MARXISM by Thomas Sowell


Philosophy and Economics
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It's hard to imagine who conservative economist Sowell (Hoover Institution) had in mind as readers for this introductory textbook/polemic. At an undergraduate level, Sowell plods superficially through an economist's view of Marx. His lack of engagement with the serious literature on his subject is embarrassingly clear when he makes much of the alleged fact that "much of the modern economic literature" discusses Marxism "without a single reference to anything actually written by Karl Marx." The main culprit turns out to be Paul Samuelson, who, whatever else he may be, is no Marx scholar. Sowell's solution is to have lots of references to Marx. Filling in some of the theoretical background--which consists largely of uninformed discussions of Hegel and of so-called materialist and idealist philosophical traditions--Sowell tries to take an objective point of view, explaining his ideas about history and economics in a simple dry style. When he gets to a concluding chapter of assessment, however, Sower lets loose. On the economic level his main target is the Marxist theory of exploitation, which economists have been kicking around for decades. Sowell concentrates his attack on Marx's inability to understand the role of entrepreneurship and its attendant values of hard work, creativity, etc. On a political level, Sowell descends a few steps. In his esposition of Marx, Sowell describes his dictatorial character as it was displayed in his political activity; later, he turns this into evidence of Marxism's inherent tendency toward totalitarianism (or, rather, the twin symbols of the gulag and Cambodia). Sowell's problems of perspective are revealed in this notion of a big question: "Whether Marx would have gone as far as Lenin or Stalin or Poi Pot is one of the great unanswerable questions of history." History is not one of Sowell's strong suits--nor is the critical analysis of Marxism.
Pub Date: March 15th, 1985
ISBN: 0786100079
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1985


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