[S12 E41] New
In this week's show, Prof. Wolff discusses global capitalism's "perfect storm" (inflation + rising interest rates + reduced production = "stagflation"); 1000 SFO food workers strike and win; FedEx reinforces "stagflation" predictions, and hurricane Ian confirms system's failures to plan for predictable disasters to lessen their costs and impacts. In the second half of the show, Wolff interviews Nick Hayes of Means TV on how it has grown as an "anti-capitalist" Netflix.
Transcript has been edited for clarity
Welcome friends to another edition of Economic Update, a weekly program devoted to the economic dimension of our lives and those of our children as well. I'm your host Richard Wolff.
Two quick shout-outs before we jump into today's program. I want to salute first of all the women of Iran, who have taken to the streets and have broadened out from an initial horror, which we all share, at the murder in police custody of a young woman whose crime was to be wearing clothing not quite subordinate to whatever the religious police there require, a Kurdish woman, which adds the horror of the abuse of that minority to what is already a regime with a lot to answer for. I'm proud of what those women have done. I'm elated at the fact that large numbers of men and women in surrounding countries and then across Europe have had demonstrations, the latest one I saw in Paris, France in support and solidarity. That is what we are feeling and want to show as well.
And the second shout-out is to something called Zero Evictions. It turns out October is Zero Evictions month around the world. If you go to habitants.org you can find out all about how to participate and support a movement that we still require here in the 21st century that says that it's a human right to have food, water, clothing and, yes, shelter, which means housing. What a commentary on the achievements of four centuries of capitalism that we still have to fight for people to have decent housing.
Let's jump, then, into our updates. The first one is just a general comment that I have to make. Pardon me, I'm an economist, this is how I look at the world. Global capitalism is now facing what is really a storm of storms, a kind of perfect storm, as it's called, when everything seems to be crashing in around it. If you felt that way (that things are crashing in around you) maybe you can take a little bit of comfort from knowing it isn't you. It is in fact falling apart, the whole system is. And it's not clear whether, where, when, or how it can come out of it. So first of all inflation, terrible inflation in many parts of the world. As I've stressed to you before, not in all parts of the world. President Biden and his officials try to suggest that there's nothing special for America, oh, it's everywhere. Not true. Inflation very low in Japan, inflation is very low in China. In this case China is a particular example. Let me mention it's under two percent in China, not eight-and-a-half/nine/ten percent, the way it is in North America and in Europe and so on.
Adding to the burden of inflation that's out of control are rising interest rates, led by the Federal Reserve here in the United States and now being copied by central banks in the rest of the world, who are afraid of the impact of the United States going it alone. That means the poorer half of our people have prices going out of control that they can't afford and now interest rates that are going out of control that they can't afford. What kind of a treatment of the working class is it? And because the rest of the world is tottering under this perfect storm they look at their own currencies, whether they're in Asia, Africa, and Latin Americans and say "I can't hold the little bit of savings I may have, what little bit of wealth I may have accumulated in my own currency, it's too dangerous." You know where they go? To the U.S economy. Which is in deep trouble, but not quite as bad yet as they are. So they come to the United States, cash in their currencies, up goes the value of the dollar. But what you may not understand is when the dollar becomes more expensive it's value goes up relative to other currencies. It means that the people in those other countries have to give more of their currency to get the dollar which they use to buy American goods. So for them the price of American goods in dollars has become more expensive. So they don't buy American goods. And you know what that means? Americans lose jobs producing the goods that a strong dollar makes it impossible to sell. And that's what the worst of all economies means. We have an inflation, we have rising interest rates and we have no prospect of this coming to an end, none. Oh, they'll tell you it's short-term. That's like last year the Federal Reserve told us the inflation would be short-term. They don't say that anymore.
Now the Chinese are having their problems. That helps to slow down the economy. Europe is completely out of control. We are in very serious trouble. And someone as famous as Muhammad El-Erian (if you don't know about him he's a big deal in the finance world, used to run the money for Harvard University, things like that) says we're due for a big bad recession and a longer term stagflation. You know what that is? That's when you have an inflation - price is going up - but a stagnant economy in which unemployment is also going up. Again, the perfect storm. You know we've known about the danger of stagflation - it's not a new word - for years. But we couldn't manage as an economic system. Capitalism couldn't manage to prepare for what it knew was coming. You know, it's a little bit like not preparing for hurricanes when they come, and I'll come back to that later. You know, it's very serious. And the pretense of the government, which is what psychologists call denial, that's not a solution. But it's the best thing, apparently, they can do. Which tells you a lot about who's running the show.
I want to shout out to the 1000 food service workers who in the last week of September went on strike at the San Francisco International Airport, a thousand of them. Why? Many of them are immigrants. And, by the way, when I tell you the conditions under which they worked you'll understand that, while scapegoating immigrants seems to be a hobby for some Americans, shame is what they ought to feel. They earned on average 17 dollars and five cents an hour. That's exactly six cents above the minimum wage in San Francisco. If you added up their 50 weeks at these 40 hours at this pay they'd be making thirty four thousand dollars a year. And let me explain what that means. The median income in San Francisco for a household is a hundred and nineteen thousand dollars. So they get 29% of the median (median means half of San Francisco has higher income, half is lower) income. Average rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco - right, ready? - per year from 36 and a half thousand dollars to forty one thousand eight hundred. In other words, the average rent for one bedroom is more than the total income these people get. Yeah, so they live too many in an apartment. Yeah, so they can't maintain their apartment building as easily. How could they? How can they? How do you treat people like this? The complaint of the workers? They have no time at all. They have to have a second or third job. They can't see their own children. Yeah, you make them live in unbelievable circumstances. And then you add insult to injury by attacking them because they are immigrants, even though you take advantage of them when you buy that hot dog or that coffee at the airport.
Well, I'm happy to say that Unite Here Local 2, the union that represented and the workers that helped organize this strike, was able to win in a few days a settlement. And I want to tell you about the settlement. They're going to go from $17 and five cents an hour - get ready here... ready? - to 22 dollars and five cents an hour, a five dollar increase on a seventeen dollar an hour pay scale. That works out to about thirty percent. Oh, they won't get all of it until the end of 2024, so there's another couple years, or a year and a half to go. But they're going to get a three dollar an hour increase right away. They're getting a fifteen hundred dollar signing bonus for the deal having been voted through by them. It's an amazing improvement. They've got benefits increases, retirement increases - quite a package. But, of course, the alternative was that all the food shops would shut down. And here's a lesson from this strike: to get a settlement as good as that, better than most settlements in the country in percentage terms, gives you an idea of what a rip-off it had been all along to pay workers that poorly, how much profit can be yanked out of these people's hides by the work they're required to do. Then it was decided after three days the impossible, a 30% increase in wages, suddenly became possible, anything to get back that profit machine. And for those of you who know airports, you do know that the prices of what you buy for food at an airport is a luxury. But it never went down to those workers, neither the American citizens nor the immigrants. No, no, no, they had to fight to get a decent wage, and barely gets them through San Francisco now.
My next update has to do with FedEx. And I use the FedEx story only as an illustration. They announced that very shortly they will be raising their delivery rates seven to eight percent at the first of the year in January. So if you expected the inflation to disappear, think again. FedEx brings a great many packages to a great many people. And the price of all of that's going to go up because they're going to charge more. So the guy who makes whatever it is you order, he or she is raising the price. And now FedEx is raising the price to bring it to you. You know what you're going to be paying? A higher price. So all the talk about inflation going away, the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, FedEx doesn't care. And here's the second thing that's important about FedEx: they also announced that they have been delivering fewer packages. The economy isn't in good shape, says the CEO of FedEx, we're not delivering as much. And you know what that means? If you're not delivering as much, not the same amount is being made. No one's accumulating that stuff in a warehouse. So workers are getting laid off. There's that stagflation again, rising prices and shrinkage in jobs. Very sad way to treat the majority of your people, the working class. Because it's out of them that the rising prices of an inflation are paid for. And it's out of them that the rising interest rates are taken.
Last point, and I wish I had more time. We all saw the tragedy in Florida with what Ian the hurricane did. But what we have to think about as honoring the people who've suffered so much there; don't let it happen again, don't allow money to be spent not preparing to evacuate, not preparing to provide housing, not having standby arrangements. What are you doing? How do you justify 60 billion dollars to fight a war in Ukraine when you can't come up with what you know you'll need? We have devastating hurricanes over and over again. No excuse, this is a system that isn't working.
We've come to the end of the first part of today's show. And before we go to the second half I want to remind everyone that Economic Update is produced by Democracy at Work, a small donor-funded non-profit media organization now celebrating its 10th anniversary. And because October is National Co-op Month be sure to check out our podcast All Things Co-op that explores everything co-op, from theoretical and philosophical analyses to on-the-ground interviews with co-op workers. You can find this show and more on our website democracyatwork.info. And while you're there be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. Because there we are approaching 300,000 subscribers. We need your help to get over that point, because it really extends our reach. Please stay with us. We will be right back with today's special guest the Head of Content Development for MeansTV Mr Nick Hayes.
RW: Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. I am very pleased to bring both to our microphones and to our cameras a guest, Nick Hayes by name. He is the head of content development for MeansTV, based in Portland, Maine. He formerly produced commercials for GM, Google, McDonald's and Ford. But then thought better of it and became a filmmaker. And eventually with his partner Naomi Burton they produced the first campaign video for Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who has since become and, in part because of that video, a very famous person here in the United States. And that all led to MeansTV. It is the world's first worker-owned streaming service. In it's catalog of anti-capitalist documentaries, movies and short films MeansTV brings us filmmakers and voices that larger networks and studios often shut out. So they're a kind of brother/sister for what we are trying to do as well. So first of all Nick Hayes thank you very much for joining us.
NH: Thanks so much for having me Professor Wolff
RW: Okay, somewhere, and it might have been you, somewhere in our email exchanges leading up to today's program somebody said that MeansTV is an "anti-capitalist Netflix." Could you just respond to that characterization? And whether you think it's reasonable or not?
NH: Yeah, absolutely. So in the sense that our core offering is a streaming service I would say that's accurate that we are a sort of similar product offering to Netflix. However, unlike Netflix we don't rely on speculative financing or accounting tricks to pay no taxes. And I would say we're anti-capitalists in two ways: the content we put out on the platform is content that we feel reflects working class life in the US and around the world and we also are a worker cooperative and run the business in a way that aligns with our anti-capitalist values.
RW: All right, that's clear, thank you. And it helps me understand our collaboration here. Which I hope will be the beginning of more of this kind of thing amongst the two of us, but also to the growing community of worker co-ops that are critical of the system that they are struggling to survive within. Well, you started in a way with a political act, working with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Does that mean that you feel that MeansTV is or is intending to become in some way part of a new left political reality taking shape in the U.S?
NH: Yeah, so my partner Naomi and I originally created a production company together, Means of Production, and sort of what we were trying to do with that company was create effective advertising and videos and content for only unions and very left-wing candidates that are running for elections. And so we did that for a time. We did a lot of videos for unions around us in Michigan when we lived there. And, yeah, we did the AOC video. And I think what our goal with MeansTV was to create a more enduring, long-lasting institution like there are others of on the left, none that really specialize in television and film per se. But, yeah, the goal is to create an institution that we feel is a necessary component in bringing about revolutionary change. And we think worker cooperatives are an essential component of that movement and the movement to abolish capitalism. So in the same way rank-and-file union members are a critical component of building any left party or left infrastructure we feel worker co-ops are as well.
RW: Well, you know, I don't mind saying, and I want somehow to interject here, that a movement like this, the one you described, that you feel part of, that we feel part of as well, will only succeed if all over the place, without all that much formal organization, people like myself, people like you and your partner Naomi Burton begin to do these things. That's how a structure emerges, it's not all planned in advance, there isn't a clear blueprint. It never has worked that way, there's no reason to expect it now. Eventually we will as we are growing. Which is, in a way, why you're here. We will reach a critical mass where suddenly each of us literally by what we do helps a dozen others like us do what they do and vice versa. And then it begins to take shape very quickly. We're starting to see that. But one of the reasons we wanted you to be here was to show all the people on the edge of taking this step to become part of this to be introduced to folks like you and Naomi who have done it and who are doing it and to see a model, a possibility, an example. Okay, here comes an important one: since you are explicitly anti-capitalist and since you talk about socialism and all of that has that been a huge blockage, or a problem, or an obstacle on getting MeansTV going, building it, growing it? In other words, how much of the old Cold War legacy is still around to make all this harder than it might otherwise be?
NH: Yeah, I mean I think that there is a challenge we face, certainly in getting coverage and air time with traditional media. Because I think a lot of traditional or establishment media just doesn't understand the idea of being explicitly anti-capitalist. And is maybe not interested in highlighting that about MeansTV. But luckily for us, as you know Professor Wolff, the majority of people in this country are workers and not owners. And so as a streaming service that makes content that reflects working class reality in this country inherently that is going to appeal to a lot of people. And I think that's what we found. And, you know, we're entirely funded by our subscribers. And, you know, we've been growing every day, every year. And we have kind of built a slow growth strategy so that we're not overextending ourselves, we're not having to borrow huge sums of money from, you know, venture capitalists or banks or anything like that. And so we think that that appeal to people is refreshing; how explicit we are with our politics, the fact that we have communists, we have anarchists, we have socialists members in the co-op who are explicit about their opinions and perspectives on what's going on in the world. And so I think overall, you know, is that a challenge? Sure. But I also think that we're able to reach people in a way others aren't, because we are so clear about where we're coming from.
RW: Yeah, and I think that's very, very important, because you're not shying away, and I'm very glad about it. You're not shying away from saying "yeah, there are problems, there are difficulties, there are obstacles, we face them, we understand politically where they come from and why they're there, but they are not insurmountable." In other words, you didn't react, as unfortunately many people who basically agree with you, you didn't hesitate to say "well, they got the money and they got a lot of the power but we got the people and we got the numbers, because of the fact that there's less than one percent of the people who are in the position of capitalist and there's 99% of the people who aren't." And they can't do anything about that because that's their system, the way they've organized it. And we're
just beginning to realize that that leaves room for all kinds of critical perspectives. And you don't have to therefore fold up your tent and go home, because somehow you can predict that it won't work. The fact is you're here because it does, as we are.
NH: And I think increasingly we see people understanding these more explicit terms around capitalism and socialism. And, like, in the past where maybe we a group like ours would have had to brand themselves as more of a progressive or left media outlet we found success in just being very clear that we are anti-capitalists, we have, yeah, communist, socialist, anarchist members. And people understand that.
RW: Tell me, who is your audience? Give us a sense, and I mean here both the audience you now have, you know, in general terms. Obviously I don't want names or anything. Who do you have now and who are you going after in terms of who you think you can bring into that group that would be called your audience?
NH: Yeah, so from the very beginning our core audience has been the overwhelming, I would say, majority of people in this country who see that capitalism holds no future for us beyond suffering, toiling and environmental collapse. So, you know, we feel that that demographic is our larger, more broad audience. You know, we've also been following the even capitalist polling that's been tracking that, you know, people under 35, people under 40 are starting to prefer socialism over capitalism. Even majorities are starting to prefer that. And so we certainly also work to target those younger folks and younger demographics with content that we feel reflects their day-to-day lives and their workplaces and things like that. So, you know, overall we try to create television, film, we try to release content that upholds and champions these people's values; who see capitalism is letting them down and we try to potentially, you know, if we can expand on those ideas about what a world that is anti-capitalist might look like.
RW: Here's a question to you almost as a professional: in a way media entertains, media teaches, media mobilizes. How do you plan or how do you hope MeansTV will mix up these different elements? The entertainment, the information, the mobilization? Do you have a strategy about how you blend or how you divide up your efforts and time among these related but distinct functions?
NH: Yeah, I mean I think we've always made it a priority to entertain, first off. Because, you know, we feel that's our responsibility. And, like, I've been reading a lot of Ursula Le Guin lately, who, for people who don't know, is a wonderful anarchist science fiction author, and she talks about in some of her books about how it's so much more effective to tell a story that leads a person at the end of reading that to, you know, look at that system in a new light and decide for themselves that this doesn't work, as opposed to just telling them outright "hey, this doesn't work." And so I think that's a big part of what we try to do. We also really try to play with these ideas of utopia in a way that feels still grounded in reality. Like what would the world look like without wage labor? What would the world look like if community and sharing were central values? We find that these sort of thought experiments help plant seeds in people from all ideological perspectives, wherever they are in their ideological journey and just empower people to understand that the future isn't written already for us and that we can remake the world to suit the needs of all of us.
RW: Look, you've been very generous with your time. I want to urge everyone to go to means.tv. It is a partner to the kinds of things this program tries to do. We welcome them as such a partner and hope that we can collaborate in the years ahead. And all I can say is from the bottom of my heart is I wish you every success imaginable as you go forward.
NH: Well, thanks so much for having me Professor Wolff. And I urge people to watch Economic Update on Means TV as well, because you can watch it there ad-free, stream it at home on your TV. And I'm a big fan, so great to talk with you
RW: And to my audience I hope you've been not only informed but inspired by what is possible and what is happening already all around us. And, as I always say, I look forward to speaking with you again next week.
Transcript by Brendan Tait
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About our guest: Nick Hayes is the Head of Content Development for Means TV in Portland, ME. Formerly working as a producer on commercials for brands like GM, Google, McDonalds, and Ford, then as a documentary filmmaker, Nick would become jaded about the values and ethics associated with commercial production. In 2019 he formed his own production company with partner Naomi and together they directed the first AOC campaign video. This success generated press coverage and support that translated into the successful crowdfunding campaign for Means TV. Now Nick works at the coop as the head of content development collaborating with showrunners on original content in addition to himself having filmed and directed many videos, films and series on Means TV.
Means TV is the world’s first worker-owned streaming service. With a growing catalog of anti-capitalist documentaries, movies, and short films, Means TV seeks to elevate filmmakers and voices often shut out by larger networks and studios.
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“Marxism always was the critical shadow of capitalism. Their interactions changed them both. Now Marxism is once again stepping into the light as capitalism shakes from its own excesses and confronts decline.”
Check out all of d@w’s books: "The Sickness is the System," "Understanding Socialism," by Richard D. Wolff, and “Stuck Nation” by Bob Hennelly http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork
- Capitalism's "perfect storm:" https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/top-economist-mohamed-el-erian-180119426.html
- Food service workers strike: https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/27/business/sf-airport-strike/index.html
- FedEx: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/fedex-raising-prices-to-battle-slower-growth-rcna49189
- Economics of storms like Ian: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-10-02/hurricane-ian-climate-change-makes-storms-bigger-more-expensive-l8rak06o?srnd=premium&leadSource=uverify%20wall