As of now, I am in control here, in the White House

Barack Obama and Karl Marx

President Obama’s recent assertions about the roles of workers and companies in society betray a disconcerting lack of understanding about how capitalism works. The president of the United States is in fact mouthing ideas that have a better home in Marxism than capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe Obama is a Marxist. But he is promoting concepts that are Marxian in origin – perhaps he learned them from some Marxist professor of sociology at Occidental – and that raise profound concerns about his approach to the U.S. economy.

One of Marx’s fundamental concepts is that of the “value” and “use-value.” Value refers to the intrinsic worth of a product and therefore the labor that produces it – its quality and its expression of a worker’s talent and being. It may seem surprising, but value actually has nothing to do with capitalism.

"I think the booby prize should be worth the same as first prize." Photo by Keith Koffler

The importance of products and labor in a capitalist society are not whether they are any good, but whether they sell for a profit. If I am working on the assembly line at Ford Motor Co. painting exquisite portraits of my colleagues, then my work has great value, but it’s really not worth much to Ford, and I’m going to be fired.

Same if I do a really superb job putting the front wheel on, but it takes me half an hour. Tremendous value. But little use-value, because time is money.

Use-value is the value of your work in the market. That is, if you spend five minutes making junk, but the junk nets you or your company millions of dollars, your work may have little intrinsic worth or value, but it has tremendous use-value.

Marx felt that workers had become “alienated” because they were not properly expressing themselves by creating things of “value.” Their labor, he felt, had been stolen from them by companies looking for “use-value” and ignoring the intrinsic worth of workers and their products.

Under capitalism, hopefully most people can find jobs that have something to do with their own values and skills. But, sorry, no one wants to pay you for a full day spent mowing their lawn with garden clippers, even if that’s how you like to do it and you’re good at it.

Which brings us to the president.

Here’s what he told Jake Tapper of ABC News in an interview Tuesday:

We want to set up a system in which hard work, responsibility, doing what you’re supposed to do, is rewarded, and that people who are irresponsible, who are reckless, who don’t feel a sense of obligation to their communities and to their companies and to their workers, that those folks aren’t rewarded.

What kind of system is this, and who governs it and sets it up? Who decides what is rewarded – Obama? What is rewarded under capitalism is the usefulness of your work, not whether you’ve tried hard.

Did John D. Rockefeller feel an sense of obligation to community while he was putting all his smaller competitors out of business?

Here’s what Obama said at a fundraiser Oct. 12:

I hope you got involved not just because it was trendy, but because you shared with me a vision of an America in which everybody has a fair shot and everybody does their fair share . . . the idea that if you worked hard and you were responsible, that you showed up at your job every day and you looked after your family and you looked after your community.  That that meant that you could pay your bills and send your kids to college and take a vacation once in a while and have a home and retire with some dignity and respect.

These are indeed American values – working hard and doing your fair share. They have “value,” and they may also have “use-value,” though they don’t necessarily have use-value. But sorry, these values don’t get you vacations and a college education for your kids.

The implication here is that as long as you are a good person, you succeed. Who is going to guarantee that? Who is going to decide how nice you are? Who is going to decide what is meant by “fair” share? Obama will. Or some Politburo. not the market.

It’s this type of thinking that led Obama to pronounce recently that banks “don’t have some inherent right just to – you know, get a certain amount of profit,” and to say the following at a press conference earlier this month, where he tried to explain such a statement:

I will be hugely supportive of banks and financial institutions that are doing the right thing by their customers. We need them to be lending . . . We need them to help do what traditionally banks and financial services are supposed to be doing, which is providing business and families resources to make productive investments that will actually build the economy.

I mean, basically the argument they’ve made is, well, you know what, this hidden fee was prohibited and so we’ll find another fee to make up for it. Now, they have that right, but it’s not a good practice.

Really? Who says it’s a bad practice for banks to make money by charging fees? Who says banks have to lend? Obama? Not the market, evidently, because they’re sitting on their cash.

The hostility Obama has to profit and to the means of achieving it – and his insistence that everyone be rewarded merely for trying hard while being “responsible” to the community and contributing their “fair share” – all stems from his embrace of “value” over “use-value.” He fails to appreciate market economics and the good it ultimately brings, even if it’s not always fair or pretty.

Such thinking points inevitably to Marx’s ultimate vision of paradise:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

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46 Responses to Barack Obama and Karl Marx

  1. This is a very interesting writeup, Keith–thanks.

    When he said: That that meant that you could pay your bills and send your kids to college and take a vacation once in a while and have a home and retire with some dignity and respect.

    And this is a very distressing summation of a life–it almost made me cry. Someone’s last words–I forget who–were: “What the heck was that all about?” Is THIS what life is all about…

    I really don’t like this “set up a system” stuff. It scares the pulp out of me.

  2. Add to that the statement he made in 2009 about everyone has a right to make a profit but now is not the time or something to that affect. He also told companies that are profitable they have an obligation to start hiring again. Maybe they have become profitable by cutting costs and labor expenses. He continues to show his lack of understanding of Econ 101.

  3. Keith,

    Suppose I were to tell you a man’s father was a capitalist, when he went to college he actively sought out capitalist professors and friends, when elected to office he surrounded himself and hired capitalist, and he believed the most fundamental economic principle of capitalism. Would you say that person is more than likely a capitalist?

    Now change “capitalist” to “marxist” and tell me why Obama is not in fact a marxist?

    • Makes one really wonder now why Barack Hussein Obama has SEALED all his “college work” and NO ONE (re: “media”) is allowed to ask about or see his college grades (what was Obama’s G.P.A. ?)

      I can imagine all the Marxist-Socialist-anti-US classes he took at Columbia and I bet he got “A”s in all of them.

    • Mark,

      It’s a fair question. The thing about Obama is that is brought mainstream liberal types in to run his economics shops. There are exceptions, but I’m not seeing a lot of radicals running around.

      That said, read my words carefully. I said I didn’t believe he was a Marxist. And I don’t. But I suppose anything is possible.

      • Keith,
        Jared Bernstein, who has no formal training in economics and co-wrote the justification for the first stimulus with Christina Romer, isn’t considered a mainstream liberal type, is he? I know he worked for Economic Policy Institute, a hardcore progressive organization, before joining the Obama transition staff.

  4. @ Star

    This of course is from the man who has taken how many vacations this year? how many rounds of golf? Remember, socialism is for the people not the socialist. Animal farm here we come!

  5. . I don’t believe Obama is a Marxist. But he is promoting concepts that are Marxian in origin –

    I don’t think you can be a little bit Marxist. It’s like being a little bit pregnant. Certainly he doesn’t imagine turning us into the Soviety Union … but Lenin probably didn’t image what would happen either.

    Obama just wants to take the “good parts” of communism. Improve on it.

    • It’s the dirty little secret that no democrat will admit..they are a soft step left from Carl Marx yet they ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to acknowledge that fact.

      True Car in, you either believe in freedom/capitalism or you don’t. Capitalism/marxism are mutually exclusive.

  6. Thanks for the summation Keith, well done. You’re right, he has no comprehension of the free-market or capitalism. The sad fact is he has no desire to understand what made this country great. Until we get someone in the Whitehouse who understands the free market, the economy will stay stagnate no matter how much he rants and stomps his feet for business to hire more employees.

  7. In other words, if you’re the best burger flipper at the fast food joint and you do it best for 40 years, you should have it all simply because you’re doing your best. What a horrible idea.

  8. Excellent article Keith. You may not believe he is a Marxist but the words that come out of his mouth tells me he is. It wasn’t just the Marxist professors who taught him the principles. He was bred and raised in the ideology.

    At his stop at Fire Station 9 in Chesterfield, VA yesterday Obama wowed his audience by proclaiming — “A fair shot for everybody; a fair share from everybody. That’s the principle that built America.”

    Marx ideology — “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

    If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you can be reasonably sure it’s a duck…

    • “A fair shot for everybody; a fair share from everybody. That’s the principle that built America.”

      What does that even mean? A fair share from everyone? Is he talking about taxes? How does he square that circle with the 47% who pay no fed income taxes?

      Because that was not the principal that built America, where people died of starvation if they didn’t put up enough food for the winter.

      • I’m not really sure what he means by ‘fair share’. Rahm Emanuel believes there should be mandatory civil defense training for young people (18-25). Sounds more like indoctrination camps, but my guess is the goal is some kind of workers paradise, where everyone goes to work every day in whatever job the government chooses for them and no individual can achieve or have more than their neighbor. The elite who are in charge of the workers would not be subject to the same limitations, of course.
        http://www.mrctv.org/videos/rahm-emanuel-expects-lot-civil-defense-corps-0

        • You raise a good point. When you are going to “create” a fairer or shall we say, more standardized, “system,” don’t you completely erase the hodgepodge and have government ownership of the means of production, then assign people to a factory or fast food window or whatever… this is really amorphous and creepy stuff he is spouting–this is not a situation where you can start over…

          • Or assign healthy young men and women to the military. Once we give up our freedom to the state, we give up the freedom of our children as well.

  9. If someone by default uses the vernacular of Marxism because many of these comments are off teleprompter, he is on that leftist radical scale. Another framework that has been referenced in the past is Alinsky’s power grid. Joe the Plumber got it with the “spread the wealth” comment. However, where you can differ is that “corporatism”, the melding of government with business, is just out of control which is scary. You could make a case for “crony socialism.” Regardless, this administration is not even on the capitalist side. Just ask Gibson Guitar.

  10. Right on track Mr. Koffler.
    I have seen it an experienced it first hand before in a place where the people were rewarded not because of their talent or initiative but for a set of rules that made them good to the eyes of the people deciding what was good for the system and for the good of the people that implemented that system. We, the ones that managed to escape those totalitarian regimes, were fortunate that there was a place like the US to flee to but if the US is not longer standing firm as the nation that it has been … then where will you escape to? I don’t believe either that Obama is a Marxist nor that he is a well intentioned person and history is full of fools that paved the way to evil.

  11. Another good read.
    MrO is the ‘point man’ in a long con instrumented by the aging hippie/Marxists who finally have a chance to change America to their ideal way of government. It’s too bad for the cabal that the suckers who fell for their con found out too soon and have quit buying the scam, so to speak.

    The public sensed that MrO was not like ‘us’, he was different somehow. Luckily MrO loved the sound of his own voice and he exposed his radical thinking that will prevent him from getting that ‘lame duck’ term where he could do the most damage

  12. If the first paragraph you have that starts out ‘ we want to set up a system..’
    doesn’t scare ‘folks’ into voting this dangerous man out of office then they
    should move to another country! Scares to the living daylights out of me
    and all those who believe him he’s just parroting the lines he learned from
    his idols Ayers, Alinsky and the Rev. Only problem now he’s in a position to
    make it happen he thinks. Your article alone should be enough to get the
    GOP out to vote! Like my Dad used to tell me vote early and often:)

  13. It’s difficult to pinpoint a man’s beliefs if he has no core values. Once someone who is exposed to and leans toward a socialist,communal type of ideology gets a taste of wealth, and privilege and power any integrity of principle is comromised. Perhaps we don’t really know who Barack Obama is or what he believes in is because he doesn’t know himself. Highest bidder wins his heart.

  14. Obama also has zero respect for what it takes to start an run a successful business. He has the academic’s attitude that anyone can have a successful business if enough money gets thrown into it. All academics have ‘analyzed’ successful businesses and concluded that they have the magic formula and all any of them would need would be a big chunk of money and they’d be a sure thing, IF they so chose to steer their lives, which they rarely do. But they’re certain they’d be a success.

    • I can’t tell you how many people I have heard say when they retire they will open a bar or “become” a writer. Those are two very difficult things. I remember when Bill Timberlake of Timberlake’s on Conn Ave had a branch of the restaurant on the Hill, too–he had 100 employees between the two, went back and forth between, has to keep an eye on the free shooters that somehow got poured, a thousand details. It was hugely challenging–not some little bar where you could have a reserved table and BS with your friends every nite.

    • Like venture capitalists? Just look at Solyndra as an example. Obama cronies were given $528 million taxpayer dollars to prop up a green energy company that was failing. When the kick start didn’t work, the DOE restructured the loan and, in violation of the law, subordinated the taxpayer to the Obama cronies. Obama is role-playing the venture capitalist with our taxpayer dollars, making sure none of his pals lose their investment. Risk free investments for Obama cronies.

  15. American Thinker ran a piece on Oct. 30, 2008, “Barack Obama: Red Diaper Baby,” giving Obama’s background as a third-generation communist. So it does not seem too harsh to call Obama a Marxist in his heart of hearts. As you note, the giveaway is “we must set up a system” where the government decides who is sufficiently virtuous (and subservient) to prosper, rather than free markets. But it seems to me that Obama’s real goal, in these passages, was to pose as a responsible fiscal conservative, but he is so clueless about what fiscal conservatism and liberty really are that he uses the language and threats of a totalitarian planned economy.

  16. Thanks Keith for this conversation. It’s been many moons since I’ve read this much intelligent discussion. Too bad we don’t have more thinkers like these posters herewith.