Marxism at the Museum – WSJ

Polls show that more than half of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States have a negative view of capitalism. More than half have a positive view of socialism. Wonder where they got it from.

I recently strolled through the New York Public Library’s “Treasures” exhibit, which would delight readers and writers alike: Charles Dickens’ desk, a manuscript delivered in a box from former newspaper columnist Mark Twain, draft covers for Jack Kerouac’s novel ” On the Road,” and an illustrated page from Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” script. Pretty cool stuff.

Ah look, a first edition of Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” from 1776 – the free market bible. I was in awe until I read the description: “Adam Smith, like Karl Marx the following century, believed that national prosperity was best measured by the labor force of a country rather than by how much gold lay in its treasury.” I guess the description is technically correct, but Karl Marx? In the same breath as Adam Smith who called free markets “the manifest and simple system of natural liberty”? Unlike Smith, Marx naively saw a static world with no productivity, only labor productivity. He completely missed that labor is more brain than infant. Add exhibition curators to the list of socialist tubs.

I wonder what Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the rather capitalist private equity firm Blackstone and donor of $100 million to the New York Public Library, whose name is engraved in stone outside, thinks of the Marxist agenda of the library’s curators.

Wouldn’t you know it, next to “The Wealth of Nations” were none other than manuscript notes for “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx with this description: “The work has had an enormous and lasting influence on world events: in the past century its ideas have not only maintained a secure place in the realm of economic and political theory, but also inspired anti-capitalist revolutions across the globe.” OK, but it was a lasting negative influence. And of course there was no mention of the hundreds of millions of people who were impoverished and slaughtered by Marxist regimes.

The description continues: “Karl Marx’s seminal account of capitalist production and its manifold effects on human life still inspires argument, insight and resistance.” Inspiring? Marxism is a desperate and dangerous call for redistribution from the productive class to, for example, museum curators. Regardless, a 2018 New York Times op-ed read: “Happy birthday, Karl Marx. You were right!” The Marx rehabilitation tour continues.

A 2020 global Edelman survey found that 56% agreed that “capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world.” Really? I guess somehow the global increase in living standards and the lowering of the extreme poverty rate from 36% to below 10% since 1990 happened by magic. It is truly a miracle since capitalism is so bad and Marxism is so good. Of the porous southern border, President Biden recently remarked, “What’s on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.” Why would anyone leave a Marxist paradise for the capitalist USA? Maybe the New York Public Library has an answer.

An almost fanatical devotion to Marxism is everywhere. The magazine’s Eric Gibson wrote a great piece last month titled “Woke Ideologues Are Taking Over American Art Museums,” which received serious pushback from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We are exposed to anti-capitalist agendas every day.

You wouldn’t expect this from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, but here are some words under Cornelius Vanderbilt’s portrait: “Beginning in the rough world of New York harbor, by 1829 he had parlayed several small shipping enterprises into a stake in the lucrative Hudson River- trade.” No mention that he did this by offering lower prices and better service than the Hudson River Steamboat Association, a government-sanctioned monopoly. Still, the museum labels Commodore a “ruthless monopolist.” He was no saint, but he provided affordable steamships to San Francisco and helped expand railroads. Like the term “robber baron”, this is anti-capitalist propaganda disguised as education.

Here’s another from the Portrait Gallery: “John D. Rockefeller once remarked ‘The only question with wealth is what do you do with it?’ By 1913, Rockefeller, a founder of the Standard Oil Company, had made an estimated $900 million from an aggressive reorganization of the oil industry.” Get it? Wealth is evil and never earned. Remarkably, no mention of his role in driving down the price to consumers of energy that boosted a fast-growing economy. Again, no saint, but the gallery notes that he “rehabilitated his reputation in later years by supporting charitable causes.”

This is a pretty loud message to the capitalists Bezos, Musk, Page, Brin, Zuckerberg: Give your money away if you want to be remembered kindly. Just don’t give your money to libraries or museums. Please.

Write to kessler@wsj.com.

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