The Revenge of Karl Marx

Hitchens-marx-wide Hitchens in Vanity Fair The Atlantic:

As Wheen skillfully shows, there was an underlying love-hate relationship between Marx and capitalism. As early as the Manifesto, he had written of capitalism’s operations with a sort of awe, describing how the bourgeoisie had revolutionized all human and social and economic relations, and had released productive capacities of a sort undreamed-of in feudal times. Wheen speculates that Marx was being magnanimous because he thought he was writing capitalism’s obituary, and though this is a nice conceit, it does not quite explain Marx’s later failure, in Capital, to grasp quite how revolutionary capitalist innovation really was. (The chapter on new industrial machinery opens with a snobbish quotation from John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy: “It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.” This must have seemed absurd even at the time, and it appears preposterous after the third wave of technological revolution and rationalization that modern capitalism has brought in its train.) There’s also the not-inconsiderable question of capitalism’s ability to decide, if not on the value of a commodity, at least on some sort of price for the damn thing. Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and the other members of the Austrian school were able to point out this critical shortcoming of Capital—no pricing policy—during Marx’s lifetime, and it would have been good if Wheen had found some room for the argument (especially vivid among Austrians for some reason) that went back and forth from Rudolf Hilferding to Joseph Schumpeter, whose imposing “creative destruction” theory of capitalism has its own dualism.