Was Karl Marx Right?

was-karl-marx-right-1We can’t say Karl Marx didn’t warn us: capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction. In their chase for ever higher profits, the capitalists shed workers for machines. The higher return on capital means that the share of profits rises and the share of wages falls, and soon the mass of the population isn’t earning enough to buy the goods capitalism produces. Ever increasing income inequality leads to ever weaker aggregate demand and, finally, the collapse. You don’t have to be a communist to see that this is so. Should we all be Marxists now?

Or shouldn’t we? Every time capitalism hits an inevitable bad patch, Marx’s name is invoked with wearisome regularity. But no serious economist or political thinker has ever suggested capitalism can break free of booms and busts. Once bust, as we’ve seen time and again, the capitalist economy has a robust ability to restore itself. As for all the talk of growing inequality, hasn’t anyone noticed that ordinary people in the capitalist West have enjoyed an astonishing long-term rise in their standard of living? We are not suffering an existential economic crisis. We do not need extraordinary remedies. What use is there for Marx? So which is it? Is Marx the voice we should be heeding?

Illustration: Karl Marx by Chaitanya Modak 

Intelligence Squared | 30th September 2016


empathyEmpathy has long been considered a uniquely human trait, but it’s an ability that has also been observed in apes and other animals. Primatologist Frans de Waal says that examples of empathy in non-human primates and other mammals suggest that empathy has a long evolutionary history in humans.

Frans de Waal is the C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory University where he directs the Living Links Center for the Advanced Study of Ape and Human Evolution. He’s the author of several books including The Age of Empathy, and most recently, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Produced by Nancy Rosenbaum and Meredith Johnson

Origin Stories| 25th August 2016

How the Attica Prison Riot Fueled Mass Incarceration in America

how-the-attica-prisonThe Attica Prison riot is remembered as one of the bloodiest and savage of its kind, but a new history is challenging that familiar narrative. Heather Ann Thompson is a historian who’s just come out with a gripping new account of the uprising called “Blood in the Water.” To write it, she spent 13 years wading through thousands of public archives and court documents, and what she uncovered is pretty damning: evidence of police negligence and torture during the prison’s retaking, and of a government cover up. She says an effort by authorities to smear the prisoners created a public backlash, which in turn laid the groundwork for tough-on-crime drug policies and an era of mass incarceration.

To the Best of Our Knowledge | 25th September 2016

On Average

on-average-2In many ways, the built world was not designed for you. It was designed for the average person. Standardized tests, building codes, insurance rates, clothing sizes, The Dow Jones – all these measurements are based around the concept of an “average.”
Todd Rose wants us to re-examine our concept of the average and find new ways to accommodate all the people who aren’t average, which, it turns out, is everyone.

99% Invisible | 24th August 2016

Matrimony Myths with Stephanie Coontz

matrimony-mythsYou’ve seen it – our society is obsessed with everyone finding their soulmate. But did you know the idea of ‘the one’ is a relatively new concept in our culture? In fact, marriage and love were completely separate entities for centuries, and this week’s podcast guest, Professor Stephanie Coontz, tells us all about it.
Her book, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage traces the history of marriage from a union based on alliances and financial gain to today’s notion of finding our ‘other half’. On the podcast Adam Conover and Stephanie Coontz discuss how the Enlightenment altered our idea of marriage, how the media covers love, and how equality is erotic.

Adam Ruins Everything | 14th August 2016

Is Love an Illusion?

The romantics have a lot to answer for failed marriages and strained relationships, according to philosopher and author, Alain de Botton. Lead by romantic notions many of us will marry the wrong person. De Botton digs into ideas of desirable relationships to uncover multiple ways in which such fragile and troubled beings as humans have got to this point. Some remedies are offered.

Big Ideas – ABC Radio | 8th August 2016

The Very Quiet Foreign Girls Poetry Group

“It all came from Priya’s poem, and Priya’s poem came from – well, I had no idea. It was an unlikely thing to turn up in a pile of marking. Yet there it was, tucked between two ordinary effusions, typed in a silly, curly, childish font, a sonorous description, framed with exquisite irony, of everything she couldn’t remember about her “mother country”. This was the opening:

I don’t remember her
in the summer,
lagoon water sizzling,
the kingfisher leaping,
or even the sweet honey mangoes
they tell me I used to love.”

Written and read by Kate Clanchy and produced by Simon Barnard.

Illustration by Eleanor Shakespeare

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads | 5th August 2016

Blame Game

blame-game-2“In the summer and fall of 2009, hundreds of Toyota owners came forward with an alarming allegation: Their cars were suddenly and uncontrollably accelerating. Toyota was forced to recall 10 million vehicles, pay a fine of more than $1 billion, and settle countless lawsuits. The consensus was that there was something badly wrong with the world’s most popular cars. Except that there wasn’t.

“Blame Game” looks under the hood at one of the strangest public hysterias in recent memory. What really happened in all those Camrys and Lexuses? And how did so many drivers come to misunderstand so profoundly what was happening to them behind the wheel? The answer touches on our increasingly fraught relationship to technology and the dishonesty and naiveté of many in the media.”

Malcolm Gladwell | Revisionist History | 4th August 2016