Picture the time in which Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto emerged. The Industrial Revolution, unraveling in full force, was very much based on a materialist world view. Since physical resources are limited it’s only normal that someone, Marx or otherwise, would have signaled that a zero sum race for wealth will make some extremely rich only at the expense of others. And indeed there was some truth to that, as exceedingly ambitious industrialists seemed to have no limit to their greed. There’s no leap of logic required to arrive at the “class warfare” idea aimed to right the inequities generated by a zero sum game world. Accumulation of things, cordially known as consumerism in our time, was also decried by communists as a sickness of the soul.
As long as the world economy was based in primarily physical resources, communism not only had a captive audience, but indeed it had a “competitive” chance against capitalism. For many decades of the 20th century the future of the world hung in the balance of an apparent stalemate between competing worldviews, communism and capitalism, otherwise known as the Cold War.
But then something extraordinary happened. Capitalism invented the knowledge economy. This single event circumvented Marx’s zero sum game philosophy. An economy where the chief resource is ideas is based on an inexhaustible resource: human imagination.
I propose the knowledge economy did more than defeat communism. It gave the human race a future, a pathway to prosperity which ironically also addresses communism’s apparent concern for the soul. My argument goes like this: creativity, the human ability to bring forth into the world new value also happens to be one of the most beautiful manifestations of the human spirit. And so, the rightful contradictions that capitalism’s critics pointed out in the Industrial Age, can be effectively reconciled by the knowledge economy. We as a human society can grow the collective wealth pie bigger so that there is enough for everyone, even as we liberate our souls and celebrate the best of the human spirit. This is the promise of the post-Industrial Revolution capitalist manifesto.
As of 2013 the temptation to distrust capitalism’s viability and indeed its very ideology remains, reignited by recent systemic crises. There are many voices proposing a new capitalist manifesto, and even a new social contract. In perfect agreement with Mark Twain’s “history doesn’t repeat itself but does rhyme” the lamentation against capitalism eerily resembles the “class warfare” and “materialistic greed” leitmotifs of the 1850s. For those of us who have lived the communist experiment, I believe we can say that it had nothing to do with the human spirit.
I must confess I have not yet read Umair Hague’s “New Capitalist Manifesto”. My own belief is that the new capitalist manifesto started to be written after World War II. And now, the knowledge economy is showing us the path to the “True Capitalist Manifesto”.
I am not living in an Utopian world. I know the knowledge economy isn’t perfect and it isn’t necessarily fair to everyone. But many of the problems derive from the fact that we have not yet achieved a truly functioning knowledge economy. We will do so only when we do completely away with the zero sum mindset that still lurks in the shadows of our free market institutions. Communism is dead politically but not necessarily ideologically.
Photo credit here.