Scene In Passing: Was Marx right about rope salesman?

Money is the illusion input and outcome can be quantified precisely.

Because of it, people individually and collectively will do things creative and destructive. Because of it, people will abandon reason and embrace passion or abandon passion and embrace reason. Because of it, people will see California as heaven, then hell. And because of it, the same in reverse may be said for Nevada; what once looked like hell seems heavenly of late, at least to some.

“Capital is reckless of the health and life of the laborer, unless under the compulsion of society,” wrote Karl Marx, the man most responsible for inspiring Communism, who lived from 1818 to 1883. You could have emblazoned that 19th century remark as a headline on stories out of California about Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signing into law a mandate Golden State employers must provide at least some sick leave and pay.

Just a bit more than 24 hours later over the state line in Nevada, legislation luring Tesla Motors to an industrial park in the high desert east of Reno became law as well. Incentives valued in excess of $1 billion were authorized by the law inked into the books by Gov. Brian Sandoval’s signature.

The contrast was breathtaking. But the difference, while seemingly obvious on the surface, was much less. Stripped bare of most details, both laws amount to the same government rule — capital accumulates and then follows the imperative that people will chase it according to their own standards of value. “The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated,” wrote H.L. Mencken, the man somewhat responsible — at least in my mind — for identifying most isms (like Communism and Confucianism) as wasms, which now is approximately what Communwasm is. Mencken came along in 1880 and succumbed in 1956, so he had the benefit of seeing the results of Marx’s impact.

Marx said the group must tell capital what to do through the instrument of government so workers aren’t oppressed by those with capital. Mencken said Marx missed the mark by overemphasizing the storehouse of value instead of value itself. Neither man had a stranglehold on truth, necessarily, but my money — for what it’s worth — is on value rather than the storehouse of it.

This is not to say there is anything particularly wrong with sick leave or anything particularly right with tax abatement to lure industry. It’s more a commentary on the tendency, which remains, to follow the Marxian idea that turning to the group, in the form of government, is the best way to herd cats (read people) by bending those with capital to the will of the majority. Or at least those currently speaking for said majority.

A reminder from Marx shows the danger of going down this road too far. He also wrote: “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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