An Interesting Claim about Marx

While surfing the philosophy blogs, I came upon this interesting story: Pascal Lamy, the director of the WTO, claims that Marxist thought still has a lot to offer to anyone seriously interested in analyzing global capitalism. Furthermore, he makes the claim that global capitalism, in its current form, needs improvement.

One thing Lamy says particularly stood out to me: It [capitalism] is a means that must remain in the service of human development. Not an end in itself.”

This is by far the most sensible thing I’ve read about capitalism in a long while, especially in our contemporary debates about capitalism. Today, you have your stereotypical Left and Right shouting past each other, in which free-market capitalism is either a villain or a savior.

I have always found this mode of discourse to be unproductive, and even worse, conceptually sloppy. It is safe to say that 90 percent of the participants in this discussion don’t really know what the fuck they are talking about. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the people who regularly invoke Adam Smith and Karl Marx and hold them up as saints/devils have not read the works written by either thinker.

But by far the thing that drives me crazy in this kind of discussion is the faulty assumption that free-market capitalism is its own entity. I completely disagree with this assumption: a market is just a process, a mechanism that has no inherent goal of its own. In other words, a market is not teleological.

The other related, faulty assumption is that the market will solve all of our social problems if we simply let it run absolutely free. Wrong again. A completely free market, under ideal conditions, would produce the most EFFICIENT results, not moral or ethical results. But the problems any given polity has to deal with is inherent normative.

The market isn’t designed to solve these political problems. Political questions are solved by the political process; in our case, a democratic process. There is no inherent conceptual connection between a market and the political process.

Hence, what Lamy says makes a lot of sense to me: the market exists to serve human ends; not the other way around.