Lately I’ve been doing a lot of my favorite activity: sitting on my couch and watching documentaries on Netflix. One of the recent suggestions that came up was the documentary produced by former US Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, called “Inequality for All.” In this film, Reich presents a compelling case that economic inequality has been the cause of two major economic crises in American history, the Great Depression of the early 1930s and the Great Recession which began in 2008 and which many in the US are still living through.
While Reich is speaking with the best of intentions, I believe his argument suffers from one of the most common logical fallacies: confusing cause and effect. This fallacy is especially pernicious because it systematically keeps us from asking important questions about how our economy is organized. Continue reading
A contemporary drawing of Marx as a young man
The name “Karl Marx,” especially when heard by a U.S. citizen, conjures a variety of images, or perhaps none at all. Marx as a figure was an important sign for the Soviet Union, which established a state ideology in his name. The Soviet Union was the sworn enemy of the United States for most of my parents’ lives. They have told me stories of how, when they were 7 years old, they would have “atomic bomb drills” when they would all simulate what would happen if the Soviet Union dropped atomic weapons on them by hiding under their desks. Can you imagine the psychological impact that would have on a seven year-old?
But the Marx I am reading wrote long before there was such a thing as the Soviet Union. And in reading him, there are things I want to preserve and things I want to firmly reject. Nineteenth-century German idealist philosophers were not very concerned with being legible to the uninitiated. I think, perhaps, it is the difficulty in reading Marx that produced the abomination of the Soviet ideology. But, if you are willing to struggle through this complex text with me, I think we can come out on the other end with a good framework for understanding a lot of the events we see unfolding around us today. Continue reading