Capitalism and the Fulfillment of Karl Marx’s Dream

One of Karl Marx’s major critiques of capitalism was that industrialists create “surplus value” using the labor of workers and then reserve that value for their own enrichment.  The workers, then, receive nothing more than subsistence while the capitalist builds a massive fortune.  He thought that if the workers could remove the capitalist from the picture, they could appropriate the surplus value created by their own labor for themselves and thus gain a combination of greater income and leisure.

Now, there are a number of problems with Marx’s presentation of the situation.  The most obvious is that he attributes no value to the capitalist who may have invented the business that creates the value and certainly took significant risks to fund the enterprise.  Another problem is that labor is not merely awarded with subsistence pay.  In a free market situation, more productive labor commands a premium.  Thus, workers are able to bargain for a portion of the surplus value based on the differential value of their contribution.  

But all of that is slightly beside the point.  One of Marx’s dreams was that the overthrow of the capitalist would create substantial leisure time which would allow men and women to pursue their interests, such as poetry, the study of music, astronomy, or whatever else one might imagine. 

It is an interesting irony of history that capitalism has provided the leisure time Marx hoped would become available to the working man.  All one need do to see it is to review the vast number of special interest blogs, associations, publications, and other indicators of a massive hobby class devoted to avocations too extensive to estimate.  Not only has capitalism provided conditions for the worker to enjoy much leisure time, it has also generated riches sufficient (or maybe just short of sufficient as evidenced by our annual deficits) to fund long retirements and periods of unemployment and disability that run into years.  

The socialist dream has become a capitalist reality.