Friday, June 1, 2018

Marx 2018

On the occasion of Karl Marx’s 200th birthday, the question whether his theories are still valid today is passionately discussed between economic experts. I read quite a lot but my opinion is not congruent with any of those economists. It rather is a mixture of economic ignorance and life experience.

In an article in last Sunday's paper, three economics professors took a position on three of Marx’s theses: the concentration of enterprises, social impoverishment, and coming crises.

There always is a tendency for a concentration of enterprises but it is no longer so much the production of goods although I just learned about the marriage between chemical giants Bayer and Monsanto. These days it is the concentration of firms offering services. I am thinking, e.g., of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Over the years these giants in software, social media, and communication have swallowed smaller software developers to strengthen their position in a still booming market.

Marx who castigated the alienation of the worker vis-à-vis the hardware he has produced would be shocked to see the digital dependence of today’s people on services they are presented with and cannot escape. The classic alienation is replaced by a fear of digital technology that is overstraining most users.

The people of Cologne are proud of their Basic Law. One article reads, “Hammer immer esu jemaat” (We have always done it the same way) but this is no longer true for “Nix bliev, wie et war” (Nothing remains as it was).

In spite of efforts like the recent European General Data Protection Regulation to protect the data of individuals, the man/woman in the street feels helpless and controlled. They develop an angst of being overrun by a self-driving car or losing their non-digital jobs.

Populist parties stoke the angst of the people while governments somehow limit themselves to repairing the status quo. The policy of just fixing defects follows another article of Cologne’s Basic Law, ”Et het noch immer jot jejange” (Things have always worked out).

Today, the digital world dominates politics since politicians have neither the knowledge nor the insight to stand up to gurus like Mark Zuckerberg as recent hearings in Congress and in the European Parliament have shown.

What follows is a hilarious sequence of photos taken during Mark Zuckerberg’s “grilling” at the European Parliament as commented by Oliver Welke, Germany’s Seth Meyers, in the Heute Show (Today Show).

Mark Zuckerberg sitting next to Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, ... (©ZDF)

... listening to Gabriele Zimmer’s question (©ZDF)
Gabriele cited three lines from Goethe’s The Sorcerer‘s Apprentice* in German, “Master, I have need of Thee! From the spirits that I called, I can‘t get rid of ...” and ended Marc’s education in German literature with the question, “Isn’t it time to pull the plug?”
*Der Zauberlehrling. Herr, die Not ist groß! Die ich rief, die Geister, Werd‘ ich nun nicht los.

Marc’s imagined reaction is plausible if the knowledgeable translator used the official translation, “Master, I have need of Thee! From the spirits that I called, Sir, deliver me! ...

Here you are welcome to read about my conspiracy theory with respect to Germany's digital situation.

It seems that Western societies do not have a classic Marxian proletariat. Nevertheless, poverty is a reality. Although the promise is kept that no one has to starve or freeze, the gap between poor and rich is widening so that economists now talk about a relative impoverishment. This is reflected in developing countries like India and Bangladesh but in Western countries too.

China is an exception, balancing between Marxism and capitalism. In addition and out of pure necessity the country is actively participating in the fight against climate change by investing considerable resources in solar and wind energy. Due to the continuing, massive use of coal and the increase in car traffic, the air in China's cities has become unbreathable.

In Western countries, relative poverty is politically explosive. Single mothers trying to combine childrearing with holding a job often end up unemployed and on social welfare. With the price of housing increasing in most regions young couples have to pay high rents without any hope of financing condominiums or houses.

Will people being deceived by the capitalistic system vote for the left or right? Presently populistic parties have the wind in their sails while left-wing parties are still suffering from the past when they ran their socialist regimes into a brick wall.

Capitalism is capable of managing economic crises albeit with the help of governments as the financial crisis of 2008 has shown. According to economic experts, a great depression like the one in 1929 with massive unemployment and numerous bankruptcies has become extremely unlikely.

Crises will surely come but they will be of a different kind. A mix of overpopulation, the competition for resources,* and climate change will lead to the massive migration of people. Just think of the inhabitants of Bangladesh, a country that will lose a large part of its land mass due to the rising tides of the Indian Ocean.
*in particular, clean water

In view of all the specters of post-Marxism, shall we give up and state the Cologne way, “Et kütt, wie et kütt.” (It cometh as it cometh)?

Hey, here is a better one, “Drinkste ene met?” (Why don't you have a drink with me?).

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