17 October 2010

Marx made relevant

In the intro video lecture to A Close Reading of Marx's Capital David Harvey tells the students in the room why they should read the original text. It's a reasoned appeal. And I'd assume that anyone sitting there, like I was with the text opened on my iPad, was already interested in the topic enough to give it a shot.

I stumbled on Harvey last night and spend 2 hours listening to his lecture, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. It makes sense to me the same way Naomi Klein's book Shock Doctrine, Disaster Capitalism does.You don't want to hear what either of them have to say. It sounds extreme. But if you entertained for a moment their theses and evidence, I wonder if you'd think differently? 

Educator, Stephen Krashen tweeted this morning:  The proper place to begin solving the problem of low achievement among poor families is by making these families less poor.  How come we haven't solved poverty in the U.S.? If you follow him and other critical educators, then map that onto Harvey and Klein's arguments, you can't but have an ugly aha moment. It's only going to get worse, not just for the poor but for middle class families. As it has already. I saw this in the 80s as my sister struggled to provide the same middle-class standard of living for her family we grew up with in the 60s and 70s.

Real wages have stagnated since the 70s with capital recycled in ever smaller financial circles. If new jobs are created, they're at the low-wage end of the labor market. About 40% of all the debt in the U.S. is tied to mortgage markets and the American dream of home-ownership. As Harvey puts it, "debt encumbered homeowners don't go on strike," an idea created in the 1930s with a clear political goal of social control. If people are working and working to pay their mortgages and not get fired (since we have no substantive labor laws any longer), they have little time to do much else. Less that 50% voter turnout on most elections isn't just apathy. It's disengagement.

What's important to recognize in Harvey's work is its relevance to public systems, like education. The neoliberal agenda of privatization is hotly debated on this front right now, like here and here. Big money for education like that from Gates' Foundation or Facebook's Zuckerberg's should not be seen as a failure of public education, as they're being cast, but as a political triumph of an agenda that's been in place for some 50 years.  

Marx via Harvey is timely and relevant because it explains stuff that touches everybody. We do ourselves an intellectual disservice to dismiss it on solely ideological grounds or to frame it in moral terms. It's about systems.