Full Marx

Lovely column by Simon Caulkin, who has been looking at the current crisis of capitalism in the light of re-reading an elegant introduction to Das Kapital.

It takes a reading of Francis Wheen’s concise and lucid Marx’s Das Kapital – a biography (Atlantic) for the penny to drop. The cantankerous ghost hovering over the global turmoil and glorying in the discomfiture of its chief agents is that of Highgate Cemetery’s most eminent denizen and the UK’s great revolutionary. The sense of the grinding of the gears of history, the shifting of the political and economic plates, comes straight from Karl Marx (although some might also want to add an element of Groucho). When the governor of the Bank of England talks of protecting people from the banks, and plaintively recommends that graduates should consider a career in industry as well as the City, shimmering eerily through his remarks is the Gothic vision of alienation and auto-destruction that Marx outlined 150 years ago…

Another interesting perspective on capitalism is that of systems engineering. The basic problem is that the system is intrinsically unstable. It can be maintained in a semi-stable state for periods of time by regulation, but in the end its latent instability breaks through. Oscillations between boom and bust are a feature, not (as its apologists maintain) a bug.