Economic theory has been a major player in this election year. We have Bernie Sanders advocating for Democratic Socialism and Donald Trump advocating good business practices, whatever that means. Behind these two symbols are millions of people who truly believe that their particular theory is right. The problem however, and possibly the problem with democracy itself, is that the majority of voters aren’t fully aware of what exactly they are advocating.
This is why reading is so important. It is an exercise in calming the mind down, attempting to put away our biases, and engaging new material that may or may not change your mind. Everybody has an opinion on economics, yet so few have read their foundational texts. Even if you know in your heart that you will never climb down from the ledge of philosophic certainty, you should still be more aware of the arguments of your opponents.
Das Kapital by Karl Marx
Karl Marx has solidified himself as an extremely controversial figure since the very beginning of his writing career. His work has influenced entire nations, for better or worse, to adopt radical policy changes over a short period of time.
The main premise in this book is that capitalism is bad. Its entire existence is based on the exploitation of the worker. He argues that the capitalist agenda is based solely on the increase in revenue, the worker is only a means to an end and is therefore not treated humanely. One of the most significant differences between capitalism and communism is Marx’s call for government action: “the labourers must put their heads together and compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling, by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death.”
There are a few other books that are known for their criticism of capitalism. One such book is Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. Eric’s book highlights Marx’s exploitation thesis by showing how places like McDonalds totally disregard health for the sake of an extra nickel. Similarly No Logo by Naomi Klein emphasizes how the over saturation of consumerism has pervaded our lives in an extremely deep and personal level.
Man, Economy, and State by Murray Rothbard
The much less known Rothbard is well regarded in academic circles as providing the best known application of capitalist thought. The main distinction between the two theories is their application of government. Capitalists believe that the market will force employers into mutually beneficial relationships with their workers, without the aid of government.
On the issue of labor, Rothbard would say that the market will pay the laborer the value that they provide to the owner. Even if the worker is being exploited, they will always have the option of leaving the company to work for another, fairer, employer.
A more notorious writer on capitalism is Ayn Rand. Her achievements as a writer are amazing but she is often forgotten because of her radical economic views. Reading Atlas Shrugged will provide a capitalistic perspective, not necessarily the best one, mixed with an amazing fictional narrative. Unfortunatly she never wrote a purly non-fictional treatise on her views.
The point of this article is to get you, the reader, interested in learning more about the dominating conversations of the day. Reading a book will never hurt you, it will only make your positions stronger, or maybe even change them. If you have prejudiced opinions on the books I mentioned, you have an even stronger obligation to read, and to fully understand what you have already decided is right or wrong in your mind.
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