Philosophical Notes: Marx, Money and Moral Blind Spots
Cohen, Martin, The Independent (London, England)
WHAT IS philosophy worth? George Soros has priced it at $3bn. That is what Mr Soros, the international financier who humiliated the UK in battle over the ex-change rate, would pay. It seems rather a lot, but then Mr Soros has a lot of money, is getting on, and would like to be taken seriously as a philosopher.
What Mr Soros is interested in is producing a successor volume to The Wealth of Nations, Baroness Thatcher's favourite book of political philosophy. He seeks to wear the mantle of Adam Smith and to become a philosopher of markets and economics, which he believes, unlike Smith, to be fundamentally irrational.
But there already has been a successor to The Wealth of Nations. It was printed in the 19th century by one Karl Marx, and is entitled Das Kapital. His theory was not so much that markets were "irrational" as fundamentally flawed. But it was popular for a while. These days Marx is completely discredited as an economist. Yet, as a philosopher, something remains. (Even if he claimed to disdain the philosophers, and their attempts to "understand the world", rather than change it.) His theory of dialectical materialism leading inevi-tably, through statism, to a socialist Utopia looks rather implausible now. But his philosophical points about "materialism" still ring true, even if they are not particularly original. (Plato said much the same, as did Thomas Hobbes and John Stuart Mill, for example.) But Marx's cynical claim that the social and political aspects of society are only the superficial manifestations of the underlying economic forces - well, isn't that a new way to look at things? Take the Gulf War(s) for example. Here we have an apparently idiosyncratic war of attrition in the name of human rights, by two of its stoutest defenders, which seems to have little effect other than to bring about more repression and starvation. But, seen as an economic manoeuvre, it can be explained very plausibly in terms of maintaining not just low oil prices but also high arms sales. …