Capital by Karl Marx
Sit Down and Read
One Line Summary
Capitalism is fucking bullshit
Why it’s Awesome
Capital is a ~1000 page major critique of the economic system we all know and love called capitalism. A product of the aftermath of the French Revolution, Marx was disillusioned to the promises made by those who brought capitalism to Europe and thus become a critic of the system.This is without a doubt considered his Magnum Opus.
I really have a love/hate relationship with this book. I’ve mentioned in my about me page my Master’s degree is in Economics. So that means I’ve sat on my ass for a pretty long time studying this kind of stuff.
What’s incredible is that Marx’s critique of capitalism cannot be found in most standard higher education economic curriculum. As a junior in college, this pissed me off. I knew Marx was a significant economic figure, yet the way we learned economics at University it was as if he never even existed. You could argue that’s because his ideas are outdated, but the crash of 2008 was a gentle reminder that economists have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.
You could argue that’s because his ideas are outdated, but the crash of 2008 was a gentle reminder that economists often have no idea what they’re talking about. So I said fuck it, bought this book and read the thing myself.
It was glorious. I could see why we weren’t taught these ideas in college. If Marx was right, they were dangerous to our current system.
The biggest practical takeaway is that when you are an employee of a capitalist, you are inevitably getting screwed. I don’t care if you make 250k a year with a dental plan, free daycare and a new car. You are still getting screwed because this is how profit is made.
Have you ever wondered about how it is that someone could invest X amount of dollars in something and come out with X + some percentage of X? That difference, or profit, Marx argues comes from the extra work employees put in that they aren’t paid for.
In order words, if an employer pays you $10 an hour, the employer MUST get more than $10 of value from you in that hour. Otherwise, how could he stay in business? He would lose money, or at best break even.
For anyone who thinks this is a purely socialist propaganda, capitalist Robert Kiyosaki wrote about the same phenomenon in Rich Dad, Poor Dad using different words.
Another major tenet of Marx’s critique revolved around the instability of capitalism. He did not trust this economic system that seemed to have more mood swings than a teenage girl. One year everything in the economy could be going great, and another year everything could go to shit. Though economists argued since the days of Keynes that their tools of fiscal and monetary policy and solved this problem, the crash of 2008 showed us this was mostly an illusion of control.
The final point that Marx makes that I love has to do with the alienation of labor. Many eastern philosophy texts point out to us that man is deeply connected with his work. Yet the capitalist system cuts this connection. As an employee, you do not work to produce something you are proud of or that is useful. You work because your employer demands it and they hold the checkbook.
Instead of empowering you, you are a slave to money and your work. Anyone who has ever taken the plunge into entrepreneurship will confirm this. The difference in how you feel about work is immediate.
Why Does It Suck
Has there ever been a book that has created so many victim mentalities? Instead of people becoming empowered by this book, most Marxists I know simply tend to just use it as a rationalization for why their life sucks. It’s the system, man. I can’t beat it, the capitalist is holding me down.
The other problem I have with this book is that it’s just a critique. There’s nothing wrong with criticism itself, but people who criticize without offering solutions often are just making noise. Anyone can criticize. In fact, all of Critical Theory is essentially an extension of Marxism. But it’s another to actually follow it up with “…and here’s a better way”.
I also can’t stand Marx’s blatant disregard of intangibles with regards to the origin of profit. As an entrepreneur, you’re not making a profit simply because you are exploiting the workers. You make a profit because you’re willing to handle something the majority of people cannot: fear.
Fear is the primary motivating emotion in humans. And what is most entrepreneurship but a swan dive into fear?
Fear of uncertainty. Fear that your business will fail and you’ll be left with nothing. Fear of change. Fear of expression. Fear of growth. Fear of having to be a leader. Fear of having to value your opinions over others.
At least when you are an employee you can tell yourself that you have “job security”.
For anyone who disagrees with this, I challenge you to strike out on your own. How long before the excuses start piling up and you’re back at your day job?
The Wrap Up
Capital was one of the most motivating factors in my decision to say fuck the system and become an entrepreneur. It changed my entire view of business and economics. This is a must read for all those thinking about starting a business venture or interested in the workings of capitalism.
Buy Capital here on Amazon: