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What's New home > Reading > Found on the Web > Found on the Web, June 2017

Found on the Web, June 2017

In Praise of Marx

This is an essay on Karl Marx, by Terry Eagleton in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Partly, I suppose, because Marx's work isn't taught in U.S. schools (the “establishment” takes a dim view of anything which questions capitalism, America's true, official religion), we tend to view Karl Marx in narrow terms. As an enemy of capitalism, he usually is demonized. We forget that he sometimes praised the capitalist class, and that he had deep concern for his fellow humans. His best known work, Capital, isn't about communism, it's about capitalism. (I note that it's dense and difficult to get through, which helps to explain why it's so infrequently read.)

This essay presents a more balanced, wider view of Marx. It also corrects some misconceptions. For instance, Eagleton points out that Marx was no more responsible for the brutalities of Stalin and Mao, than was Jesus for the Inquisition.

This isn't too long. It doesn't even explain Marxism, nor does it try to convert you. It merely provides a sanity check. It's worth a read. (Dated 2011.04.11)

The Gruesome History of Eating Corpses as Medicine

You might categorize this under “lesser known historical phenomena”; at any rate, I had never heard of these things. Until the early Twentieth Century, it was not uncommon to believe that eating parts of dead people, and drinking the blood of the departed, had beneficial consequences. For example, ancient Romans would sometimes drink the blood of slain gladiators, ”to absorb the vitality of strong young men”. Even British royalty subscribed to these beliefs. Hardly anyone that we know of thought these practices in any way to be wrong. Something a little different, which may have some relevance to the current attempts by some politicians to change the U.S. healthcare system in order for the One Percent to acquire the wealth of the poorer folks. (Dated 2012.05.06)

The Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacondona

This is a declaration by the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee of the General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. The Zapatista Army is commonly known in both English and Spanish by an acronym, EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional). EZLN was formed in 1983, and has, since 1994, been in a state of declared war against Mexico on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Although some armed confrontations have taken place since then, most of the time since could be characterized better as a period of education and organization. The people protected by EZLN have recently selected a candidate to represent them in the 2018 election for president of Mexico. Most EZLN presence is in the southern part of Mexico, around Chiapas, but EZLN is gaining support all over the country as the established government continues to disintegrate under the weight of imperialism (expecially by the U.S.), class inequities, and drug wars.

The document speaks for itself. It contains a description of the conditions in Mexico (and the rest of the world), and of the actions which EZLN expects to take.

(Dated 2006.06.07; translated from a document dated 2005.06)

Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer

This is the home page for a 263-page book by Dean Baker. The book can be downloaded from this URL in PDF, MOBI, or EPUB format, without cost (this page belongs to the author), or you can get it in paperback form from booksellers.

Although markets can be manipulated by adjusting or controlling prices, the most common way to rig markets is by changing the terms or the rules of the marketplace. Changing the rules can decrease prices (for example, by requiring that sellers disclose certain information) or increase prices (by requiring certain contract conditions), or can affect supply or demand or quality or other characteristics of goods.

This book demonstrates, using very standard and widely accepted economic principles, that the U.S. government has, especially since around 1980, manipulated major markets with easily foreseeable and predictable results: the total size of the economy is reduced, and the wealthy nevertheless get more. (Put otherwise, the pie is smaller, but the rich get bigger pieces anyway.) Given how predictable the outcome of policies and laws has been, it is almost inescapable to conclude that these actions were taken deliberately, although Baker doesn't emphasize the point. That is, the growing inequality in the United States has been intentional.

Baker examines several kinds markets in detail: financial services; money supply and interest rate markets; intellectual property, including patents and copyrights; professional services; and CEO pay. Although it is clear that rolling back a lot of legislation since 1980 would correct the problem — making most Americans much better off — Baker suggests additional changes beyond that. (I agree with reversing the changes, but I'm not sure that the additional changes suggested by the author are in all cases the best way to go.) Although the book is about economics, which tends to be somewhat mathematical by many people's standards, it's quite easy to read; in fact, Baker writes extraordinarily clearly. If you made it through a semester of economics, you shouldn't have any trouble, but there are a lot of details in the examples. There are a couple of those supply and demand curves common to basic market theory, but if you are allergic to such diagrams you can ignore those: his verbal explanations get the points across.

To be sure, Baker doesn't get into politics. He doesn't place blame or make accusations. Nevertheless, the ease with which the consequences of policies could have been predicted, leads to a picture of a deliberate sacrifice of the interests of almost all of the people to bring benefits to a handful of well-heeled beneficiaries. Furthermore, the last election brought no change, nor has it hinted of any forthcoming change. The policies in question are not being discussed.

If this book doesn't make you suspect that the Presidents and Congress-critters of both parties have sold you down the river, and betrayed you in favour of the wealthy few, then I'm not sure what would encourage you to change your mind.

(No date on the web page, but the book was published in 2016)

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