[S11 E16] New
On this week's episode, Prof. Wolff talks about Rolls Royce's $400,000 cars, unionization defeat at Amazon, why Biden boom is just hype, and progressive wins in the New York state budget. On the second half of the show, Wolff welcomes Green Party leader Dr. Jill Stein to discuss the achievements and goals of an anti-capitalist 3rd party.
Following the 2016 election, Jill was targeted in a McCarthyite investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee for three years. This was prompted by her attendance at a 2015 conference in Russia advocating peace in the middle east, a global green new deal, and nuclear disarmament.
Now in the face of growing bipartisan political repression, censorship and warmongering, she continues to fight for political choices beyond the parties of war and Wall Street. This means fighting for the right not only to vote, but to vote for what we want, not against what we fear. Thus the reforms of Ranked Choice Voting and proportional representation are a key part of her work to help revive our embattled democracy through independent politics.
In 2006, she transitioned from clinical medicine into “political medicine” to help heal "the mother of all illnesses”, our sick political system that’s literally killing us.
Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Welcome, friends, to another edition of Economic Update, a weekly program devoted to the economic dimensions of our lives: jobs, debts, incomes — our own and our children’s. I'm your host, Richard Wolff.
I want to begin with good news today from the Rolls-Royce Corporation, and I want to share it with you. They are so happy, and they've made me happy too. First of all, let's all remember that Rolls-Royce once was a British company. But like so many things that once were British, they aren't anymore. This corporation was purchased by the German automobile company, BMW. And it happily announced that in the first quarter of this year, it delivered more cars than it ever has in a quarter before: a total of 1,400 cars. The major brands, the Cullinan and the Ghost, sell for a base price of about $330,000 per car. Properly and fully equipped, they go over $400,000 each. They have a number of wonderful interior design features. I will only mention to you one: a starry evening sky projected on the interior ceiling of the automobile.
Bentley and Lamborghini also announced good sales. And as an economist, I just want to remind you that these numbers are features of what happens in an economy when the rich get richer and the rest of us don't. Resources that might have gone to the goods and services the mass of people need are deflected, go elsewhere, where the money is. That's how capitalism works. So those resources — those workers, that steel, that paint, and that starry sky — go into 1,400 cars for the richest amongst us.
Let me turn next to not such good news. The effort to unionize Amazon in Alabama was defeated, and soundly so. And there have been lots of obituaries about that effort — not that it's over; there will be continuing efforts. But there have been comments on what was clever or not in what the Amazon management did, and what was clever or not in what the union organizers did. No doubt both of them had their strong points, their weak points, the mistakes they may have made. I'm not interested in those. I want to draw your attention to a larger factor that I think played a major role, probably the dominant role, in the outcome of that unionization effort.
In order to win a battle at a union vote in a workplace, you need to have the mass of the workers there trained, in a sense, to think about the world in a different way from the way they do it now. What has to become common sense has to be cultivated. It has been cultivated, over the last 75 years in this country, very systematically, in the media, in the movies, on the radio, on television, in the news, at church, in the school — all of those places. Pictures have been painted in which the people who run our big businesses are CEO geniuses, worth all that money because wow, are they super competent. They are all captains of industry. We reward them with top government jobs, accolades from here to tomorrow, and amounts of money to be paid to them which is the ultimate compliment in a capitalist society.
In contrast, workers are drones. And unions — wow, they're scary. They're a little bit better than crooks, but not much better. They get the same kind of low appreciation that you give others in our society that don't get much prestige.
Interesting. Once upon a time, captains of industry had a different name. We called them “robber barons,” in the literature, because they were looked at as people who squeezed the working class, who tried to cheat you at every turn, by charging more than what they sold to you, and paying less than what your labor was worth, and so on and so on.
If you had a different notion of common sense, if the hero was the working man and woman, and not the captain of industry living in the mansion, well, then your whole attitude would be different. In Europe, unions are much more successful and much more powerful. Not because they don't make mistakes. Not because each of their efforts is a genius stroke of strategy. It's because the general culture in European countries is much more progressive.
And you know who takes care of that for the unions? Not so much the unions themselves. They do a good bit of it; they have more resources in Europe. American unions are stretched thin. They can't put the people or the money to work to change the public conversation. They need a partner to do that. In Europe they have a partner. Those things are called socialist parties, and communist parties, and even green parties in many countries. They're out there day by day, cultivating a way of looking at the world that then shows up in a positive vote for a union at a workplace.
The American unions once had that, but it was destroyed after World War Ⅱ. During the 1930s you had the closest alliance between the American labor movement and the left, politically. And boy did that make a difference, when the unions really grew like crazy in the 1930s. And after the 1930s, after the war was over in World War Ⅱ, the alliance between labor and the left was smashed. And therein begins the decline of the labor movement.
Learn the lesson: You need a partner if you're in the labor movement. The left is willing and interested. It's a partnership, it's an alliance, it's what labor needs, and it's what labor lacks. And that, for me, is why those workers lost that union drive in Bessemer, Alabama.
My next update has to do with a lot of noise that I'm hearing that I want to comment on, and that many of you have asked me to comment on. We are being told that we're about to enter an enormous boom because the new Biden administration is pumping unprecedented amounts of money into the economy — the American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure build-out, and so on. We're hearing it's going to be like the end of World War Ⅱ, and so forth. I've commented on this before, but you've asked for more, so let me give you three basic reasons why this boom is not likely to be anything like what it's being hyped up to be. And that's important for the immediate future of all of us.
Number one: The business community is able to use its political power to reduce everything that Mr. Biden has promised. The Business Roundtable just released a survey that 98 percent of the CEOs it surveyed don't want the corporate-profits tax to be raised, as Biden has asked, from 21 percent to 28 percent. Let's again be clear. Raising it from 21 to 28, which is all the president has asked for, is only going halfway back to what it was as late as 2017, when Trump dropped it, with the Republicans, from 35 to 21 percent. So it's only the modest halfway back to what the corporations were doing, to 28 percent. And the business community won't have it. They don't want it even raised at all. They want to keep it. They want Mr. Biden to be just like Mr. Trump when it comes to taxing corporations — namely, not taxing them.
He's going to have a lot of problems. And therefore he's not going to be able to pay for these spending programs with taxes, because the corporations won't allow it and the mass of people can't afford it. So he's going to borrow the money, which takes our already huge, unprecedented deficits and makes them larger. And makes our already record-breaking national debt go up even higher, even faster. And that runs all kinds of economic risks.
Second: Please keep in mind that all the government spending (or the overwhelming bulk of it) for the covid program, for the infrastructure program, is federal money going into the hands of corporations. Even when the money goes from the federal government to a state or a locality, they in turn will give it to corporations to contract for all the work to be done. Whether it's to provide inoculations, or it's to rebuild a bridge, or to extend a road — it goes into the hands of corporations.
And you know what they're going to do? Well we do know. We know what they do with all the money they get from all their contracts. A huge amount goes to the shareholders. A huge amount goes to pay packages for people at the top. Some money goes to automation so they don't have to pay high wages to workers. Money goes to consultants on how to beat a union drive. You know the story. That's the story of the United States and the inequality we have. That's not going to be changed by giving a lot of money to the major corporations. It's going to reproduce the very system that got us to the neglected infrastructure in the first place. There's a bit of a spinning of wheels here. Don't be overtaken by the hype.
And then there's the last reason we're not going to have a boom. Back in 1945 we had a much less unequal society. The rich weren't as rich, and the mass of people weren't as stretched financially. Which meant when the government pumped money in, it spread out more evenly, because we were a more evenly organized society. We're not now. We're much, much, much more unequal. So a disproportionate amount of this government spending is going to go into the hands of people not likely to spend it again because they are already the richest amongst us. And how many Bentleys, and how many Ghosts are they going to buy? It's important to keep the perspective in your mind.
I want to end with good news — really good news, not the kind that comes from Rolls-Royce. The state of New York — often a pioneer, like California, in social legislation — has issued, and decided, and signed its new budget: a $212 billion budget for the state of New York. And in that budget were three things so remarkable that it's a sign of what can happen when a significant group of progressives win elections. People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — those are well known because those are federal-level jobs. But socialists like her have also been winning elections in towns, in state senate races, in state representative races, and so on. There's now a significant contingent of them, and others not yet there see the handwriting on the wall. And, therefore, I can report to you something that's part of the new budget of the state of New York, the budget that will govern 2021-2022.
Number one: The top tax rate on people who earn over $1 million a person, or $2 million per couple, was raised. In other words, every dollar over $2 million that a married couple gets will now be taxed not at 8.82 percent, the old rate, but at 9.65 percent. Yes, the increase is not very large, but it is a significant increase on the people who can afford it most. That is remarkable in the United States at this time. The corporate-profits tax was likewise raised from 6.5 to 7.25 percent.
But perhaps the most dramatic thing was something called the Excluded Workers Fund Act. For 200,000 undocumented immigrants, there's going to be an unemployment fund to help them out too. Just imagine Christian charity actually being put into effect.
Well, we've come to the end of today's first part of our show. Before we get to the second half, I want to remind you: Our new book, The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself, is available at democracyatwork.info/books.I also want to thank our Patreon community for their ongoing and invaluable support. If you haven't already, please go to patreon.com/economicupdate to learn more about how you can get involved. Please stay with us; we will be right back with today's guest, Dr. Jill Stein.
WOLFF: Welcome back, friends, to the second half of today's Economic Update. It is with genuine pleasure and happiness, I must say, that I can welcome to our microphones and our camera Dr. Jill Stein. She probably doesn't need much introduction from me, but let me be brief. She is the United States Green Party's 2016 presidential candidate. She's a leader of the Green Party, she's a physician, she's an organizer, she works on environmental health issues. She is a leader of a third-party effort here in the United States, and that in itself is a historic effort. I could say many things about her; I think it's more important for us to get to hear what she has to say. But I am struck with a very good line that she came up with that I would like to repeat, talking about her own candidacy. She wants to redevelop or reinvigorate American democracy, she says, by giving everyone a chance to vote for what we want, not against what we fear. And in the era of Trump, that has a particularly powerful ring. So welcome, Jill, to our program, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Okay. You and other leaders of the Green Party have described it as an alternative to the parties of war and Wall Street. Tell me what you mean by that and what you think your impact has been.
STEIN: Thank you. And it's really an honor to be here talking with you, Rick, as someone who's really, I think, been blazing the trail for so many of us who are kind of following along behind. And I'm certainly one of those people who've been incredibly influenced by your life's work, which is really incredible and timely.
And so, the Green Party essentially is a well established — in fact, it's the only — national alternative to the parties of war and Wall Street. And why do I say “war and Wall Street”? Because both parties are promoting policies which are extremely favorable to both of those interests. And we find ourselves now in an economy which is just brutal to everyday working people, that has brought us back to the new cold war. The old cold war is now the new cold war, and it's getting hotter by the day.
You know, our political system is very much influenced by the incredible concentration of wealth, with the upper one tenth of one percent having the wealth of the lower 90 percent altogether, with one in every two Americans either in or near poverty, with 70,000 people essentially dying every year from health-care profiteering. This is not a system that's working. Not to mention climate change and the way we are continuing to barrel down on — essentially over a cliff. We're heading over the waterfall under the policies of both political parties.
So we very much need an alternative. And I must say that alternative is very much in demand now. And we're seeing polls skyrocketing at an all-time high. The latest Gallup poll, in fact, showed that there's unprecedented demand now for an independent political party which is separate from the two parties that have really thrown everyday people and our planet under the bus. So it's not just that we need a third party; there's an enormous demand for an independent politics with integrity. And you can also look at recent polls that show from 55 to over 70 percent support for the agenda that we really inserted into the public dialogue starting back in the 2012 election.
And you could say, yes, we lost the battle. But in another way, we've won the war, because we have profoundly altered the political agenda. And the parties of war and Wall Street — which is also to say the parties of empire — are really doubling down to maintain their stranglehold right now because there is such an intense momentum to open up our political system, provide more voices and more choices that actually reflect where the American people are.
So, you know, this is — in the words of Alice Walker, the biggest way people give up power is by not knowing we have it to start with. We have it. That is, we, the people, have it. And it's really all about how do we assert that power.
WOLFF: Jill, I'd like your reaction to something that I've been hearing more of in recent months — that the United States is governed by a monopoly. It's a monopoly of two political parties that have a very cozy relationship in which they exchange offices from time to time to adjust to the popular mood, but that they maintain pretty much of a stranglehold. And, like monopolies, they do everything in their power to exclude any new entrant into the game. How do you react to that kind of an assessment of our politics?
STEIN: That is extremely true. You know, I'd say they're more than a monopoly. They're more like a mafia that's protecting their turf, very carefully guarding it. And this suppression of political opposition should be seen as part of voter suppression. It's unacceptable that people of color, young people, the disabled are restricted from voting through all kinds of mechanisms. But we need not only a right to vote; we have a right to vote for what we want and what we need. And we need to reject voter suppression in its usual forms, but we also need to reject voter suppression of progressive forces and progressive voters.
And that means we need a ranked-choice voting system so that fear cannot be used as part of this lesser-evil mode of politics, which is really a form of extortion. We should not be suppressing votes, and we shouldn't be extorting votes based on fear. And this is readily fixed with a ranked-choice voting system with proportional representation. You can go to the Green Party website to find out more about that. But these are solvable problems. And there's no getting out of here alive unless we solve them.
So, fixing our political system entails a number of things. We need political opposition. That is, grassroots political opposition, not corporate astro-turf forms of opposition. But that means enabling ballot access. And Greens were forever being thrown off the ballot. Ralph Nader had about 30 lawsuits run against him in the 2004 election at one time. It cost him a million dollars, basically, in order to defend his right to be on the ballot. And even at that, he was thrown off. In the last election, Greens were thrown off, illegitimately, of the ballot in Wisconsin and in Pennsylvania, based on real distortions of their rules. This is not democracy.
We're blocked from participating in debates. I know in 2016, 75 percent of American voters were clamoring, no matter where they stood politically. Across the board, people want more voices and more choices. They have a right to those choices. And they have a right to know who their choices are, and what those various points of view are — which are not reflected in our current power structure and in the parties of war and Wall Street. You know, censorship is reigning very strong right now. Not only on social media, but being blacklisted from the legacy media and not covered.
So there are concrete things that we can do, and so how do we ever get to that place? I think we'll come to that later in this discussion, but it's so important that we be connected to the social movements, that we be getting the word out, and that, above all, we not be persuaded that we don't count. In the words of Alice Walker, the biggest way people give up power is by not knowing we have it. And if you look at the polls — the progressive agenda is upheld by Greens. It's given lip service by many of the progressive Democrats, but they're not able to go there, and haven't been for decades. In fact, they're moving in the opposite direction. So the Greens really are the vehicle for this progressive agenda, which is now so urgently needed, and desired, and demanded, as a matter of life and death by the American people.
WOLFF: Jill, let me press you on three quick questions that I know our listeners want. Number one: The Green Party in a country like Germany went from a very small, marginal party to an enormously, nationally powerful party. It really is among the big parties that now contest for power in Germany. Briefly, because I want to get to the others too, what would it take in the United States to give a comparable history and allow the Green Party to become a major player?
STEIN: The demand is there. That is, among voting people — and among many people who don't vote, who choose not to vote and are voter eligible but don't use their vote. That is the largest block of voters, in fact — those who say no thank you to a two-party-dominated system. So what we need to do is basically remove the obstructions.
And I do want to mention H.R. 1, which has many valuable provisions for ensuring the right to vote. But it also contains little-known poison pills that basically open the floodgates of even more big money in politics, including — I'll just give you one thing. The current limit for the big national committees, like the DNC, and the RNC, and the national congressional committees — their current limit is $5,000 to contribute to a presidential candidate. Under H.R. 1, they can contribute $100 million. Each of their committees can contribute $100 million. That basically buys you the election. So it's really important to examine critically what is being put forward as solutions by the parties of war and Wall Street.
WOLFF: Here's a quick one, but a powerful one. Socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, and others have made the decision to work for what they understand socialism to mean — democratic socialism — within the Democratic Party. The Greens, who share some of the many progressive objectives of the socialists, have decided not to do so. Briefly explain to us why you made that decision and continue to make the decision not to work within the Democratic Party.
STEIN: Well, let me just say that there have been very progressive elements within the Democratic Party, going back for decades. But their hands are basically tied. And even now we see The Squad, and AOC, and the new democratic socialists — they are afraid to actually challenge power because they will be viciously punished. Look at what happened to Kucinich, who basically got shut out of the debates and got redistricted. Or look at Tulsi Gabbard. You know, if you dare to resist the leadership, you will basically be eliminated. And we see that now, when The Squad won't stand up to force the vote on Medicare for All, for example, where AOC is helping to fund the opponents within the Democratic Party who've been holding back Medicare for All. So the machine really blurs the vision and the integrity of people who come into the Democratic Party. But it's pretty uniform across the board that if you actually stand up to resist, you're done. So we have to find a place to put our feet down. And remember, this is not a matter of people not agreeing with us; the public agrees with us. This is a matter of strategy and working our way up to get the word out and build the power of the organization.
WOLFF: Jill, in the few seconds we have left — and you've done a wonderful job of making these positions clear — here's a last one. What's your relationship to (let's call it, for lack of a better term) anti-capitalism? To what extent is the Green Party critical of, and opposed to, capitalism? (And we really only have 20 seconds.)
STEIN: The Green Party has a few different names for this, but across the board I think it's recognized in the Green Party that corporate capitalism as we know it, which is sort of where capitalism inherently goes, is incompatible not only with democracy but with workers’ rights and, in particular, with a sustainable environment that's capable of supporting life and civilization as we know it. So we are not in the camp of corporate capitalism; that is very clear. You can look at our party platform and see that very clearly outlined.
WOLFF: All right. Dr. Jill Stein, wonderful to talk to you. Thank you for sharing your answers to these questions, really. And I hope we can bring you back in the near future.
And to all of my audience — viewers, listeners — thank you for being with us. I hope you found this an important contribution to our political thinking. And I look forward to being with you again next week.
Transcript by Marilou Baughman
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SOURCES FOR SHOW SEGMENTS:
- Rolls Royce: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/autos/rolls-royce-has-best-quarter-116-years-wealthy-snap-400-n1263501
- Amazon union loss: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/04/09/amazon-union-vote-bessemer/
- Biden spending on Covid and Infrastructure: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/07/jamie-dimon-says-economic-boom-fueled-by-deficit-spending-vaccines-could-easily-run-into-2023.html
- Corporate America scared about social division: