Hello again, this is your host Will Luden with Revolution 2.0™, the proud inheritors of the breakthrough thinking and dedication of Revolution 1.0 in 1776. Welcome.
Marx Had it Almost Right: Warren and Sanders Don’t (EP. 175)
“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” -Karl Marx, German political philosopher and founder of communism.
Oh, how attractive that quote is. For decades it bothered me that Marx’s famous communist prescription about how things ought to be simply did not work. Anywhere. Was it a fault in the human condition? Were we simply too selfish to be asked to work, and to give to others what they need? No, we very often vote to tax ourselves, which clearly means that we are willing to give up some of what we earn. And many of us give generously to charities, local schools, and people we know–either personally or online–who have hit unforeseeable hard times.
The problem lies not with us, but with Marx.
That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode.
This episode fits nicely with a lot of today’s political dialog, especially those making the case that so many things in life are to be provided free because things like education, food, housing and healthcare are “human rights.” Senators Warren and Sanders, candidates for the Presidency, are to the left of Marx. They do not mention performing up to your ability; things should be free because you are alive and human. And who knew that anyone, much less contenders for the most powerful position on earth, could be to the left of the founder of communism?
Let’s pause to remind ourselves of one of the principles we hold dear at Revolution 2.0™.
“For every right, there is an equal or greater responsibility.” Seems clear, yes? For example, your right to drive a car comes with the responsibility to drive safely. And your right to a free education comes with the responsibility to do your best, both for yourself and those who are paying for your schooling. And the right to free food, housing and healthcare comes only after we have done our best, worked hard over time, and simply cannot meet our needs despite our best efforts.
Marx was on the right track, but he fell tragically short of getting it right. Let’s add a few words–words that Mr. Marx might have had in mind, but did not include. “From each according to the best of his abilities, to each according to his needs–not wants.” Don’t those four words make a fundamental and game-changing difference? People who are able are asked not merely to show up and work, they are asked to do their best work. And not just show up and try. People who are in need would know that if doing their best cannot satisfy their needs, that while those needs can indeed be met by others, they cannot ask for their wants to be supplied. Only their needs.
Let’s introduce the Can’t V. Won’t concept with the below drawing.
If people cannot do something, like meet their own needs even after doing their best over time, that is entirely different from not being willing to do their best–while still relying on others to come through for them. In other words, they would be asking others to come through for them, while they did less than they were capable of on their own behalf. And as my sons might ask, “What’s up with that?”
Now let’s look at Needs vs. Wants.
Needs can include personal goods and services like nutritious food, serviceable clothing, adequate shelter, education that sets up students for success in the modern world, and competent healthcare, along with societal goods and services like roads, defense, and police protection and fire mitigation and response. Wants, goods and services that people want over and above what they need, start with things like potato chips and soda, entertainment, recreation, and smartphones. (I might be talked into including a talk/text flip phone in with needs.) Given that everyone has needs, even if “only” for the overall needs like national defense, local roads and sewers, and police and fire protection, everyone should step up and do their best, even if they have nothing else they want. It is your right to be protected and defended; it is your responsibility to do your best.
If both parts of the Marx’s modified vision were met, wouldn’t we have great surpluses? Imagine the overwhelming abundance if those with abilities produced at their best, and those whose needs were being met by others would be content with only what they actually needed, and not what they simply wanted? Think about the advances in medicine, education, the arts, transportation and life-improving technology that would be created with that abundance. Many of the “extras” should properly be reserved for those producing that abundance, both as an incentive to continue producing and as a motivation to others. In the end, the people at the middle and the bottom would have more than ever–not just more than they would have had, but more than ever in history. And the people at the top would have more to give.
Where do you stand? Do you agree that Karl (and Freddy Engels) needs an update?
This episode is not a prescription for fixing unfixable communism. It is a set of ideas for improving our current economic system, political dialog and plans for going forward.
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.