Over the years, as capitalism dominates the economic development of the modern world, Karl Marx and his analysis into the faults of capitalism have been largely discarded by economists. However, his prediction in the fall of wages and the increasing misery, although unparallel to the actual events taking place, is not without its merits. Contrary to the belief that capitalism is the final solution and the infinite last stage of economic and social evolution, through the experience of working men or women, we are reminded often that the system isn’t all that perfect. The article published in 1960 by Thomas Sowell, titled Marx’s “Increasing Misery” Doctrine, although far from being considered a recent piece, reminds us through a series of reinstatements of Marx’s work, that his analysis into the effects of capitalistic progression in relations to the well being of the working people cannot go unheard because of the negative implications of relative misery.
While the overall accumulation of wealth of the modern society is increasing, that increase in wealth is often absent in the lives of the working class. The enrichment and satisfaction we seek through the “natural urge” to work isn’t being fulfilled by the type of work we do anymore. The author associates the work of Marx with the works of Ricardo to further evidence the extreme yet valid views of Marx on capitalism and his theory of increasing misery. He quotes passages from their works to support his argument, and divides the article into four sections by exploring first the Ricardian-Marxian meaning of wages, the meaning of Marxian “subsistence”, some arguments supporting the absolute misery interpretation, and finally the noneconomic dimension of Marxian “misery”. Value of Wages
In this section, the author discusses how Ricardo was an influence to Marx. Marx used Ricardo’s versions of “real” and “nominal” wages the same way Ricardo did. “Real” and “nominal” wages mean something completely different when used by others such as Adam Smith. In Ricardian theories “real” wages are “the amount of labor contained in the commodities which the worker received.” (pg 112) Using this reasoning Ricardo, and Marx in turn, argued that even if a laborer’s wages increased in numerical value they could actually be decreasing in value. Marx was concerned about the exploitation of the wage worker and even described wage workers to slaves since they have to work for their life. Because he believes them to be on the same level as slaves Marx believes that whether or not wages increase for the worker he also believes that their misery will continue to increase. Subsistence
The author brings up a very good point that the interpretation of Marx’s idea of what the level of subsistence is can greatly affect what Marx is saying. Marx’s idea of subsistence is often taken to mean at or near the minimum physical subsistence. The main point is that it is sometimes interpreted that Marx’s idea of subsistence is a fixed level. In fact it appears that Marx saw subsistence to be the standard of living for the lowest level of worker, Marx felt that the subsistence level would include the items needed to survive and the formal luxury items that people later consider vital [Marx, p. 190]. I think a good modern example of this is the telephone; it was once considered a luxury item but is now considered a necessity. Due to the way Marx saw workers being at the level of subsistence there could be an increase in the real wage for the workers. When the workers real wage would increase it would thus cause an increase in the standard of living, this increased standard of living would then become the new subsistence level. Another interesting aspect is how Marx saw how labor shares in the increasing productivity. Marx felt that workers were resisting a fall in wages, the interesting thing however is that Marx saw the lowest limit of the fall to be a wage they could purchase the...
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