Celebrity advice

Alex Martelli aleax at aleax.it
Thu Aug 28 15:03:26 CEST 2003

Asun Friere wrote:

> Arthur <ajsiegel at optonline.net> wrote in message
>> ""There are some books so bad, but so plausible and influential, that
>> periodically trashing them in public is almost an obligation. The really
>> classic stinkeroos of this kind, like Karl Marx's Das Kapital, exert a
>> weird kind of seduction on otherwise intelligent people long after their
>> factual basis has been completely exploded."""
>> I gotta go with with Eric on this.
> Wow! You've actually managed to read Marx' _Capital_?  What all three
> volumes?  I'm impressed!  I'm certain no "otherwise intelligent
> people" would "periodically [thrash]" a book they haven't read, would
> they?

Dunno 'bout Arthur, but I did read "Il Capitale" (in Italian
translation, by Editori Riuniti) -- that was over 30 years ago,
when I was a left-wing firebrand (but definitely an egghead
rather than a man of action).  None of my comrades had ever
gotten close, of course (it's a VERY heavy, ponderously written
book: K. Marx would never have managed to popularize his ideas
without the help of that _excellent_ writer, F. Engels).  One
of the few people I knew who HAD was my teacher of history and
philosophy (I was in high school at the time, of course), a
member in good standing of the Communist Party (quite legal in
Italy, indeed at the time the second-largest party in the country
with about 30% of the vote -- I was far to the left of the staid
and traditional Party, of course) -- she challenged me, claiming
that having read Marx was worth nothing unless I had an equally
good grounding on his forebears and intellectual adversaries.  So
I started on Adam Smith (wonderful writer), Ricardo (almost as
ponderous as Marx), etc, etc, and eventually left Marxism (I guess
in some sense it was an issue of growing up).

But I challenge the claim that "the factual basis" of Das Kapital
has been "completely exploded", any more than that of the far
more accessible and pleasant-to-read "Wealth of Nations".  Sure,
quite a few of Smith's analyses (and of Marx's) have been proven
to be incomplete or incorrect -- e.g., Ricardo does a great job
on Smith, even though he does admire and accept him as a starting
point, by meticulously proving the concept of "rent" as being
determined by the least-productive land in use, a concept that
Smith had not conceived and whose lack undermines quite a few of
his detailed analyses (as I recall, and it HAS been over 30 years,
Marx's treatment of rent is also pretty weak, though perhaps not
quite as weak as Smith's, but with less justification since Marx
DID know of Ricardo's analysis and never critiques it in what I
find a convincing manner -- strange, because even accepting the
whole of Ricardo's treatment on this is quite peripheral to Marx's
central purposes and would not undermine them in any way).  But
anyway, I still find a LOT that is part of the "factual basis" of
both "The Wealth of Nations" and "The Capital" to be un-exploded
and quite helpful as a starting point for my own idiosyncratical
analyses of economical and politico-economical issues.


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