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What Would Karl Marx Think?

Karl Marx photographed circa 1880
Karl Marx photographed circa 1880Photograph by Imagno/Getty Images

Remember when the global economy opened up with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism in the late 1980s? East Germany and West Germany were united. The Soviet empire broke up. China’s aging leader Deng Xiaoping outmaneuvered mandarins attempting a conservative counterrevolution following the tragedy of Tiananmen Square, keeping alive the nation’s embrace of freer markets. World trade has tripled from the early 1990s, reflecting the increasingly free flow of goods, capital, ideas, and people. Karl Marx’s reputation lay in ruins, smashed by the horrors of police states and the immiseration of ordinary people under communism.

Yet Marx remains incredibly relevant. Marx had a deep grasp of the inherent dynamism of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism, its promise to transform society, open up new opportunities, and create different ways of doing business. His insights are useful two centuries later for understanding another major upheaval, capitalist globalization, a catchphrase that captures the rapid integration of capital, technology, people, and information across national borders.