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Adam Smith on the Liberal Hawks of Slate

Karl Marx as Moralist-Prophet: Morning Coffee for Good Friday

Good morning. I'm Brad DeLong, and this is my morning coffee.

Having video blogged about Karl Marx the economist on Wednesday, I decided to blog about Marx as political activist and moralist-prophet on Thursday, and only got through the political-activist part before I ran out of time. Which leaves Marx as moralist-prophet for today, Good Friday--which is either very fitting or very unfitting, depending...

As one of the graduate students put it in class on Wednesday, Marx's confidence that history has a direction and that it is a good direction--that it leads to a real utopia, a true New Jerusalem--is based on his belief that we are, as a species, smart enough to allow us to think our problems through and to evolve institutions that allow us to become who we fundamentally are. And who does Marx think that we fundamentally are? He thinks that we are generous, solidaristic, intelligent, and equal members of a free society of associated producers.

Now it is very possible that Marx is wrong about who we are. Perhaps we are jumped-up monkeys with big brains who have an instinct for reciprocity--for tit-for-tat--and for some degree of mutual solidarity and that we can then harness these instinctive drives in order to build a relatively good society based on market exchange if we are smart enough to build good institutions with our big brains. But if we are ultimately such monkeys building a free society of associated producers on the maxim "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is foredoomed to failure.

And perhaps we are jumped-up monkeys with big brains of whom at least half--the testosterone-poisoned half--are driven by fear that the male monkeys over the hill might kill us, take our stuff, take our breeding partners, and kill our offspring and that we need to strike first. In which case we had better hope that history does not have a direction, and that if it does have a direction that direction does not mean that we have to become who we are--because I at least would rather that we remain who we are not.

I'm Brad DeLong, this is my morning coffee, and what I see out the window is not the New Jerusalem but rather San Francisco Bay.