Monday, August 23, 2010

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

1 comment:

  1. Besides describing the material conception of history, this quote does a good job explaining why Ayn Rand and Ludwig Von Mises are dead wrong and why Free Markets will never work.

    Markets are often posited as arenas of choice through competition. Free Marketeers claim that if most (or even all) restrictions on the market were removed, people would be free to make choices and drive the world into a more prosperous reality through rational consumption. For example, if a certain corporation was found to have racist hiring and management policies, consumers would discourage such behavior by no longer purchasing the company's products or services.

    In this quote, Marx touches on something that this ideology fails to grasp: all choices are made under certain conditions. In reality, consumers are bound by personal resources, locality, information, organization, goals, etc.

    Take the example of food deserts ( I'm positive most people living in disadvantaged neighborhoods would love to have the option of dumping McDonald's and buying nutritious food. However, for whatever menagerie of reasons, this choice can't be be made.

    It even seems that these hindrances to choice will feed back into each other, leading to more hindrances (see: The Matthew Effect.) For example, if residents of a neighborhood can't afford food at a grocery store, the grocery store closes or moves away, meaning a problem of affordability becomes a problem of locality.

    Free Marketeers would respond that some sort of interference in the market happened along the way, but, when asked to specify, will only make vague condemnations against the government and even vaguer assurances that such a things aren't inherent features of Capitalism.

    It's interesting how many like to posit Capitalism as not only the most economically efficient choice, but also the most moral one. One way this is put forth is by misrepresenting demand curves as measures of need and desire (in reality they simply measure the needs and desires of those who are able to afford them.)