Karl Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts 1844
I have two problems with this argument. It’s at once consumerist/materialistic and self-centred.
- Consumerist: Of course it f―ing sucks to not be able to buy anything, to not be able to go out eat at a restaurant or have drinks with your friends.
But part of the reason it sucks so much is because of consumerism and marketing itself. To the degree that the marketing-images of happy couples, vacationers, successful rappers, roulette winners, delicious food, beautiful travel pictures, and so on make us desire and even, feel empty without those material goods, yes you may feel miserable without them. But the royal treatment lavished upon customers is technically something one needn’t buy into; buying into that salespitch is buying into consumerism. Part of what f―ing sucks about not having “enough” money is actually not having enough. Part of it is not having the things you see others around you having.
Is your fullest expression of yourself really the external attendance at paid events? Is it necessary to take an economic transaction (concert, food, drink, film) to go out and have friends? Part of that is due to lack of public spaces.—each parcel of land is owned by someone, perhaps the government, and the owner(s) may or may not permit you to be there. Another part is due to people believing, as Marx implies above, that being alive and vibrant necessitates buying things.
In the show Downton Abbey there’s one person whose function is to make food
and one person whose function is to eat it.
Is that really your expression of liveliness and bon vivance?
- Self-centred. Only by being unaware of the server’s and cook’s role in the transaction—only by putting the experience of the hot kitchen, the lecherous eyes of patrons, the down-talk one receives introducing oneself by profession as food service, and so on—does the consumer relax into Bourdain-esque nirvana.
I don’t think the waitstaff or cooks are doing this for their own fun. Everyone needs to work some amount to be happy, but the low pay for them which causes low prices for me, is not a plus to any server or cook.
In the case of the thespians—well, somebody has to compensate them for their performance, unless you’re saying they should do it for you for free. Actors, dancers, and musicians do perform for free sometimes, but I don’t see it as a good thing, because they still need to work 40–60 hours a week additionally, serving tables and whatnot. Or it could be worse if they need to pay as well for the performance or practice spaces; instead we the audience should be at least defraying those costs for them, if not paying them a net positive.
The two groups who I think see through this are: a) anarchists and b) those who believe their standard-issue economics instruction. The anarchists I know are quite happy to make up games and play them, for free, in a public space which costs nothing. Participating less in the economic system—buying less, at least—tautologically reduces the demands on the people who are working. Economists preach that every transaction is two-sided, so you can’t think of only the buyer (as Marx is doing here, with himself as egoistic entertained) without considering the seller. Where I think the econ’s fall down on the job is if they take Walter Q Server’s low wages as an optimal outcome, rather than asking what might raise his earning/producing power, without incurring other negatives to himself or others.
Theoretically Marx’s observation is a “nifty” one—saving sucks, is f―ing annoying, and so on. But that’s only from an egotistical perspective. I never want to imply that others should be doing services for me unremunerated, so that I can “just be free to be myself” or some b―sh―.
Asking people to bargain or work for others’ IOU’s before having the right to request services of a third party, is much more communal and respectful than “I should just get to have stuff”—in what context-free vacuum is that happening? It’s also fully reasonable to say things like “A car can cost many multiples of a beer and therefore require not-buying many beers”. Or, you know, buy neither car nor beer.
If the Panglossian/Pareto/Lagrange paradigm falls short (as I think it does) it’s not in this way.