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Karl Marx Was Right

We should have heeded Marx. As the economic crisis deepens and the gap between rich and poor widens, it’s Marx’s view of the system which paints the true picture. That’s the new view on the economic street. So should we resuscitate Marx or leave the old devil to rot in his Highgate grave?

We can’t say Karl Marx didn’t warn us: capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction. In their chase for ever higher profits, the capitalists shed workers for machines. The higher return on capital means that the share of profits rises and the share of wages falls, and soon the mass of the population isn’t earning enough to buy the goods capitalism produces. And that’s exactly what’s been happening over the past four years of the Great Recession: ever increasing income inequality, leading to ever weaker aggregate demand – temporarily disguised by an unsustainable credit binge – leading to collapse. You don’t have to be a communist to see that this is so. We should all be Marxists now.

Or should we? Every time capitalism hits an inevitable bad patch, Marx’s name is invoked with wearisome regularity. But no serious economist or political thinker – with the possible exception of Gordon Brown – has ever suggested capitalism can break free of booms and busts. Once bust, as we’ve seen time and again, the capitalist economy has a robust in-built ability to restore itself. As for all the talk of growing inequality, hasn’t anyone noticed that ordinary people in the capitalist West have enjoyed an astonishing long-term rise in their standard of living? We are not suffering an existential economic crisis. We do not need extraordinary remedies. We do not need Marx.

So which is it? Is Marx the voice we should be heeding? Or are his modern day apostles resuscitating a late Victorian corpse whose main contribution to human affairs has been the Soviet gulag?


For the motion

Frank Furedi

Professor of Sociology at University of Kent

Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of Moral Crusades in an Age of Mistrust: The Jimmy Savile Scandal.

Tristram Hunt

Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum

Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum. He is a former Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and a former shadow education secretary. He read history at Trinity College, Cambridge. Between 2001 and 2010, he was Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London, and presented a range of radio and television programmes for the BBC and Channel 4. Hunt’s books include Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City, the award-winning biography, The Frock-coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, and Ten Cities That Made an Empire.

Robin Blackburn

Leverhulme Fellow, University of Essex

Leverhulme Fellow at the University of Essex. He is a former editor of the New Left Review, where he has written on such topics as the collapse of Soviet Communism and the credit crunch of 2008. His most recent books are Marx and Lincoln: the Unfinished Revolution (2011), The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (2011) and Age Shock: How Finance is Failing Us (2007).
Against the motion

George Magnus

Economist, commentator and author

Economist, commentator and author, with a long career in the financial services industry, most recently as the Chief Economist and then Senior Economic Adviser at UBS from 1997-2012. He currently works also as an independent consultant, including to UBS.

Madsen Pirie

President and founder of the Adam Smith Institute

President and founder of the Adam Smith Institute, the free market think tank which researches policy proposals that work towards a free economy and a free society. Madsen was one of its founders.

Judith Shapiro

Former revolutionary Marxist

Former revolutionary Marxist, she joined the “Sachs team” advising the Russian Ministry of Finance in Moscow in 1993-94. Currently Undergraduate Tutor at the Department of Economics, LSE.

Oliver Kamm

Commentator at The Times

Commentator at The Times who writes a weekly column ironically called The Pedant, and author of the forthcoming Accidence Will Happen: A Guide to Modern English Usage.