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October 06, 2020

Review of Marxism: Philosophy and Economics by Thomas Sowell

Marxism: Philosophy and Economics by Thomas Sowell is not light reading. Or, in my case, light listening.

First of all, it has nothing at all to do with Duck Soup.

Second of all, it addresses in great detail the political philosophy and economics of Karl Marx (and to a lesser extent, Friedrich Engels), the famous author of Capital and co-author (with Engels) of The Communist Manifesto whose popularity was once limited to American academics, privileged young people, and others who never had to live under anything like the systems championed in those books.

Now, however, it’s gone mainstream, from Black Lives Matter founders to Critical Race Theory enthusiasts to Beverly Diangelo and her book, “White Fragility.”

The one thing that hasn’t changed is that none of the people involved in the above ever had to live under anything like the system Marx and Engels championed

While we’re on the topic, this is a key characteristic of Marxism that Sowell points out in the last chapter of his book, noting that:

“The offspring of privilege have dominated the leadership of Marxist movements from the days of Marx and Engels through Lenin, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh and their lesser counterparts around the world and down through history. The sheer reiteration of the working class theme in Marxism has drowned out this plain fact.”

“But the crucial point is not privilege as such but the insulation from responsibility that that provides. Particularly during youth. Intellectuals enjoy similar insulation from the consequences of being wrong in a way that no businessman, military leader, engineer or even athletic coach can.”

People who have to live with the consequences of Marxism rarely advocate for Marxism. Probably just a coincidence.

Marx himself never had to live with the consequences of actually having to work much for a living as he was for the most part supported by his parents, plus various inheritances, the kindness of friends, and jobs, of a sort, from same.

In short, Marxism found popularity among people very much like himself, pampered, privileged, narcissistic and wholly divorced from what it takes to be genuinely productive in an economic sense, that is, provide value to others.

I warned in the beginning that this is not light listening. To be clear, none of the books I’ve been reviewing this year have exactly been light fare, but there are certain routine chores I do that require at most 10% of my attention (folding laundry, doing the dishes, watching CNN) leaving plenty of brain space to comprehend whatever book I’m listening to. Sure, I still rewind, or pause to consider a point, or make a bookmark, but mostly it’s pretty smooth sailing.

But this… was something different.

Take this small part of the discussion of “Surplus Value:”

“The capitalist circuit from money to commodities to money was abbreviated in the Marxian formula: M-C-M. The second M must be larger than the first or the circuit M-C-M would be absurd and without meaning if the intention were to exchange by this means two equal sums of money. Marx concluded: ‘The exact form of this process is therefore M-C-M Prime Where M Prime = M + Delta M = the Original Sum advanced plus an increment. This increment or excess over the original value I call Surplus Value.’”

Now imagine processing this while mowing the lawn.

I’m lucky I didn’t cut my toes off

Fortunately, that’s about as heavy as it gets. Overall, this book is an excellent primer on Marxism by a preeminent conservative scholar whom I started reading in the late ‘80s. In fact, that’s why I chose this book as my Marxism refresher.

Interestingly enough, Marxism originally came out in 1985, before I had discovered Thomas Sowell. Not to worry, the book dates itself only slightly towards the end with a contemporaneous reference to the Soviet Union. Otherwise, Marxism has been around a lot longer than 1985, and so the general analysis is still a useful and timely one.

Because of its age, it’s only available as an audio book (Audible through Amazon) unless you want to shell out some inordinate amount of money to some grubby capitalist looking for M Prime for a vintage copy. Do not permit the weighty subject to dissuade you. While I had to rewind, pause, and bookmark more often than usual, the book lends itself well to the audio format (the narrator does a very good job) with the possible exception of the economic pieces as illustrated above. That you might want to sit down for. And I say that as someone who studied economics in college.

And to be clear, while Sowell editorializes quite a bit at the end, most of the book strikes me as a fair review of the topic and the man. It’s a broad sweep (keep in mind, “Capital” itself spanned three volumes) and so can only be so comprehensive, but this is about as quick a primer you can get while still providing the depth and context required to genuinely understand the subject.

If you seek some fluency on the topic, to truly understand what it is you object to, or just to understand its obvious appeal to the young and impressionable offspring of the upper middle class, you’d be hard pressed to do better.


Available here if you like. These are all affiliate links, explained in the right colum at the bottom, but rest assured, it costs you nothing extra.

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October 6, 2020 at 09:59 AM in Books | Permalink


Thomas Sowell's brain is a national treasure.

Posted by: bluebird of bitterness | Oct 6, 2020 8:41:45 PM

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