Marx on Standards of Living

Marx contends that political economy leads to the acceptance of “the lowest possible level of life (existence) as the standard” (95) by which life is judged. This statement is predicated upon the idea that “light, air, etc.–the simplest animal cleanliness–ceases to be a need for man” (94), an idea that flies in the face of the basic tenets of political economy, namely that the division of labor necessarily leads to more people having cheaper and easier access to resources of all sorts. Light and air are still needs for man, but the advancement of society has enable them to be taken as given, such that this ‘lowest possible level’ cannot even be taken as the baseline to judge human existence. The ability of the masses to purchase that which Marx claims is derided as luxury (for the examples we used in class: fridges, toasters, and cars), combined with the fact that such goods have become the new minimum level considered a standard demonstrates that man has in fact moved on from striving to satisfy his primal needs. His standard of existence has been ever rising. It is entirely possible that there is some other cost to man that must be borne to make this march of progress possible, but it is undeniable that man has progressed to the point where, for the masses, light and air and warm shelter, are so easily attainable so as not to be worries. For this reason, the assertion that, to the political economist, “every luxury of the worker seems to be reprehensible” (95) is ludicrous. The political economist heralds the fact that luxury is no longer out of the reach of the worker, that what once was luxury is now the lowest that the masses can sink. While it is entirely possible that man has lost something on the journey to this point, the standards by which life is judged are forever rising.