On Your Marx

Jonathan Clements  |  June 24, 2016

WHEN I WAS AT CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY in the early 1980s, there was a popular joke, “What’s left of Cambridge economics? The answer: Absolutely nothing—there’s nothing to the left of Cambridge economics.” At a time when monetarism and supply side economics were on the rise in the U.S., Cambridge economics professors seemed more interested in exploring how to make Karl Marx relevant to the modern world. It was a quixotic quest—and seemed even more quixotic after the Berlin Wall’s collapse conclusively proved that Marx in practice wasn’t terribly popular.

Yet it occurs to me that Marx, if he were alive today, might try to claim some belated vindication. Think about what’s happened since the early 1980s. As business competition has gone global, we’ve seen increasing income inequality. Globalization has fostered economic growth and forced businesses to be more efficient, helping the standard of living of many. But not everybody has benefited. Those who have suffered economically seem to have found their voice with Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Brexit, Austria’s Freedom Party and France’s Front National.

I suspect all this will prove to be a momentary hiccup—and, a few years from now, the free movement of people and trade will once again be widely accepted as good for the global economy. But I think there’s a lesson for politicians on both the left and right: Globalization creates economic losers—and, if you want to enjoy the upside of globalization, you need also to address the downside.

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