Karl Marx, Day Trader?

by: Larry MacDonald

I like to settle down, now and then, with a literary classic or biography. My current endeavor in the more relaxed pace of the Easter long week-end is the short stories of W. Somerset Maugham. They go very well with the chocolate eggs I “borrowed” from the collection found about the house by my 4- and 6-year-old boys.

Many people have hobbies collecting things. I like to collect allusions in classical and biographical literature to investing, stock markets and financial planning. It’s interesting to see how financial matters were the same or different in certain times or places.

Some past discoveries have been mentioned in the blog. Like Henchard’s and Farfrae’s commodity speculation in The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge. And young Benjamin Disraeli’s 1820 ruin speculating in mining stocks, as depicted in Sarah Bradford’s biography.

This weekend I came across another gem, nestled in a financial blog of all places. It appears that Karl Marx (of Communist Manifesto fame) was, in effect, a bit of a day trader. In an 1864 letter, Marx writes:

I have, which will surprise you not a little, been speculating — partly in American funds, but more especially in English stocks, which are springing up like mushrooms this year (in furtherance of every imaginable and unimaginable joint stock enterprise), are forced up to quite an unreasonable level and then, for the most part, collapse. In this way, I have made over £400 and, now that the complexity of the political situation affords greater scope, I shall begin all over again. It’s a type of operation that makes demands on one’s time, and it’s worth while running some risk in order to relieve the enemy of his money.

There is no word on how Marx did on his second effort as a plunger. Given the lack of information on the outcome, the accursed capitalists probably relieved him of his money. Speculators often boast of their winnings but remain silent on their losses. Financial Tactic blogger muses:

If only he’d made a killing on the stock markets, history may have been different. Marx Financials Inc. could have been today too big to fail….

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