Kapitalism On The Couch

In a preceding HPR essay, The Mathematics of Faith (Feb. 28, 2009; www.hpr1.com), it was proposed that Depth Psychology creates new ways of understanding faith and human nature, and that Marxism creates new ways of understanding political economy. Together both of these bodies of knowledge address the crisis in global capitalism and eventually, it is proposed, will usher in an end of faith and the birth of man. This series of essays will bring these ideas together in order to understand how the unconscious side of the human psyche and the hidden side of capitalism impact our system of political/economy. This essay will introduce the topics that will be address when we get Kapitalism up on the couch.

The issue of global capitalism is pervasive: consider these recent Business Week (BW) cover stories, The next frugality, The new financial ice age, Where to invest your money, Is it safe yet?, and Keeping America competitive (BW, 2008). I did not think BW had zeroed in on what its cover stories should be addressing until this cover story, The Future of Kapitalism. Interesting, I immediately thought, Future was in red and Capitalism was spelt with a red K. What does this mean? If you are an economist or historian, it jumps out at you!

Author of the article, Pete Engardio, in a video interview states, “The K is the way Karl Marx spells Capitalism,” and the red, of course, was to conger up our fear of communism.  When Engarido distanced himself from Marx, I suspected his coverage would be on the surface and sure enough, it was. The objective of this essay is to begin our look into capitalism and Marx’s analysis is at the center of our inquiry. Marx’s magnum opus, “Das Kapital: A critique of political economy, demonstrates that he is the premier analyst of capitalism. So, in putting Kapitalism onto The Couch, we address today’s economic crisis at its core.

Karl Marx

What does it mean to put Kapitalism on The Couch? Some can remember The Dean Martin Show, where Dean would say with an alcoholic slur, “I am going to the couch” where he would sing a song. Summoning capitalists to Dean’s Senate couch to hear yet another CEO song on how “our research shows that tobacco is not addicting” is a waste of time – trusting a capitalist is not an option, it is not in their DNA. Sigmund Freud had another couch where patients were asked to free-associate and analyze dreams, to understand how the unconscious affects behavior. Wouldn’t it be interesting to put Blue Cross Blue Shield’s former CEO Mike Unjhem ($664,431 salary) and its Board of Directors Chairperson Dennis Elbert ($2.2 million payout to Unjhem) on Sigmund’s couch to probe this blatant capitalistic behavior?

Fortunately, we do not need to waste time with these un-dialectical capitalists, because we already have an extensive pool of knowledge on their human nature – we just need to dig-in and understand it. Heilbroner, “Marxism: For and Against”, suggests that “Freud’s discovery of the unconscious as an integral part of mental life irreversibly changes the conception of the human psyche” and so, one of our tasks is to understand how a capitalist’s mental life ties into his/her religious, political, and economic orthodoxies. To perform this analysis we will need another couch.

Heilbroner also points out that what Plato’s thought is to philosophy, Thales is to mathematics, Galileo is to physics, Freud is to psychology, and Marx is to history. Marx’s contribution similar in nature to these other worldly philosophers was the discovery of an “unsuspected level of reality beneath the surface of history, above all beneath the history of the period that we call capitalism.” Marx’s method of analysis and his insights have “permanently altered the manner in which reality would thereafter be perceived” and with our current economic crisis, we need Dr. Karl’s Couch to understand what is hiding. Marx’s analysis of capitalism, like Freud’s of the human psyche reveals hidden and unconscious processes, that when made conscious will bring irreversible changes in the conception of capitalism. So, far, these hidden processes have not yet entered the main-stream dialogue now going on and it is going to be a real challenge to look beyond the Red in Future.

One challenge is stated in the subtitle to Engardio’s BW cover story, “Forget Adam Smith, whatever works.” What should we forget about Adam Smith?, after all, Smith is the “Father of the Industrial Revolution,” the identifier of human capital at the center of nation’s wealth, the analyst of the dynamics operating in the principle of specialization and division of labor, uses a materialist interpretation of history, and is the author of lassie faire and the invisible hand.

What Engardio addresses in his essay is that global capitalism is being driven to abandon Smith’s concept of lassie faire – limited government involvement in an economy. Engardio statement that “Washington’s partial nationalization of banks marks a fundamental shift in thinking about the relationship of the public and private sectors” is important to note, however, his analysis comes up very short in looking at the hidden side of capitalism. Listening to what President Obama, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner are proposing, we see efforts to try and fix the system, not understand and fundamentally change it. Ok, if the boat is sinking, I grant the leak needs to be patched but, when we take a closer look at the hull of capitalism we find many patches already there.

Another challenge, despite the company Marx keeps, is getting capitalism to lie on Karl’s couch. Why is this? First, like Freud’s discover, it is unsettling to realize that there is an unconscious in the human psyche and also beneath the surface of capitalism – we simply refuse to acknowledge and understand this. When is the last time you analyzed your dreams? Another important reason is that the brutal dictatorships of Stalin and Mao, which western capitalistic democracies fought against, are associated with Marx’s thought, causing us to throw the Marx baby out with the water. Marx would have been just as appalled as we were by Stalin’s “communist state” – he would have called it “crude communism.”

Heilbroner suggests that Marx’s analysis in “Das Kapital” is more germane and relevant than that of Adam Smith’s in the “The Wealth of Nations.” Its relevancy is revealed in its subtitle, “A Critique of Political Economy,” which is the medicine capitalism needs. There are for and against arguments in every theory and we need keep this in mind in regards to Marxism. However, it is a sure sign of ignorance not to consult Dr. Karl on this very sick patient – capitalism. What is there to lose? Putting our trust in Secretary Paulson and Geithner’s analysis is like putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop.

Brian Jones performs Marx in Soho

Today’s crisis makes one wonder, if what Catholic Pope Urban VIII was feeling when Copernicus analysis was finally confirmed by Galileo’s observations that the earth revolves around the Sun, is the same as Capitalists CEO Donald Trump is now feeling as Marx’s analysis reveals the hidden and flawed aspects of capitalism. Paradigm shifts mandate new ways of viewing reality and pursuant behaviors, which for many are difficult to accept – especially when one’s privileged position changes. In the next essays – a psycho-social analytical analysis of capitalism – we will examine Marx’s dialectical approach to knowledge, his materialist approach to history, his socio-analytical method, his commitment to socialism, and his concept of human nature and how it might be fulfilled in the modern corporation. To look at these ideas see this Lecture on Karl Marx’s Thought and here is a reading of the Communist Manifesto.

Kapitalism on The Couch…

Scherling, S.A. (2009, April 23). Kapitalism On the Couch. High Plains Reader, 15(31), p. 18.

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