Now here is a delightful specimen of Americana for you. The New York Times reports that the Union of Radical Political Economics (URPE and pronounced UR-PEA) has just held its annual summer conference. URPE represents the nation's Marxist economists, and there on the business page of The Times the assembled Marxist economists are pictured, attired in work shirts and denims, their faces unshaven, their hair unkempt, all dressed as though they had just finished a day of heavy manual labor. Was it in good-natured jest that The Times placed this picture of Marxist economists exactly adjacent to the headline: ''Dow Gains 23.60 Points; I.B.M. Up''?
Indeed, applying Marxist economics can be heavy labor. That old crank who in the last century made such a pest of himself at the reading room of the British Museum never said anything true or useful about economics or anything else for that matter. It is quite as misleading to speak of Marxist economics as it is to speak of chiropractic science. Dr. Marx's contribution to knowledge is not in the realm of economics but in the realm of warfare. He provided mankind with a compelling new rationale for killing one's neighbor. Since Dr. Marx's passing more people have been slaughtered in his name than in the names of any potentate or ayatollah ever heard of. Nonetheless, despite the fact that Marxism is as useful to an economist as his neighbor's toothbrush, The Times reports that there are approximately 1,000 members of URPE and that the group is growing ever more influential. That is a surprise. What is no surprise is that most of the Marxist economists are university professors or economists for state governments.
After all, how many universities or state governments operate at a profit? What would have been news would be if URPE contained large numbers of economists from the world of private industry or banking. But to find Marxist economists counseling industry one has to travel to such industrial paradises as Albania, Bulgaria and Vietnam (now one of the poorest nations on Earth). Marxist economics does not eliminate poverty. It merely assists patriots in transforming their countries into prison camps. It provides a swell rationale for thwarting modern man's longing for freedom.
Remember Dr. Marx's great line from ''The Communist Manifesto'': ''The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains''? Well, once again he was wrong. Some years ago The Wall Street Journal exulted in apprising readers that America's poverty line was at that time approximately $1,000 above the Soviet Union's median family income. All good URPE members still believe that liberal democracies keep people in chains. Blue-collar workers and the poor are especial targets of their bizarre theories. That ought to worry workers and the impoverished. Next to the blue-collar workers of communist countries, America's blue-collar workers live like Mellons and Rockefellers. As Harvard's Edward Banfield observed in the 1960s, poverty in America is mostly a matter of relative deprivation. Our poor do not have as much as those better off; but they have vastly more than ever before, and they are not living on the hem of death as in past centuries.
Moreover, America's poor would be considered middle class through much of the world -- that is to say in many areas under the ministrations of Marxist economists. Yet there is a mystery about what The Times rightly describes as URPE's growing influence. Marxist economics and Marxism in general have receded in Europe even among the intelligentsia. Only in England does Marxism hang on. But in America, particularly in our universities, it seems to be growing, notwithstanding its cruel history and impoverished present. How does one account for this?
The only explanation for the difference between Marxism's popularity here and in Europe that I can devise is that American academics have only heard the Marxist jingles. They have never been very close to the grim Marxist reality. What is more, Marxism promises excitement. Let us face it, it must have been thrilling at this summer's URPE meeting when one stentorian economist rose from the audience and called for arming America's proletariat. Yet that feat has already been achieved by the National Rifle Association. Once again, the private sector delivers.