Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) is known as a prominent philosopher, journalist, sociologist, and, first of all, economist. In every one of these spheres, he has left a priceless heritage that remains useful even nowadays.
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Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) is known as a prominent philosopher, journalist, sociologist, and, first of all, economist. In every one of these spheres, he has left a priceless heritage that remains useful even nowadays. In this work, his biography is reviewed and it is also shown, how he has contributed to the study of economics.
Karl Marx was born in a middle-class family in Germany. His father, Heinrich Marx, was an attorney and owned several vineyards, so the family lived quite a wealthy life. Karl was the third child in the family, and six more kids were born after him.
Karl’s father Heinrich was ancestrally Jewish, but before Karl’s birth, he decided to convert to Lutheranism to avoid the negative consequences of anti-Semitic laws for himself and his children. Years later, young Karl and all of his living brothers and sisters were baptized as Lutherans as well.
Education and fascination with philosophy
There is not much known about Karl’s childhood. He was educated at home, privately by his father, and at the age of twelve entered Trier High School. Five years later, in October 1835, Karl focused his mind on the idea of studying literature and philosophy. However, his father wanted him to study something with more practical value so that law was chosen, and Marx went to the University of Bonn.
After a year at the University of Bonn, it was sure that Marx was not very serious about his education and grades. He even took part in a duel, after which his father did not have any other choice but to force him to enter a more severe and reputable University of Berlin.
Although at the University of Berlin Marx became more serious about his life, his heart still did not belong to the law. So, he decided to combine his education with the study of philosophy and joined a group of radical thinkers, named Young Hegelians, where his favorite philosopher’s ideas were discussed. Right after this Marx’s father died, which greatly affected his attitude to life, education, and work. Karl finished his education in April 1841 when he got his Ph.D. at the University of Jena.
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Radical thoughts and the lifetime friend
During their university years, Marx also began to write, starting with short novels, fiction stories, and love poems, dedicated to his fiancée, Jenny von Westphalen. None of them was published during his lifetime, but the experience appeared to be very helpful when Marx moved to Cologne after graduation and became a journalist for a radical newspaper. It was the time when his first thoughts about socialism and economics came out.
In June 1843 Karl married his fiancée and moved to Paris with her. A year later Jenny gave birth to their daughter, named Jenny as well. In the same year, Karl met Friedrich Engels, his best friend, and collaborator. Their first collaboration, entitled The Holy Family, criticized Young Hegelians ideas and was published a year later. After being expelled from France, Marx moved to Brussels, where continued his work, although couldn’t find a publisher.
Two remarkable works
In 1846, Karl Marx founded the Communist Correspondence Committee to unite all socialists of Europe and two years later published one of his most famous works, known as The Communist Manifesto. Soon after that Marx was expelled from Belgium and moved to London. There he focused on his economic theory and, finally, in 1867 the first volume of well-known Das Kapital was published. The following two volumes were written after Karl’s death, according to his notes, by Engels. Later on, Marx’s thoughts were supplemented by the theories of his followers and the term “Marxism” appeared.
Marx’s economic theory
Karl Marx was the first one who ascertained that capitalists exploited their workers. According to Marx, the full value of any commodity, first of all, is the labor time and efforts needed to produce it. Considering this, the worker’s wage did not actually compensate for the value of goods this worker produced. The difference between the worker’s wage and the amount of money he deserved Marx called the surplus-value. Since underpaying workers was set at the very heart of capitalism, Marx predicted that capitalism would destroy itself.
Marx wondered “why the worker is in such miserable situation, in which his product, and even his very activity, belongs to someone else, in which he cannot find satisfaction in his work and his product” (Marx & Engels, 2004, p. 17). He explained the importance of trade and exchange and even presented his own theory on how two different commodities can be compared.
Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation tell us? It tells us that in two different things – in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. (Marx, 2007, p. 43)
Most of Marx’s ideas are reflected in the modern economy, especially the importance of trade, when everyone can specialize in only one work, trading with others to get necessary goods (Mankiw, 2012). That is why Marx’s heritage is priceless and considered to be the foundation of the present-day economy.
Mankiw, N. G. (2012). Principles of Microeconomics (6th ed.). Hampshire, United Kingdom: South-Western Cengage Learning.
Marx, K. (2007). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Cosimo.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2004). The German Ideology. New York, NY: International Publishers.