Economic Update: Capitalism's Anxiety About the State

[S10 E39] New

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On this week's show, Prof. Wolff presents updates on how capitalism gets in the way of fighting Covid-19, systemic racism and Covid-19, why Europe did not allow the mass unemployment imposed on the US, and Wells Fargo CEO's fake excuse for lack of diversity among bankers. In the second half of the show, Wolff explores why capitalism fears the modern state and how it controls that state. 

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Showing 11 comments

  • pasqual digesu
    commented 2020-10-20 12:52:16 -0400
    Hi William

    It is true that Darwin proved that throughout history natural selection and survival of the fittest has been the rule. I think his studies and lesson go beyond that. He is one of many examples of the evolving humane mind and how “Change” can progress our thinking, understanding and overcome primal actions or instinct. There is another great book on how we are able to measure and understand the change which is happening called " The white hole in time", by Peter Russell. This book details how we have evolved mentally and attained incredible achievements in science that we do not fully understand and are now overwhelming us. The Darwinian test now is whether we have mentally evolved enough to survive our discoveries or fall victim to them. Some of us have been able to design complex weapons only to be controlled by primates who could never comprehend their most basic engineering, very dangerous. Men like Christ, Plato, the forefathers, Marx, Gandhi, Einstein and even certain dictators are examples of the evolution of higher thinking humane beings from their origins millennia ago. “Consciousness” is a product of humane mental development or empathy over the simple use of might with disregard to deal with our problems.

    Going to your other paragraph describing the topic of government , I agree with you 99%. Every thing you say is true and yes the original text has been bastardized and compounded with new laws and amendment’s/ statutes which make it not only unrecognizable but also null and void. On The dogs of war I am reminded of the words of Emile Zola, " We have to challenge the might of those who dominate the world, it is not the swaggering militarists, they are but puppets who dance when the strings are pulled. It is the others who would plunge us into the bloody abyss of war to protect their power.
    Unfortunately my logic tells me that it was a dictator who said that ideal democracy cannot work despite admitting that it is ideal in theory. I also believe it will take a benevolent man with the power of a dictator to pull us off this path in which we are not simply hiking but are now a runaway train. (because of the failure or the people)

    The end game of these pigs is exactly what you state, but it can just as easily be called modern Americanism. The brutal government of Russia and china were not examples of communism which we call it, or even socialism. If Marx, Gramsci, Trotsky and company came back to see what has become in those countries and attract media to discuss their findings they would be put immediately back into the grave. No different if it happened here with the forefathers, Lincoln etc. In fact we did send some of them to an early retirement before their time. The use of words like communism, Fascism (as opposed to Nazism) is just a way to deflect the evil actions our own modern system of Americanism on to dead figures of history which we canned and labeled, works well !!
    Mick Jagger wrote a masterpiece song lyric called “Sympathy for the devil”, that poor fallen angel in hell takes the blame for every stinkin thing we do. Truth is as they say in Calabria, “The devil wears many faces” (and flies many flags)
    Yes, somewhere in the middle lies the goldilocks enigma of good government. It will take people like us to assemble and work it out to the level of detail that our present minds permit. Assemble like the early American “butchers, bakers and candlestick makers” in lieu of the lawyers or “bastardizers” who now control all branches of govt. in violation of the separation of powers act. In all the working groups back in the 1800’s, they were one of the few not included under the protection of the Knights of Labor.

    good talking to you again

  • Sonny Wiehe
    commented 2020-10-19 19:54:43 -0400

    You’re all over the place. Focus. Debate is not a stream of consciousnesses.

    Sacrifice is not the natural way. If you actually look at the evolution of living organisms, survival of the fittest rules the day through natural selection. Darwin proved this long ago.

    The human species has perfected this natural game and has become a “super predator” among virtually all animals species. This is why the oceans, which cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, has been 90% fished out of game fish. The extinction rate of animal species (other than humans of course) on land is alarming as well. Watch “Planet of the Humans” for additional insight. However, micro-organism still have us beat with their ability to change, adapt, and kill us. Viruses illustrate this well— with Covid19 simply being the latest (albeit weak) variant. The human response to this challenge under the rule of government has been pathetic. Borderline hysteria in my opinion. The superior rational human brain of which you speak has been seemingly sidelined.

    That said (and getting back to the topic at hand) I believe the original U.S. system of government as adopted in 1791 was the best in the world. The problem, like I said before, is that the people have been detached from engagement which is paramount and vital to its success. The “rules” for civil association have now been extremely bastardized by those in power (with the controlling help of oligarchs) and accountability (through our inherent checks and balances) all but eliminated. Read George Orwells “Animal Farm” which illustrates quite simply the full cycle of social revolution, democratic self rule, ultimate corruption, and collapse. We are in the latter stages of the corruption cycle where the pigs are living in the farm house and getting drunk while a small group of “others” do all the work. They have posted the dogs of war (through bribery and unfair advantage) on the front porch to protect their ruling self interest. Make no mistake about it, the pigs have appointed themselves and protectors “more equal than others”, and that’s the end game of communism. As I said before, the opposite end game of capitalism (executed under a fascist regime) is monopoly. I never indicated that capitalism itself was a from of government. It’s simply a form of commerce in a civilized society. Anyhow, somewhere in the middle is the Goldilocks enigma of good government. Unfortunately, that phase takes work (as Franklin warned) and is, thus far, proving short lived. Again, IMO that has been due to laziness and lack of collective will power. You could reasonably add in collective ignorance (as you argue) also.

  • pasqual digesu
    commented 2020-10-19 10:49:33 -0400
    Hi William
    It is that direct quote by Franklin that I was referring to, I remember all things important, just can’t always remember things per batum. We share a lot of thoughts and understandings. Your interest in the subject goes well above average.
    I try to get a call in occasionally to CSPAN Washington Journal which is aired live internationally. Criticizing how this government works I was asked “what system of gov. would I want in place of our republic? Using the few minutes allowed I responded that using the modern tech which has eliminated much of the manual workforce, we could also eliminate representatives who once delivered geographic community demands to Washington using the fastest running horses. We have computers on line which can be used to vote on daily issues being aired on CSPAN daily, airing bills being tabled for congressional decision. Essentially we can now represent (or misrepresent) ourselves.
    It is the lack of will by the people to partake and to educate themselves in all the subjects of knowledge that will bring us down. This lack of education was preached to the Senate by ex senator Byrd who said our students education is more concentrated or driven towards courses which will make them factory ready as opposed to independent thinking humane beings (Renaissance?). As for uprooting the existing forces which dominate our government, I am afraid that the right to peaceful protest alone won’t do it. They will simply amuse themselves from mahogany row sipping cognac and smoking Cubans in 5000 dollar suites (5000 conservatively). No powers this greedy, this unbalanced – in power, will ever step down from their position of growing control, competition and continued upward mobility and manipulation…. voluntarily. It is this growing greed and its imbalance which will force them to have to deal with social issues in the eventual threat to their own existence despite their accumulated wealth,”Social issues" in their many forms. Nature itself will be the final force to reckon with and natural balance will prevail,,,,,,,, with or without us. What a waist of god given or nature given brain to the superior humane animal knowing what the ills are and electing to avoid dealing with them because they cut into our profits or leisure living (something that most of our entire ancestry never had the pleasure of experiencing in their lifetime or lifestyle). Sacrifice, ironically is the key lesson in the oldest texts and patriarchy serves a nature made purpose. (I know I digress)
    Cheers William
  • Sonny Wiehe
    commented 2020-10-17 17:14:45 -0400
    Dear P,

    Interesting. I often quote Franklin when he spoke to a woman on the steps of Independence Hall after the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. She queried the good doctor: “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy” to which Franklin replied “A republic… if you can keep it”.

    According to Wikipedia, a republic is a form of government in which affairs of state are a “public matter”, not the private concern of the rulers".

    The above captures the essence of our governmental problem. Citizens are unwilling to commit their social responsibility toward participating in the hard and ugly work of government sausage making. As you say, good government is not represented in a popularity contest. Voting every four yours does not fulfill your citizen obligations. In my opinion, folks would rather put their faith in a some messiah that they think will do the work for them. Heaven forbid that they have to actually think about the causes and possible cures for social ills and insecurity; that is for someone else or some other “party” (they like parties because that allows them to further decrease their level of critical though and put individual analysis into easier to comprehend “party” platforms) to do for them. Call it laziness;" path of least resistance" physics; whatever. The end result is the same: mass disengagement. But that is precisely what those select few that are in power (who ARE fully engaged) wish to achieve

    One important fact that the Professor regularly reminds us of is the fact that unchecked capitalism always leads to monopoly. No question that government must step in and regulate monopolies according to established laws. Indeed, our government fought many of those battles at the culmination of our industrial revolution with anit-trust laws. However, with IT and social media corporate conglomerates we seem to have forgotten to apply them…or at least do not seem to have the political backbone to do so. Perhaps that is because the monopolist oligarchs have bought all three branches of government wholesale and there are seemingly no longer operational checks and balances. So, what to do? I say it is up to the people to become engaged (as Franklin warned) and take the power of checks and balances back; knock the rust off the levers of government which are ostensibly in the hands of the people. If we don’t (for whatever excuse or reason), then your must simply conclude that “We, the people…” no longer deserve the equity and prosperity a democratically republican form of government delivers. In essence, we forfeit those civil rights and privileges— most likely due to simple passivity and laziness. Both sad excuses.

    To answer my own question on the purpose of government:
    Three fold:
    1.To provide for the defense of its citizenry against foreign invaders,
    2. Make laws that govern civil public action
    3. Provide for the adjudication of any infractions of those enacted laws.

    That’s it. Everything else that government has been asked to do in the U.S. (feed, house, provide a moral compass (that’s ostensibly what church is for), provide well fare, etc.) has been in my humble opinion, mission creep. Mission creep leads to lack of focus— and ultimately failure.

  • pasqual digesu
    commented 2020-10-17 09:50:02 -0400
    Dear William
    I am not debating how our government was established, and as for capitalism
    competing with government – it can, it simply cannot take the place of government as a governing authority. Capitalism is not government. Its failure to govern is what the professors show is all about and FDR also realized it which is why he Acted.
    . The myriad of social issues falls under the responsibility of “good” government, Not capitalism – which is why it cannot govern the wide myriad of social issues. One revolutionary war general and his men who served honorably revolted against Washington after the war because only land owners were given the right to vote. Social issues are important despite what is sometimes written on paper for people to follow. (how broken is our constitution when it comes to due process in our courts? Julian Assange as you mentioned and fathers rights to custody affecting 60 million men in the last 30 years) You make my point.
    Why I believe certain types of totalitarianism is (not ideal) but necessary is because we need action to change course before we hit the wall that’s quickly approaching. Whatever form of government is in charge now, whatever solutions are being argued, like lawyers in litigation, ITS NOT WORKING. If one ignores the reality of our growing problems this to me is the shark pool awaiting. Incredibly during the Roman Republic, the senate gave appointed generals dictatorial powers to deal with emergencies realizing the need to overcome disunity, debate, and worse – procrastination. This appointment was only for the duration of the problem or threat. (unlike today, the men selected were not idiots driven by self profit by all involved, and when greed prevailed after 200 years, Imperialism stepped in)

    The new deals progress before being slowly countered as the professor explains, all the way to the elimination of glass steagall in 2000 is not only my own opinion and belief, (it is both reasonable and collective)
    In short,, The recent bailouts further enriched those in power ($$$) not the people as in 1931. The national debt increases primarily because of this " twisted socialism or hand out to the wealthy" And yes it is a growing problem, so how is “this form of government” dealing with it ??? I submit to you that it can’t, simply by your own statistics since Reagan.
    It was during his time that power (government) was greatly relinquished to finance and industry. Presidents from Carter to Eisenhower realized and admitted this trend.

    Again, I agree that balance is restored through natural order, yes.
    Unless that natural order is disturbed,,, manipulated legislatively,, and it has been both economically and ecologically (nature) Also media and the violent state we’re in.

    For your final question, The purpose of government is… to …. govern.
    In a CIVILIZED society “IT” would strive towards social balance, justice and security
    for all…. always weighing damage, abiding by moral codes FORCED upon it by “we the people” (we must do our part as Franklin stated) not simply vote for props every 4 years and call it democracy. And not be swayed by big money. An old text says you cannot serve morality and mammon at the same time.

    By the way I do enjoy and appreciate your thoughts and this conversation.

  • Sonny Wiehe
    commented 2020-10-16 11:42:05 -0400
    Dear Pasqual,

    With all due respect, you digress. You’re covering a myriad of social issues which, in my opinion, have nothing to do with the pretext of how our government was established in 1791 and why private capitalism can never be in position to reasonably compete with government. I don’t believe the responsibility of feeding and housing the American population is in our U.S. Constitution which includes the Bill of Rights. For good reason. However, the 1st amendment is in the Constitution and our Press (long considered the 4th branch of government) has now been silenced by oligarchs on this primary right. The Julian Assange extradition hearings in the U.K. is a prime example. The press (including N.Y. Times and Wash. Post (latter owned by Jeff Bezos not by coincidence) have not been present and have not covered it at all—when it is ostensibly in their existential interest to do so! So when you make an attempt to distinguish between “certain forms” of totalitarianism (whether by government or oligarchs) as being acceptable, then I believe you have gone off the deep end into murky water. That’s where sharks attack—-and you never see it coming.

    Further, the New Deal lifting millions out of starvation is not a fact; it’s your opinion. Its my opinion that folks did what they had to to lift themselves out of starvation. The fact that millions didn’t die of starvation during the Great Depression does not prove the New Deal was the reason. It may mean that hungry folks unabashedly took a government handout that was paid for in quickly accumulating fiat currency debt owed by the American taxpayer. So what? The recent Cares Act (at least temporarily) did the same thing. The national debt also ratcheted up $3 from April 2020 thru June 2020—one trillion per month as a result of the Cares act debt spending. Doesn’t make either government policy decision right. And neither put things in “balance”. Balance is only restored through the natural order. I refer you here to the seminal1982 film Koyaanisqatsi (meaning “life out of balance”) that, also not coincidentally, came out shortly after Reagan took office. This film documents that we were well on our way to natural imbalance following the depression and WWII. It should be noted that when Reagan took office in 1980 our cumulative national debt stood at just under $1T (not counting long term debt like social security). It now stands at approx. $27T. That s a 27x increase of debt in a span of 4 decades! —that is the antithesis of trend toward natural balance.

    In order to get us back to basics, I submit to you the following question: What are the primary purposes of government in a civilized society?
  • pasqual digesu
    commented 2020-10-16 09:59:07 -0400
    Dear William / Sonny
    It’s nice to be responded to, sometimes we feel like were talking to ourselves. We all come from many different perspectives with limited knowledge, I welcome discussion to always add onto my own and I thank you. In hopefully understanding your response, I would say that the question of how much power and money should an average individual wield, as you stated rightfully does not have any relevance in many capitalist economies (but not all as history shows). My point is that it should, as I believe the professor also believes, since socialism is about balance primarily and not personal enrichment.

    Thinking out of the box which we have all been placed in, certain forms of totalitarianism do not scare me and other forms continue to exist despite the pacification provided you by media consensus since childhood. In America it is the most powerful oligarchy in history which scares me, (a form of totalitarianism, yes even if it is not one person). As children our fathers were totalitarian, they never invited us to the table to discuss how his money should be spent, but he did take care of us, did he not? Yes, I know there are bad fathers, a minority I hope. To clarify,,, capitalism… but controlled capitalism with limits from new deal tax to political influence in government. The patriarchal government looking over the best interest of the people controlling in lieu of being controlled by strictly profit driven enterprises. The professor talks about forceful governments (fascism) colluding with capitalism. Why can’t the people also use a form of it to re-organize , restructure, and force the stability which is so necessary now in light of our growing numerous problems some of which we are running out of time to repair (ecology). I believe that in a growing global population with the growing variables in each new voter along with the voters growing ignorance which is deliberate, it will become harder to come to an agreement. (easier to come to an agreement among 4 people in a room than it is among 100 people)
    I believe the American growth in China began in the 1980’s with Reagan and the empowerment of this industrial oligarchy, trickle down was actually turned into source out or outsource for greater profit which most of America never shared and China capitalized.
    As for the new deal and depression, yes your right about debt and currency, but it physically lifted 15 million starving men and another relative 75 million family members out of starvation “Which is a form or at least a Symptom of depression”, perhaps the most important. And we survived it.
    The devil is in the details William, and only our limited sight / categorical thinking / programing can stop us or allow our slow demise. I am of Italian descent but I admire an old Irish proverb which states “Where you stand on an issue depends directly on where you sit”
    Thanks for the response, a pleasure speaking to you,
  • Sonny Wiehe
    commented 2020-10-14 17:26:55 -0400
    Dear Pasqual,

    I appreciate your insight and lively debate. In fact, your responses are more thought provoking than the Professors blog above.

    Your rhetorical question “How much power should any average individual wield? (money is power).” is a non-sequitur. This is no such thing as an average individual.. and power is relative. The question also has no relevance in a capitalist economy. Maybe a totalitarian regime would ask such a question…and form policy on their subjective determination. That prospect should scare the hell out of anybody.

    There is no evidence that the New Deal lifted the U.S. economy out of depression. However, it is fact that it raised the national debt with the issuance of lots of fiat currency, just as increased defense spending did. Defense spending for WWII ramped up long in advance of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This spending did not last just between 1941-1945. Bear in mind that the previous record for debt/gdp ratio (before CARES Act) was 1946 when it tapped out at about 113%. It’s now near 120%. China’s ratio is currently about 65%— which is half the U.S. As Trump recently said to Biden “China ate your lunch Joe”. While I am no big fan of Trump, he is correct in his current economic assessment of the U.S. economy which was legitimately steered by the 8 year Obama administration; of which Joe was an integral part of. But this trend of fiscal irresponsibility goes back at least 4 decades. So Joe is in plenty of good company from both sides of the isle.

  • pasqual digesu
    commented 2020-10-14 12:42:03 -0400
    To William / Sonny the other commenter here; the 90% tax by the new deal was for income equivalent to income earned over 400K today. How hurt would YOU have been on your income after securing the first 400000 dollars and being taxed on the extra? How much power should any average individual wield? (money is power). The new deal did bring us out of economic depression, it was initiated around 1931, 10 years before WW2 or massive defense spending which it could not indulge in at that time, then using the plunder taken from the corporations to employee 15 million unemployed. As for socialism, In meeting with a Navy Admiral and his the attaché, I was asked about my position despite my admiration of socialism. I responded by asking if they intended on collecting their social security in retirement, they said of course we worked for it. I closed by stating " so did all the other socialist".
  • pasqual digesu
    commented 2020-10-14 12:15:31 -0400
    “Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy” Universal suffrage does not guarantee equality, justice or solutions (as you have stated in the past) if the people are uneducated, greedy or unreasonable / illogical. Affirmative action exercised for any group of people is illogical, privileging them simply for the group that they are a part of. All people require access to education, free education if they cannot afford it, and those who indulge in learning, work hard and prove to qualify should attain the positions. Those who do not will be provided other means which meet the necessary security required of humane beings. To all in need from all who can provide. You would not want to place a person in the pilot seat of a Boeing 777 to fly across the Atlantic simply because they had some political privilege despite a lower qualification if your family was riding passengers on that aircraft, or operating a nuclear facility etc. etc. On the other hand, on the subject of privilege, I just saw a report on how some transit workers / rail road, have increased their healthy 70k salaries to 300k with overtime effectively implementing a change in their lifetime pension. Over 90% of them also retire collecting disability! In a state that should be declared bankrupt. Overpowered Union? Who’s minding the store professor? This is why we now start falling behind other nations. We simply are not the land of opportunity anymore or the land of milk and honey, but the land of privileged idiots. Capitalist control of our government has found a way to circumvent Universal suffrage by a combination of simply ignoring the people to subdue the issues and to help pacifying them on the issues of control and injustice. They make us believe through manipulation, lack of education and just enough meat and potatoes at supper time that we are OK and everything is better here than over there. In short my findings are that it is not simply a matter of left or right, up or down, this or that. There are some old sayings that have more weight than others, for me one which holds more gravitas is " the devil is in the details",,, as are the solutions when they are finally studied by all. A 2 party system which is easily controlled (only 2 parties) yet provides just enough parties for gladiatorial entertainment and emotional unrest / division,,,,,,, that’s just one party more than those nasty dictatorships. Unfortunately at this point in history, people still need to be governed and government requires power and use of force if only by the oversight of an educated populous.
  • Sonny Wiehe
    commented 2020-10-14 01:03:21 -0400
    It is interesting that Professor Wolff chooses to close with the slight of hand saying he looks forward to speaking with [us] again. Hah! Sorry Richard, you’re speaking TO us, not WITH us.
    This is probably why you get away with arguing, unchallenged, the logical fallacy that private enterprise should compete with the government for the provision of goods and services in order to provide the best possible economic and social outcome for society. If I were speaking with you, I would remind you of the monumental fact that private enterprise pays taxes on its economic efforts while government does not. Taxes are a handicapped expense of 25-30% for private enterprise. In Prof. Wolff’s imaginary “competition” that is totally ignored. To the contrary, the only level playing field on which any government can compete is on its own. Usually, that is referred to as communism. Last I checked, the U.S. was still operating under the pretext of a democratic republic. Not surprising Prof. Wolff is often enamored with the era of “The New Deal” in which the effective tax rate on private enterprise was closer to 90%. Go figure. That is probably as close to communism that the U.S. has ever come. I will also remind Prof. Wolff that the New Deal was not necessarily what brought us out of economic depression following the 1929 Stock Market crash. It was more likely WWII plundering; operating under the age old adage “to the victor, go the spoils”. That plundering continues to this day reinforced with an annual government defense (foreign and domestic) spending of nearly $1T—a budget larger than the next nine countries combined (which include, btw, China and Russia)!

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