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My professor said according to Marx, what capitalists purchase is not labor goods, but the products of labor.

To me, the result is not the market economy of "distribution according to labor", but the collapse of the whole market economy.

I don't figure out what's the big idea of it. How can capitalism be against itself?

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  • It's a complex topic, and so this question being so broad may not be a good fit for this forum.
    – tkruse
    Mar 12, 2023 at 12:11
  • This is quite obviously a geometry problem. ~ My four-year-old cousin Mar 12, 2023 at 13:08
  • Good question, and your professor is probably right about Marx. The "Result", though, misses the technological nature of production - "labour goods" can come apart from "labour value" because the amount of human intervention required to create things can diminish due to technological advancement. Nowadays we would say simply that people are alienated from what they make in a capitalist economy, but that capitalism can persist and continue regardless.
    – Paul Ross
    Mar 12, 2023 at 14:57
  • This is another good question. I wonder if an answer can't be found in someone rather than something. Mar 12, 2023 at 15:37
  • Also I'd like to note a vote to "not close", or to pre-emptively declare my vote to reopen in the event a close vote is received - the question is succinct, clearly situated within philosophical literature and has a reasonable claim to be answerable in line with the community guidelines.
    – Paul Ross
    Mar 12, 2023 at 15:48

2 Answers 2

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The issue, as Marx sees it, is that laborers aren't technically part of the capitalist economy. They do not sell material goods that they themselves produce; they sell their time and effort at a flat rate. Thus they cannot extract any of the benefits of supply and demand curves. Labor is effectively in the position of old-school farm animals: they work in exchange for food, shelter, and bare necessities, while the products of their labor are sold (by the farmer) at market rates. Capitalists make all the profits, and laborers are kept, you know... comfortable... at least as long as they are useful and productive.

So it isn't exactly that capitalism is against itself. It's more that class capitalism excludes large numbers of people from the market because the products of their labor are given over to the capitalist class in non-market transactions before those products ever enter the market.

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Marx observed in his time people working in factories and mines under harsh conditions without earning enough to build personal wealth. Marx also knew from history several examples of violent uprisings of peasants or similar when those would not be able to finance their lives with their work.

Marx put those two observations together and predicted that those exploited workers in factories and mines would necessarily start a violent uprising in the future.

Marx did not consider democracy and state-organized welfare as realistic mitigations because those were not as developed at the time as they are now in developed countries.

So the predictions of Marx are less based on complete economic reasoning but more on historical context of early industrialization.

Sadly Marx did also not understand that revolutions led by non-"elites" would degrade immediately into worse systems of oppression, so he painted an exaggeratedly rosy picture of a future after revolutions.

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