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2018-04 Marx, the predisposition to reject markets and private property, and the attractive alternatives to capitalism

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posted on 2023-08-04, 09:31 authored by Jon WismanJon Wisman

Ever since capitalism came to be recognized as a new economic system, its principal institutions of private property and markets have had vociferous critics, of whom none was more wide-ranging and influential than Karl Marx. Marx claimed that not only were private property and markets critical to creating an ideological patina of freedom behind which, as in slavery and feudalism, a small class extracted from the mass of producers practically all output above that necessary for bare subsistence, they were also corrupting. Yet, Marx recognized that capitalism, unlike earlier exploitative systems, was radically dynamic, producing unprecedented wealth, while transforming not only all it inherited from the past, but also its own nature so as to eventually empower even the producers, who he believed would abandon these capitalist institutions. This article claims Marx was correct in identifying the core problem of capitalism to be its extreme inequality in the ownership and control of the means of production, but that finding fault with private property and markets has been a mistake that has impeded the generation of an attractive and viable alternative to capitalism. It concludes with an outline of an alternative which would eliminate the core problem of exploitation due to unequal ownership and control of the means of production, while retaining roles for private property and markets. It would entail two components: Guaranteed employment at living wages and democratic worker control of firms.



American University (Washington, D.C.). Department of Economics


Department of Economics. Working Paper Series no. 2018-04. 15 pages.


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