutation of Rapid Democratization

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In “Economic Backwardness in a Historical Perspective,” Alexander Gershenkron suggests that there are certain advantages that exist for nations that industrialize comparatively late. Does delayed democratization have similar advantages? The notion that latecomers to a process have advantages is seductive to modernization optimists, but doesn’t hold water when applied generally. Democratization and industrialization are two very different processes and the advantages afforded to Gershenkron’s “backwards” nations don’t apply to democratization. Namely, unlike industrialization, democratization does not benefit from being sped up. It’s decidedly more difficult for countries to democratize successfully after major world powers have already undergone the process because pressures, primarily exogenous in nature, ensure that late democratization is rapid democratization. When rushed, the process of democratization doesn’t furnish enough time for necessary cultural transitions to take place, leading to the formation of competitive authoritarian regimes rather than the consolidation of democracies.

First, a note of terminology: for the purposes of this paper the process of democratization, is just that: a processes. The phrase does not presuppose its completion; that a state transitions to an established democracy. When a regime is referred to as democratizing rapidly, it does not suggest that the regime becomes a democracy more quickly, but rather that various stages of the process are attempted more quickly than when compared to the path taken by more established western democracies.

Stable democracies in the West have, historically, required time to mature; time for the norms of political competition to develop and for systems of mutual security to be worked out. For Robert Dahl, this process is fluid. In “Polyarchy,” Dahl outlines a matrix describing the different stages of democratization, one dimension being the level of public contestation that is acceptable and the other the level of participation that a regime allows. The extent of public contestation varies with the competitiveness of the regime, that is, the capability for dissenting political positions and opposing parties. Participation, on the other axis, is a proxy for suffrage. The inclusiveness of a regime increases as suffrage expands (Dahl 206).

Dalh continues to define three main paths that can be taken from a state of closed hegemony to one of polyarchy, his term for an idealized democracy. This paper will focus on the gradual first path —the slowest and most common— approximating the developmental paths of England and Sweden, and then the perilous third path —the most rapid. On the first path, liberalization precedes inclusiveness or, in other words, competitive politics come before an expansion in participation. Political life is allowed, but only to a narrow minority. With the intensity of any conflicts tampered by similar ideologies and backgrounds, this ruling elite gradually develops the rules and practices of competitive politics. Dahl makes it clear that this search for a system of mutual guarantees is “likely to be complex and time consuming” but is entirely necessary for political conflict to be “safe to tolerate” (Dahl 221). Then, political norms already exist when members of a lower stratum of society are included in the democracy. This route is common among established, stable democracies.

Alternatively, the fastest path that traverses this matrix is the third path — Dahl’s shortcut, in which “a closed hegemony is abruptly transformed into a polyarchy by a sudden grant of universal suffrage and rights of public contestation” (Dahl 219). France’s transition from monarchy to fledgling democracy marks the beginning of the modern struggle for European democracy. Dahl cites France as one example of a democracy that took his third path to polyarchy — the shortcut — and succeeded. The French Revolution was a discontinuity, a shock which left France political inclusive and open to public contestation. Yet this was a brief moment of success. The blood letting of The Terror shows that this regime quickly reverted back from Liberté, Egalité, Fraternit. Less than a decade later, France would once again be under a monarch. Followed later, by a military dictatorship (Berman 288). Today, France is an established democracy, but the process of French democratization was not linear or rapid. It was a protracted, violent struggle that, from start to finish, took more than 150 years (Berman 292). Dahl is mistaken, his third path is a chimera, an accelerated transition from authoritarianism to stable democracy is not possible.

Late democratization tends to be rapid democratization due to external two factors, (1) the loss of legitimacy of authoritarianism, and (2) the pressure produced by the international demonstration effect. First, in the post Cold War environment the minimum standard for the legitimacy of a state was raised — blatant authoritarianism was no longer acceptable on the world stage if a regime wanted any degree of respectibility (or foreign aid). In it’s theoretical form espoused by Samuel Huntington, democratization is composed of three discrete steps, the end of an authoritarian regime, the installation of a democratic regime, and the consolidation that regime. International pressure can assist countries with the first two steps. As blatant authoritarianism is no longer viable, authoritarian regimes often created superficially democratic institutions of their own accord as “granting suffrage can clothe the [a] hegemony with the symbols and some of the legitimacy of ‘democracy’ — at little cost” (Dahl 221). This, to an observer, looks like democratization.

Second, the international demonstration effect suggests that the expectation of democracy is elevated in countries that are close geographically or culturally to other countries, in which the process of democratization is successful (Huntington 371). During England’s gradual march toward democracy, no expectations existed. The average British citizen did not presume to have a say in the functioning of the state. This afforded the British elite time to reach systems of mutual security and develop political norms. For late democratizers, the fruits of democracy are known and widely desired. There is less patience among the public to wait. “In Poland democratization took ten years, in Hungary ten months, in East Germany ten weeks, in Czechoslovakia ten days and in Romania ten hours” (Huntington 373). These periods are just blips when compared to the centuries it took England to transition from monarchy to democracy. Democratizing at this rate “drastically shortens the time for learning complex skills and understandings and for arriving at what may be an extremely subtle system of mutual security” (Dahl 220). The cumulative effect of these pressures pushed many countries to begin to democratize quickly. And as could be expected, the outcomes were mixed.

To Gershenkron, the key lesson of late industrialization was that “relatively backwards” countries could attain similar levels of development at an accelerated rate. The distinct trajectories of Russian industrialization and democratization demonstrate that simply maximizing the speed of these processes can lead to different outcomes. The narrative of Russian industrialization is a story of unprecedented success. Russia industrialized faster than any nation in history. The process began late — after most other European countries — and still caught up within a span of decades. Russian industry was criticized as being “altogether imitative” but the results speak for themselves (Gershenkron 39). Gerschenkron highlights the case of the blast furnace. The Russian state did not start with light industry and progress from there accordingly. It entered heavy industry with the full force of the Russian state behind the effort — capital was provided not from the private sector but rather from state coffers. The English, the first to industrialize, had blast furnaces used for iron and steal production. German furnaces out paced their English counterparts, only to, in turn, be surpassed by the Russians (Gershenkron 40). Rather than undertaking the slow meandering path of innovation, Russia simply aped the most modern technologies and techniques and managed to “outstrip” its competition.

Gershenkron’s theory describes Russia’s industrial dynamic, but falls short when the notion is applied to Russia’s attempted ‘democratization’ after the fall of the Soviet Union. Democratic structures, copied directly from established western democracies, were put into place. The Duma, the legislative branch of the Russian government, is an allochochonous structures — it’s not native to Russia, modeled instead off the British parlimentary system. Boris Yeltsin, the first elected president of Russia, on the other hand, was “of the soil.” He was a cultural product of a country that hadn’t yet developed mutual guarantees of security. He bombed the parliament when they disagreed with his executive actions (Levitsky, Week 5 Lecture). His reelection campaigns were rigged, with massive electoral fraud and the embezzlement of millions of rubles worth of government bonds siphoned off to his campaign. His successor, Vladimir Putin, further restricted public contestation by seizing control of major media outlets and jailing the owner of Russia’s largest oil company for supporting the opposition party (Levistky 384). Under Putin’s rule, the opposition party was suppressed to the point of nonexistence. Russia adopted the trappings of democracy — a federalist system, a parliament and an elected president — but that wasn’t enough. The norms of competitive politics could not be imported as easily as, say, a better blast furnace.

When applied to industrialization, this increased in rate is a decidedly positive outcome — the manifold benefits of modernization come in to reach more quickly. However, the net effect of increasing the velocity of the democratization process is less clear. Industrial technology and know-how can be transplanted, but political conventions cannot. Rather than culminating in an established democracy sooner, the half measures and shortcuts taken often lead to an altogether different sort of regime.

For many late democratizers, democratization efforts began and then subsequently fell short of their intended goals. If not democracies, what are these transitional regimes that superficially liberalize and expand participation, but stop before giving up any real power? Levitsky provides the answer — competitive authoritarian regimes. These regimes look superficially like democracies (this is the “cheapest concession possible”) but are distinctly different (Dahl 221). They have courts, elections, and all the trappings of democracy, yet the substance is lacking. These regimes are systematically biased against the opposition and use the apparatus of the state to maintain power. Using libel laws, tax audits and the courts opposition is driven underground (Levistky 385). Competitive authoritarian regimes are regimes where assurances of mutual security didn’t have time to develop — where a precarious regime left by a hasty democratization process was displaced by hegemony. Regimes like this occur when nations are forced to adopt the structure of a democracy without also undergoing profound cultural shifts.

A key lesson is that getting rid of an authoritarian regime is comparatively easy; creating a stable democratic regime in its place is where most fledgling democracies stumble. There is no blueprint for democracy. States are different — separated from one another by innumerable different “critical junctures,” each with a distinct political culture. For a democratic regime to consolidate, cultural shifts have to occur and, unlike the technical skills required for industrialization, these changes can’t be imported, copied or “borrowed” from abroad. They require time, perseverance, luck and occasionally violence. Western democracies have an interesting penchant for forgetting their own tumultuous past. Why does the West expect modern undemocratic regimes to democratize successfully in a time period measured in mere years, when they, themselves, took centuries? Cultural change is gradual. And there are no shortcuts.


 

Economic Backwardness in a Historical Perspective, Alexander Gerschenkron

Lessons from Europe, Sheri Berman

The Third Wave, Samuel Huntington

Competitive Authoritarianism, Steven Levitsky and Lucas A. Way

Polyarchy, Robert Dahl

Industrial Earthquakes

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“Finally, in the same measure in which the capitalists are compelled, by the movement described above, to exploit the already existing gigantic means of production on an ever-increasing scale, and for this purpose to set in motion all the mainsprings of credit, in the same measure do they increase the industrial earthquakes, in the midst of which the commercial world can preserve itself only by sacrificing a portion of its wealth, its products, and even its forces of production, to the gods of the lower world – in short, the crises increase. They become more frequent and more violent, if for no other reason, than for this alone, that in the same measure in which the mass of products grows, and therefore the needs for extensive markets, in the same measure does the world market shrink ever more, and ever fewer markets remain to be exploited, since every previous crisis has subjected to the commerce of the world a hitherto unconquered or but superficially exploited market.

But capital not only lives upon labour. Like a master, at once distinguished and barbarous, it drags with it into its grave the corpses of its slaves, whole hecatombs of workers, who perish in the crises.” (Marx, Wage Labor and Capital)

In Wage Labor and Capital, Karl Marx examines, what he views as, the structural instability of capitalism: its reliance on ever-expanding exploitation. Marx presents capitalism as a teleology — marching along an inexorable path towards a singular end, a crisis. This treatise, written in 1847, comes before his signature work “Das Kapital,” however it can be viewed as an significant precursor. In it, history is presented as a deterministic path and though it appears Marx has yet to come to his vision of a proletarian revolution — that would be articulated nearly two decades later — Marx already believed that capitalism was heading toward a catastrophe.

The ending of Wage Labor and Capital does not present an optimistic vision for the future, but also perhaps gets closer to Marx’s actual understanding of capitalism at the time. He envisions capitalists caught in an indefatigable cycle of expansion, “compelled” to exploit the means of production and yet, by doing so, increasing the fragility of the system that made them wealthy, leading to its ultimate destruction. At this point in his life, Marx believes that “capital not only live[d] upon labour” but also would die upon it too. He saw no outcome for the workers other than “perish[ing] in the crisis.” When he discusses the death of labor, Marx breaks from the analytical tone that he has kept throughout the piece, where he asserts his beliefs methodically as if writing a proof. Now capitalism is wrought in fiery language and metaphor, as if it was a living being, a master both “distinguished and barbarous” who drags the “corpses of its slaves” down with it to oblivion.

But what is the crisis that Marx sees as inevitable? The metaphors he uses are loose, primal in a way. He casts the crisis in terms that suggest the raw force of nature — “industrial earthquakes.” These earthquakes presumably allude to the labor shocks that he thought would occur as industrialization made more and more workers obsolete. The tremors grow “more frequent and violent” as capitalism begins to eat its own tail. Furthermore, his metaphors suggests a biblical or even pagan aspect, when he writes that the “gods of the lower world” require a sacrifice of wealth, products, and even the means of production to be placated. And this infusion can’t suffice but will merely stave off the inevitable. Capitalism, for Marx, survives on a cycle of continuous and expanding exploitation. He writes that previous crises have “subjected to the commerce of the world a hitherto unconquered or but superficially exploited market.” When there are no more markets that remain unexploited the system implodes in a devastating way.

Marx views markets in an interesting manner. He suggests that as the mass of products grows, so to does the need for extensive markets. However, Marx sees the increasing mass of products as inversely correlated with the size of the world market. This seems relevant today, with the glut of products brought about by globalization. As more nations industrialize, and there are fewer undeveloped countries to exploit for labor, capitalism has nowhere to expand. When the American middle class can no longer take advantage of Chinese children, the system implodes. The cycle of exploitation must stop somewhere, but when it does, the outcome isn’t prosperity but rather collapse.

 

A Public Education

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For class, I have to do what sometimes feels like an excessive amount of reading (looking at you, Professor Levitsky). This is work that is necessary, but usually seems hollow. If I don’t have time, readings are the first item on the chopping block. And even if I do, I’ll often skim through them. In order to slow down and perhaps actually learn something — I know, God forbid! — I intend to write briefly about this constant trickle of essays, articles, and books that the institution of Harvard College demands I, at least, glance at.

Additionally, being able to write in public is a skill that takes time and practice. This “weblog,” as Harvard euphemistically calls it, hardly qualifies because the entirety of the readership at this point and likely in the future, consists of me. But the notion that other people could, in theory, is what matters. I’ll try to update it daily (realistically weekly, but who knows!).

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