[S12 E29] New
In this week's show, Prof. Wolff presents updates on the decline/fall of Boris Johnson and the parallels with Trump; the Sri Lanka collapse and its lessons; Match Corp secretly funding sides in "culture wars" to keep customers, and the latest from UK's Conservative party. In the second half of the show, Wolff talks with Marianne Williamson on the basic social divisions of US politics.
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. I’m Richard Wolff, your host. In today's program, we’re going to be talking about Boris Johnson and the end of an era in the United Kingdom. We're going to be talking about an explosive revolt in Sri Lanka. We're going to talk about the duplicity of American corporations in the face of the Roe versus Wade upset decision by the Supreme Court and more issues…and we will have a remarkable interview in the second half with Marianne Williamson. So there's a good show in-store today.
Let me begin by talking about Boris Johnson and saying we have come not to mourn him but to bury him and to say goodbye — should have happened sooner — but there are lessons in what happened to Boris Johnson that I want to draw out with you and for you. They have a lot of overlap with the story of one Donald Trump which is, of course, another reason to do this. Boris Johnson like Trump was always on the outs with the elite establishment of Great Britain. He was the wild boy, the naughty boy, the one who said what shouldn't be said and who did not understand how to comb his hair and fit in with everybody else who runs British capitalism. But, you know, people like that that are on the outs are the ones that can serve a very useful function when the regular normal run-of-the-mill middle of politics has made such a mess of it that everybody has had it up to here. Then, how do you keep the same system going while appearing to change because of the mood of the country? You need somebody who really isn't any different from the rest of them but who looks different…sounds different…dresses differently. The guy on the outs who can claim to be something different. Trump was that in the United States and Boris Johnson was that in the United Kingdom. They found a person — the system did — he could do the story about how he's different. He could do the story about he's never been properly appreciated — which is a more flattering way of saying “I'm different.” He could always be bitter and angry and upset and nasty and all the rest of it. In his departing speech, he even referred to the Conservative Party (which has been his support from day one) as a herd and that he had been overthrown by the herd. That is, even the people he used to get to the top were to be thrown under the bus when he had a difficulty. Nasty, angry, and given to lying on a scale that makes others who do that fairly often — even they gasp. That's what finally brought him down…one too many lies that he got caught in…but that's not really the most important thing.
Here it is — Mr. Trump, like Mr. Johnson, rises to the top because he is an expert at scapegoating everything other than the economic system that has given him his powerful position. In other words, he's a good servant of capitalism. Mr. Trump, you know, dumped on immigrants, on China, on Black people, on women, on Hispanics. He really could dish it out and Mr. Johnson did the same. He denounced all of Europe. Stunning. He became the champion of freeing Great Britain from Europe — what came to be known as Brexit. Now, in these last few months of his total decline, he found another scapegoat — Russia. He had done that before but now he could ratchet it up around the Ukraine War and he hoped to distract from his decline. It didn't work but let's not lose the lesson here. Nothing Mr. Johnson did solved the problems of Britain. The inequalities got worse, the British economy suffered more and more declines. The separation from Europe solved nothing and Mr. Trump solved nothing either. The one thing he really accomplished — the cut in taxes on corporations — basically made the economy worse…worse shape, more divided. That didn’t help fighting Covid. We all know the result. Hitler and Mussolini didn't solve the problems of Germany and Italy either. It’s a flashy escape from an ugly reality. It solves nothing.
Speaking about solving nothing, the pictures from Sri Lanka, the former Ceylon in South Asia, are stunning and they teach a lesson too that we ought to learn. That lesson is this: There’s something crucial that happens when countries become split between a tiny elite at the top — as we had in Sri Lanka — and the mass of people at the bottom who are constantly being ripped off to increase the wealth concentrated at the top. Here’s what inevitably happens…the people at the top realize there's even more wealth they can get by borrowing. They borrow around the world from other governments from private banks and what do they pledge as collateral? Their own people. The people will be taxed to raise the money to pay off the debts that we borrowed and that most of which came to enhance the beauty of our palaces and the power of our government to repress the people who eventually have to pay…and that's what happened in Sri Lanka. The debts were unpayable and finally when they cost more as interest rates went up, well the Sri Lankan people didn't have the money, couldn't pay and so suddenly food and fuel couldn't be delivered to the country. It's an island country and they can't survive and they understood who had ripped them off. It wasn't the foreign companies. It was their own leadership and so we saw those pictures over the last few weeks of the people in the streets, of the inability or unwillingness of the police anymore to keep in power a government as corrupt and rotten as that one was. That's only the extreme version. It’s really not that different when people like Trump and Johnson borrow vast amounts of money for whatever projects they have and then the rest of us have to pay the bill. Then the question is only when will we face the kinds of difficulties that the people of Sri Lanka exploded out of? Now the people are swimming in the president's private swimming pool and burnt his house down and are struggling to reconstitute a society without a capitalist elite at the top.
My next update has to do with the Match Corporation. That's the corporation that is the owner of the dating apps Tinder and Hinge. They found themselves in a peculiar place that I want to talk about because so many other corporations are in it but we don't hear about it. Here's how it works — quietly below the radar, that company, Match Corporation, gave $100,000 to the Republican Attorney General's Association. That’s the association of all the attorney generals in states where the Republicans are dominant. One of them, Lynn Fitch, of the state of Mississippi, is the one who brought the suit to the Supreme Court that resulted in the overturning of Roe versus Wade and these attorney generals are busy in every state where they can, in every republican state and every red state to get rid of the right to an abortion and to impose forced birth on the people in those states. Match Corporation gave that association, with that particular focus, $100,000. But here’s the sad news for them, the New York Times figured it out and wrote a story about it, whereupon the president of Match Corporation, the CEO, Bernard Kim, said he only learned about the $100,000 given to the Republican Attorney General Association (RAGA) from the New York Times. If you believe that, well then, I’m going to sell you a controlling interest in the Brooklyn Bridge. Now, he says he'll stop funding RAGA.
Okay, here's the issue, what companies say in public is their own business. They pay the publicists to get the word out that they've done this or intend to do that or plan to do that or budgeted to do that. Whether they actually do it, most of us will never know. There is no mechanism to hold them to it. There's an occasional journalist, like in this story, but that's all. So, companies are very tempted to cover their bases. They will do one thing in public to keep this part of their business going, these customers happy meanwhile they'll do another thing to keep other customers happy. If they can get away with only doing one, they'll do only one if they can get away with none, they'll do only none. They have no skin in this game. They couldn’t care less. The Match Corporation is not committed either way. We know because they were speaking out of two sides of their mouth. One public statement from a newspaper and a speech by the CEO, meanwhile under the table funding the other side. Corporations do that all the time. That's the important thing to understand.
Why would Match Corporation do this? Answer: a relatively small percentage of our people, most estimates 10-20 percent, that's it, have these strong feelings for example about abortion. So how are they able to sway big corporations? Not just Match Corporation but — some of you have been following the struggle between the State of Florida and the Disney Corporation. Quite similar, quite similar. The answer is that the other side, in this case, those who want abortion to continue but on thousands of other issues, broadly speaking, the left-wing in the United States progressive opinion isn't well organized. [It] isn’t mobilized into organizations that can make their feelings felt in the pocketbooks of corporations which is the only way they listen to anything. So, the right-wing which is organized (that has been doing this for 20 years) can prevail even if it has to be under the table…the way the Match Corporation did. If the left in the United States were able to mobilize on anything like the scale of the right (and why not?) they would have then the power to get this situation to stop rather than to simply complain about it when it happens.
I want to return before we get our mid-program break…back to Great Britain to Boris Johnson and the Conservatives. Let’s be really clear what this story has been about. The Conservatives did a lot to bring Britain down another ten steps in the long decline of what was once referred to as the British Empire. The scapegoating of Europe and Brexit in 2016 was kind of the ultimate step. So, it was associated with a kind of government like Boris Johnson — clownish, misbehaving…grotesque exaggeration of a lying politician…all the rest. The scapegoating, not only of Europe but now of the Ukraine, a position taken by the British government that has nothing to do with the problems of that sad country but everything to do with distracting the British people from the terrible suffering that has been imposed on them in the outcome of the 2008 crash and the Brexit that followed it. The UK needs real change. That's what this sad spectacle is all about and there isn't anybody on the horizon at this point powerful enough to achieve it.
We’ve come to the end of the first half of today's show and before we move on, I want to remind everyone that Economic Update is produced by Democracy at Work, a small donor-funded non-profit media organization celebrating 10 years of producing content, focused on presenting critical system analysis, and visions of a more democratic and equitable world. For instance, my book, Understanding Marxism, offers an accessible overview of Marxism and is available along with other content we produce on our website, democracyatwork.info and 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 special guest, Marianne Williamson.
Welcome back, friends, to the second half of today's Economic Update. I am proud and pleased and honored that we have with us today for our microphones and our cameras, Marianne Williamson. You probably don't need an introduction but I'm going to give one briefly anyway. She's an author. She's a political activist. She's a spiritual thought leader. She’s also a best-selling author, with 14 books under her belt, four of which have been #1 New York Times Best Sellers. Some years ago, she founded Project Angel Food, a non-profit that has delivered more than 14 million meals to ill and dying homebound patients including victims of HIV/ AIDS since 1989. In 2004, she co-founded the Peace Alliance and in 2020, many of you got to know her as she ran for the Democratic nomination for President and eventually withdrew in favor of Bernie Sanders, if I have the historical record correct.
RDW: First of all, thank you very much for joining us, Marianne
MW: Thank you, Richard. It's an honor to be with you.
RDW: All right, I want to get right into the political situation and how you see it, and how you understand it right now. So, many people have described the last several years already before Trump, certainly during Trump, and since — as a movement to the right of the United States politically speaking— maybe culminating in a whole host of events that I could pick out. The one that's in everyone's mind these days is the Supreme Court’s bevy of decisions overturning Roe versus Wade, getting rid [of] it seems the separation of church and state, and so on. So, let me ask, how do you see it? Is there such a shift and if so, how do you account for it?
MW: I don't see the proper description as left versus right. I see the proper description as neo-liberal corporatism anti-democracy versus democracy and the well-being of our people. People who are the working people of the United States, the basic…the average citizen of the United States is being screwed by the same forces whether they are on the right or on the left. I am currently reading a biography of Franklin Roosevelt and Roosevelt said that we didn't have to worry about either fascist or communist takeover as long as democracy took care of our people. That is what has happened over the last forty years, forty-plus years actually, with this advent of this extraordinary neoliberal amoral corporatist stance which actually has replaced democracy as our governing principle, causing this massive transfer of wealth and opportunity and resources and power into the hands of a relatively tiny group of Americans. You’ve created huge swaths of desperate people. Desperate people do desperate things. Desperate people are a national security risk to any country. So, people look around for what they can find and in 2016, we had an authoritarian populist on the right, Donald Trump. We had a progressive populist on the left Bernie Sanders and because the DNC (which is in the hands of the corporatist element of the Democratic Party) suppressed Bernie, the American people were not going to go with a woman who said let's just continue with the last eight years of success. What success was that for them?
So, you know, we can argue about who started this did the Democrats or the Republicans start it? I tend to think the Republicans started it because the Koch brothers set the agenda but no Democratic president has stopped it. People have been desperate and people have been confused and people have not been educated properly. People have not been served and they have had a sense of rage and a sense of legitimate rage based on real pain. Why were Europeans…why were people in other advanced democracies getting health care? Why were people in other advanced democracies getting educated without these huge college loans?…and so forth. So, we got what any reasonable person would have predicted and what many people on the real left have predicted would happen. We were told we were alarmists…we were told we were naive…we were told we didn't know what we were talking about. So, as horrifying as the ascension of all this far-right white supremacist ideology is, it should be a surprise to no one who's really been looking at American politics over the last 40 years.
RDW: All right, let me pick up on one particular thing you just said toward the end, and thank you for being as clear and concise as that was — what you just said. What about this resurgence of right-wing, extreme right-wing…the white supremacy?…the disregard for even the formalities of a democratic approach?…I’m struck by seeing it not only in the United States. I want to be fair — it seems to be resurging elsewhere. I recently came across Europeans very upset by the behavior of the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany reviving old fascistic Nazi-type stuff that people thought they had put behind them…sort of the way Americans thought they had put white supremacy behind them. What is this? Do you see such a resurgence and how would you account for that?
MW: These are malevolent malfunctional viruses of human consciousness. You know signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, an amendment to the US Constitution could end an institution of slavery. It could not end racism. You could stop burning women at the stake, that of itself did not end misogyny. These things go deeper down. So after World War II, for instance, we once again fought the Nazis…beat off the Nazis but Nazism itself was more a symptom and I go back to…you must never think you have handled these things. You must be ever vigilant. It's like when someone has herpes in their bloodstream. What you're hoping is that it will remain asymptomatic, but you're not kidding yourself that it's out of the bloodstream. So we’ve been very naive in American Politics.
Several decades ago, no intelligent observer thought we didn't have anti-semites in this country. No intelligent observer thought we didn't have racists in this country. No intelligent observer thought we didn’t have bigots in this country but we did think we had reached a point and for a while, I think, we had reached a point where neither major political party would give a megaphone to any of those crazies. What happened in the last few years was a terrible toxic brew. Two major elements…number one, social media so anybody can have a platform and a very malevolent political character who was not above and is not above stoking these forces for his own political purposes. So, you put social media together with Donald Trump. Once again. Richard, no one with a more sophisticated psychological understanding of how these things work fails to recognize this was almost inevitable. Once again, you can never consider these things handled for all time and if you do think these things are handled for all time you're naive and do not carry with you the kinds of sensibilities that are necessary for leadership in the 21st century.
RDW: What should the left in America, the progressive forces (however you define them) those that feel the way pretty much you’ve been speaking for the last few minutes…What do you want them to do? How do you see a way forward that would blunt the power and influence of the very forces you've been talking about coming from the right…the viruses…they are resurging and chart and achieve a different direction politically? I know that must have been in your mind as part of your running for the Democratic nomination in 2020, so I want to see where your thinking has now taken you along those lines.
MW: I think it's in every conscious person’s mind and each of us has to ask ourselves what role can we best play. It's a whole systems breakdown and it demands a whole systems response. People must work on the inside. People must work on the outside. Traditionally, there was a time when it was reasonable to see the Democratic Party as a conduit for the unapologetic, unabashed stance on behalf of democracy and the democratic rights of our people…economic justice, social justice, political justice, and so forth.
Now we understand that that's stymied because the neo-liberal corporatist elements are in charge of Democratic party leadership at this point and they actively suppress progressive candidates. They act like progressive candidates — who are standing for those things you and I are talking about — are trying to hijack the party. Actually, they [neo-liberal corporatists] hijacked the party. The real progressives are Eleanor and Franklin. They [the neo-liberal corporatists] are the Duponts and the Morgans. So people recognize this, but some people are feeling like they're going to work on third-party elements. Now the United States has a great tradition of significant third-party influence. Abolition came from the Abolitionist Party, women's suffrage came from the Women's Party, and civil rights obviously came from the civil rights movement. This was not… desegregation came from Dr King. The civil rights movement did not emerge originally from a political party. Social Security came from the Socialist Party so I believe those things are important, but I also believe maybe because I do remember a time when the Democratic Party stood for these principles. I'm also someone who believes that it's a legitimate decision to work within the Democratic Party and to just keep at it. I don't think that we should be judging other people’s decision-making on this issue. Some people [say], it's got to be the labor movement and it's got to be electoral politics. It’s got to be both hands… it's got to be activism on the outside…it's got to be work on the inside as well. I'm a real both-and person on these things but we just need to keep moving and I think we are. We’re going to get there because the consciousness is rising, you know. That’s how the Berlin Wall fell. It's just that the consciousness rose…that at some point it was just inevitable. What made it happen was somebody made a wrong phone call or something like that but what really made it happen was that the energy was so great that that false system had to fall. Neo-liberal corporatism is false. It is an amoral system and an amoral system always leads to immoral consequences. People are waking up more and more every day. People understand what the DNC and the Democratic establishment did to Bernie. People saw, during Covid, that the forces of greed, the forces of immoral unfettered capitalism were okay with people dying. They would rather see people die than in any way infringe upon their profit motive. People are understanding that whether it's the insurance companies, big agriculture, big oil, big chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies, gun manufacturers, defense contractors…
Richard, we all know this. People get this. They are a corporate aristocracy and they stand on their economic Mount Olympus and they throw crumbs in the form of job creation to the economic serfs below and the serfs have started to figure it out. That system will be challenged. The exact way everybody will do their little piece of chipping away at it and one day that thing will fall. What we must be concentrated on, focused on, and committed to is that it is a non-violent takedown. A takedown but a non-violent takedown and I feel very strongly about that.
RDW: We have very little time left, I want a very quick answer to one more question. How do you react to the last year or so of surging interest in unionization?…in strikes?… in people in large corporations like Amazon and Starbucks and so on, beginning to mobilize in a way we haven't seen since the 1930s and the Roosevelts?
MW: I’m very excited about it. I'm a total fangirl to Christian Smalls. When I see Christian Smalls…when I see those young people at Starbucks… when I see Sarah Nelson…I remember, as you do, the demonization of unions…the suppression of unions, and demonization of unions. You must have unions to counter overreach by capital. You must, and to see it so suppressed and now, seduced…the whole thing. To see these younger people, particularly, rising up — the re-emergence of the labor movement. It is one of the signs that we're going to get there and to see the labor movement leading the way. That's how it should be — so I'm thrilled by it. [I’m a] big fan.
RDW: Thank you very much, Marianne. I couldn’t agree with you more and I appreciate again you're coming on here and sharing the way your thinking is developing out of the experiences you've had and I’m sure my audience is grateful to have had a chance to engage with it. Thank you again, and to all of you watching, I look forward to speaking with you again next week.
Transcript by Barbara Bartlett
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About our guest: Marianne Williamson is a bestselling author, political activist, and spiritual thought leader. Marianne is the author of 14 books, four of which have been #1 New York Times bestsellers. Williamson founded Project Angel Food, a non-profit that has delivered more than 14 million meals to ill and dying homebound patients—including victims of HIV/AIDS—since 1989. In 2004, she co-founded The Peace Alliance. In 2020, she ran for the Democratic nomination for president and eventually withdrew in favor of Bernie Sanders.
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- Boris Johnson: https://www.axios.com/2022/07/07/boris-johnson-resignation-speech-uk-prime-minist
- Sri Lanka: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdcfWLyFC48
- Match Corp: https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-markets-ae77eccc-0ddb-4f08-abf0-38e0ddbf7a8c.html?chunk=4&utm_term=emshare#story4
- UK Conservatives: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jul/08/boris-johnson-out-resignation-tory