AskProfWolff: What Exactly is "Capital" in Capitalism

A patron of Economic Update asks: "I've just watched your video about your truer definition of Capitalism, and appreciate how you center it upon the employer-employee relationship as a more accurate measure of what distinguishes it from other economic systems. But I also feel you left out the equally important distinction that derives from the root of it, namely, the function of "Capital". For me, the aspect that most deeply defines it is the creditor-debtor relationship. That is a step up from slavery, but very much related to it. Thus, we have phrases in our vocabulary, such as "wage slavery". When there is a class of people who own no real property or "capital" of significant value, or worse, have an inverse or negative relation to it (which I think qualifies what debt is), you live in a system where that class of people have no choice but to work for wages to try and catch up with the imbalance of capital that debt creates. It is a far more subtle prod than that used to threaten disobedient slaves to get back to work in the Deep South, and far more effective. Debtors are far less likely to rebel than actual slaves were, and within the debt system we have, tend to be more self-accepting of the financial yokes they bear."

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Learn more about Prof Wolff's new book, The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself, that comes out mid-September: 

"Richard Wolff in his new book examines frightening and anti-democratic configurations of corporate power, offering not only a blueprint for how we got here, but a plan for how we will rescue ourselves and create new models of economic and political justice.” - Chris Hedges

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