What is Communism? Q&A with Prof. Howie Baetjer

Howard Baetjer,

Release Date
January 8, 2018


Economics Free Markets and Capitalism

How is Communism described in theory, and how does it play out in the real world? Join us for our question and answer series with Prof. Howie Baetjer.

  1. Marxism Explained in 2 Minutes, with Deirdre McCloskey (video): “Marx was the greatest social scientist of the 19th century…” says Professor Deirdre McCloskey. “But he got everything wrong.”
  2. What If There Were No Prices? Railroad Thought Experiment (video): What if there were no prices? How would you use available resources? Prof. Howie Baetjer walks us through a thought experiment.
  3. Does Capitalism Exploit Workers? (video): The idea that capitalism exploits workers stems from Karl Marx’s work in the late 1800s. Although the definition of “exploitation” has changed since then, many still believe capitalist systems take advantage of vulnerable workers. Prof. Matt Zwolinski explains why capitalism actually tends to protect workers’ interests.

The core idea, I think, in communism is common ownership of the means of production. But communism has to do with common ownership of the means of production. Marx wasn’t too clear on what communism was and how it would work. He was very clear on what it wasn’t, and what it wasn’t was private ownership of the means of production and production for a market and for profit.
So communism is common ownership for the means of production. Production not for profit but for use, as they say, the ideas that everything ultimately, in mature communism, people would produce because they wanted to produce for the sake of the collective. All the products would go into a common store and people would take from it what they needed. So from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
But I think the core idea in communism is common ownership of the means of production. Now, that sounds good but, because ownership means use, control and disposal, how could collective, how could everybody use, control and dispose of the property they own? Can’t really be done. Somebody’s gotta make decisions. So, in a system that tries for common ownership of the means of production, what you generally have is that some elite, some clique, some group that’s able to seize power, gets control of how resources are to be used.