Face it: Marx was partly right about capitalism

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says that the financial world needs fresh scrutiny and regulation. In our attitude to the market, we run the risk of idolatry

24 September 2008

Readers of Anthony Trollope will remember how thoughtless and greedy young men in the Victorian professions can be lured into ruin by accepting ‘accommodation bills’ from their shifty acquaintances. They make themselves liable for the debts of others; and only too late do they discover that they are trapped in a web of financial mechanics that forces them to pay hugely inflated sums for obligations or services they have had nothing to do with. Their own individual credit-worthiness, their own circumstances, even their own personal choices are all irrelevant: the debt has acquired a life of its own, quite independent of any real transaction they are involved in.

A prescient student of Trollope would have seen that he is identifying an endemic feature of the world of borrowing and lending. A lender takes a calculated risk in offering the use of their money to someone else, and rates of interests express the recognition of this — and the rewards that may be secured for taking such a risk. But it is not too difficult to see how the notional gain involved here can be used as security against a further risk. And so the transaction moves further and further from the original transaction with its realistic assessment of levels of risk within the context of measurable standards of credit-worthiness. Any face-to-face element, any direct calculation of what and who is reasonably worth trusting (which assumes some common frame of reference), fades away. Like Trollope’s hapless young clerics and feckless young landowners, individuals find that their own personal financial decisions and calculations have nothing to do with what is happening to their resources, in a process for which a debt is simply someone else’s wholly disposable asset.

It is a sort of one-syllable nursery parable of what the last couple of weeks have illustrated in the world of global finance and, of course, a reminder that what we have been witnessing is not just the product of a couple of irresponsible decades.

Trading the debts of others without accountability has been the motor of astronomical financial gain for many in recent years. Primitively, a loan transaction is something which enables someone to do what they might not otherwise be able to do — start a business, buy a house. Lenders identify what would count as reasonable security in the present and the future (present assets, future income) and decide accordingly.

Claim your gift

But inevitably in complex and large-scale transactions, one person’s debt becomes part of the security which the lender can offer to another potential customer. And a particularly significant line is crossed when the borrowing and lending are no longer to do with any kind of equipping someone to do something specific, but exclusively about enabling profit — sometimes, as with the now banned practice of short-selling, by effectively betting on the failure of a partner in the transaction.

This crisis exposes the element of basic unreality in the situation — the truth that almost unimaginable wealth has been generated by equally unimaginable levels of fiction, paper transactions with no concrete outcome beyond profit for traders. But while we are getting used to this sudden vision of the Emperor’s New Clothes, there are one or two questions that, in government as in society at large, we at last have a chance to ask. Some of these are elementary and practical. Given that the risk to social stability overall in these processes has been shown to be so enormous, it is no use pretending that the financial world can maintain indefinitely the degree of exemption from scrutiny and regulation that it has got used to. To grant that without a basis of some common prosperity and stability, no speculative market can long survive is not to argue for rigid Soviet-style centralised direction. Insecure or failed states may provide a brief and golden opportunity for profiteering, but cannot sustain reliable institutions.

Without a background of social stability everyone will eventually suffer, including even the most resourceful, bold and ingenious of speculators. The question is not how to choose between total control and total deregulation, but how to identify the points and practices where social risk becomes unacceptably high. The banning of short-selling is an example of just such a judgment. Governments should not lose their nerve as they look to identify a few more targets.

Behind all this, though, is the deeper moral issue. We find ourselves talking about capital or the market almost as if they were individuals, with purposes and strategies, making choices, deliberating reasonably about how to achieve aims. We lose sight of the fact that they are things that we make. They are sets of practices, habits, agreements which have arisen through a mixture of choice and chance. Once we get used to speaking about any of them as if they had a life independent of actual human practices and relations, we fall into any number of destructive errors. We expect an abstraction called ‘the market’ to produce the common good or to regulate its potential excesses by a sort of natural innate prudence, like a physical organism or ecosystem. We appeal to ‘business’ to acquire public responsibility and moral vision. And so we lose sight of the fact that the market is not like a huge individual consciousness, that business is a practice carried on by persons who have to make decisions about priorities — not a machine governed by inexorable laws.

And this is part of the same mindset that turns the specific, goal-related transactions of borrowing and lending into a process producing pseudo-things, paper assets — but pseudo-things that (when matters do not go well) cause real and crippling damage to actual persons and institutions. The biggest challenge in the present crisis is whether we can recover some sense of the connection between money and material reality — the production of specific things, the achievement of recognisably human goals that have something to do with a shared sense of what is good for the human community in the widest sense.

Of course business is not philanthropy, securing profit is a legitimate (if not a morally supreme) motivation for people, and the definition of what’s good for the human community can be pretty widely drawn. It’s true as well that, in some circumstances, loosening up a financial regime to allow for entrepreneurs and innovators to create wealth is necessary to draw whole populations out of poverty. But it is a sort of fundamentalism to say that this alone will secure stable and just outcomes everywhere.

Fundamentalism is a religious word, not inappropriate to the nature of the problem. Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that, if about little else. And ascribing independent reality to what you have in fact made yourself is a perfect definition of what the Jewish and Christian Scriptures call idolatry. What the present anxieties and disasters should be teaching us is to ‘keep ourselves from idols’, in the biblical phrase. The mythologies and abstractions, the pseudo-objects of much modern financial culture, are in urgent need of their own Dawkins or Hitchens. We need to be reacquainted with our own capacity to choose — which means acquiring some skills in discerning true faith from false, and re-learning some of the inescapable face-to-face dimensions of human trust.

Give the perfect gift this Christmas. Buy a subscription for a friend for just £75 and you’ll receive a free gift too. Buy now.

Show comments
  • David Bouvier

    Try deleting MARKET insert GOD!

    “Behind all this, though, is the deeper moral issue. We find ourselves talking about GOD or RELIGION almost as if they were individuals, with purposes and strategies, making choices, deliberating reasonably about how to achieve aims. We lose sight of the fact that they are things that we make. They are sets of practices, habits, agreements which have arisen through a mixture of choice and chance. Once we get used to speaking about any of them as if they had a life independent of actual human practices and relations, we fall into any number of destructive errors. We expect an abstraction called GOD to produce the common good or to regulate its potential excesses by a sort of natural innate prudence, like a physical organism or ecosystem.”

    If the Archbishop is indeed an anti-realist at heart, he perhaps agrees with this too.

  • David Bouvier

    Williams is clearly correct that it is an error to believe wholly in the abstraction – but it is the people who understand the counter-parties, regulations, settlement systems, and nooks and crannies – who do not believe in the abstraction – who create such financial instruments as CDOs.

    It is economists, commentators, politicians, who simplify the reality to something that economics (or theology) can work on.

    The excessive risks that have been taken arise not from the nature of derivative instruments themselves – though they are a necessary facilitator to the slicing and dicing of risk – but from flaws in the regulatory structures that allowed capital adequacy controls to be worked around – leading to escalating but unacknowledged risks, and to the under-pricing of that risk.

    The trouble with risk is that it is contingent – you can never truly know what risk you have run – success may come from luck or judgment but you cannot really know.

    The key instance of believing in the abstraction that has driven this crisis comes from the regulators who wrote into the Basel accords a formal role for credit-rating agencies, as if – like government targets – the rating could override the reality.

  • John de Finchley

    It’s a disgrace that a man of the cloth should even have read Marx.

    Was Adolf Hitler also right about anything? Or is it only evil lefties the Archbish likes enough to read?

    He shames his office.

  • David Hamill

    In condemning “pseudo-things” and “ascribing independent reality to what you have in fact made yourself”, the Archbishop is treading on dangerous ground. Isn’t this exactly what religion does?

    It’s also interesting to see the Archbishop espousing the principles of Islamic banking, which opposes using money to make more money.

  • Dan O’Brien

    Marx was right about many things .. I think he pointed out that profit was really unpaid wages to those who produced it . I mean think about it .. what is profit ? The only way we ‘profit ‘is if nature is bountiful otherwise we just steal from each other . Usury is a scam which should be banned . Usury implies a compensation for the opportunity cost of lending goods ..except banks produce NOTHING yet strangely they profit the most !! Money should only grow if tradeable goods grow. Money is about TRADE not money . Credit should be illegal if funds are not being drawn from direct bank deposits .These ‘trade IOUs’ notes are issued for tradeable goods and associated productive services not borrowings drawn from non existent future dollars or gold or diamonds .Thats primitive stone age bunk proferred by clever middlemen . Frankly the worst thing to do with a house thats collapsed due to whiteants is to build another house over the top of the nest . You have to get rid of the whiteants on Wall street first.

  • Ian C

    The over-riding response to such comment from the Archbishop and many others is that, contrary to a popular belief that is very sure of itself at a time like this, there is no such thing as ‘unbridled capitalism’ in the modern world.

    The modern regulatory environment saw to that. What we have, as David Bouvier has implied above, is utterly ineffective ‘bridling’ in the form of regulators of a multitude of types, whose origins and territories are even more many and various – all at different stages of development and sophistication. None have kept up with the modern financial system, nor will they ever.

    We have had a decade and a half of rapid and rewarding innovation that has helped to finance extra-ordinary growth all around the world, removing billions from poverty and improving the lives of many who remain poor. But the regulators cannot keep abreast of such a fast moving world and nor can they hope to.

    So rather than lazily proclaim that Marx, or anyone else for that matter, was right, we should first acknowledge the benefits of what has been achieved and then be wise enough to realise that more ‘bridling’ is most likely to lead to even more irresponsible behaviour in the future and come with narrower periods in between due to the pace that is possible in innovation.

    What this should be teaching us is that we have to make participants in risk markets that affect us all, to behave more responsibly, through ‘smart bridling’. Any other form, the natural produce of knee-jerk populist solution providers, simply gives participants more opportunity to behave irresponsibly by proclaiming a new era of regulation.

    Free Will, backed by massive dis-incentives to exercise it irresponsibly, is much underestimated. Some believe that this is what has happened, but if they look closely it is the opposite.

    What has been happening is ‘un-smart bridling’ (or regulation in the broadest sense) giving massive incentives to take stupid risks – to wholesaler in markets and consumer alike. If this is denied in the search for what do next, then lessons that need to be will not be learned.

    And idol talk about Marx and the death of capitalism will be shown to be just that.

  • A Theologian

    Trollope of course, like his mother, lived from his fiction.

    But he also founded the modern postal system and advised many foreign governments. He established the very first post box in the British Isles in St Helier. His father was a barrister in Old Square. He wrote I think 53 novels and his Barchester series to which RW refers was written without his knowing any clergymen! His autobiography gives the exact sums earned from all of his novels and a fox hunting scene he admits was de rigeur.

    So my advice is: read him; he’s magnificent, especially the Palliser series.

    It’s a pity RW didn’t refer to Marx’s concept of the consumer fetish which is perhaps more relevant.

    I think RW is coming from the point of view of Radical Orthodoxy i.e. Milbank et al but doesn’t want quite to show his hand.

  • David Bouvier

    Go Dan O’Brien, Go! Love the old time style.

    Profit is unpaid wages?

    Does that mean loses are overpaid wages.

    Or do you want to privatise the profits and socialise the losses, to borrow a phrase.

    Would you as an individual rather be paid on 100% profit-linked commission or accept a moderate reduction in average earnings for the stability of an agreed salary.

    Thought so.

  • John de Finchley

    @ dan O’Brien:

    What a load of 70s cobblers.

    Banks certainly do produce something. They produce credit.

    Do you also believe that governments create jobs? If so, wrong ago. All jobs everywhere that there have ever been have been created by capitalism.

  • Herbert Thornton

    I never like to imagine that either Marx or Rowan Williams was right about anything, but here at least I think that Rowan Williams is partly right. Like most others, he seems to be saying that Collateralized Debt Obligations are at the heart of the problem. Whether they are the problem is another matter. So far, there seems to be agreement that CDOs can be useful, but disagreement on whether the crisis should be blamed on –

    1. recklessness, negligence, greed, and possibly even misrepresentation on the part of the financial institutions (and people associated with them) that have specialised in and profited from the creation of CDOs; or

    2. government for failing to regulate CDOs adequately (this seems to be the view of the financial institutions & their associates, who naturally want to insist that none of this is their fault).

    Conrad Black takes an even broader view of the situation, and as I mentioned in another thread, I think his comments published in Canada’s National Post are well worth reading, as is Alan Meltzer’s plan (referred to by James Forsyth and by professor of economics at Harvard, Greg Mankiw).



    I concur too with this pithy comment in Taki’s current piece –

    “What I’d like to know is why Conrad Black is in jail for posting an all-time high for his company, and the present bunch are taking a break in the Hamptons rather than in the penitentiary.”


    John de Finchley, Adolph Hitler was himself an evil leftie. No one on the right should ever forget that Nazi was an abbreviation for National SOCIALIST. Hitler’s representation as a right wing monster is a convenient figment for the likes of the BBC, the Guardian, the Labour Party and the Left in general.

    As a self confessed man of the left it would be interesting to know if Rowan Williams has faced up to this uncomfortable reality.

  • Greg

    I became a conservative when Rowan Williams became Archbishop of Canterbury.

    That’s because I realised that liberalism was so wicked a doctrine, that even Archbishops would preach it when they should be preaching CHRIST!

    “The mythologies and abstractions, the pseudo-objects of much modern financial culture, are in urgent need of their own Dawkins or Hitchens.”

    Sums liberal Christians up doesn’t it. Next they will be quoting Nietzsche.

  • ghostof’lectricity

    It is a cliche that a stopped clock is right twice a day. Adolph Hitler was not stupid, but this does not mean that he was not evil. He was right about all sorts of things, but he also constructed systems based on assertions, half-truths, factoids and outright lies, and underlying the lot was his own personal resentments and drive for absolute power.

    Marx constructed a system as well, constructed of all sorts of things, including assertions and half-truths, and posited a determinist “dialectic” that history was supposed to follow, in lockstep. Those who came after him used it to build systems of total power based on fear and brutality (e.g. Stalin: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”; Mao: “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun”; I needn’t mention every parlor leftist’s current favorite T-shirt Marxist, Che Guevara, who blandly ordered the executions of men and women, some as young as 16, by the thousands as “class enemies” while helping Fidel construct his island worker’s paradise- wouldn’t want to spoil their viewing of “The Motorcycle Diaries” DVD on their expensive home entertainment systems in Hampstead Heath, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Berkeley, etc.).

    Any halfway intelligent theorist can be “right” about specific facts a good deal of the time and still propose, and fight for, and implement, “solutions” (sometimes of the “final” sort) that make the original problem look like a children’s row at a birthday party by comparison.

    What I find disturbing is Archbishop Williams’s faith in absolutist systems, whether Marxist, Islamist, or other, as good exemplars of what we should know or what we should do.

    For the record I’m a secular American Jew, an Obama supporter, who believes in a mixed economy with a good deal more secure social safety net than has heretofore been the case in my country and is not a fundamentalist either for “free markets” or for statism. I believed in more government oversight of the financial/economic activity in the nation long before the current crisis and have many cavils with the current Bush/Paulson proposals. But that does not send me running back to King Karl to find solutions. I find it disturbing that a supposedly subtle and INDEPENDENT-MINDED intellect such as Rev. Williams’s defenders purport him to be should find such succor there.

  • John Trevellyan

    Face it: Marx was mostly right about religion.

    Once again Rowan Williams betrays his Seventies Student Union angst. Not content with splitting the Anglican church he now wants us to shed both our freedoms and our will.

    Well I’ll vote for masters of the universe with all their stupidity and fallen greed, who at least have spread some wealth around the world that governments everywhere have embraced for votes, and allowed our politics to function, rather than someone who thinks he knows the Master of the Universe and would like, what? a return to Clerics in Control? Usury as sin? Perhaps better debt as sin – and that will impoverish millions and forestall their dreams on the way to Clink.

    Islam has a way on banking – or is that the Umma? – either way freedoms the young are finding across the Arab world on the back of satellite TV, medicine, high oil prices, and secular education are more likely to change the world for the better than a return to religious servitude.

    Be good, help charity, go to Church/temple/mosque/kirk if you want, or not at all if you don’t want – in the sure knowledge there is something deeper than religion or political systems that both scientists and clerics can believe in.

    We recognise good and bad and we need freedom of thought to weigh the balance, on average, for good. Why not make a few sheckels along the way, Charity needs it at least.

    Marxism never was the answer, as a collectivist monster that crushed individuals, and you betray your position once again with these remarks.

    Back to the cloister and wear the hair shirt. Your Wound of Knowledge was right – back to meditation please.

  • Cynicus Economicus

    This article came as a complete surprise after reading the headline. It was remarkably well thought out, even if I do not agree with all the points.

    However, there is one point of sharp disagreement. It is unfar to lay this at the feet of Rowan Williams, but will people please stop suggesting that the financial system was unregulated. It has never been more so…has nobody heard of the Basel banking accords? Were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exemplars of capitalism or statist economics?

    It was the regulation that caused the problems, through the encouragement of false confidence. The idea that all the banks fell within the rules encouraged complacency.

    The problems were, to a large extent, caused by regulation. So what is the solution put forward? More regulation….


  • Michael

    I am an American and a real free-market Capitalist. Marx wasn’t even partly right about anything. He was most wrong about the human need to be and live free. The entity that can print money AND make laws, should NEVER be in the usuary business. It leads to tyranny. Period. History has proven this over and over. We do NOT need MORE government regulations. It was government regulations which brought us to this point. Look at the American law called the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 passed into law during the Carter administration and expanded in 1995 by Clinton to include the subprime market. It is a meddlesome GOVERNMENT mandate which forces banking and lending institutions to write risky loans. The socialist special interest groups in this country have had their way for 30 years on this and now look where we are. This was NOT cause by any flaw in the free-market system. It was cause by GOVERNMENT. This represents one of the main reasons we went to war with you guys in the 18th century and all these years later, you STILL don’t understand liberty. Rowan Williams is a moron and a disgrace. Shame on him. Makes me ashamed to call myself an Anglican.

  • TDK

    Interesting that Williams finds so many faults with the market that he accuses its supporters of idolatry. Contrast that with his support for more and more state interventionism to solve us from ourselves.

    Some people note the previous eagerness of the state particularly in the US to promote a credit boom, to encourage banks to lend to people who were marginalised. Williams wants the state to intervene to avoid such bubbles ignoring the fact that such state intervention was a major factor in the bubble in the first place.

    Isn’t Williams statism idolatry?

  • Ian C


    It is naiive to argue that the free market capitalist system had nothing to do with today. Even if you are mostly correct you would accept that the very existence of bad law has been responded to by ‘market forces’ to help create this situation. Albeit forces perhaps unnecessarily created by such bad law.

    And I am a free-marketeer. The reality is that regulation will always be there and bad regulation is the inevitable result of non-market driven i.e. social engineering motivated, forces.

    Bad regulation means that there will be failure when markets run away with themselves. And on this occasion bad central bank monetary policy is at the heart of that problem, in my humble opinion, and perhaps exacerbated by other factors such as you mention. But we cannot argue that greed did not play an important part.

    Realistically, we must accept that markets will always be regulated to some extent. So your and my duty is to work with it to make it good and smart regulation. We must work to keep the ideologues, amongst whose number we must not be counted, away from the regulatory cookie jar.

    As has been written by many, Republicans and the right of centre people such as you and I, argue that ‘government does not work’ and when in office ‘they always manage to ensure that that is the case’.

  • Wily Trout

    A bit embarrassing with the report in today’s Times about the C of E short-selling the English pound

  • Sydney Afriat

    See my “The Market: Equilibrium, Stability, Mythology”, Routledge 2003 where also economic thought appears as nothing else but a hangover of prehistoric culture.

  • M.Levin

    TGF UKIP is sadly short of education. Whatever NSDAP means in practice the nazis were totally against the left. They started imprisoning socialists and communists even before the Jews. Hitler was brought into governement by the right wing German People’s Party.And the only party in the Weimar Republic parliament that supported Hitler in abolishing it was the right of centre Christian Democrats.

  • Rob Slack

    “the market is not like a huge individual consciousness, that business is a practice carried on by persons”
    So what is a “human community”?
    I am constantly amazed by the capacity of religious wallahs make words mean exactly what they want them to mean. They speak in mysterious ways, the faithful to misinform.

  • Rob Slack

    I can see where he is going.
    How about the whole system is taken over by an Islamic bank, to go with Sharia law?

  • Max

    Why do we pay any attention at all to a grown up who still needs to talk to an imaginary friend?

  • Peter C.

    Dan O’Brien squeaks – ‘Marx was right about many things’!

    Dust off an objectively written history book or two and open Dan.

    It is really quite odd that there are still so many brainwashed and politically blinkered human donkeys around that are prepared to come out with such brazen drivel.

    The contrast between the freedom, very safety and the standards of living of the citizens of those cultures that applied to their systems of government the theory that ‘Marx was right about many things’ – to the lives of people living in nations governed by a capitalist orientated democracy could not be more stark.

    For the stricken souls of the USSR, Mao’s China, North Korea, Cuba etc. etc., over seventy years of constant stagnation, decay, tyranny, fear and many, many millions of people slaughtered in the name of Marx’s vile and inhuman gospel – contrasted with the freedom and prosperity of the capitalist West and, when the almost constant growth that the latter has seen which has added to and accentuated the disparity between the two systems, suffers an occasional blip – a little politically pre-programmed clockwork rabbit like ‘Dan’ leaps out of his burrow to issue his ludicrous jargon.

    As an aside Dan. Apart from the crime against humanity that Marx’s monstrous fairytale was to become, purely from the perspective of it’s mistaken definition of the ‘human being’ and it’s hypocritical obsession with ‘equality’ – without profit and competition an economy cannot possibly improve and move forward. Every finger lifted gradually loses reason. The death and collapse of the economies of all societies that undermine such things is their inevitable destiny.

    Isn’t that clearly obvious?

  • Daibhidh MacAdhaimh

    While I’ve no problem with the Archbishop passing comments on current affairs, I despair at his attempts to sound expert on these and also at their scarcity of spiritual application. As a man of God responsible for carrying out Christ’s commission to preach the gospel to all nations, he could have succincly encapsulated this topic thematically in the words of Christ: ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul.’ Put this way the ethic is also supplied rendering his comment applicable to all and not just to those who deal in capital as if they are a separate entity that God has to deal with. But no, Mr Williams’ likes to indulge his intellect and pool of nuances too much for such simplicity of communication.
    His ‘expertise’ is divinely called to lead spiritually impoverished souls into investing treasures in heaven. It is a calling in which he is obliged to preach Mark not Marx.

  • jon livesey

    I’m sure this is a silly question, but is there any chance at all that the Archbishop could fix his church before he starts to fix the markets?

    Becoming an economist with his theological job not even half done looks like opportunism.

  • MM

    Well of course Marx was ‘partly right’ about capitalism. The rampant variety that now threatens Western society by its promotion of globalism is motivated by greed and selfishness, and is ready to destroy morality, freedom, racial & national identity, religious belief, the environment, and anything else seen as an obstacle to ‘profit
    at any price’; just as marxism is motivated by hatred and envy, and will as readily destroy the same traditional values seen as an obstacle to a drab, soulless word where everything is dragged down to the lowest common denominator.

  • James Richardson

    Extracts of this piece were published in the ‘silly’ section of The Australian yesterday, confirming the Archbishop’s status as an international laughing stock.

  • Bill McCall

    once again the advocate of Sharia law, mumbles into his liberal-left beard and the sound we hear is utter rubbish.
    This cleric-clown cannot even run his own Church but wishes to tell the rest of us how to run our financial affairs.
    Can we not shut this buffoon up. Why does the media give him any attention? Unless there is a conspiracy to allow the fool to talk himself out of a job and into the ranks of the unemployed. If there is a god surely he must be disappointed, even disgusted, with the performance of this fool

  • Ronnie

    John de Finchley, do you have prescribed reading lists for everyone or just men of the cloth?

  • virgilio aquino rivas

    Apropos of Marx, he is not only right, but a perfect image of what ought to be our response today.

    Marx epitomizes an activism of singularity in his own time. That is the activism of thought as both a discipline and a resolve.

    As a discipline of thought, Marx proposed an activism of thought free for being, that is, a being helplessly reduced into exchangeable non-intuitive values, as executed in its gravest form by the capitalist logic of market economy in which beings are free rather for the objective singularization of power, namely, the power of capital. Against the power of capital, he proposed an activism of thought that renews a dialectical emancipation of being from the powers that impose themselves over freedom to think of a free destiny, free from capital. He named this communism of thought, but thought as discipline and resolve. In other words, thought that does not separate theory and praxis, a working thought, an activism imbued with a dialectical acknowledgement of being as being only in the sense that it is free for thought, for culture, for freedom. Hence, a human being in all its right to thought in a free world. That world is deprived of us, as beings, by the logic of the market. This logic does not recognize thought, hence, does not recognize the human being that can only sustain itself in freedom. This freedom, in its highest expression, is freedom to think of a free destiny, a free world that is, meanwhile, peopled by human beings. Hence, freedom with responsibility to free beings, to initiate this freeing as a collective work in progress. In contrast, the logic of the market discourages, and in fact, effectively alienates beings from themselves, from the thought of freedom, to initiate this progress. This logic is the logic of a methodic reduction of beings into exchangeable values, as values that are objectified by a single measure of power (capital). Marx is a dialectician in the sense that he argued for a renewal of logic as a passion, as a commitment to being-free of being. Hence, a logic that is dialectical in its true form, a form of a methodic exposition of the agenda of power to arrange the death of thought in the curious logic of the market in the face of which we are made to be beings of equal opportunities to objectify ourselves away from thought. Marx argued for plural singularities in the name of freedom. Non-objectifiable singularities as reducible only in the extent to which beings are free to objectify themselves as responsible activists of thought, freedom, and culture. Also, plural singularities in the sense of the many ways we can be beings without losing our responsibility for freedom.

    This activism of thought–as discipline and resolve–is the activism that we need which is now being rediscovered in the image of Marx, the communist, a being-free for thought. Incidentally, it is the same image that is now being rediscovered in some parts of the globe, in places where the right to the free destiny of being is being waged on all fronts: Venezuela, Bolivia, and other anticapitalist nations, mostly, in the Latin America. This image of Marx was the image reworked in the image of Che Guevarra, a free being, who took the risk to champion the Cuban revolution. Che Guevarra as the image of a working philosopher, an activist loyal to the cause of singularity originally exemplified by Marx who risked exposing the hypocrisy of a dubious universal, namely, capitalism. This universal he labored to unmask in his work Capital–capital as the name of power that arranges the death of thought, of freedom, of being, of culture.

    Our task today is to promote this image of Marx in localizable singular expressions of our being-free.

    Marx is not partially right. He is correct in all his symbolisms for our right to a free destiny, the right to free being, the right to thought, to culture, to freedom.

    virgilio aquino rivas (polytechnic university of the philippines/institute of social history)

  • Peter C.

    “Marx is not partially right. He is correct in all his symbolisms for our right to a free destiny, the right to free being, the right to thought, to culture, to freedom.

    virgilio aquino rivas (polytechnic university of the philippines/institute of social history)”.

    Listen ‘virgilio aquino rivas’ (I bet that looks great on a credit card) – I know that you are subject to a lot a extreme weather conditions in your global neck of the woods. But next time anything heads your way, take cover!

    Your brain has clearly taken enough hammering already.

    Give me a break.

  • Michael

    Hey virgilio aquino rivas, if that even is your name,

    a great person once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

    Good luck to you as an automaton of the state.

  • Hadrian

    Considering the state of his own crumbling institution and his complete inability to utter anything that sounds even vaguely like the Gospel, I vote Rowan should stay in Lourdes whuther he is reported to have gone, presumably in the desperate and forlorn hope of some miracle from the Roman church for his supposed Protestant institution. Anyone ever noticed the oddity of leftist egalitarians bein so drawn to the absolutist hierarchical Church?
    As for his comments on Marx, I much prefer Robert G. Wesson’s insights, encapsualted in the title of his book-‘Why Marxism?-The Success of a Failed Theory’
    Economist and theologian, Gary North answers this and basically his view is it’s down to sheer luck. He notes:
    ‘Had Lenin not pulled off the October Revolution in 1917, the name Karl Marx would be known only to specialists in the history of sociology…Windelbrandt, for example, devoted only two brief bibliographical entries and part of one paragraph to Marx and Engels in his 1901’History of Philosophy’The fact is Masrx had very little influence prior to 1917.Had it not been for Lenin, references to Marx would be limited to a series of footnotes, rather than a lbrary of books.’
    His thought is shallow, in other words, and his world view incoherent…just like his latter day disciple, Rowan Williams.

  • Ganpat Ram

    I am very happy that the capitalists themselves, with George Bush at the head, are taking steps to rein in the market forces they supposedly stand for.

    Gabriel Garcia Marques once remarked that it would be the United States which would usher in a successful socialism.

    I am very happy no capitalist is reading Marx. Well done. All they are doing is fulfilling his predictions in their actions. Now that is truly wonderful.

    I am a long standing admirer of the best ideas in Marx, but also have absolute contempt and loathing for the vicious cynical nihilistic fanatics who pass for a leftist intelligentsia. Anytime I look at the New Left Review with all its bloodless frightening smug pieces dripping with dehumanised terminlogy on The Greening of Modern Lesbian-Marxist Theory or The Theory of Modern Leftist Mutantist-Marxism, etc, I am cured of any hankering for the return of that horror, “Socialist Theory”.

    No, far rather than these anti-human, anti-cultural insects, let Marx’s best ideas be implemented by the likes of George Bush and John McCain (whom I support).

    In short, Marxism implemented despite themselves by those who don’t believe in his ideas and in fact hate them, will prove far more successful than Marxism implemented by the totalitarian bloody-minded creatures who claim to be his followers.

  • William

    Bill McCall: “This cleric-clown cannot even run his own Church but wishes to tell the rest of us how to run our financial affairs.”
    Why shouldn’t the Archbishop write in the Spectator: champagne for the brain? I read it because it is precisely not a social scientist’s rag of claptrap.
    Hadrian: “‘Had Lenin not pulled off the October Revolution in 1917, the name Karl Marx would be known only to specialists in the history of sociology.”
    Nice one. Of course, what is seldom mentioned is that, Lenin and Trotsky were financed by bankers who didn’t care tuppence about the outcome of the revolution’s effect on the millions of innocents.
    If Rowan Williams can’t tell us off about greed and the worship of materialism then who can? His thinking is perfectly in line with our recent Popes and most normal religious believers including most of our ancestors.

  • Brita

    Peter C and Michael – well at least there’s a laugh or two in here! Thanks.
    I expect ole Virgil’s frying all kinds of young minds with that stuff – and they think it’s brilliant!!!! Bring back the Aeneid, I say.

    G. Ram: Thank you, too. I wondered why Gordo was slithering round McCain and Palin; and why Cameron’s supporting Obama.

  • Ganpat Ram


    I hesitate to disturb your blissful state of historical illiteracy.

    Still, it seems worth poining out that the Second International, bringing together the social democratic parties of pre-First World War Europe, and including such political giants as the German Social Democratic Party, explicitly took Marx and Engels as founding fathers.

    Lenin’s party was only one member of the Second International.

    The history of European socialism is too big a thing to engage the imagination of philistines like you.

    May I ask who would have heard of Jesus if a Roman emperor had not taken a fancy to his fanciful ideas?

  • MK

    Archbishop is a fuzzy-minded fool, and so are the Marx admirers on this page.

    It is typical of sheep-minded to panic at the first sign of trouble, and attribute this trouble to their favorite boogeyman. Some _corporate_ – not very private property, really – entities have taken excessive risks. And so, instead of letting the markets do the CORRECTION of taking exactly those institutions down, the panickers want to do exactly the worst thing possible: shield the bad lenders from risk, and in their monumental stupidity think this would be an improvement! The Archbishop should rather ask if he doesn’t have more faith in state than in God. That is idolatry he doesn’t seem to recognize.

    Remember Enron? Somehow its collapse was no big deal in the great scheme of things. It’s the same thing with current “crisis”: no big deal. The real cause of this idiocy is not that we are practising idolatry of the markets, but that some idiots, like Archbishop, have always quietly hated the idea of free market per se. And so he takes this puny opportunity to squeak about how bad unfettered markets are. As if they were unfettered in the first place. Americans might be familiar with monumental time-waster called Sarbanes-Oxley act. Anything’s good for more regulation. It really is like Ronald Reagan put it: if it moves, tax it, if it still moves, regulate it, if it stops moving, subsidize it. The costs of the “necessary” regulation will be high, it’s just the idiots like Archbishop in their ignorance will not perceive it politically, even though it will make life a bit worse for everyone. But in order to recognize that, you have to have a mind of calm human as opposed to mind of thick sheep, and a bit of knowledge on economics wouldn’t hurt either. Archbishop just takes the position that whatever he doesn’t understand and doesn’t feel comfy with, must be necessarily be bad. Even though the corporate idiocies that led to excessive risk taking have more to do with making them too statist and too regulated, in which social and organizational wrongness thrives.

    And FYI, Marx critique had nothing to do with excessive risk taking by financial institutions. Whatever wisdom you attribute to Marx, this was not it. His claim was about supposedly inevitably falling rate of profit in capitalist economy, which was supposed to drive political class warfare sides to extremities. You can ask a real economist for reasons why this was an illusion, but getting Marx out is a good example how fuzzy-minded Archbishop is.

  • TT

    Consider this:

    In order to find good predictors of non-financial sector performance, and GDP growth generally, we look to the non-financial sector itself. One of those predictors is the profitability of non-financial capital, or the “marginal product of capital” as we economists call it. The marginal product of capital after-tax is a measure of how much profit (revenue net of variable costs and taxes) that each unit of capital is producing during, say, the last year. When the marginal product of capital after-tax is above average, subsequent rates of economic growth (and subsequent marginal products of capital) also tend to be above average.

    Since World War II, the marginal product of capital after-tax averaged between 7 and 8 percent per year. During 2007 and the first half of 2008 – exactly the time when financial markets had been spooked by oil price spikes and housing price crashes – the marginal product had been over 10 percent per year: far above the historical average. Compare this to the marginal product of capital in 1930-33 (the years of Depression-era bank panics): 0.5 percentage points per year less than the postwar years and significantly less than in 1929. The marginal product of capital was also below average prior to the 1982 recession (in this case, far below average) and prior to the 2001 recession. Thus, the surprise was not that GDP continued to grow 2007-8 despite the bleak outlook from Wall Street’s corner of the world, but that GDP growth failed to be significantly above the average. More important from today’s perspective is that much capital in America continues to be productive, and that this will likely permit Americans to advance their living standards as they have in years past. The non-financial sector today looks nothing like it did in 1930.

    In other words, whining like that of Archbishop is much ado about nothing.

  • Hadrian

    Ah, yes, Ganpat: typical socialist claptrap response- if you don’t agree just ignore the argument and rubbish the person.
    I’m not a marxist so I must be a philistine!
    As for you point about all those ‘Internationals’ and their ‘commanding’ leaders and members,the same argument applies, no Revolution, no main text, just footnotes.
    Pity they hadn’t remained there, given the slaughter carried out in the name of Marx, but that’s for another thread.
    As for Christ, I think you’ll find the Gospel has a power well beyond any earthly one. Despite ferocious persecution the Romans couldn’t snuff it out.Just because it’s not being experienced here in the Western World doesn’t mean it’s not on the advance elsewhere, however much we in the West care to ignore what is happening globally.

  • A. MacAulay

    Would some journalist please take Cynicus Economicus’ tip and start asking why the Basel II regulations on Eigenkapital/Equity have been so successfully and over such a long period circumvented?

    How did all these Bankers manage this? It is now public that the Sachsen Landesbank (a State bank with taxpayers money) created an offshore (in Ireland, lol) subsidiary in order to gamble in Mr Greenspan’s Bank of Toyland mortgages and offscreen these activities from the normal balance sheets. Result being that the Sachsen LB had to find a rescuer and the Minister- President of Saxony had to go.

    The question is, is how many British banks kept their gambling off the books in a similar way, and if so then when can the paying public expect prosecutions. Or is that asking too much?

    A warning to all persons who take the utterances of the A of C seriously. You have failed to understand that RW is the Senior Civil Servant in the National Department of Births, Marriages and Deaths. Religion is about calenders; philosophy or even spirituality are disciplines concerned with other matters. It is nice that RW has an opinion, and it is his right to engage in debate, and even if he has not had a thought since his student days, this in no way impinges on his ability to hold a crozier.

  • Hadrian

    I do like that, Mr MacAulay, Rowan’s ability to hold a crozier!
    Of course that’s the nib of the problem with all those leftist leaning,unrealistically utopian, otherworldy clerics who miss the core message of what they claim is their own religion. They end up so steeped in superstitious and irrational trivialities they become ( at best) quite irrelevant to the pressing needs of real life. It is quite contemptible in a supposedly protestant churchman.

  • A. MacAulay

    Just think of the A of C as being our equivalent of a Confucianist priest at the Temple of the Imperial Ancestors. The last thing he should ever do, is DO anything. Otherwise All Under Heaven plus the 10,000 things will get all jumbled up and disharmony will prevail!

  • Hadrian

    Again, Mr MacAulay, you are perfectly if excoriatingly wittily correct.
    Who’d ever guess Rowan was in a line stretching back to the likes of Calvin, Knox, Cromwell and even , forsooth, Cranmer? They at least got things done!

  • Neale Adams

    It would be nice if some of the people who disagreed with Rowan could make logical argument, rather than call him names and get hung up on his peripheral comment about Marx. (Not counting the thoughtful replies of David Bouvier and Ian C.)

    But I wonder where the Archbishop draws the line on the abstraction of debt. Clearly the loans officer in the bank and I know each other (he knows me better than I know him!), and the Archbishop would accept our negotiation of a car loan or a home mortgage or a loan to expand my small business as proper. But can the bank lay off my loan? Surely that helps “equip” my bank to survive as a bank in the financial world. Can the financial institution that bought and maybe bundled my debt security sell it? At what point do the transactions “no longer [have anything] to do with any kind of equipping someone to do something specific, but [are] exclusively about enabling profit.” Profit of course has been a motive all down the line. The Archbishop cites the practice of short-selling. But in a market, short-selling has its positive function – for one thing to work against over-valuation.

    In short, where does legitimate profit-taking become illegitimate profiteering? I think the Archbishop is trying hard to get to answer, but I don’t think he has gotten very far with his suggestion that with abstraction comes idolatry. Abstraction, to a signicant degree, is not something we can give up in a modern economy – unless we want to revert to a far simplier, probably agrarian, economic system.

  • JohnAnt

    What about the iniquity of gambling on the property market? Buying up whole areas when the market is historically cheap, neglecting to maintain the fabric for decades at a time, then suddenly raising the cost of leasehold extensions and rents, so that only the wealthy can afford to live there…Is this ringing any bells, your Grace? This is the C of E’s property portfolio.

  • Hadrian

    Neale Adams,

    When we criticise the Archbishop it is not ad hominem but on the very real objection that he fails in every instance to speak the message of and apply apostolic Christianity which centres around the doctrines of man’s totally debilitating depravity, justification by grace alone in Christ alone, and to uphold Sola Scriptura- all key Reformed Christian doctrines he himself repudiates and so cannot communicate or bring to bear on live issues of the day. if it is name-calling to call him an imposter, then I plead guilty. The best in the current Church of England is probably the likes of the Bishop of Rochester, though even there there are serious compromises.

  • Bob MacDonald

    Two points: 1 from Peter Drucker – making a profit for a business is not a motivation, but a necessity. Businesses that are unprofitable cannot meet their first responsibility: to pay their employees.

    2. More needs to be said about the buying and selling of paper assets as a theft of time. Why else do we call money ‘currency’. The sub-prime mortgage is a classic: suck in their commitment with a low interest rate and then make their future ours by their promise to pay higher rates in the hope that their real estate will inflate faster than their obligations. Household Finance with its 30+% interest rates on old chesterfields has been in this rip-off of the time of the poor for a long time. When you steal something – the only remedy is paying it back – see the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19.

  • Herbert Thornton

    Coming back for a moment to the labyrinth of Collateralized Debt Obligations created by the “experts’ making their livings (and huge fortunes) in the various – and now in some instances failing – financial institutions, we might ask the question – “How did all this start to happen in the first place?” A common response is – greed and stupidity on the part of the financial sector.

    “Greed” is of course the usual leftist description of the straightforward and legitimate aim of making a profit. But stupidity in the effort to do so is less plausible. Traditionally, banks have tended towards prudence rather than recklessness. So why has this crisis – if it really is one – happened? A very interesting & perceptive thought on this point has been expressed, very succinctly indeed, by Mark Steyn – who, I suggest, has a better grasp of the situation than does Rowan Williams —

    “US politicians …………… with their usual casual destructiveness dressed up in the baby talk of “diversity” …… chose to turn the mortgage industry into just another branch of the affirmative-action racket.

    The United States government in effect decreed credit a human right rather than a privilege judiciously granted by one independent contractor to another.”

    Looked at in this light, it is hard not to conclude that the problem has resulted in very large part from the malign and insane influence of Political Correctness.

    Mr Steyn’s full comments are here –

  • Paul Levy

    Interesting to see the nervous condemnation of Marx on here. It’s all in Das Kapital, people. Whether or not you accept Marx’s social ideas, anyone who knows their stuff has to (at least grudgingly) accept the insight of Marx’s analysis of the economy. (Made 150 years ago, don’t you know. But still relevant.) It’s humourous to see people making excuses about regulatory frameworks, the greed of individual traders or affirmative action programmes. Uh, no, even with a different regulatory framework there still would have been a crisis – perhaps a less severe one, but there would have been one nevertheless. A surplus of credit seeks out more credit. Bankers didn’t start selling subprime mortgages because they were immoral individuals, but because they had to. If they hadn’t been allowed to offer such loans then they would have had to find another high-risk high-profit source of investment for their money – if not then the cycle of profit-generation would have come to an end. Even the illegal financial activities of the investment banks were explicitly predicted by Marx. “With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent. will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent. certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent., positive audacity; 100 per cent. will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent., and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged.”

    But never fear. Marx predicts the crash, but he also predicts the subsequent boom. And he predicts that when the profits come rolling in the financial institutions and capitalist politicans will all be absolutely convinced that this time, it won’t come to an end…

  • James

    I’m not sure how this means Marx was right. If I recall, Ayn Rand is a big fan of remembering that money represents real production and not just an abstraction as well.

  • dez9925

    Dawkins, Hitchens? Why am I not surprised that the the work of Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton were not mentioned? Have not those, and other proponents of the Distributivism, addressed this issue a long time ago?

Can't find your Web ID? Click here