A Philosopher's Blog

Money & Motivation

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 25, 2011
Wall Street Sign. Author: Ramy Majouji

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I’ve been involved in various informal discussions about the Occupy Wall Street movement and one point that I have heard raised on several occasions is that we need to have an economic system in which some people have far greater income and wealth than others. Folks often add that this also means that the government should not raise taxes on the wealthy. The gist of the reasoning seems to be that without the potential to make such money and acquire such wealth (and keep it), people will not have any motivation to work, create businesses, innovate, invent and so on.

As far as working goes, that is obviously not true. Most folks know that they have no chance of having CEO level income and wealth (or even above average income and wealth) and yet they work anyway. One excellent motivation is, of course, need. True, most folks would like to have such income and wealth, but that certainly is not their primary motivation to punch the clock. To ascribe that motivation to most folks would be to also ascribe to them a seemingly unrelenting self-deception or ignorance.  In my own case, I know that I will never have vast wealth or income as a professor and yet I still continue to work. If it became a law that no one could have a personal income greater than $1 million per year (and no, I am not suggesting this), I’d still go to work. The odds are you would too. For the tiny percentage of folks who have a realistic shot at the CEO level of wealth and income, it could be reasonable to attribute to them this sort of motivation. But, they would certainly still work even if they knew that doing so would merely ensure that they could buy food and stuff.

Of course, the really wealthy do not become wealthy by punching a clock. They get that way via other means (and not just inheritance). They might create a business, invent, innovate or market some rare talent (such as acting, athletic, or singing prowess). So, one might argue, while a limit on mega-wealth might not cause people to stop working, it would surely stop people from creating businesses, innovating and so on.

However, this does not seem to be the case. After all, people invent and innovate for reasons other than money. To use the example of Steve Jobs, the folks who knew him well always claim that he was not in it for the money and the same is often said about other innovators. This does make sense-after all, they set out to innovate and it happened to make them wealthy. There are also many other examples, such as Tim Berners-Lee, of people who innovate for reasons other than becoming wealthy. As a final example, consider all the folks who develop open source software-they are clearly not doing that to become wealthy. As such, people would still create things like technology and software even if they could not, for some reason, become super wealthy doing so.

As far as creating and performing go, people obviously do those things even when they do not expect a huge financial reward. Most writers and artists do what they do for the love of what they do (or maybe out of vanity), rather than for the hope of being super wealthy. Athletes who know they will never be a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods get out there and give it all-knowing they will never be in a commercial selling underwear or Gatorade. In my own case, I know that there is not much money to be made in running and I know that even if there was, I certainly would not be making it (I’m “all-conference” good, not “Olympic good”). Yet, I run six days a week and race as hard as I can. I know that there are thousands of people doing the same.

Now, it might be objected that people will not do these things without getting something out of it. In reply, my obvious answer is that I agree. No rational being would do something if it knew that doing so resulted in no value whatsoever. However, what counts as value is not limited merely to money. As I have argued above, people are clearly motivated by factors other than money and even when it comes to money the main motivation seems to be to have enough for a good life, rather than merely accumulating vast wealth for its own sake.

Obviously there are people who regard accumulating vast wealth as an important goal. There is, on the face of it, nothing inherently wrong with that goal or achieving it. However, when this accumulation comes at the expense of others and causes great harm (such as how some folks profited while the world economy was brought to its metaphorical knees), then there is a problem. I am fine with competition and reward based on merit. To use an obvious analogy, I think that the person who wins the race fairly and on her merits should get the biggest trophy. However, if the person “wins” via foul means and in doing so hurts the other runners, then they should be punished rather than receiving the biggest trophy. I also know that people will still do their best even when there is no trophy at all.

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33 Responses

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  1. alltheidiots said, on October 25, 2011 at 6:01 am

    I believe there are two views to look at it…

    1.) Some, if not most, people believe that the measure of success is equal to the amount of money one makes in a year or over the course of a career
    -While this can be a measure of ones life style and even health, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need money only equates to security.
    -From my experience, people who equate success in life with money are often very unhappy with their life and even with themselves.
    2.) Many, if not most, people tend to NOT be risk takers. Tend to not take on more than they can chew and will not step out of their comfort zone and into the unknown on a regular basis.
    -While this ensures stability and security within any career and life, and it does not necessarily deter greatness, innovation, and even invention, it does not directly motivate it. Many people want to go to work come home and someday take a vacation.
    -Many don’t want the responsibility of it all and deal with it if they fail, many Presidents have been labeled with some sort of mental illness. I think this has to be true in many cases just because the desire to be the most powerful man in the world could only come from a crazy person.

    Someday I may have the chance to be a CEO. I am not doing what I do to be rich, that is an after thought. I am doing what I am doing for the chance to change the world.

    Most people don’t strive for a million dollars, I believe they strive for the hope that one day they won’t have to worry over money. The ultimate goal for the average person would be to live without fear, and that is what money provides, a security blanket.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      I have often heard the hypothesis that the great often have mental “problems.” In some ways, this is not surprising: one would expect unusual people to have unusual minds.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on October 25, 2011 at 6:53 am

    The essential trade-off in capitalism is that we allow economic inequality in return for a higher level of average wealth.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm

      Inequality of results is fine and is to be expected in any competitive system, be it an art contest, a road race or business. However, fairness is important to ensure that the higher average is not mainly a result of a few people having way more than everyone else (thus creating a high mean, but a rather extreme distribution).

  3. magus71 said, on October 25, 2011 at 7:41 am

    “The substance of the eminent Socialist gentlemen’s speech is that making a profit is a sin. It is my belief that the real sin is taking a loss!” ~Winston Churchill

    “Communism is the opiate of the intellectuals [With] no cure except as a guillotine might be called a cure for dandruff. ” ~Clare Luce

    “However, what counts as value is not limited merely to money.” Do you extend that quote to your hated corporations when it comes to the environment and working class?

    Still say you have some serious Marxist/Leninist leanings, Mike. Anyone else agree? Yo say you’re a capitalist, (at least I think you said that; correct me if I’m wrong) but I think you just consider it a game, as you said of wealth and cash, that you have no choice but to take part in. And if you had a choice, you’d choose a socialist system. Some of this stems from your addiction to “neccessary aspects.” No socialist system *has* to be like the Soviet system, or Mao’s China, or North Korea…..and they don’t *have* to collapse like Greece…

    Why does it have to be all or nothing? People are motivated by many things. Money is one of them, and it is very important to everyone I know, including you Mike.

    But the idea that people do not push themselves above and beyond in order to get more moeny is patently absurd and I hope you don’t believe it.

    For instance, if I were offered a promotion tomorrow to Staff Sergeant, but was told that I would not get the extra money that normally comes with that promotion, I would not take it. There are essentially two reasons I want to get promoted: To have more influence and say (to be able to DO more), and to get paid more. The extra responsibility that comes with Staff Sergeant would not be worth the promotion without the pay. I may as well remain in my current rank and do my best. In this case, both the Army and me may suffer. There are some positions that are mandated by regulation to have E6s. So the Army would not have that position filled, except by someone they consider to be less able, and I would not get extra money. And I would never do my job for minimum wage; I’d trade it a job where I could grow a beard and not worry about all the stupid Army regulations. Army pay and benefits definitely had a place in my choice to join the Army. The Army is paying for my continued college education. So if you were to argue that an entire system where no one was paid more than anyone else, I would just find another job. The Army is tough, and I’d prefer to grow my hair out and read books.

    Any system that did not provide incentives of pay would probably have to be a command economy. We don’t need to go into all the problems those create.

    Not every one is *completely* motivated by money, but most are motivated to some extent by cash. So, we’d probably lose some innovation, maybe the majority. I think many inovators would just do something else. Why didn’t the Soviet Union innovate like the US? There was some innovation, but much of it was driven by the commisar’s pistol at the back of a scientist’s head, and this clearly does not produce as good a product. Heck, huge parts of the Soviet system were dedicated to innovation, but they still couldn’t keep up. Same with China; they’re still reverse engineering old Soviet stuff. So I think a flaw in your idea is either/or thinking.

    Also, the professionalization of teh US Army made it better than it was before. Few people would join just for the fun of it.

    • Anonymous said, on October 25, 2011 at 8:31 am

      What is with the quotes? They don’t contribute any factual knowledge to the discussion and they are pretty much just sound bites that sound good, they don’t have to be true in any form or fashion.

      In your last paragraph you are forgetting COMPLETELY about the different situations that each country was in. China and Russia were severly damaged by WWII where the US was left mostly alone. Thousands of intellectuals came to the US during that time which help us kickstart innovation when everybody else was trying to recover from a devistating war. As you can hopefully see in today’s world, America’s intellectual capacity isn’t declining, the rest of the world has finally recovered to a point where their abilities make up a greater precentage of the innovation happening in the world today.

      • magus71 said, on October 25, 2011 at 9:57 am

        “What is with the quotes? They don’t contribute any factual knowledge to the discussion and they are pretty much just sound bites that sound good, they don’t have to be true in any form or fashion.”

        I disagree. They hit a nerve in you because you are a Marxist. So they did their job.

        “As you can hopefully see in today’s world, America’s intellectual capacity isn’t declining,”

        I never said America’s intellectual capacity is declining.

        “Thousands of intellectuals came to the US during that time which help us kickstart innovation when everybody else was trying to recover from a devistating war.”

        Actually, many of them came before war ended. You help my point; most of them didn’t come to the US because their countries were severely damaged; they came because they didn’t want to live under communism or fascism. The communists stole almost all of their advanced military technology. Rosenbergs anyone?

      • T. J. Babson said, on October 25, 2011 at 10:26 am

        “In your last paragraph you are forgetting COMPLETELY about the different situations that each country was in. China and Russia were severly damaged by WWII where the US was left mostly alone.”

        I read in a history book somewhere that Germany and Japan suffered a bit of damage in WWII as well, so perhaps we can compare China and Russia to them?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm

      “However, what counts as value is not limited merely to money.” Do you extend that quote to your hated corporations when it comes to the environment and working class? <

      Is that addressed to me? If so, what do you mean by extending that quote to corporations?

      I don't hate corporations anymore than I hate people or ideas or days. Rather, I have a negative view of ones that are bad. Corporations can be just fine. After all, I like a lot of the stuff they make and my retirement is based on corporations doing well. I prefer, of course, that the corporate folks behave ethically and with compassion-which I also prefer of everyone. The economic realm does not magically remove moral accountability or free a person from obligations of being a decent human being.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 25, 2011 at 2:58 pm

      The USSR was broken by WWII and there was, of course, Stalin and his take on what counted as acceptable intellectual activity. Many of the brightest and best were locked up rather than encouraged. As such, it is not just a matter of money but a matter of relative freedom.

      While money is an incentive, most innovators (outside of financial “innovation”) are motivated by other factors. As people said of Jobs and even Gates-they were not in it primarily for the money, but to change the world. Those who are in it for the money and the money alone would most likely gravitate towards the money business rather than into things like technology, science, and so on.

      • WTP said, on October 25, 2011 at 3:34 pm

        But you’re skating over the most important point…They needed the money to grow the business, to create their vision. And it’s not like Gates and Jobs didn’t live the opulent lifestyle, even if they could afford to spend more. The point is it’s their wealth. They created it (see again, wealth creation). They created more of it with the smaller amounts that they had accumulated earlier. That’s the incentive.

      • magus71 said, on October 26, 2011 at 1:02 am

        I still doubt Jobs or Gates would have come close to their accomplishments without monetary incentive. They may have tinkered in their garages on weekends, but eventually they’d do something easier to make a living and wouldn’t be able to devote the amount of time needed. And as WTP stated, the extra money that was rolling in allowed for increased innovation that far surpassed what some dude making 30 grand a year would be able to do. Why do scientists need government grants?

        If every one gets paid the same, how would you control people giving extras to get the people they want for a job? Would you make it illegal for someone to offer extra goods to entice very skilled people to do needed work? That’s the way it works now; a person who has a skill can decide which company offers him more and go there. Higher wages for skill and creative powers creates competition for those workers. It’s one of the things that keeps businesses from paying everyone minimum wage. But your idea seems to be that everyone should get paid the same, in which case you’d need thousands of government analysts trying to figure out the value of things. Read The Road to Serfdom by FA Hayek. The Austrian School of economics says that governments can’t accurately assess value because there’s far too much data the government doesn’t have. Only individuals can assess value for themselves.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 26, 2011 at 1:44 pm

          I would contend that people can and do strive for excellence even without financial incentive as their primary motive. I do not deny that financial factors are irrelevant, but I did argue that they need not be primary. People can be motivated to excellence for reasons other than financial gain. To use a rather extreme example, think about Jesus-he didn’t seem to be in it to make a buck.

          I do not argue that people should all be paid the same, anymore than I would say that everyone should get the same trophy at a race. I am fine with an unequal distribution of value-provided that the distribution is the result of a fair and just system. As I have said before, my standing metaphor is the race: a fair competition in which what matters is natural ability, talent, will, and effort. I’d be glad to be in an economy that worked the same way. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Interestingly, attempts to take away unfair advantages (such as regulations that favor corporations over small businesses) and to provide fair opportunities (like support for public education and college education) are often met with cries of class warfare, socialism and so on. It has been amazing how opposing an unjust system has been cast as something horrible and how eagerly certain people in the middle and lower classes rush to defend aspects of a system that are actually harming them.

  4. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 25, 2011 at 10:10 am

    The principle at stake here is the freedom of the individual. In America one is supposed to be free both to succeed and to fail. The “American Dream” is to come here with little, work hard, and end up with a lot. or “from rags to riches”. In this context, placing any limit upon the level of “riches” one may legally attain is wrong.

    We hear a lot about greed but we hear little about envy. The poor and the not-as-successful envy the rich and the successful, and they use, or attempt to use, the power of government to take from the rich and give to the poor, which is theft.

    The socialist and the communist would have us all making the same wage whether we worked or not, sort of like people collecting unemployment, now, for two years. The old USSR in fact did just that. If people wanted to work at the factory they went to work, and if people didn’t want to work at the factory they didn’t, and both were paid the same wage.

    Like our federal government employees in Washington today, the inner and upper Communist Party members in old Moscow, before the fall of the USSR, were the living the lives of the rich and famous, enjoying every luxury known to man while the peasants and workers scraped or starved.

    We have two choices we can make: 1) we can allow people the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail, and the freedom to choose either to give or not to give in order to help their fellow man; or 2) we can take away people’s freedom by allowing none to succeed or fail by taking the wealth from those who are trying to succeed and by giving it to those who are failing.

    The first choice allows nature to take it’s course and allows people to both be greedy or generous of their own free will. The second forces conformity at the point of a bayonet and spreads the misery equally; unless one is fortunate enough to be in the Party, wherein Party members are not subject to the rules others are subject to. After all, as the Party members say: “Some people are more equal than others”.

    I value my freedom, and I have learned more from failure than success. We do people a great disservice by protecting them from failure. Neither the big banks not the individual should be bailed out with tax dollars.

    Forget riches; there is no greater motivator for work than hunger and cold.

    Looking for a six-figure income that comes with regular pay raises, bonuses, health care, pension, sick days, holidays, and paid vacation? Try applying with the US federal government: http://www.theworkbuzz.com/work/salary/six-figure-federal-jobs/

    • magus71 said, on October 25, 2011 at 11:12 am

      “The principle at stake here is the freedom of the individual.”

      Good point. This is where libertarians and I agree: Individuals matter. Specifically, freedom of the individual.

      • dhammett said, on October 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm

        “Individuals matter”. That principle has many facets. Business success or failure is but one. Green is but one. But many of the regulations that seem to have an effect on the life-and-death success or failure of individuals and businesses center around safety and health issues, not financial success.

        Why should we all, rich and poor, unnecessarily increase our risk of dying on our highways because we want to allow individuals their freedom. Ignore drunk driving and repeat drunk drivers. Establish no regulations about repeat careless driving offenders. Why, allow the corporation that builds the bridge I cross every day on my way to work to establish its own standards of construction excellence, and I could be f***d in a big way. Allow farms to harvest and market produce that’s unsafe and you and I could be sitting at a table wolfing down food covered with e coli . Allow the guy who wants to ride a motorcycle without a helmet his risk. His freedom may affect my insurance premium, but probably not by much.

        In all these instances, with the exception of the biker, the real victim really has no way of protecting his own freedom from the other guy’s “freedom”. I don’t believe that’s what individual freedom is about. I believe in general that your freedom ends where my freedom begins. And that’s where the dangerous overlap occurs.

        There are times when the regulations designed to protect innocent, unaware individuals affect the oh-so-fragile financial health of corporations that are dumping hazardous waste into local ponds and rivers or pharmaceutical companies who are dispensing drugs that they know to be hazardous. Or tobacco companies that sell a product that they know to be dangerous to human health. And how has requiring package warnings affected Altria and RJ Reynolds? They’re doing quite well, thank you. Meanwhile the consumer is informed and still offered a choice. Some time will tell whether the public denies or accepts the findings and the warnings they’re based on and what effect, if any, the regulations may have on the public health.

  5. WTP said, on October 25, 2011 at 11:44 am

    This is a joke, right? As a professor of thinkology, you can’t possibly be this stupid. Even as a form of sophistry, this piece fails. It’s as if you only see three possible outcomes, a person becomes a CEO and makes millions or they become a cog in the machine, if they’re lucky, or a homeless victim of the evil capitalist system. And you spew all this using language that implies that these are obvious facts that are plain as the nose on your face. And this from a guy who doesn’t understand how wealth can be created.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm

      That is a nice string of insults, but it is rather short on substantial (and accurate) criticism.

      • WTP said, on October 25, 2011 at 3:29 pm

        Much like your article. Deal with this part:

        It’s as if you only see three possible outcomes, a person becomes a CEO and makes millions or they become a cog in the machine, if they’re lucky, or a homeless victim of the evil capitalist system. And you spew all this using language that implies that these are obvious facts …

        Let me submit…” The gist of the reasoning seems to be that without the potential to make such money and acquire such wealth (and keep it), people will not have any motivation to work, create businesses, innovate, invent and so on.
        As far as working goes, that is obviously not true. “

        You set up a straw man based on absolutes. That is not the whole of the reasoning. When you present one side of an argument in such extreme terms, then say it is “obviously not true”, you’re restating what the position is and implicitly calling it stupid. I’m just more to the point. Same difference. There rest of this article is written in the same insulting manner. You’re just passive-aggressive about it. Either way, this is nothing more than Socialist/Communist crap. In the numerous other forms that you have presented these arguments, you either give up on the discussion or blithely ignore relevant points raised by others. It’s intellectually dishonest. And when it’s done this poorly, it’s not even sophistry. As the saying goes, it’s not right…it’s not even wrong.

  6. magus71 said, on October 26, 2011 at 1:28 am

    I’d like everyone to remember that communism failed not just because evil people ran communist countries. It took evil people to force populations to give up their inalienably rights, as outlined by Locke and the Founding Fathers. So the *Marxist system does not work.* It is an ideology, a virtual spell cast upon some. Some people will never give up the idea that it works. Communism did not fail just because evil people ran the show. It failed because 1+1 does not equal 3. It failed because nature and math made it fail. The evil people were and are necessary to run communism regimes because they were willing slaughter millions to make people play by their rules, which the majority of people by nature do not want to play by. As Lenin stated: “One man with a gun controls 100 without one.” I admit some of these people were geniuses. But evil none the less. Lenin’s other quote which seems to fit into today’s thinking: “The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.”

    The evil mind it takes to shove the Marxist system down the collectives’ (no pun intended) throat is like a parent who insists that their child eat gravel and be able to digest rocks. In this person’s mind, all that’s needed is the right kind of parenting, coaxing, and if need be, corporal punishment, and finally, the child will be able to digest rocks.

    Life, liberty, and property. What I work for is mine. If I work more and produce more I deserve more. If I want more money, I can make myself marketable in a job that provides more money. If I work for it, I own it and I can give it away if I wish. Most people agree that there is a need for government, and so we agree together that a small portion of what we make should go to keep the government working. Most may quibble on the amounts they should pay, but most would not say they should not pay at all.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm

      What you present as failings of Marxism (slaughtering people) do not seem to be in Marx. Marx did note that after the fall of capitalism, there would be a dictatorship of the proletariat-but this comes about after capitalism has enabled enough wealth to permit socialism.

      Now, if by “Marxist system” you mean Stalin’s system and Mao’s system, then you are right-their systems were horrific.

      While Marx provided a rather interesting theory and analysis, his theories have numerous flaws. However, they are still distinct from what people like Stalin and Mao do under the cover of their ideologies. My main points of dispute with Marx are in regards to his metaphysical views: materialism and economic determinism. Once the foundations of the theory are shown to be implausible, much of the rest of the theory suffers as well.

  7. Anonymous said, on October 27, 2011 at 2:20 am

    I actually gave you a thumbs up. 1) You admit Marx was wrong. 2) You were clear and not obtuse about your opinion. However, much of your writing still adds up to a creeping socialism in my mind. But I never said that Marx explicitly says to slaughter people.

    Do these sound like the words of Ghandi or Jesus? “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”~Manifesto of the Communist Party

    Violent revolution is organic to all Marxist movements. Lenin studied Marx and knew him as well as anyone. He referred to Marx whenever he had a question on how to proceed. Mao and Stalin, like I stated above, slaughtered people to keep them in line with Marxist doctrine. Lenin stated that Marx wanted to change the way people think about their own possession and how wealth is distributed and one great way to do that is to scare the hell out of people with a police state capable of great brutality. The use of fear is inherent in all centrally controlled institutions–including the US Army that I work for. Indeed, it may fit the definition of your “necessary aspect.”

    I’d also like to point out what a pitiful, hateful person Marx was. Now I know you’ve pointed out that this does not make him wrong, but no one should trust the man if they study his character. He clearly designed his system as a way of reconciling his failures and his character with the way the world was. Read his poetry. It’s truly frightening.

    In the end I see few ways to determine how much someone is paid other than what someone is willing to pay them and what that person is willing to work for. I don’t determine my value–the rest of the world does. Every man thinks to himself that he is very valuable. Perhaps he is. But is he useful?

    • magus71 said, on October 27, 2011 at 2:27 am

      Sorry, I thought I was logged in. Above post is mine.

      Magus

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      I’d also like to point out what a pitiful, hateful person Marx was. Now I know you’ve pointed out that this does not make him wrong, but no one should trust the man if they study his character. He clearly designed his system as a way of reconciling his failures and his character with the way the world was. Read his poetry. It’s truly frightening.

      You are right-this does not make him wrong. To think otherwise would be to commit the ad hominem tu quoque fallacy. The part about designing the system because of his character can be seen as another ad homimen or taken as a genetic fallacy (depending on how one interprets the specifics of that fallacy).

      In any case, Stalin and Mao were not following Marx’s theory-otherwise they would have pushed their countries into capitalism before the alleged transition into socialism. Also, Stalin and Mao followed the usual path: establishing themselves and a small supporting elite as the rulers of a country under the guise of an ideology. You might notice that Russia and China, despite their allegedly Marxist ways, ended up with concentrated wealth and concentrated political power.

      • magus71 said, on October 28, 2011 at 3:23 am

        “In any case, Stalin and Mao were not following Marx’s theory-otherwise they would have pushed their countries into capitalism before the alleged transition into socialism.”

        It could be argues that they’d already passed through those stages.

        “The part about designing the system because of his character can be seen as another ad homimen or taken as a genetic fallacy (depending on how one interprets the specifics of that fallacy”

        Perhaps you misunderstand. I’m not saying Marx had no choice but to come to his conclusions. I’m saying that he had a psychological need to reconcile his failures, and socialism does a good job at blaming the rest of the world for some’s failures. Marx, when I look at the man, was responsible for his own failures.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 28, 2011 at 9:32 am

          If all you are saying is that Marx was flawed and his theory is psychologically based on his own failings, that is fine (and probably true). But to say that his theory is flawed because he was flawed would be an error.

          • magus71 said, on October 28, 2011 at 10:58 am

            “If all you are saying is that Marx was flawed and his theory is psychologically based on his own failings, that is fine (and probably true).”

            That’s exactly what I’m saying.

  8. magus71 said, on October 28, 2011 at 5:59 am

    Marx made it simple for us, Mike. “Communism can be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of Personal Property”~Marx, Communist Manifesto. I doubt that Lenin had real trouble changing a few rules but still remaining within the spirit of Marxism. Lenin was a Marxist through and through. He loved Marx. When he found inconsistencies between Marx’s writing and what was actually happening (this should not have happened if Marx’s determinism was true–capitalism was have happened automatically, like a child passing through stages of development) he was forced to modify things and develop his own theories.

    http://www.friesian.com/marx.htm

    “However, although nominal wages were falling in the United States from 1865-1897, apparently in line with Marxist expectations, real wages were actually rising, and there didn’t seem to be a problem with over-production or with capital investment. Marx’s own data showed rising real wages, as in Britain they rose by 80 percent in the last half of the 19th century. Recognizing that things weren’t going as predicted, Lenin (Vladimir Ulyanov, 1870-1924) proposed that colonialism and imperialism were relieving the stress on capitalism and had temporarily derailed history: Colonies were a safety valve for excess capital and over-production; and the exploitation of colonies enabled the capitalists to buy off the proletariat at home. But Lenin’s own data showed that most foreign investment was in other capitalist countries, and it is hard to imagine how an impoverished colonial population could buy things that the proletariat back home couldn’t afford. Nevertheless, Lenin’s theory at least addressed the issue. He therefore saw the flow of history in these terms:”

    (See Chart in link)

    “When the Russian Revolution came, Lenin and his colleagues had to address the paradox that according to orthodox Marxism Russia was not ready for a real communist revolution, since it had never passed through the necessary stage of capitalism itself. Although developing quickly enough, and the fourth largest economy in the world in 1914 just because of its size (it had been the largest through much of the 19th century), Russia was still largely a feudal society. Lenin died before much sense could be made of the situation, especially when his programs caused the economy to collapse and he had to retreat from an attempt at pure communism into the semi-market economy of the New Economic Policy (the NEP). Subsequently, Stalin (Iosif Dzhugashvili, 1879-1953) followed the principle that the Russian Revolution would substitute a benign replacement for capitalism, namely “socialism,” which would do the same job of industrialization without capitalist exploitation. Meanwhile, the new Russian state, the Soviet Union, would fight against imperialism and work for de-colonization and national liberation. If imperialism and colonialism could be ended, then capitalist economies would revert to the dynamic described by Marx and communism would develop there in the natural way. Stalin thus saw the flow of history in this way:”

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 28, 2011 at 9:31 am

      As far as Marxism goes, I will agree that the theory is fundamentally flawed. Also it seems clear that Marxism is not something that would be a serious option in the United States (of course, if Marx got it right, then it would happen by economic necessity).

      That said, it would be unwise to simply toss aside Marx’s analysis of economics-his writings are well worth reading through. For example, he seems to have presented a clear analysis of profit as well as mapped out how a capitalist system can destroy itself. If we reject his view of economic determinism, his analysis is still rather useful-if only to fend off the collapse of our economic system.

      • magus71 said, on October 28, 2011 at 10:55 am

        I’ll give Marx his credit. I’m sure he was a genius. I just wish he’d turned his genius to something else.

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