Faux Marx

Laura of 11D says this quote is making the rounds of Wall Street.

Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalised, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.

Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 1867

It's been fifteen years since I read Das Kapital, and I'm not sure how much I retained even when I was young and hale.  But it immediately set off my fake alarms.  First, because it doesn't sound remotely like anything I remember Marx saying--his core thesis was that falling wages would immiserate the working class, not that they'd be done in by their overdrafts.  Second, because I do remember Marx spending huge chunks of Das Kapital grousing about the inadequacy of the housing supply for the working class, in very tedious detail.  (I now appreciate, as I didn't then, how valuable this is as a historic record.  But it's quite something to wade through.)  And third, because no one in 1870 imagined the working class having access to bank credit.  Poor people might get some time from the landlord, or a few weeks at the butcher, or they might run arrears and pay on account, but they did not buy substantial goods on credit.  The first mass extension of credit to people who did not own land was the boom in installment buying that came in the 1920s.

Also, at least as I recall it, socialism was supposed to come 'round through violent revolution of the starving proletariat, not bank nationalisation.  But as I say, it has been a long time.

Also, the quote just doesn't feel right--it doesn't sound like Marx.  I can't put my finger on why, exactly, especially since I've only read Marx in translation.  I can say that it feels, like most of these hoaxes, a little too a propos, as if Marx were writing from the CNN green room.

And indeed, searching all three volumes for "houses" and "homes", which are a pretty straight one-to-one translation, yields nothing that sounds remotely like this.

Every time I see one of these things, I wonder.  Who the hell makes them up?  And why?  What do you get from passing your mediocre musings off as the work of a long-dead revolutionary?

"Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn't make me Madonna. Never will."  ~ Joan Cusack, Working Girl
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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