Marx Was Right

By Terry Hulsey

The first problem of any society is not production, but distribution. The Mbuti, the Pygmies, the Kwakiutyls and the other primitive societies are able to live in idyllic subsistence, while the Western societies of abundance generate the social forces which threaten their very foundation. The most widely held political doctrine in the West is socialism, in spite of the complete repudiation of the idea that it produces more wealth for the greatest number of people. And Marxist socialism, in spite of its exposure by economic science as a senseless dogma, still enjoys high esteem in some Western countries. The reason for the success of socialism, and especially for that of its Marxist variety, is that these systems quite correctly insist that the first problem of society is distribution. Yet the redistributive schemes which they offer do not raise the standard of living for the people who adopt them. Nor is it even true that those people more equally share the fewer products produced by the system. Their appeal is sustained by the mere promise of an equal distribution of goods, even when the result is only suffering for the more productive and no gain for the less productive.

Now since the definition of envy is, according to St. Thomas, an unrealizable presumption of equality, along with “sorrow over our neighbor’s good” and the resulting “joy at his misfortune,” it is possible to rephrase our topic. The first problem of any society is not production, but the control of envy, a social disease which manifests itself in redistributive promises.

There are essentially two solutions to this problem.

The first is the demonstration by David Ricardo that both competent and relatively incompetent producers can benefit one another. Suppose Mr. Alworth can produce $15 worth of widgets an hour or $6 worth of gadgets an hour, and that, conversely, Mr. Browne can produce either $6 worth of widgets or $15 worth of gadgets an hour. If A works independently of B in an eight hour day, he produces 15 x 4 = $60 in widgets, and 6 x 4 = $24 in gadgets, or $84 total. B, working independently, also produces $84 worth of goods, with more value in gadgets. The combined independent output is $168.

If however, each devotes his energy to the thing he does best, A produces 8 hours x $15 in widgets =$120; while B produces 8 hours x $15 in gadgets = $120, for a combined output of $240. This is $72 more than their combined independent output.

But suppose that Mr. Alworth is three times as productive as Mr. Browne in every endeavor. Will A benefit by cooperation; or will B; or will neither?

Working independently, A again produces $84 worth of goods in a day. But this time B produces only $28. Their combined independent output is $112.

If however, A spends all 8 hours in the production of widgets (which equals a $120 daily output), while B devotes all eight hours producing $2 in gadgets an hour (which equals $16), their combined cooperative output is $136. Since this is $24 more than their combined independent output, the answer is that both A and B benefit, even when A is three times more productive in every endeavor.

This analysis was made almost contemporaneously with the creation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, an ode not only to joy but to universal brotherhood and cooperation. Neither appeals to piety. The one deserves the other.

The second solution to the foremost social problem lies in religion – traditionally for the West in the Mystery of the Cross. This dogma states that god “gave up his only begotten Son”, etc. for the redemption of mankind. This son was perfect as a god and perfect as a human being (another Mystery), and yet he suffered the degrading punishment of a common criminal. This state of affairs would seem to be the triumph of envy, for the destroyers of Jesus gained nothing beyond their delighting in the destruction of the most perfect creature conceivable. Yet his love was so perfect that it could not be embittered by the triumph of his tormentors.

This Mystery controls envy through shame and through the profession of faith. It shames the one who would wish the triumph of envy, for those wishes place him on the side of the destroyers of the perfect god-man. This shame is so strongly enforced by taboo that it is difficult to imagine anyone gloating over, or secretly delighting in, the Crucifixion. And this taboo against delighting in the Crucifixion is very closely allied to the general taboo against envy. The profession of faith manifests the good will of both worthy and less worthy believers. Insofar as both parties profess to live in imitation of Christ, both are evidently willing to make a sacrifice of their lives for the benefit of the other. Neither desires a social situation in which the advantage of A is obtained at the price of permanent disadvantage to B.

In regard to the controlling effect of this Mystery upon envy, it is a matter of indifference whether such a perfect creature could exist, as well as a matter of indifference whether the believers truly believe in the proofs of that creature’s existence. All that is necessary for the control of envy is that the believers sincerely want to believe that such a model of perfection deserves to exist everlastingly, that they believe that it would be terribly wrong to desire his death or degradation, and that they strive to imitate his perfect love.