Karl Marx in 2017

I’m not a Marxist, I’m a liberal. But as a teenager I dallied with his theories and thought that Marxist social justice was vital. But now I realize that social justice requires an accountable form of government, and Marxism hasn’t delivered that. Still, there are gems in his theories and his insights are very valuable today.

One of his better theories is the concentration theory which holds that capital will concentrate because of economies of scale. Bigger companies will outcompete or buy smaller ones, leading to ever larger companies and monopolies. And that’s something we do see. It isn’t until governments are willing to bust trusts like Theodore Roosevelt’s administration did that that pattern is broken. But we see it happening today.
Marx’ theories are good but lack detail. But what economic theory does have detail? Most are broad strokes and are embedded in a socio-economic context. Marx certainly was no passive observer.
For social sciences, Marx introduced the ‘histomat’ idea, the notion that people are largely motivated by materialism rather than by religious or ideological reasons. That idea continues to be a solid and intuitive one.
Also, Marx has inspired debate about how to balance opportunity with social justice. Blaming him for the actions of Lenin, Stalin and Mao is like blaming Jesus for the actions of the church or Mohammed for the actions of the Islamic State. These are different things.
Plus, now that we are entering a world where robots are increasingly doing jobs that humans once did, we may see the arrival of his workers’ paradise, where nobody needs to work and all needs are fulfilled. For that, his revolution may be required. I’m not holding my breath but the idea has more credibility today than it did a decade ago.
I think that history should mark him as one of the greatest and most influential thinkers of his time. But like all economists, he is no Einstein.