Marx lives on — in America.
May 1, 2002
by Deroy Murdock
National Review Online (NRO) Contributing Editor
Each May Day, Marxists celebrate the collective ownership of the means of production. Before the Berlin Wall was chiseled into bric-a-brac, May 1 brought forth red flags, goose-stepping soldiers and ballistic missiles strapped to mobile launchers.
These days, thankfully, such pageantry is limited to Havana and Pyongyang. Yet Marx's disciples may have the last laugh. Karl Marx himself would be amazed to see how much his ideas thrive here.
In a study entitled, "Marxism, American Style," Mark Schmidt of the National Taxpayers Union observes that "most American adults, weaned on a steady diet of anti-communism, would be shocked to learn the magnitude of the role that Karl Marx's utopian vision plays in contemporary society." Schmidt compared the German philosopher's 1848 Communist Manifesto with the United States today. The parallels are ominous.
Marx demanded "A heavy progressive or graduated income tax." This remains his most unsinkable concept. Americans toil beneath a tax system that punishes success with ever-higher tax rates. Individual taxpayers who earn more than $307,050 must surrender 38.6 percent of their marginal incomes to Washington and even more to state and local governments. Ironically, Russia — where Marx's ideas reigned with deadly consequences — has swapped his progressive tax regime for a supply-side, 13 percent flat income tax.
Marx called for "confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels." Affluent Americans who renounce their citizenship and move to lower-tax countries remain subject to federal taxation on U.S. income for 10 years after they depart. They also may not return to America. "It's like a Soviet-style exit tax that shakes you down one more time on the way out the door," says Dan Mitchell of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
"Abolition of all right of inheritance" was another Marxist prescription. While Americans can inherit property, large estates suffer the 50 percent federal death tax. While it will phase out by 2010, it is scheduled to zoom back up to 55 percent in 2011. To reduce or avoid such confiscation, Americans spent $23 billion in 1998 coping with estate-tax laws, economists Alicia Munnell and Henry Aaron estimate. This nearly equaled the $23.1 billion that the death tax generated that year.
The Communist Manifesto also counsels "centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly." Karl Marx, meet Alan Greenspan.
The Federal Reserve, worshipped as a cornerstone of capitalism, in fact is a spectacularly statist institution. It wields the power to create money and control interest rates and inflation. The 12-member Federal Open Market Committee is essentially a financial Politburo that secretly meets to fix the cost of capital.
Marx called for "Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes." While Marx likely would frown on America's widespread private ownership of homes and farms, he would be delighted by the vast acreage in federal hands. Uncle Sam owns 62 percent of the square footage west of the Rockies and a whopping 87.6 percent of Nevada. Despite this massive portfolio, much of it poorly maintained, Washington spent $540 million in fiscal year 2001 to acquire even more private land.
Marx also wanted "centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state." As Schmidt notes, "Literally every new development in the communications industry must receive Federal Communications Commission approval or die without reaching the marketplace." Even my home telephone has a label that says it conforms to FCC regulations.
As for transit, air-traffic control remains in federal hands, as does passenger rail via Amtrak. The federal transportation department cost taxpayers $54.8 billion in fiscal 2001.
Still, Schmidt adds, all this does not make America communist. "This is the best place in the world to live," he says, "but we have a strong current of collectivist ideology that runs just beneath the surface."
The U.S. has strayed far from the laissez-faire blueprint Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington and the other Founding Fathers drafted. America lacks the barbed wire and guard dogs that terrorized millions under scientific socialism until 1989. Far more subtly, though, Karl Marx's ghost haunts the land of the free and the home of the brave.
- Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.