Monday, September 7, 2009

Means of Production

We're pretty much all familiar now with Marx's main critique of capitalism: capitalism, he said, concentrates or keeps the means of production in the hands of a powerful minority, who abuse this privilege to exploit the masses.

Given Marx's 19th century vantage point, it seems he was right on. But now that we've allowed capitalism to develop continuously for two centuries it seems these criticisms are becoming more and more irrelevant.

Case in point: I was flipping through Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat the other day, and I found an entire chapter devoted to examples of how diffused and easily accessible the means of productions have become. With free online software, off-sourcing, and social networking, Friedman argues, entrepreneurs can now create websites, find contacts, and develop their brand at little to no cost. All that's left is to have an idea for the business.

If we take Friedman's word that the world really is "flattening," then free trade (the global epitomization of capitalism) may be the most Marxist system out there (in that it diffuses the means of production the most). I really hope this is so, for it would prove to be at least one ray of sunlight in this stormy world of ours.


  1. You know, I heard the other day that a surprising amount of internet sites that you'd think were making tons of money aren't really geared towards making a profit. In fact, what I read was that there is a philosophy on the internet even beyond the classic free source players that the internet is a place more for ideas than for profit. For instance, I heard that that twitter still doesn't have a business model that generates profit for them! Isn't that fascinating? People are so fascinated by the idea of the internet that making money becomes secondary, or at least venture capitalists are somewhat willing to throw in money based on an idea, not on how it will be returned.

    Also CORPORATIONS!!!! Criticisms becoming less and less relevant? Look at our corporate overlords! Jk jk. Kinda.


  2. It is fascinating. But I'd suggest Google (a huge corporation, by the way) as a serious counterexample to the internet-as-playground-for-ideas model.

    Some more thoughts on what you said:
    1. Not all corporations have to be bad. At least Google seems to be alright.
    2. If Friedman is right, then people will be able to circumvent corporations more and more. Diffusion of the means of production means more potential for local, small businesses--something I think you'd heartily support.

  3. Kunal,

    I think a bigger problem that Marxist commentary reveals is that neoclassical theory takes the ownership of property and/or capital and the division of labor in capitalism as GIVEN, as well as the demand for any good (it therefore discounts the entire advertising industry). When these assumptions are magnified and repeated on a large scale over several centuries, you end up with what we have now--a system of thought that makes it very hard to argue for the redistribution of wealth (because it discounts the historical origins of capitalist accumulation), and indeed crushes any heterodox thought that would venture to question the founding notions of classical theory (or to even bring up the "discounted" notion of a Labor Theory of Value).

  4. Adam,

    1. Perhaps indoctrination is not the only reason people resist redistributing wealth. Most parents, I imagine, work to provide their kids with a life with more comfort and opportunities than they had. This is a natural parental drive. The redistribution of wealth means that it's likely a child won't inherit the wealth his parents worked for. Since parents are more interested in their own children's wellbeing then the rest of society, they are likely to resist measures that may jeapordize their ability to transfer the fruit of their labor to their kids.

    Many people interpret this thinking as a false conciousness for the middle class. Maybe it is. But I think there are enough nouveau riche out there to justify the belief (see the Indian population, for example).

    2. The relationship between advertising and product demand is highly controversial. Some think advertising causes people to want things. Others think that advertising just makes people aware of products, and that people have meretricious tastes (i.e. advertising allows these latent, bad tastes to come to the fore). I think the right answer is somewhere in between.