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Economic Update: A Critique of Government Spending
April 22, 2024
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Capitalism Hits Home: The United Nation World Happiness Report
April 18, 2024
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Economic Update: A Sea Change In US Labor's Militancy
April 15, 2024
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Economic Update: The Myth of Black Buying Power
April 08, 2024
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Economic Update: Resurgent Labor Organizing In The South
April 01, 2024
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Economic Update: How Capitalism Distributes Power
March 25, 2024
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Ask Prof Wolff - March 20, 2024
March 21, 2024
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Economic Update: Patriarchy and Capitalism
March 18, 2024
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Capitalism Hits Home: How Do We Change For A More Hopeful Egalitarian America?
March 14, 2024
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Economic Update: Debris From A Declining Empire
March 12, 2024
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Ask Prof Wolff Live - March 6, 2024
March 12, 2024
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Economic Update: Capitalism, Gender, And A Split Society
March 12, 2024
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Capitalism Hits Home: World Transformations Have Hit Our Homes Hard
March 12, 2024
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Economic Update: Breaking Up With Capitalism
March 12, 2024
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Ask Prof Wolff Live - February 21, 2024
February 22, 2024
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Economic Update: Capitalism and Tax Injustice
February 19, 2024
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Global Capitalism: Europe 2024: Disunity, Decline, Despair

Europe in 2024 Disunity, Decline, Despair

with Richard D. Wolff  

Co-sponsored by Democracy at Work & Left Forum

In this lecture, Prof. Wolff discusses the following topics

  • Ukraine + Sanctions = European De-industrialization
  • Fascism’s Resurgence/Immigration
  • Caught Between: China Up, US Down
  • Euro-farmers’ Protest: Europe’s Future
  • UK: Conservative and Labor Collapses

Watch here

February 14, 2024
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Economic Update: The U.S. Tax System Designed For Economic Injustice
February 12, 2024
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Capitalism Hits Home: Positive Changes: Connections & Community Development
February 12, 2024
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Economic Update: The US Economy As An Apartheid System
February 12, 2024
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Economic Update: US Capitalism At The Crossroads
February 12, 2024
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Economic Update: As The Empire Crumbles
February 12, 2024
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Capitalism Hits Home: Definitions & Intersections of White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, Hetero-Patriarchy & Capitalism


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

February 12, 2024
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Ask Prof Wolff Live - January 17, 2024

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

February 12, 2024
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Economic Update: Corporations vs Democracy
February 12, 2024
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Economic Update: U.S. China Decoupling Myth
February 12, 2024
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Economic Update: Facing The Human Rights Crisis
February 12, 2024
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Capitalism Hits Home: Addiction, Suicide, and Psych Drugs - Life Is Painful In Today's USA (2 of 2)


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

December 18, 2023
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Economic Update: Politics, Economics & Chocolate: Capitalism's Flaws & Failures

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

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Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

December 12, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: Addiction, Suicide, and Psych Drugs - Life Is Painful In Today's USA (1 of 2)


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

December 12, 2023
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Economic Update: The U.S. Military Machine & What It Costs

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

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Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

December 04, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff Live - November 29, 2023

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:

DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 29, 2023
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Economic Update: American's Self Image VS Reality

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

DailyMotion:  https://www.dailymotion.com/democracyatwrk

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 27, 2023
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Economic Update: When Labor Movements Rise

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

DailyMotion:  https://www.dailymotion.com/democracyatwrk

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 27, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: What Are Some Life Supports For America's Failing Isolated Nuclear Families?


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

November 27, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff Live - November 15, 2023

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:

DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 15, 2023
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Economic Update: Inequality Undermines Health & Healthcare in the U.S.

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

DailyMotion:  https://www.dailymotion.com/democracyatwrk

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 13, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: Is the Nuclear Family An Eternal Ubiquitous Way of Organizing Personal Life?

[S07 E01]

In this episode of "Capitalism Hits Home," Dr. Harriet Fraad examines the intersection of the faltering American economy and the breakdown of traditional family structures. The discussion challenges narratives placing blame on individuals, particularly critiquing the tendency to scapegoat white men for societal shifts, and emphasizes the systemic issues of corporate greed. Fraad delves into the repercussions for children, highlighting the prevalence of poverty and hunger. Drawing comparisons with France, the episode explores historical factors like anti-communism and an authoritarian family structure as barriers to collective action in the U.S. Despite these challenges, there is optimism in the growing unionization efforts across various sectors, with a vision for a unified movement driving societal change.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

November 10, 2023
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Global Capitalism: November 2023

[November 2023] New

Socialism in Today’s World: the 4 Kinds

with Richard D. Wolff  

Co-sponsored by Democracy at Work & Left Forum

In this lecture, Prof. Wolff discusses the following topics

  • 3 Kinds of State Role in Economy
  • 1 Kind of Workplace Revolution
  • Saving Capitalism from Itself
  • Socialism, Fascism and Capitalism’s Decline

Watch here

November 10, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff Live - November 8, 2023

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Facebook:

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Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: Social & Labor Movements Claim Real Victories

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

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Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff Live - November 1, 2023

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:

DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: What Socialism Needs to Succeed

[S13 E39] New

This week's episode features a discussion of (1) the crisis of today's real left; (2) the need to acknowledge, build upon, but also go well beyond the successful socialisms of the 19th and 20th centuries; (3) the macro focus on the state and the omission of a microfocus on the workplace; and (4) democratizing workplaces as 'what is to be done'.

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

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Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

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Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: US Empire Falls. Families Fail. Why?

[S6 E11]

All Empires rise and fall. America's empire is no exception. We need to admit it. To make Americans' lives better, we could start with cutting the military budget, and not just because we can, but because we should.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

November 10, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff Live October 25, 2023

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:

DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: American Families Today Are Crisis Ridden

[ S13 E38 ] New

This week's episode features updates on President Biden's inadequate student debt relief, Bastille Day and the French Revolution, and alternatives to Artificial Intelligence being installed to increase profits and joblessness. Prof. Wolff also interviews Dr. Harriet Fraad on the causes and consequences causing the crisis facing U.S. families today.

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

DailyMotion:  https://www.dailymotion.com/democracyatwrk

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff Live October 18, 2023

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:

DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: Today's Agents of Change: Strikes, Unionization & Labor Militancy

[ S13 E37 ] New

Updates on how Social Security makes African-Americans subsidize whites, lessons from a new survey of young Americans' politics, the injustice of Europe's central bank raising its interest rates, Taylor Swift publicly supports Hollywood strikers, and Coco Gauff publicly supports climate change activists. Interview Mike Elk, Editor of The Payday Report, tracking the strike wave across America and especially the huge autoworker's strike.

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

DailyMotion:  https://www.dailymotion.com/democracyatwrk

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff Live Oct 11, 2023

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:

DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: Corporate Greed VS Labor: The Struggle Intensifies

[ S13 E36 ] New

Updates on writers (WGA) strike, auto-workers (UAW) strike, failure of US Federal Reserve, US govt subsidizes private capitalists. Interview Pete Dolack on his new book "What Do We Need Bosses For? Toward Economic Democracy".

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

DailyMotion:  https://www.dailymotion.com/democracyatwrk

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff Live Oct 5, 2023

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:

DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: Private Profits vs Public Treasure with Eleanor Goldfield

[ S13 E35 ] New

In this week's Economic Update episode, topics include the successful unionization efforts at Starbucks stores across the U.S., challenges within the British university system, the United Auto Workers (UAW) gearing up for negotiations, and the vital importance of preserving the Redwood forests, featuring an interview with filmmaker and activist Eleanor Goldfield. These discussions shed light on workers' rights, education, labor solidarity, and environmental conservation.

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

DailyMotion:  https://www.dailymotion.com/democracyatwrk

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Global Capitalism: September 2023

[September 2023] New

A Resurging US Labor Movement

with Richard D. Wolff  

Co-sponsored by Democracy at Work & Left Forum

In this lecture, Prof. Wolff discusses the following topics

  • Starbucks, Doctors, Autoworkers, etc.
  • Why Labor Resurgence Now?
  • Labor’s Goals and Tactics
  • Alliances with Political Parties
  • Between Capitalism and Socialism

 

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: Profit & Inequality: Two Driving Forces of Capitalism

[ S13 E34 ] New

Updates on economists favoring rent control, leading global capitalists resent/resist US's China-bashing, urgent drug shortages in US and a public pharma industry. Major discussion of causes of rising US economic inequality since 1960s and its socially explosive political effects.

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


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NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: Today's Class Struggles with Chris Hedges

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[S13 E25] New

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Updates on US small/medium businesses converting to worker coops, strikes at west coast ports and UPS, an employer uses fake priest to get workers' confessions for employers' use, Delaware allows businesses to vote in local elections (alongside individuals). Interview Chris Hedges on class struggles here and now.

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

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NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Global Capitalism: July 2023

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[July 2023] New

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Capitalism Turns to the Authoritarian State

with Richard D. Wolff  

Co-sponsored by Democracy at Work & Left Forum

In this lecture, Prof. Wolff discusses the following topics

  • Why Private Capitalism Makes That Turn
  • Why State Capitalism Makes That Turn
  • Will the Authoritarian State Save or End Capitalism? (United States vs. China)
  • Socialism and the Authoritarian State.

 

November 10, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: Alternative Family Structures are Not New

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[S6 E11] New

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Socialist visions of communal shared domestic labor and child rearing have existed in the past and exist in the present. In 1917 following the Russian Revolution the government changed the rules and created a domestic revolution. At the turn of the century in the United States over 200 large and established socialist communes existed. Domestic revolution was then considered a valuable means of revolutionary change.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: Capitalism's Costly Contradictions

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[S13 E24] New

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Updates on real US unemployment problem; Congress betrays students on student debt issue; huge majorities polled support US teachers, increased teachers pay, teachers' freedoms to teach about race, and teachers' power vs boards of education and state governors, importance of ILWU strike shutting down west coast seaports. Major discussions of capitalism's contradictions around (1) capitalists forever "saving on labor costs,"and (2) capitalists celebrating self-correcting markets."

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

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Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

November 10, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: The Many Interpretations of Marx

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "I wrote an email response to someone who had a lot of strange ideas about Marx and all of the purported evil done in his name. He and others seem to hold Marx personally responsible for the crimes of Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, et al. I've read a bit by and about Marx and listened to many lectures of those who hold him in high regard. Am I missing something?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

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Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

November 10, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: Capitalism’s Impact on Our Personal Lives

[S06 E10]

In this episode of Capitalism Hits Home, Dr. Fraad continues speaking about the impacts of a corrupt capitalism system on mental health and personal lives.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

November 10, 2023
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Economic Update: Varoufakis' Critique of Capitalism Today

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[S13 E18] New

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Yanis Varoufakis, elected member Greek parliament, joins Prof. Wolff on this week's show and offers his original, critical perspectives on (1) the banking crisis, (2) the decline of the US empire and US capitalism, (3) the mass uprisings of the French and Greek working classes in Europe, (4) the collapse of Europe's efforts to shape an independent (from the US and China) economic position, and (5) class struggle inside China.

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


About our guest: Yanis Varoufakis is a member of Greece’s Parliament and parliamentary leader of MeRA25, the Greek political party belonging to DiEM25 – Europe’s first transnational paneuropean movement.

In his own words, Varoufakis was “thrust onto the public scene by Europe’s inane handling of an inevitable crisis”. In January 2015 he was elected to Greece's Parliament with the largest majority in the country and served as Greece’s Finance Minister between January and early July of 2015. During those tumultuous six months he faced down the authoritarian ineptitude of the world’s most powerful institutions – the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank; three institutions determined to impose upon the poorest of Greeks the harshest austerity in history. Varoufakis resigned from the finance ministry when he refused to sign a loan agreement that perpetuated Greece’s debt-deflationary cycle.
 
A year later, Varoufakis co-founded DiEM25 (the Democracy in Europe Movement) and, two years hence, in 2018, he launched its Greek electoral wing (MeRA25). Also in 2018, together with US Senator Bernie Sanders, he established the Progressive International – a global movement whose affiliated members exceed 200 million persons from across the world. In addition to these organizational endeavors he has traveled extensively giving talks and participating in various activist events and projects.
 
Varoufakis read mathematics and economics at the Universities of Essex and Birmingham and subsequently taught economics at the Universities of East Anglia, Cambridge, Sydney, Glasgow, Texas and Athens where he still holds a Chair in Political Economy and Economic Theory. He is also Honorary Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney, Honoris Causa Professor of Law, Economics and Finance at the University of Torino, Visiting Professor of Political Economy at King’s College, London, and Doctor of the University Honoris Causa at University of Sussex.
 
Currently completing a new book entitled Technofeudalism: Capitalism’s stealthy successor (to be published by Penguin in the UK), he is the author of a number of best-selling books, including Another Now: A novel (Penguin UK & Melville House US), Adults in the Room: My struggle against Europe’s Deep Establishment (London: Bodley Head, 2017); Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A brief history of capitalism (London: Bodley Head, 2017), And the Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe, Austerity and the Threat to Global Stability (London: Bodley Head and NY: Nation Books, 2016); and The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the World Economy (London: Zed Books, 2011,2015). His academic books include Economic Indeterminacy (London: Routledge, 2014); Game Theory: An introductory Text (London: Routledge, 2003), Foundations of Economics (London: Routledge, 1998); and Rational Conflict (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).
 
Links:

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Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

May 01, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: The True Cost of Sanctions

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Are sanctions, which are detrimental to ordinary citizens, in some cases justified in order to try to pressure a government committing evil (like in the case of South Africa) to cease?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

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DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

April 28, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: BRICS & The End of US Dominance

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[S6 E09] New

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In this episode of Capitalism Hits Home, Dr. Fraad discusses the decline of the American empire, both globally and domestically. After WWII, the US was the only industrialized nation that stood strong, helping it ascend to global dominance. Today, however, the world order is shifting. The BRICS economic alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) is extremely powerful and widespread, with over 19 more countries hoping to join the alliance. The US dollar is losing its primacy and our country is steeped in debt. Internally, poverty is ever-increasing, corruption is normalized in our politics, and our wealthiest individuals and corporations don’t pay taxes. How did we get here? What can be done? Dr. Fraad tackles these questions and more. 


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


SUBSCRIBE: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

SUPPORT: Patreon 

LEARN MORE: Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad

READ MORE:  Dr. Fraad's Recommended Reading List


FOLLOW US ONLINE:


Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

Buying books at bookshop.org supports the authors, independent bookstores and Democracy at Work!

April 27, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: Can Capitalism Be Reformed?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Have you looked into the concept of Collective Capitalism as theorized by G. Means and its influence on Japan (which has the largest Communist Party not in control of the government)? Also, the public private relationship in Singapore's economy seems very different from the Western financial capitalist system. Are these various "Eastern" economic models something that would attract support from American workers rather than socialism? In another way, could concessions from capitalism like guarantees of long-term employment, market controls, social services, etc. be ways that capitalists retain private property rights and stymie socialist progress? For background, it seems like the FDR administration used this approach to prevent a full socialist movement from taking power during the great depression."

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

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DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

April 26, 2023
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Economic Update: The Emerging New World Economy: A New Empire, a Multipolar World, or a Post-Capitalist System

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[S13 E17] New

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Four key changes drive a new world economy emerging from the old. First is capitalism's transition from neoliberal, globalizing to nationalistic capitalism. This includes the shift of capitalism's center from western Europe and the US to Asia and the global south and also includes the deepening economic inequality inside most nations. Second is the end of the stale, old debate between private and state capitalism (misnamed as capitalism vs socialism) in favor of private + state capitalism hybrids. Third is the post-peak decline of the US empire. Fourth is the urgent question of what comes next: a new empire, a multipolar world, or a new post-capitalist system that replaces employer-employee workplace organizations (private and public) with democratically run worker cooperative organizations.

Timestamps:

  • 00:00 - 01:42 - Intro
  • 01:43 - 08:57 - capitalism's transition from neoliberal, globalizing to nationalistic capitalism
  • 08:58 - 14:24 - private and state capitalism (misnamed as capitalism vs socialism) in favor of private + state capitalism hybrids
  • 14:25 - 15:47 - Announcements
  • 15:48 - 20:18 - post-peak decline of the US empire.
  • 20:19 - 30:20 - what comes next: a new empire, a multipolar world, or a new post-capitalist system that replaces employer-employee workplace organizations (private and public) with democratically run worker cooperative organizations
Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


SUBSCRIBE: EU Podcast | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | SpotifyiHeartRADIO

SUPPORT: 

Follow us ONLINE:

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:  https://instagram.com/democracyatwrk

DailyMotion:  https://www.dailymotion.com/democracyatwrk

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/

Want to help us translate and transcribe our videos? Learn about joining our translation team: http://bit.ly/


NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

April 24, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: How Treasury Bonds Help Corporations and the Rich

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Please explain the role of the bond market (US Treasuries) in the failure of capitalism and democracy."

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


Follow us ONLINE:

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/democracyatwork

YouTube: 

Facebook:

Twitter:

Instagram:

DailyMotion: 

Shop our CO-OP made MERCH:  https://democracy-at-work-shop.myshopify.com/


Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

April 21, 2023
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Anti-Capitalist Chronicles: The Corporatization of Academia

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In this episode of Anti-Capitalist Chronicles, Prof. Harvey reflects on how universities in the US have shifted and evolved under advanced capitalism to function more and more like corporations. The ethos of the academic model is no longer about universities paying professors to teach, but rather that professors earn their keep by making money for the university. We are seeing increased bureaucratization, a push for entrepreneurialism among professors, and a growing corporate managerial structure. This reorganization of education around monetization has left professors disillusioned and despondent and cannot be sustained.

David Harvey's Anti-Capitalist Chronicles is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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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.”

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David Harvey's book "Anti-Capitalist Chronicles" is available at plutobooks.com

April 20, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: Who Do Politicians Really Serve?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "It seems like you believe capitalists aren't just greedy and evil but in a system requiring them to do what they do. Is this also true of politicians who vote for and carry out incredibly destructive policies to human lives and the environment?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

April 19, 2023
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Cities After… From Exclusion to Gentrification: The NIMBY-YIMBY Politics

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In this episode of Cities After…, Prof. Robles-Durán examines the histories and ideological underpinnings of the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) and YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) urban development movements. On the surface, these movements may seem to have opposing politics. However, by looking closely at their evolution and participation, it becomes clear that both have been co-opted and obscured by politicians and the media in order to serve the corporate elites and capitalist developers. As the story goes, the NIMBYs are staunch elitists that block progress by resisting change and innovation. The YIMBYs are promoters of growth and prosperity— they are inclusive, environmentally friendly and champions of affordability. But, as Prof. Robles-Durán explains, they do not really embody these virtues. He reveals the elitist and conservative principles that exist within both NIMBY and YIMBY ideologies, and shows why these terms should not be used in the progressive lexicon of urban action and housing activism. 

References:

- https://fortune.com/2023/02/28/housing-crisis-nimbys-build-nothing-country-elon-musk-noah-smith-american-decline/ 
- Cities After... The Problems with Supply and Demand in the Housing Market: https://youtu.be/drw75mdA9Ow  

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Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Now available at: lulu.com

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork


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April 18, 2023
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Economic Update: Today's Medicare for All Battle with Dr. William Bronston

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In this week’s show, Prof. Wolff discusses US deaths from Covid, poverty in the US labor force, US and Canada cooperate against immigrants, US warfare vs China's peacemaking, Amazon profits from cutting back on "free" shipping. In the second half of the show, Wolff interviews Dr. William Bronston, advocate for single-payer health care in the US.

Timestamps:

  • 00:00 - 01:28 - Intro
  • 01:29 - 03:15 - COVID deaths
  • 03:16 - 06:04 - Poverty in the US Labor Force
  • 06:05 - 09:36 - US and Canada cooperate against immigrants
  • 09:37 - 11:01 - US warfare vs China's peacemaking
  • 11:02 - 14:42 - Amazon profits from cutting back on "free" shipping
  • 14:43 - 15:51 - Announcements
  • 15:52 - 30:23 - Interview with Dr. William Bronston


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 and those of our children. I'm your host Richard Wolff.
In today's program, we're going to be talking about a number of particularly medical issues—the impact of covid deaths in the United States [and] who was affected. We're also going to be talking about poverty in the United States, about the problem of immigrants—as they are being held back by the leaders of the United States and Canada—military strikes by the United States, and the contrast between that and the global activities of China. Finally, we'll be looking at Amazon's free delivery which is going down the tubes and then we'll have an interview with Dr William Bronston, a leading physician with the struggle for a universal single-payer health system in the United States.

So let's get busy, we've got a lot to cover. Covid deaths in the United States have been studied now systematically state by state across the 50 states of the United States with a report issued in the very important British medical journal called The Lancet. In this study one reality is hammered home—that the income, class, racial and educational inequalities of the United States were made worse by covid. In other words, covid deaths are higher among non-whites than whites, among poorer people relative to richer people [and] more among the poorly educated compared to those with much education and more among people who voted for Donald Trump than among people who didn’t. Put all of that together…think about it—the United States doesn't have a medical insurance system that covers everybody more or less equally. We may believe abstractly in one person one vote or all men created equal…all non-men likewise. Whoa, but when it comes to the real rubber meets the road taking care of peoples' health—we're not equal. We suffer unequally, we die unequally and we will again unless the lesson in The Lancet about who took it on the chin from covid is understood.

My next update has to do with the civilian labor force here in the United States. Poverty in the US labor force…it currently numbers about 166 million people. A bit more than half of the American people are in the American labor force. I wanted to look in to how they're doing in terms of their wages—not all the noise of the daily news coverage, if there really is much of that, but what it really amounts to and I don't have the time to do a comprehensive thing—but I narrowed it down to give you an idea. Ten percent—the bottom 10% of wage earners in the United States—that's 17 million people—are earning an average of $12.57 an hour. So, I did the arithmetic—I multiplied that hourly rate…the bottom 10% of our people—17 million wage earners—I multiplied them by 40 hours a week—if they can even get that regular a job—50 weeks a year—if they can even get that regular a job. That would earn them about $25,000 which turns out to be the poverty line for a family of three. Well, if it's a family of three, one of whom is earning $12.57, well that works out to just shy of 50 million people in the United States trying to live—many of them children—on a poverty level wage. One of the richest countries in the world is condemning 50 million people to abject poverty and if you think about the millions more that don't have a job—for a hundred different reasons—who are living on that amount of money—or less—then please keep in mind the Elon Musks with their tens of billions and the Bill Gates and the Warren Buffetts. All the folks…the people who live on more than they can possibly spend side by side—often a few miles away—from the 50 million people. Those of you who take religion, ethics, and morals seriously—don't you have a problem here? Don't the rest of us in the US right now?

Then there was the meeting, a very few weeks ago, in Canada between Joseph Biden and Justin Trudeau of Canada. Here's what they told us and again the ethics...the morals…they can't allow immigrants into their respective countries, they said. There's no room at the inn it turns out—for the poor families from Guatemala and Honduras and Mexico and Costa Rica. No, no, no—they have to be kept out. These two great leaders—they were figuring out how to do it but we know of course what's really going on. These two “great” leaders…they're pandering to anti-immigrant feelings. That's the nicest way of putting it.

Let's take a look at those…shall we? If you keep immigrants out, you're supposed to be believing that that keeps out low-wage desperate people (which it does) and that they, therefore, will not be able to fill all those jobs washing dishes…washing the cars…doing the poorest lowest paid work in the society. There is some of that—that happens—if you keep out immigrants because they start at the bottom (most of them) but you know capitalism has a way of dealing with that. As wages go up—because you've kept out the poor immigrant—you think nothing else changes? Don't be naive. Capitalists are very clear that the wages at the bottom in this country…if they go up…pose a problem for their profits. That's why they're so eager to pay immigrants low wages. That's why they are so eager to not pay the immigrant at all— knowing that the immigrant families are afraid to go to the police and complain because then they might get looked at as immigrants and deported. So, if wages go up because you've kept out the immigrants—the way Biden and Trudeau are busily doing—capitalists are going to see that as a problem. You know what they do when the wages go up? They respond in one of two ways. They either move the job out of the United States—so instead of bringing the poor person here to work at a low wage you move the job to where the poor person already lives. Then you can pay him the poor wage…can't you? If that doesn't work—you replace the worker—with wages going up—by a machine…a computer…a robot… artificial intelligence. Capitalism treats workers that way. If you can't get the wage bill down by cheap immigrants, go to where the people who are poor already live or replace them with a machine. The problem isn't immigration. The problem is a system that works this way and that's the message of this program or tries to be.

I want to also to update a contrast. The United States is now busy militarily in the Ukraine, in China (around Taiwan in the South China Sea), and recently with renewed bombing in Syria. Seriously?…and the contrast—over the same period that these events are happening—the People's Republic of China brings together the warring groups within Islam…the Shiites on one hand, the Sunnis on the other…Saudi Arabia on one hand, Iran on the other…in a peace agreement—exchanging embassies, promising to get along with one another so we have less military conflict. The United States leaders may dismiss all of that. They do want to hide the difference, don't they?…but the rest of the world isn't missing it. Not at all…they're focusing on it and it would only be naive of Americans to misunderstand that.

And naive is another thing I want to end these economic updates with today—this has to do with Amazon…Amazon came up with a clever ploy a few years ago…free delivery. It was clever. Why?…because on a mass basis—the way Amazon is set up—they could afford to do that more cheaply than any of their competitors who are smaller and cannot take advantage of what we call the economies of scale. Now that they've done that they've established a massive reliance on the delivery system associated with Amazon. They confront—like we all do—the declining problems…the problems are not declining…the system is declining and that makes a lot of problems. One of them is inflation and another one is rising interest rates and in that situation where everything becomes more expensive, everybody is on desperate urgency to try to cope. People do without medical care…dilute their medicines… switch from better products to cheaper products…from better food to less good food…from adequate clothing to not so adequate. We all accommodate. We all struggle. How do corporations…and capitalists…struggle? Well, if they have to pay higher prices, if that begins to squeeze their profits, well then they react in the way a capitalist always does.

Here's what Amazon is doing. It's cutting back on the free delivery. You're going to have to start paying extra if you want fast delivery otherwise you're going to get slow delivery…there'll be extra charges…there'll be delays…there'll be special circumstances…they'll be those who get it and those who don't. In other words, capitalists are in a position most of us aren't—they can squeeze us. So Amazon is following in the path of, you know, the big oil companies. When they train the American people to no longer stop at a gas station and have somebody come out and service your car…no no no…you get out and you service your own car and we pay you nothing. We save on paying the young man or woman trying to work through high school or college and working at the gas station. Isn't that how we did it?…or the airlines over the last two years who now charge you if you burp during the flight or if you need the toilet or if you need to put a suitcase up above you. Come on…we're watching Amazon follow the path of other leading capitalist employers in using the inflation as a timely occasion and excuse to squeeze the rest of us. It will hurt. It will cost. Each item is little but the accumulation is as devastating as anything else coming down the pike.

We've come to the end of the first half of the show. Please join me to listen to an important interview with Dr. William Bronston when we return.

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 critical system analysis and visions of a more equitable and democratic world through a variety of media like the long-form lecture series I host called Global Capitalism, designed to help others understand current economic events and trends so they can explain the impact and effects capitalism creates across the globe to others. Global capitalism is available on our website democracyatwork.info. There you can also learn more about everything we produce, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on social media, and support the work we do. Please stay with us. We will be right back.

Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. I am both proud and excited to bring to the microphones and cameras today's guest, Dr. William Bronston, a physician who has a remarkable reputation and history that I want to share with you. Before that, since I know him, let me welcome Bill to our program.

WB: I'm exhilarated Richard, thank you, sir.

RDW: Okay. Dr. William Bronston is a specialist in psychiatry and child development. He's famous for organizing medical personnel into unions and for helping mobilize parents in a federal class action suit for crimes against humanity…a suit brought against the governor and the State of New York for their administration of the infamous Willowbrook institution that I'm sure many of you have heard about. His new book, Public Hostage, Public Ransom: Ending Institutional America tells that Willowbrook story and links it to today's struggle for universal single-payer health care instead of the disastrous Medicaid system. For the last many years, he has been working from his home state of California for a truly Democratic medical system in the United States.

So let me jump right in…What is the status right now—because I know you're deeply involved in it—of efforts to bring a Medicare for all program to the United States?

WB: Richard, the situation is critical because the fascist elements in this country—the Republican Party and the capitalist system—are driving aggressively, fiercely to try and make it impossible for there to be a truly publicly funded, publicly accountable democratic health care delivery system. We do not have a health care system in the United States. We have a medical service system that's a wealth transfer operation. You cannot buy health—it's not for sale. Our whole notion of medical care and health care has to do with ending illness—not promoting wellness. The objective here is fundamentally inimical to the commodity basis for which medical services are currently grounded and have been grounded for over 100 years and fought for fiercely by the capitalists…by the oligarchs…by the pharmaceutical cartels…the hospital cartels…the insurance industry in order to make it massively profitable and to monetize suffering and death—end of life situation.

So that's kind of what the situation is right now and there's a massive effort supported by the Biden Administration to further privatize Medicare without people knowing that they're being shifted into a system where they will be trapped in narrow networks…will be refused services without any real capability of altering that even with sharp appeals. It's called ACO REACH and my organization, the Physicians for a National Health program, has been battling that tremendously, you know, in the last few months but it's upon us right now and it's a turning point in the history of health service delivery in the United States.

RDW: Is this part of the old issue—been around for a long time—that says that preventive care is more important than curative care but because curative care has got the profits built into it we don't do what is the more important way to go.
Have I got that right or is there a mistake there?

WB: I think that there's something more profound that's at issue—that's hard to really grasp—if we had a true healthcare society there would be a much more profound democratic community and sense of each other and relationship between each other in society. That's what the oligarchs cannot tolerate. They can't tolerate a unified caring progressive mass public in order to essentially need and obtain and access well-being. It's not just…it's not just prevention…it's not just savings…it's not just the hundreds of billions of dollars that would be released back into the economy—that would come from a universal healthcare system—it has to do with a blocking [of] democracy…blocking the capacity of the people to understand the commonality of their needs and their issues and their activity politically in the society. I don't know if that makes sense but that's my understanding of the situation. It's cultural and it's deep and it's fierce.

RDW: I’ve always wondered how Americans understand and tolerate the fact that almost every other advanced industrial country and many countries beyond that group have in fact chosen to do much more in the way of a national funded healthcare system than the United States. What is that about?

WB: Again it's tremendously deep. I think first of all that our system—which has been in operation for close to 100 years of commodified medical care—has resulted in a profound conscious and unconscious universal fear and insecurity in the general population. All of us have no idea what's going to happen to us if something goes wrong and there is an enormous stigma in something going wrong in our society. If you're sick or disabled in some way that puts you in a whole different category of status in terms of caste relationships in the society. I think that people in this country are so isolated, so alienated, so incapable of identifying with the commonwealth of their brothers and sisters of the rest of us in society that it cripples us from being able to challenge the barbarity of the commodity monetized system of illness and death in our society. It paralyzes people. People have no grasp. They have no confidence that they—as a solo individual in a solo society—can challenge the system. It's just unimaginable to them and they feel that because something's wrong with them that they have a legitimate basis of having to pay to get better. I mean it's the profound disease in our society you know, is monetary dependency.

RDW: Tell me, did the pandemic change anything? Was that horrible experience—and I don't mean to imply that it's over since I understand that it isn't—but has the period since early 2020 changed anything in the balance of the struggle for and against a nationally-funded universal health support system?

WB: The impact of the pandemic is absolutely breathtaking. We lost, you know, a million people or more. People lost their jobs and with their jobs being lost, those of them that had medical coverage of some sort through their work lost all that. That exposed the enormity, first of all, of the lack of a competent massive public health capacity to respond to a situation like that because everything is commodified and the public health system has been defunded since the 1980s. Since the Reagan Administration, there’s been a replacement of clinicians with administrators and so you have a situation that's compounded the illness and essentially ravaged the general society and only magnified the inherent fear and insecurity that's already there. It exposed the fact that there was no ground of a well-organized, government-driven, publicly-driven intervention system in the society. So it was…it was an enormous rip-open of the wound of the medical delivery system and of the fragility of health care. It also impacted our morbidity and mortality statistics so that now we're about 39th or 40 or 41st in the world in terms of death and sickness in all areas as a result of the impact of that disease…only uncovering the already fragile situation created by the diversity of our society because obviously people of color and people in poverty are the ones who die first…die earliest…get sick first…get sick longest…you know and so the situation here is…it's barbarous. It's barbarous and somehow we have to figure out a way to move the public to change this monstrosity.

RDW: You know there's a recent article in the British medical journal, The Lancet, that systematically goes through and demonstrates state by state across the 50 states how the covid disaster killed more people at the lower end of the income…more people who are non-white…more people with less higher education…I mean clearly reaching the conclusion which is listed in the article that the covid disaster worsened the already serious income, economic, racial, and other disparities of American society. It is a sharp lesson. It's of course interesting that it had to appear in a British journal but that's the way things like that go.

WB: Let’s look at the reality. The reality is that it only essentially accelerated the effort on the part of the oligarchy to privatize the system and to drive it home…they don't care about illness and death if illness and death are not profitable. I mean profitable in the billions of dollars then it doesn't matter. The medical delivery system now is so currently alienated. The workforce is so essentially reduced and shrunken down as a result of people leaving the field because essentially they're forced by corporate ownership of the delivery system to live with a computer between them and the people they're taking care of so you don't really get an eye to eye contact with your nurse or your doctor or your dentist that's really meaningful. There's no relationship there that comes between the general public, the patient population, and the delivery system. That has to be changed.

Then we're dealing with a debt pile that everybody is suffering that is absolutely astronomical and in any universal system we must buy out, negotiate and buy out all the medical debt that people are burdened with right now. It's fundamental. We need to change the workforce. We need to expand it. We need to make it culturally competent. We need to distribute it by virtually globally budgeting all health professional education so that we can assign the students whether they're sociology students or psychology or doctors or nurses or dentists or med techs to urban and rural deserts that exist now—where there's inadequate coverage…where people have to go to a large medical center…a huge carbon footprint area—in order to get services rather than getting them in their home and in their streets the way we used to when we were younger. I'm 84…so you know…I remember when my mother would call my pediatrician. He would come to the house and take care of me and I would immediately get better before he got there you know and so that has to be reestablished. We need to re-democratize by mobilizing neighborhood assemblies and partnerships with the local public health system and an expansion the state level of public health services and public health domination of the management of the delivery system in order to address these issues. That means savings, investments, and prosperity beyond our imagination. The question is can the people essentially build up the courage and the unity around a model which I've tried to establish—which we can talk about later—in order to address this transformation that has to happen.

It is a revolutionary liberating agenda for sure.

RDW: I wish we had more time…we don't…a quick final comment from you…we have socialized many things in our society—our parks that everybody goes to and that we fund collectively, our schools, our roads, our harbors, our mail system—what is the anxiety about socializing something as important as the health system? But we don't…Bill, I realize the clock is bearing down on me. This is a question I'm going to bring you back to answer…so save your answer. Thank you very much for sharing both your medical history, your medical expertise, and your insights into the current crisis of this country. Really—it's a pleasure having you here. I hope my audience shares with me the appreciation for your work, your insights, and as always I say to my audience, I look forward to speaking with you again next week.

Transcript by Barbara Bartlett

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About our guest: William Bronston, MD was born and raised in Hollywood, attending UCLA then USC School of Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles as an intern, and finally a residency at Menninger School of Psychiatry specializing in child development and psychiatry. Expelled after 2 years for organizing a Kansas AFSCME mental hospital union and coordinating the first multiple hospital health worker seizure rather than striking to advance worker rights and benefits.

A decade followed in New York where he worked at the infamous Willowbrook State School for 3 years helping mobilize parents to file the Federal Class Action suit for crimes against humanity against the Governor and NY State for its administration of this American concentration camp for children and adults with disabilities.  His new book, “Public Hostage Public Ransom: Ending Institutional America”  tells the illustrated documentary story of Willowbrook’s barbarity and its forced closure, whose story arc culminates in 2022, calling for universal single payer health care, for system change and exposing the utter anti social evil of all Medicaid funding.
Returning to California in 1975, he was appointed to become the Medical Director of 2 CA State departments serving for the following 25 years. During this time he produced 20 years of biennial, all teen-youth film festivals to advocate media career education in the Sacramento Capital region, and North American, high school systems. His current total focus is now to establish the comprehensive transformation of our corporate totalitarian medical wealth transfer system with the most imaginative and democratic population based health care policy model as the centerpiece of socialist rightful health care in our society.
 
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NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 


April 17, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: Lessons from France’s Pension Struggle

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "In view of the French retirement proposals and the argument that fewer active workers are supporting more retired workers, can you address how changing demographics will affect world economies? I don't see that declining birth rates will change. It seems to make the current form of capitalism even more sustainable."

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

April 14, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: Signs of a Declining Empire

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[S6 E08] New

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The US is out of control and we are in denial. The proof is abundant: Mass shootings, extreme inequality, lost wars, weak currency, high suicide rates, corporate greed, climate crises, deregulation, and more. In this episode of Capitalism Hits Home, Dr. Fraad draws on decades of experience as a psychologist to remind us that change only happens when we face a problem fully. We as a society must reckon with the fall of the American Empire and the shift in economic and global dominance if we want to find stability and real solutions to the issues we face.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is available at: https://www.lulu.com/ 

“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.” - Richard Wolff

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

Dr. Harriet Fraad's Recommended Reading list: https://bookshop.org/lists/dr-harriet-fraad-recommended-reading-capitalism-hits-home

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April 13, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: AI & ChatGPT - What are the Economic Impacts?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "I am writing to seek your insights on the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence (AI) landscape, particularly with regards to its implementation by profit-driven companies. It is evident that AI technology has the potential to bring significant advancements in various sectors. However, there is a growing concern that AI's deployment by corporations focused solely on profit maximization may exacerbate wealth inequality, eliminate jobs, and displace workers. How do you view the current state of AI evolution and its impact on the labor market, especially considering the role of profit-driven companies in shaping AI development?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

April 12, 2023
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All Things Co-op: Silicon Valley Bank and the Mania of Capitalist Banking

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[S7 E12] New

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In this episode of All Things Co-op, Larry, Kevin, and Cinar discuss the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, financial markets, self-regulation and the role of capitalist ideology in modern banking, the effect on real people of bank collapses, and more.


All Things Co-op is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


FOLLOW US ONLINE:

 
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Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

April 11, 2023
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Economic Update: When We Put People First in US Politics
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[S13 E15] New
 
 
In this week’s Economic Update, Prof. Wolff presents updates on the failures of GOP and Democrats to face or solve major crises; layoffs and stock buybacks by US hi-tech companies; a new study of "food insecurity" in LA county. The second half of the show is dedicated to a discussion of how US history of the 1920s and 1930s shows the possibility of a progressive political shift and upsurge in the US today.

Timestamps

  • 00:00 - 01:16 - Intro
  • 01:17 - 06:16 - Gov’t response to crises
  • 06:17 - 08:21 - Tech layoffs
  • 08:22 - 14:25 - SNAPS & Food insecurity
  • 14:26 - 15:43 - Announcements
  • 15:44 - 30:22 - 20th century political shift

Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


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NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

April 10, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: The Impact of China on Small U.S. Businesses

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "I am a pediatrician but like everyone in the medical field, we are tired of serving insurance companies and Medicine is not fun anymore. I wish we had public insurance as I don't see how health can go with profit. I am opening a small business. My question is, for us tiny companies: what will the future bring with a possible war with China? Aren't we the biggest losers here? We don't manufacture anything anymore! How can small businesses survive in current times?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

April 07, 2023
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Anti-Capitalist Chronicles: Housing in a Broken System

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[S5 E07] New

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In this episode of Anti-Capitalist Chronicles, Prof. Harvey shares major lessons he learned while studying the housing issue in Baltimore in the late 1960s and asking the questions: Why is housing quality so appalling in low-income areas? Why had past attempts to change that failed? How could the richest nation in the world tolerate this? Harvey explains how he came to learn the importance of looking at the totality of the system—not just the issue itself—as well as leveraging, how social policies often work well for those who need it least, the issue of gentrification, and more. 

David Harvey's Anti-Capitalist Chronicles is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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LEARN MORE: David Harvey's Anti-Capitalist Chronicles


Check out the Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! www.democracyatwork.info/books

“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

David Harvey's book "Anti-Capitalist Chronicles" is available at plutobooks.com

April 06, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: The Illusion of Woke Economics

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Please discuss woke economics. I have seen YouTube clips using this term. After viewing a couple clips I concluded this is capitalism claiming to be the answer to the social problems caused by capitalism. Do I have that correct?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Facebook:

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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

April 05, 2023
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Cities After… The Business of Homelessness

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[S3 E06] New

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The number of people experiencing homelessness has been dramatically increasing across the globe. This crisis has been exacerbated in the last decade by uncontrolled predatory real-estate speculation, the pernicious privatization of social or public housing stock, record levels of inequality, a miserable supply of affordable homes, and the erosion or absence of legal and economic instruments to support social spending in elemental human needs. Neoliberal capitalism is at the heart of this issue. 

This is the first of a Cities After… series in which Prof. Robles-Durán will address the global homeless crisis from a number of angles. In this episode, Robles-Durán focuses on the systemic failure of governments, private-public partnerships and non-profit organizations in eradicating homelessness. This trifecta has spawned the contemporary extractive homeless industry that for decades has been profiting from the creation and preservation of this particular social misfortune.

Cities After... is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


We are committed to providing these podcasts to you free of ads. Help us keep this show sustainable by supporting Cities After... via the links below.
 
 
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Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Now available at: lulu.com

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork


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April 04, 2023
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Economic Update: The Marxist Tradition

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In this week’s Economic Update, Prof. Wolff discusses the history and diversity of Marxist theories and practices that comprise the Marxist tradition. Wolff also explores why Marxism draws renewed interest globally now. Finally, a detailed examination shows how some basic insights from Marx's work are especially relevant to victims and critics of today's capitalism and especially to those who seek transition to another, better system. 


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 and those of our children. I'm your host, Richard Wolff.

Today's program, in its entirety, is devoted to Marxism. The works of Karl Marx, the tradition he inspired that has led to many other people around the world developing his way of thinking, has led to many practical experiments, trying to apply this way of thinking to making a better world. I'm going to talk about it because some of you have kindly asked me to explain where I get the approach to events happening in the world that you hear me talk about on this program. How do I come to my analyses? Where do I get my inspiration? What is the approach I take? Well, I thought it might be interesting for you to know, (a) where the inspiration comes from, and (b) how exactly that inspiration works to give me the approach that you hear and see me articulate in the various platforms that I have. So let me begin.

Is Karl Marx an influence on my work? Absolutely. Couldn't be otherwise. Karl Marx, in a way, has an influence on everybody's work, those who follow and like what he has to say, and those who react badly and try to refute, or overcome, what he had to say. Marx is a part of the modern world. Is Marx the only influence on me? Of course not. I couldn't do that even if I tried to, or imagined I could. Many other scholars, writers, thinkers, friends, relatives, have influenced the way I think. I don't want to reduce it all to Marx, that would be inaccurate and silly. But Marx is not excluded, and that may be the key thing here: I take Marx seriously. I think he had very important insights to teach us. And I certainly make use of those in the work that I do, in the approach I have, in the arguments I try to present to you.

I thought of an analogy. If you're interested in psychology, in the question of why individual people react to the world the way they do, interact with their lovers, their boyfriends, their parents, their children, the way they do, well, then you look at a certain tradition of thinking called psychology. And it's not just thinking, it's experiments, made by psychologists trying to figure out what makes us tick as individuals, what shapes our psychology. Well, if you're going to study that and try to really learn it, to apply it to your own life, to those of your friends and neighbors around you, or to the larger world, one of the thinkers you encounter real quickly is Sigmund Freud. Is he the only one who ever talked about this? No. Is he the only one influencing anybody these days? No, there are too many others who have followed, or started around the time of Freud, and they, too, have shaped modern notions of psychology. But it would be crazy, and I mean that in the literal sense, to study psychology and not avail yourself of the enormously important insights that Sigmund Freud, a giant in that field, developed. No one who does psychology would proudly say in a room, "I avoided any contact with Sigmund Freud. I carefully avoided reading or thinking about it." That would signal a person who had a personality disorder, or a mental block, or something else that isn't positive.

Well, for me, anyone who wants to understand society, and proudly says they have nothing to do with Marxism, is a person I am not going to spend a whole lot of time with, because that is ignorance masked as some sort of politics. But it isn't politics, it's just plain ignorance. You're not smarter because you've ignored the insights of one of the giants in the field, and I'll come back to that.

So, I made sure not to be ignorant. I spent time studying Marxism. And one of the first things I discovered, which anyone who does this seriously will discover as well, and it's a way of knowing whether anyone you're talking to about Marxism has, in fact, been serious about it. Marx died in 1883, 140 years ago, right? And what do we know? We know that in the 140 years since he died, his ideas, his works, have been translated into every language on the face of this planet. They have intermingled in, shaped, and interacted with every culture, every continent, people in different conditions of economics, and politics, and culture.

Anything, any group of ideas, that expands that fast, that far, across so many different ways of living, will, of course, generate different interpretations. People in different circumstances can read the same book and come away with a very different set of insights, because every reading of any text is an interaction between the words on the page and everything each reader brings to reading those words. So, the first thing you learn is that Marxism is a tradition of many different interpretations of Marx's words, and therefore, of society. Because if you understand Marx differently, and then you apply what you've learned, but you understand it differently, then the outcomes are different theories and different assessments, which imposes on anyone with a serious knowledge having to say, "I have this interpretation. I recognize others have different interpretations." And the tradition is the sum, if you like, the collection, of these different interpretations.

Why then do I have to say all of this? Because Marxism, in many parts of the world, is now considered to be a set of ideas, a set of practices, that is over historically, it's not relevant anymore. Most of the people who think that associate Marxism with what happened in the Soviet Union in its Revolution of 1917, and the 70 years of its history thereafter, and with other parts of Eastern Europe that were allied with the Soviet Union after World War II. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, and all of those socialist countries - that was their name for what they were - changed, went back to capitalism, if you like, it was thought, "Oh, well, they're the ones who talked about Marxism, so if those countries are not into that anymore, well then, I guess Marxism is over."

That's wrong, folks. There's no nice way to say that. It's just wrong. It's a mistake, in some cases, a perfectly honest mistake. It misunderstands the difference between a global tradition, and one or two experiments in making that tradition real, in applying it to society. Lenin, Trotsky, the others who led the Soviet Revolution, were Marxists. They understood themselves to be followers, interpreters, and appliers, of what Marx had taught them. Again, only Marx? Of course not. If you read Lenin, he'll tell you all about all the other influences on him, and Trotsky, and the others, likewise. But they were deeply influenced by Marx. They made an experiment. It lasted from 1917 to 1989. Not bad for an experiment, but it did disappear.

But that doesn't mean that the tradition is not relevant. If you went in that direction, you wouldn't understand, and would misunderstand, all of human history. The transition from feudalism to capitalism had many experiments before it became a generalized capitalist world. People tried to change and make experiments to do without kings for a long time that didn't work out real well. The king survived until, at a certain point, they didn't survive anymore, and monarchism disappeared. Experiments to go beyond capitalism will likewise take their time, go their way, before enough people learn enough lessons to make the transition stick. That's been the story of human history to this point. There's no reason to imagine that capitalism will be exempt.

And then there are those who, wishfully thinking, imagine that Marxism had disappeared with the end of the Soviet Union. That only reminds me of Mark Twain, who wrote that famous letter to the editor of the newspaper in Connecticut, in Hartford, when he read in the morning paper an obituary for himself. And he wrote a very simple letter to the editor, and it went like this: "Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated. Mark Twain." Well, the reports of the demise of Marxism are likewise greatly exaggerated. Let me explain, briefly.

There are now two reasons why Marxism is being more and more returned to, revived, redeveloped, celebrated. Two big reasons. There are many, but two big ones. One, the most successful economic growth of the last 35 years has happened in the People's Republic of China. They have grown their economy from 2 to 3 times faster than the United States for 30 to 40 years. That has been the goal of most countries in the world, that is, to become un-poor, to become economically developed countries, to be, in short, as successful in economic growth as the People's Republic of China. And the folks who lead the People's Republic of China are members of the Communist Party. And their inspiration, they tell us, is from Marx. And they refer to their society as "socialism with Chinese characteristics." Anyone in the world who wants to stop being in a poor country, which is where most of the people in the world live, looks to China and says, "Wow, there's a model." And that should surprise no one.

Let me remind you of the great economist who started the discipline of economics, Adam Smith, a British professor of religion, as it happened. Adam Smith entitled his breaking book, the great book of his career, The Wealth of Nations, and the basic argument in that book was that capitalism is what made England richer than other countries at that time. That's exactly the argument why Marxism is of interest to people, because the People's Republic of China has a better growth record in the last 30 years than any other country in the world. Just as Adam Smith built on what happened in England, Marxists are building on what happened in China.

And the second reason is that capitalism around the world is everywhere in trouble. Different kinds of trouble, different degrees of trouble. The British economy is a disaster story. The American economy, very mixed in many, many ways. Some people are getting very wealthy, huge numbers of people are not. And that's a big problem of capitalism, among many others. And, as people try to figure out why is capitalism exhibiting so many unattractive qualities, they are led back to the critical tradition. Who has been critical of capitalism? And the most developed, the most global, the most... geniuses, in many ways, contributing to any theoretical tradition, have been those who have built the Marxian tradition. So, the criticism of capitalism takes people back to Marxism.

We've come to the end of the first half of today's show. In the second half, I'm going to show you, concretely, how that Marxian tradition can, and does, inform politics today. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

Welcome back, friends, to the second half of today's Economic Update, devoted, as you now know, to the subject of Marxism, the tradition, and how and why I make use of it in order to present to you, week after week, the analyses you hear and see on this program. So let me turn to the concrete ways that Marxism offers us insights, valuable here and now.

I begin with what I believe, my interpretation, and remember what I said in the first half of today's show about the different interpretations that coexist within Marxism. In my interpretation, perhaps the most central concept in Marx's work is the concept of the surplus, and I want to, therefore, begin by explaining this surplus, and then showing you how it helps you understand society.

If you go back far enough in the history of the human community, you will quickly discover that at some points, way back when, human beings, like most other animals, spent most of their time, nearly all of their time, running around trying to survive. Finding enough food. Finding shelter. Finding ways to keep their bodies warm in the cold. They had to work all the time to survive any of the time. And as I said, most animals, likewise, have done so, and still do. But human beings have a brain, and one of the things that the brain does is something other animals have not yet, in most cases, been able to do. It's one of the distinguishing things about human beings. They try to figure out ways to be more effective in interacting with nature to produce the goods and services they need. So, for example, instead of spending two hours climbing up and down the apple tree to get the apples, an enterprising man, woman, at some point, figured out that if you get a large stick and you hit the bottom of the apple tree, in an hour you can collect those that fall down. You can collect as many as it used to take two hours to do.

In the language of economics, human beings discovered how to become more productive. And it's very simple what that means. To get more output for the same amount of time of effort, or, to get the same amount of output with less effort. Either way, the relationship between the effort, the labor, human beings do, and the product, food, clothing, shelter, or whatever, changes over time. And the minute human beings become more productive, an opportunity opens up for them, Marx teaches us, that didn't exist before. And here's how to express it: If you are able to produce more in the same amount of time, or to use less time to produce the same amount as you did before, it becomes possible for you to have - here we go now - free time. You can call it "leisure," you can call it whatever you want. But if you need an hour less than you used to, to produce what you need to survive, you can take an hour off and you'll survive, because in one less hour of labor, you are still able to produce as much as you did before.

So, one way human beings can take advantage of rising productivity is with leisure. But there is, of course, a choice. You could decide not to have any leisure, to keep working just as long as you did, just as hard as you did before, but then you would get the benefit of more output, more than you need to survive, extra. You might even call that "wealth." You can produce output you don't need to consume. Marx explains to us, every society makes a decision, if it's productive. And we now have thousands of years of growing productivity. So, if you look at the United States today, I'd be surprised if 40% of our people are needed to produce what 100% of us consume. That's how productive we've become. 2% of our workers work on the land, but they produce enough food for 100% of us. So, we have become productive.

Now, the question is, are we going to take it in the form of leisure, or are we going to take it in the form of wealth? And the answer is, almost all societies do both. They take some leisure, and they accumulate some wealth. Early in our history as a human species, we did that collectively. We all got together, and we all had some time off, and we all enjoyed some wealth that we could accumulate. But in the last few thousands of years, we didn't do it collectively. We did it in three basic forms: slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. And what those three systems have in common, Marx taught us, is that they said, "Yeah, there'll be leisure. And yeah, there'll be wealth. But they will be collected for a very small proportion of the people. They - this small group - they'll get the leisure, and they'll get the wealth. The rest of you, we don't care how productive you are. The more you produce, the more leisure and wealth for the minority that gets it." In slavery, the slaves keep working as hard as ever whether they become more productive or not. Who gets more leisure and wealth? The masters. The masters are 2-3% of the population, the slaves, everybody else. In feudalism, the serfs do all the labor, productive or not, and whatever leisure and wealth can be accumulated is enjoyed by the lords.

And now, Marx's big achievement. He said, in capitalism, it's the same. The workers work with more machines, and are, therefore, more productive, or fewer machines, it doesn't matter. The capitalists, the employers, will be pushing the workers to produce more and more, working as hard as ever. And the productivity, the gains of productivity, will take the form of leisure for the employer class and wealth for the employer class.

And that's how capitalism works, said Marx. It is an exploitative system, like slavery and feudalism. It's different. You can't own anybody in capitalism. You don't swear loyalty to your employer the way a surf did to the lord. There are differences, but not on everything. And on this question of using the growing productivity of the people for the greater leisure and wealth of a tiny minority, that they all have in common, and that is not sustainable. People, in the end, won't tolerate it. That's why we don't have slavery anymore. That's why we don't have feudalism anymore. And that's why Marx thought capitalism wouldn't be here with us that much longer, either. And, as far as he was concerned, that was good news.

Let me show you the same thing in the immediate life of a worker and his, or her, or their, boss, so you see where the Marxist theory takes us. Imagine yourself sitting in front of a potential employer discussing the job you hope you'll get from that employer. And you go through a whole lot of stuff about the job and then you get to the dicey part. "How much are you going to pay me?" you ask your prospective employer. Let's assume he tells you $25 an hour. Well, Marx says, you know, even if you can't bring it into your own head to see it, to face it, to admit it, to say it to someone else, you know what that means. Every hour that you work there, your labor, added to that of all the other people, gives the employer that much more to sell. That's why he's hiring you. You either make it better, or you make more of it, of whatever the company makes. And you know that if the employer takes the extra you help to produce and sells it, he has to get more than $25 for the extra you produce per hour because, otherwise, there's no point in hiring you. If all he got was $25 more per hour of your labor and then he had to turn around and give it to you, there's nothing in it for him. He's not gonna do it.

In other words - here we go - you have to produce for an employer a surplus. You have to do more in the way of creating value for your employer then he gives you in the wages he pays you. In other words - here it comes, folks - he rips you off. Not because he's not a nice guy, and not because he's greedy, which he may or may not be. It's because it's how the system works. If he doesn't make a profit out of you, he doesn't hire you. You know why? Because he uses that profit, in part, to struggle competitively with all the other capitalists who are doing to their workers pretty much the same. And they struggle as to how much they can get out of their workers, how much of the rising productivity of the workers can the employer snatch to win his battle with other employers that are doing the same thing.

You would understand much more about this society if you saw that as the conflict that shakes it. And the conflict is everywhere. That's why in every job, whether you see it and face it or not, the employer is always looking for ways to pay you less, to move the job overseas where you can pay a worker less, to replace you with a machine if that costs him less, to bring in a cheap worker, a female, an immigrant, a child. Child labor was the way it was done for centuries. It's awful, the endless struggle.

It's also terribly inefficient. We've organized the production of goods and services with a core of a conflict, a horrible conflict that leads to sabotage, to lockouts, to strikes, to discriminations of every kind. We've created an absurd system founded on a conflict-ridden economic foundation. And capitalism, by always making that surplus, whether it's leisure or wealth, in the hands of a small number of people, creates what we are all living through: ever widening inequality. And that makes the people without envious, bitter, resentful, to the people who have. That frightens the people who have, who make sure they control the politics so the people who don't have, the majority, don't use their majority to take back from the minority the leisure and the wealth they have gathered into their own hands. It's a system of endless struggle and conflict, not efficiency.

Why am I telling you all this? Because so many of our problems come out of these conflicts, these tensions. Our personal problems, as well as our social problems. Our strikes, our bitternesses, our angers, whether they take the form of finding a scapegoat to blame it all on or not. The message of Marx is that your problems come out of a fundamentally inadequate, unacceptable, capitalist economic system that gives to a minority the surplus that the majority has produced. That inequality, that injustice, at the core of this society, constantly erupts. Now here, now there. Now in this situation, now in that one. The message? Marxists argue that the problems we face in our society, many of them, many of the most important, cannot and will not be solved so long as you allow any economic system - slavery, feudalism, or capitalism - that is so unjust in its foundation. Taking that to heart changes your political life forever. Learning the lessons of it is part of learning how to think creatively about a society that needs change more than ever.

Thank you for your attention. I hope that your understanding that the Marxism that I make use of is something that will lead you to look further into it yourself. And, as always, I look forward to speaking with you again next week.

Transcript by Scott McCampbell

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Ask Prof Wolff: How Capitalism Distorts The Immigration Issue

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "What do you think about the left's view of immigration and why do you think that seems to be the consensus view? Why are most on the left so in support of immigration when it’s clear the working class seem to be rejecting it?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.


Transcript has been edited for clarity

This is Richard Wolff from Democracy at Work responding to another Ask Prof Wolff question from our Patreon community. This one comes from Theo. And Theo asks about immigration and about a frequently encountered opposition of working-class people to immigration as a threat to their incomes, their jobs, and so on. And he wants to know how to think about this without dismissing this concern and yet without dismissing a concern for immigrants as well. They are, after all, both parts of the working class: the domestic part and the overseas part. And I'm going to try to do exactly that.

Let me begin by making clear to everyone that, economically speaking, immigrants bring both problems and solutions to problems and a good mixture of both of them. Yes, there is definitely a tendency for immigration to involve people who come from desperate areas (desperate politically, desperate war conditions, desperate poverty). That's always been true. There is a sympathy we all have for immigrants, which is something we should be proud of. Immigrants are trying to leave bitter, dangerous places and come to a better life. And they see that, in this case, in the United States. And they hope for it. But mostly the people who come are young men and women, sometimes with children. The costs of their childhood, which would have been costs in the United States if they were here, had been borne by the country they had left. They are coming here mostly as younger people to work. And they're going to work. And when they work, they add to the wealth produced in this country. They also contribute, for example, to Social Security, even though they leave behind, in most cases, the sick, the ill, and the aged who might have been a burden on Social Security. They make all kinds of purchases that keep our economy going. I'm stressing their positives because you mostly hear about the negatives, which is an unfair and inaccurate way of understanding they're mixed.

Well, then, what is the story of the immigrants if their impacts are economically mixed? They cost us some, they help us some, which, by the way, is true for most workers, foreign or domestic. But immigration is mostly controlled by capitalism, and this is something people need to understand. Capitalists are forever maximizing profit. They tell us that, and everything shows that they're telling the truth. Profit is the bottom line. Profit is the goal.

And one of the ways you get profit is (to quote them again) economizing on labor costs. Okay, here's what that means in simple English. Number one: replacing worker with a machine (a robot, artificial intelligence, a computer, whatever). The second way is to move jobs from the United States, where wages are relatively high, to other parts of the world, where they are low. And the third is to bring low-wage workers from other countries into the United States. When we have immigration, it's always because employers see in those immigrants cheapening labor opportunities.

But of course, if that's the point, then workers in the United States seeing jobs filled by immigrants who are paid less can become upset (rightly so) and bitter (rightly so). They have a choice: to blame the employer (who's the force behind it) or to blame the poor immigrant (who's trying to best improve life for their families). Unfortunately, many workers choose the easier path. But they're being fooled because even if they're successful (as we have been in the United States over recent years under Obama, Trump, and Biden) in stopping immigration or reversing immigration, even then, all you're doing is changing the focus of corporations. Instead of cheapening labor by immigration, because that's causing too much of a backlash among American workers and the politicians whose demagoguery builds on that, all that the corporations are then going to do are going to say, "Okay, we can't cheapen labor by bringing in low-wage immigrants; we'll leave. We'll go to China. We'll go to Brazil. We'll go to India. And we'll get the cheap workers there." Or, and or, "We'll replace them with machines." And then the cry will go up, "They're replacing us with machines!" Or, "They are exporting our jobs!" And if the backlash develops to that, they say, "Okay, we'll stop exporting jobs, and we'll bring in immigrants." And if that's blocked, then they'll focus on automation.

The problem of immigration turns out to have behind it the real problem: capitalists make money. What the social consequences are (more immigration, less immigration, more job exports, less job exports, more automation), all of that's decided as a strategic decision aimed at profit maximization. Profit goes to relatively few of us. Wages is what most of us depend on (wages and salaries). An economy serving the majority would not make profit its deciding issue. That's a capitalist commitment. And that's why the system called capitalism ought to be what you're concerned about when you consider the problem of immigration. A rational system would figure out where it can use and benefit from immigrants and bring them in where and when that's possible. And be careful that you don't do that at the expense of the workers that are already here, even if that means helping other parts of the world keep people from immigrating by providing them with a safe, decent livelihood. We could be doing that, and we could be doing that with an eye on immigration.

Remember this as a final thought: Immigrants are people torn out of their homes, the places where they were born, the languages they speak, the communities they're part of, the churches, the schools they are invested in. It's a terrible disruption to be forced to leave all of that, take a dangerous trip into an unknown other place where you'll have to start from scratch and find your way. No one does that under anything other than heavy, scary pressure. We don't need to respond to that by being an added burden. Our religions argue against it; so does our better nature. Capitalism could care less, and that's the problem.

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Transcript by BZ

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Capitalism Hits Home: All Empires Rise and Fall, The US Is No Exception

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In this episode of Capitalism Hits Home, Dr. Fraad traces a brief history of the rise and fall of the American empire. Throughout much of the 20th century, the US was the dominant global power, with strong unions, social programs, and a strong currency. Today, our wealthiest people are barely taxed, social services are weak, hunger and poverty are worse than ever, and the dollar is losing its primacy. How did we get here? How can we face this shift in global power and move forward? Dr. Fraad explores these questions.

Correction: Judy Garland's death was never confirmed a suicide, but she was persecuted as a part of the communist party. 

Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

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Ask Prof Wolff: Is the U.S. Dollar in Trouble?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "I'd love to hear your thoughts on what a world looks like if the US dollar loses its primacy. What does the "economy" look like in the USA? Will there be a huge collapse?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.


Transcript has been edited for clarity

This is Richard Wolff from Democracy at Work responding to another Ask Prof Wolff question from our Patreon community and this one comes from David. Again, I've chosen it from the questions you've been sending because a number of you have asked similar questions. It’s about the dollar—the US dollar—and it's about whether the dollar is losing its primacy in the world and more importantly if it is…because it is…What are the implications? What does it mean for the United States? Will there be a collapse? What are the other consequences? Very important question…so let me begin by assuring you that yes the dollar is losing its primacy.

There really is no question about this. The disagreement is how fast this process is going and will go—not about whether it will happen. Except for a few, mostly on the right wing of political thinking, but even the most steadfast supporters of capitalism and supporters of the United States are able to see that the dollar is literally losing its global position. What was that global position? Well, it was the dominant currency of the world pretty much since the end of the Second World War so that's 75 years and counting. In many countries, the dollar exists as a currency alongside of—or in some cases instead of—that country's currency. Central banks around the world use dollars as part of their reserve alongside gold and other valuable things to show that they can support their currency. The more the world needs and uses dollars, the more the United States has enjoyed an impeccable economic gain from that.

First of all, we give the world dollars in exchange for something. We don't just hand it out. We get something as a nation—as an economy. For example, if we import goods and services and pay for them with dollars, we get something that is worth the work that went into it: the French wine, the Chinese consumer goods, the Indian technology products, and all we give them is cheap little pieces of paper—dollar bills, hundred dollar bills, or the electronic equivalent. It's a wonderful way to get the wealth produced around the world and to give in exchange merely a claim on some wealth that may never be…actually demanding something because they use the dollars and buy them and sell them and keep them. Many of the people around the world use the dollars that they accept in exchange for the goods and services they produce to lend those dollars back to the United States government thereby funding our wars and many of our ongoing governmental activities. Why is that important? Because that allows the government not to tax Americans but instead to borrow the money from all those who have dollars and are willing to lend it. So, the benefits to the United States have been enormous.

As the dollar loses its primacy…as more and more people around the world stop using the dollar…reduce using the dollar…all those advantages—and many more I don't have the time to go into—will be and are being lost and the impact on the American economy will be large and cumulative over time.

Well then why is the dollar losing its primacy? Much of it has to do with geopolitics. To put it very bluntly and simply, other parts of the world don't want to keep having workers produce and businesses produce valuable goods and services shipping them to the United States and getting in return dollars. They want the benefits of a currency like the United States has gotten but they want to share in it too by having their currency become as important as the United States. Chief among them—the Europeans with the Euro, the Chinese with the Yuan, and so on and they have been acting to realize that objective. The most important steps—BRICS, a global alliance—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—with at least another 6-10 nations applying now to join BRICS. They want to develop a non-dollar-based trade among them and these are nearly half the population of this planet. They are talking about trading in either the Chinese currency—because that's the most powerful economy among them—or in some organized currency that they set up for this purpose. That’s the most tangible change.

Here’s another one. Literally, a few days ago, the Chinese brokered an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia overcoming the hostility and the wars between them—direct and indirect— overcoming much of the split between Shiite and Sunni Islam. They’re opening embassies in each other's countries—The Iranians and the Saudis. Please be aware that Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of oil in the world and is now closer to China with whom it is trading more and more than it used to be with the United States. That shift is crucial. Trade in oil used to be done in dollars requiring everyone to keep and hold dollars. China and Saudi Arabia are discussing what they call the petroyuan. That is trade in oil denominated in the Chinese currency. The value of the dollar in relationship to other currencies is therefore likely going to fall in the years ahead that will make imports into the United States—which we now depend on—much more expensive. It will therefore also drive up the price of those imports and that will be an inflationary boost when the United States needs it least. We will become more and more of an exporter as our dollar goes down in value. Our goods become cheaper for people buying the devalued dollar. It will shift our economy around…those shifts are always difficult. They may if they're not properly prepared for…not properly managed…produce a crisis and it could be as serious as the crisis that threatens from the collapse of the American banking system in recent weeks. So yeah, it is dangerous or it could be…but it is more a long-term readjustment of the world that Americans are having a hard time getting their heads around. We are not the dominant player in the world today as we were for most of the last century. That is over and more important than anything—is to come to terms with that reality because it is becoming truer and truer with each passing week.

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Transcript by Barbara Bartlett

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

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All Things Co-op: Lula's Brazil & The Landless Workers Movement

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In this episode of All Things Co-op, Larry, Cinar, and Kevin talk to Marcelo Netto, a Brazilian journalist and activist with the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil. They discuss Lula 3, the third term for Brazil's president Lula De Silva, the history of Brazil's development and the unique working class make up, the landless workers movement and their relationship with Lula, the impacts of the Bolsonaro presidency, and more.


All Things Co-op is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


About our guest: Marcelo Netto is a journalist with a Master's degree in Social Sciences. In the early 2000s, he resigned from the newspaper Folha de São Paulo and interrupted his studies at the University of São Paulo to live in camps with families of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). He studies the relationship between Liberation Theology and global anti-capitalist movements and is currently the Head of Communications for Public Services International, a Global Union Federation of more than 700 trade unions representing 30 million workers in 154 countries.

To learn more about the Landless Workers Movement: https://mst.org.br/ 


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Economic Update: Why the US Constitution is an Obstacle to Change

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In this week’s show, Prof. Wolff presents updates on the US banking crisis, plant closing injustice, growing child labor in the US, Biden's budget's tax "proposals," and a new book that shows US homelessness is an economic problem. In the second half of the show, Wolff interviews Prof. Robert Ovetz on how and why the US Constitution blocks social change.

Timestamps:

  • 00:00 - 01:06 - Intro
  • 01:07 - 05:06 - US banking crisis
  • 05:07 - 08:30 - Plant (Pactiv Evergreen’s PaperMill) suddenly shut in Canton, NC:
  • 08:31 - 09:38 - Illegal child labor employment
  • 09:39 - 12:25 - Biden's budget's tax "proposals"
  • 12:26 - 14:40 - Homelessness
  • 14:41 - 15:43 - Announcements
  • 15:44 - 29:35 - Interview with Robert Ovetz


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 and those of our children. I'm your host Richard Wolff. In today's program we're going to be talking about the banking crisis that has enveloped the United States yet again, we're going to talk about plant closings, what they mean, child labor in the United States, the bizarre budget proposal of President Biden and then some new research on homelessness in the United States and with an important book. And then we'll turn to an interview with our guest Robert Ovetz, who will have something to tell us about the U.S Constitution.

Let's jump right in. I don't want to rehash what most of you already know about the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank and the bank runs and crises that have been proliferating above and beyond the surface of events ever since. I want to stress, however, something you may not have thought about. We now live in an economic system that cannot protect us - not you, not me. We've had two dramatic lessons, even though there are lessons like this every day, we've had two dramatic ones: horrible catastrophe of a derailment in East Palestine, Ohio and now catastrophic collapse of a bank in San Jose, California. It's extraordinary. The system doesn't work, the banks can't do what they're supposed to or are driven by profit to cut safety, to cut care, to cut their responsibility. The railroad companies can't do it, the banks can't seem to do it, the institutions, governmental commissions and so on that are supposedly regulating and supervising, they can't save us and protect us either.

Let me go over the timeline that leads to the banking crisis. We have a pandemic and an economic crash in 2020 that was not prepared for, that was not managed very well. We really took it on the chin. That, in turn, was handled in so bad a way that it was followed by an inflation when we could barely recover from the pandemic and the crash. The inflation led to herky-jerky governmental policies, which included raising the interest rate which hurt the same poor and middle-income people that had already been hurt by the crash and the pandemic and the inflation. And now we're told we're going to have a recession.

Well, with rising interest rates the value of bonds go down. No one seems to have said to themselves in the halls of power 'banks invest a huge amount of their deposits in government bonds, they've been doing that for, let's see, two centuries.' So it's not as though it's a secret. And if the bonds go down in value when interest rates go up, which they do, and which they have been doing for six to eight months now, the logic would say 'uh-oh, if something goes wrong the banks are going to have a lot less wealth in the value of those.' But no one thought it through, no one took the appropriate steps. The banks took bigger and bigger risks, probably hid half of what they were doing from the...

It's the same old story. If you leave private enterprise in place it will undo, it will subvert any regulations put in. After 2008 and 9's catastrophe we had some reforms; the Dodd-Frank Act and others. What did the banks immediately do? Go to work lobbying with their money to reduce those regulations. President Trump went real far in reducing them, just like in a few years before the collapse of 2008 and 9 the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act - a reform after the Great Depression of the 30s - opened us up for the 2008/9 catastrophe. That this is going on should surprise no one. That the people of this country tolerate a system that works like this, that's the issue.

Let me turn next to a town you may never have heard of: Canton, North Carolina. There they have a big factory that employs a very significant part of the population. It's called the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill, which is important in that area. They recently announced a restructuring aimed to make the company more profitable. And they also announced that they would be firing 1,100 workers in the factory in Canton, North Carolina. Now, I want to stress two things: a tiny board of directors, numbering less than 20 people, made a decision that's profitable for that company and that involved firing 1,100 people. Those people fired had no say at any step in this process. They were told that they will have to get a new job by June of this year. The fact that they may have made a commitment to buy a house for the next 20 years is of no concern to the company. The disorientation of their children, of their families with the anxiety and the loss of income that is looming upon them at a time when the economy as a whole is in not good shape either could count for nothing. This is the opposite of democracy, the people affected by a decision are excluded from participating in it.

But even worse, let me explain to you as an economist: let's suppose a decision by the company is correct and they make 50 million more dollars of profit over the next few years than they would have if they hadn't done that, let's give them that. By the way, there's no certainty that that's true, but let's let's assume it. But then we would have to ask what are the losses to the 1,100 people who have no job anymore for the next few years, the households of that many people. We're talking five thousand people. They're not going to have wherewithal, many of them are unable/going to be unable to make their mortgage payments. They're going to have to try to sell their house at a time when no one is moving in because their jobs are being cut. The local town, the state of North Carolina will have less revenue because 1,100 people aren't going to be able to pay taxes because they don't have a job. I could show you quickly if we add up all the costs, direct and indirect, from this decision it could easily be 500 million dollars, in other words, to a society as a whole, to all of us.

This is a stupid decision because the costs are much greater than the gains. But we have a system that allows a tiny number of people to go after those gains, even when and if the social losses dwarf those gains. That's not only undemocratic, that is irrational. That's a system that is making bad decisions because of the way it's organized. And we do that every day.

There's a new report out by the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services. It's a new report - 2023. Here's the statistic I want you to think about. Since 2018 there's been a 69% increase in illegal child labor employment in the United States. The U.S Department of Labor reports it has 600 investigations of employers now underway where they have a legitimate complaint of child employment. You thought we had that problem beat. You thought we had outlawed child employment in this country. Well, yes we did. But the corporate profit-drive will and always has gotten around the laws, the regulations when there's money in it. And there is, because you can get away with paying children, especially the children of immigrants, very little money.

I turn next to the budget proposed by President Biden. It's very hard to maintain politeness when you're talking about such fakery. Before I tell you about the budget let me tell you that this is pretty similar to what he proposed before when the Democratic party controlled both Houses of Congress and they didn't get it then. Therefore to propose it now when the Republicans control one House it's more certain than ever that they're not going to get this. So proposing these things is a bit of public fakery. It's theater, it's political theater - 'this is what we want.' Because everybody who counts knows it's not going to happen.

But here we go. Number one: increase the income tax for people earning over four hundred thousand dollars to 39 percent. Gee, now it was 37%. What a dramatic change that isn't. Number two: increase the capital gains tax on shareholders, so you pay on the difference between what you bought the stock for and what you sell it for - the capital gain. And they're raising it, he proposes, from 21 percent to 28 percent. That's pretty boring, too. It'll hurt the people who have that money but won't hurt them very much, will it? And finally a minimum tax on billionaires. Well, in this country we have 320 million people and we have less than five or six thousand billionaires. So that's not going to affect very many people either.

So there it is: bold, brazen and absolutely pointless, just for theater. And guess what? The Republicans will give us their theater. They will trot out the dead old arguments against this dead-on-arrival proposal, as if it mattered. And we'll hear things like 'gee, you're stifling innovation or investment, you're taking money away from people.' Oh goodness, I just told you about that poor town in North Carolina, look what's being done to those people, shaking their lives to the foundation. But we're supposed to empathize with the billionaires who'll have a little less in the way of a billion than they might otherwise have had if this had a chance, which it doesn't. What a weird country to live in, with the problems we have. And political theater is what our leaders give us.

Final update that we have time for today: there's a new book, and when a book comes out like this it makes an important point. I want to begin to mention it to you. The authors are Gregg Colburn and Clayton Aldern and the title of the book is Homelessness is a Housing Problem; was published in 2022, so it's a new book by the University of California Press, a very prestigious university press. Here's what their book shows us in great detail: that the problem of the homeless in America, and we have now huge numbers that are growing every day... The problem of homelessness in one of the richest countries in the world (the U.S) is not mostly about drugs, poverty, crime and all the rest of the things that have been said - mental health, you name it. Here's what the answer is: it's a problem of a shortage of housing and high rents.

Whoa! It's an economic problem, mostly. In other words, our economy produces too few homes, even while the rental to live in them is too high. In order for our system to be adequate to house the people who live in it you have to either give them the income needed to pay the rents or bring the rents down to what the income is they can afford to spend on them. We don't do that in this country and that's why we mostly have homelessness. The stuff about the drugs and so forth is meant simply to focus attention away from the economy that doesn't provide homes to people and to put it on the people themselves. In other words, blame the victim.

We've come to the end of the first half of today's show. Please stay with us, we will be right back. 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 critical system analysis and visions of a more equitable and democratic world through a variety of media. Like the long-form lecture series I host called Global Capitalism, designed to help others understand current economic events and trends so they can explain the impact and effects capitalism creates across the globe to others. Global Capitalism is available on our website democracyatwork.info. There you can also learn more about everything we produce, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on social media and support the work we do. Please stay with us, we will be right back.

RW: Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. I am very pleased to bring an old friend of mine to the microphones and the screens - someone who's done the kind of work that I try to do on this show as well. His name is Robert Ovetz, he teaches at San Jose State University in California and also at the University of California at Berkeley. His published work in books and articles focuses on labor history and class struggles. His most recent book is called We the Elites: Why the U.S Constitution Serves the Few, a class analysis of the U.S Constitution. So first of all, welcome Robert Ovetz and thank you for your time.

RO: Thanks for having me.

RW: I want to jump right in. And, as I'm sure most of our listeners and watchers well know, whether you're looking at the Supreme Court conservative majority or countless conservatives in various parts of our federal, state and local government, they like very much to support, to justify, to rationalize what they do and what they say by stating that they are with the founders of our country, with the people who wrote the Constitution and with the Constitution itself. And that therefore their interpretation is legitimate and everybody who doesn't behave the way they wish is therefore illegitimate. Well, I thought it would be particularly interesting to our audience here if someone who has studied the Constitution, written about the Constitution could come before us and weigh in and tell us what you think. Starting this way: what you think about the way the Constitution has been used to support, basically, the right-wing in American politics for quite a while.

RO: Well, Rick, as any of your listeners have heard you talk about numerous times is that it seems that our system of government fails the economic majority, or another term that I use for the working class over and over again. And while it seems like there's the possibility of reforms around the environment or workers rights or a woman's right to choose her own reproductive methods, we lose over and over again. And what motivated me to write this book was to try to get out what is going on with our system of government. Why is it that our system seems to block what the majority wants over and over again?

And what I found in my several years of research of reading who I called the framers - their letters and pamphlets and the transcripts from the debates of the Constitutional Convention and the state ratifying conventions - is that this is not an accident, this is not a symptom of partisanship or big money. This is caused by the design of the Constitution itself. In order for us to understand why the economic majority cannot get what it wants we have to understand how the Constitution was designed by the economic elites of the late 18th Century to do what I call constrained political democracy and prevent economic democracy. And, as your listeners have heard you talk about for many years, is that we need economic democracy in order to transform the way we govern ourselves.

But unfortunately our constitutional system was designed with numerous what I call minority checks in order to provide the opportunity for the economic elite, the ruling class, to be able to block any change that it opposes. So to get back to your question, when Republicans and conservatives talk about their interpretation of the Constitution essentially they're saying 'well, the Constitution was designed to protect the capitalist economic minority. And those changes that you want, sorry, but it's opposed by those who fund us and those who back us and so you can't have it.'

RW: And so your argument, and correct me if I've misunderstood your argument, is that they're basically right in the sense that the Constitution they keep pointing to is a useful document for them. In other words it rationalizes and justifies an undemocratic way of organizing your economic system. Okay, take us through it. In other words, give me the core of your argument, if I've gotten it right. Give us, if you would, either an overview or some examples of how the Constitution does what you just described.

RO: Yes, absolutely. So we learned from the earliest age, as early as elementary school if you grew up in the United States, that our system was designed to set up a democracy to extend rights to people and to allow the majority to rule. And these are what I call the three founding myths. Our system does the complete opposite. In fact it was designed and still operates essentially virtually unchanged - only 27 amendments in over 230 years - to do the opposite. It opposes the majority's will by allowing those who are opposed to change to be able to block that change anywhere in the system. And as an effect it allows the economic minority to actually rule.

So this is how it works. One of the key principles in understanding the Constitution is that famous saying of 'checks and balances.' And essentially what that means is that each of the branches have a certain number of enumerated and implied powers in the Constitution. And one branch can activate and act on its own without one or the other branches also acting. And the similar kind of checks and balance exists between the Federal Government and the states. And ultimately that the Federal Government has the final say under article 6, the supremacy clause.

So essentially the way that it works is that anywhere through the system exists what I call minority checks. In order for the majority to be able to get what it wants at the end of the line of the political process it essentially has to overcome the possibilities that its bill, for example, will be blocked anywhere in Congress. A bill has to pass both Houses of Congress and it has to pass each committee that it's assigned to in addition to being signed by the President. Or if the President vetoes the bill the Congress has to override that veto with the super-majority of two-thirds vote without changing the bill.

These are just some of the best known kinds of checks in the system that essentially give the upper hand to those who are opposed. Because if you block the bill anywhere in a committee, for example, even if the bill passes the other house with 100 percent of the members voting yes, that bill is dead. It can't go to the President, it can't become law. Now there are numerous other checks as well. For example, even if the President signs the bill the new law can be gutted in the regulatory process. And you've talked about numerous examples of this happening. It can also be challenged in the courts and thrown out as unconstitutional.

So throughout the system [there] exists numerous checks that essentially give the advantage to those who don't want change and put those who want change in the position of having to make concessions and compromises that ultimately water down and destroy the original intention of the legislation.

RW: Why have generations of American majorities accepted a system that works the way you just described it? Give us your insights, because you've studied it. Why do we, as a people, accept and perpetuate this arrangement?

RO: That's an excellent question Rick. And I have to say as somebody who's been involved in numerous movements, in labor organizing for almost three decades we are constantly dealing with hope and disappointment; our hope that ultimately the system will respond to the overwhelming demands of the majority and that it can be changed and over and over again we're disappointed. And our system is designed in such a way that it builds up a new sense of hope every two, four and six years when elections occur. People get excited, they back candidates who they believe will make change and, lo and behold, they either don't get elected or they get elected and then suddenly they disappoint. And we become disenchanted and alienated from the process and we turn away for a while until things get bad and even worse. And then we look back at the system and the process starts all over again.

And so I think part of the reason why we can't get the change that we need, except every few generations when there's an immense uprising and outpouring - a mass movement that can't be ignored - is that we get locked into the political cycle and we forget about the history of every other attempt at bringing about change and how it ends up getting swallowed up and compromised as a result of these numerous minority checks.

Now there have been periods in American history where immense changes come about. And you've talked about numerous examples of that. For example, reconstruction after the Civil War. But it takes massive disruption. It takes civil wars and economic depressions and mass strikes and mass protests to force those inside the halls of government to respond to those demands. But even then we get small incremental changes and reforms that ultimately over the years become rewritten and killed by what I call death by a thousand cuts.

And so that's an excellent question and it's something that anyone who's involved in political change has to confront, that our system was designed to constrain political democracy and prevent economic democracy. And until we confront that problem in our system of governance we're not going to be able to make the big changes we need to solve the huge global crises that we face right now.

RW: Okay, in the time we have left you have a very provocative sentence in your book that caught my eye in which you, I think, position yourself as an advocate that we as the people of the United States "go beyond the Constitution." Tell us in the remaining time we have what do you mean?

RO: Well, I conclude the book in the last few chapters looking at what we can do about this problem. What do we do about a system that was designed by 55 white wealthy men who didn't believe in democracy? Who actually looked down on the common people having their hands on political power because they thought it would threaten property? And I think we have three options.

First we can pursue necessary constitutional amendments. That seems like a dead end because the framers were prepared for that. And they wrote into Article 5 a process for amending the Constitution that creates super-majorities that are incredibly difficult to overcome. While we do have 27 Amendments - this is 27 out of over 10,000 that have been officially introduced. And that's a tiny, tiny success rate of a quarter of one percent. So that seems almost impossible.

Another possibility is to call a constitutional convention. Again we have to go through the amendment process that is set up in Article 5, also incredibly difficult. And also right now there's a process being funded by the remaining surviving Koch brother to call a constitutional convention. And that could be a complete disaster for those of us on the left if that was to succeed. We're just not prepared for that.

So those two options don't seem to be very promising. What I argue in the book is that we need to go a different direction. We need to follow the strategy of the framers, actually, who were not allowed to create a new constitution but amend the Articles of Confederation. And during the next mass uprising to be able to recreate a direct democratic governance system from below by taking over and running the economic system democratically.

RW: Thank you very much Robert. You're a good teacher and you're a good disciplinarian of yourself, which many of our guests can't quite manage. So thank you very, very much, you've done it in record time. I think people have a lot to think about. And to my audience I hope you found this as useful as I did. And as always I look forward to speaking with you again next week.

Transcript by Brendan Tait

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


About our guest: Robert Ovetz, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science and teaches labor relations and non-profit management in the Master of Public Administration program at San José State University. He is also a lecturer in Sociology at UC Berkeley. Robert worked in the Texas state legislature and on international ocean conservation policy in the NGO sector for many years. His research focuses on the global labor movement and is the focus of his books and other writings and organizing.

Robert is the author of the new book We the Elites: Why the US Constitution Serves the Few, a class analysis of the US Constitution, (Pluto Press, 2022), editor of Workers' Inquiry and Global Class Struggle: Strategies, Tactics, Objectives (Pluto Press, 2020), and author of When Workers Shot Back: Class Conflict from 1877 to 1921 (Brill 2018/Haymarket Press 2019). He is also an Associate Editor and contributor to The Routledge Handbook of the Gig Economy, edited by Immanuel Ness (Routledge, 2022).
Robert is also the Book Review Editor for the Journal of Labor and Society and a labor writer for the magazines Dollars & Sense and The Chief. 

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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.”

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Ask Prof Wolff: Why Democratic Workplaces Are Better for Work-Life Balance

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Are Americans ready for Democracy (at work or anywhere else)? I have been a volunteer in a non-profit for decades. We are a 12 step program and have plenty of participation in our weekly meetings. We are nominally democratic in that we ideally hold a monthly group conscience in which we can make simple decisions like whether to make a donation or purchase supplies or some of both. When such a meeting is announced, members scatter like roaches when the light goes on. They 'don't want to get involved.’ I have heard it is typical in non-profits that 5% do 90% of the work. Is that also true of worker co-ops?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

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Anti-Capitalist Chronicles: Daniel Ellsberg, Government Dishonesty & Nuclear Weapons

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In this episode of Anti-Capitalist Chronicles, Prof. Harvey explores the contributions made by Daniel Ellsberg, the political activist known for releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Ellsberg gave the public a look into the ways in which the US government was lying about the Vietnam war with the Pentagon Papers, and offered a look into how the US military thinks about military policy with respect to nuclear weapons in his book The Doomsday Machine. Ellsberg’s contributions are deeply relevant today with the Russian/Ukraine war and the ever-growing number of nuclear weapons around the globe.

David Harvey's Anti-Capitalist Chronicles is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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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

David Harvey's book "Anti-Capitalist Chronicles" is available at plutobooks.com

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Ask Prof Wolff: What Europe Got Wrong about Sanctions on Russia

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Why, in your opinion, did European countries go along with the USA on sanctions on Russia after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year? Did European leaders miscalculate negative impacts that these sanctions will have on Europe or counted on some benefits that will be worth the losses? Are any benefits present?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.


Transcript has been edited for clarity

This is Richard Wolff from Democracy at Work responding to another Ask Prof Wolff question from our Patreon community. And this one comes from Irina. And Irina asks a question that has bothered many of us. I've spent quite a bit of time trying to answer this so I want to thank Irina for sending it in, because my guess is it'll be of interest to many. The question is simple: why have the European countries, kind of lockstep fashion, swung in behind the United States in terms of supporting Ukraine in the war with Russia, supplying Ukraine with weapons - lots of them; financial assistance - lots of it - and generally whooping it up in all the forums of the world against Russia and for Ukraine? In a crude way we can ask what's in it for Europe? Why are they doing this?

So here's the answer, as best I can fashion it. First of all, the Europeans did it out of habit. For the last 75 years, since the end of World War II, most of Western Europe has felt supported by the United States, protected by the United States military and having their interests best served economically, politically, culturally, militarily by being good allies of the United States. That's what their politicians in power today, that's what they have felt and believed and been trained in throughout the entirety of their careers. That's their go-to place in general.

The second reason is that the United States effectively persuaded the Europeans, if they didn't already believe it, that in a contest between the United States, with its GDP of 21 trillion dollars, and Russia, with its GDP of one and a half trillion dollars, the outcome would come quickly, happily and definitively. In other words, Russia would collapse. And if you go back and look at the headlines across Europe in the weeks after February of 2022 that's what they all predicted. So it was a way of being close to mother U.S at little risk, given what they thought would happen.

Other than that, the beneficiaries in Europe were the military producers. And that's an important group of business men and women. Because they could see that the demand for equipment to send to Ukraine would require that that equipment be replaced. And that would be fat orders for their military. It would also be good news for the military themselves, best illustrated by Germany, which appropriated a vast additional amount of money to its armed forces compared to what they have been doing for years into the past. So the military benefited.

And here's another one: a number of governments have shifted from the center-left to the center-right. The center-left is typically more skeptical about the alliance with the United States. They support it but with criticism, with skepticism. The center-right champions it as what's best for Europe. So swinging in behind the United States was a chance for the center-right to prevail, to build up in the publicity around protecting Ukraine political support for themselves inside each of their countries.

But here, then what happened? It didn't work out. The Europeans got those benefits but they have also incurred spectacular costs. And it's crystal clear to me that they miscalculated badly. The costs are huge. The first one comes from the fact that they misunderstood, and in all likelihood the United States led them in that misunderstanding, that Russia would fold and collapse overnight. It's easy, of course, for me to say that, here that we're over a year into the war and the promised collapse is nowhere in sight. But they should have understood what the connections built up over years between Russia, Turkey, India and, above all, China, what they would mean. What they would mean, that the Russians would have friends, that the Russians would have allies, that the Russians would be able to solve the problems of the sanctions from the West against them. By simply doing what President Obama once called American foreign policy's big change. He called it pivot to Asia. Well, Russia pivoted way more than the United States. And, boy, did it pay off. Russia is powerful, Russia has really big friends, selling its oil and gas to them, trading more with them. Russia has really pivoted to Asia and the Europeans are caught. They miscalculated, they are looking for a way out. It's hard for them to find one. They don't want to disappoint the United States but they're afraid.

And I want to end today by making it clear what they're afraid of, that their miscalculation may have made them - and this is the important point - choose the wrong way. What do I mean? There are now two blocs in the world, it's more clear today than it ever has been. On the one hand the United States with Europe. On the other hand China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the BRICS countries and the new countries applying for entrance into BRICS. That's half the world's people, if not more, with a powerful economic machine at its base in China. Wow!

The Europeans are caught between the United States, their old ally, and the temptation to find a new ally, where there's more money to be made, where there's more trade to be done, where there's a safer ally to work with. And watching the ceremony a week ago when China brokered a peace between the Sunni and the Shi'ite Islamic communities, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of China; peace where there was war, prosperity where there wasn't. China, one of the world's leading countries, needing energy, is now the protector of the two most important countries producing oil in the world - Iran, Saudi Arabia. They already have Russia. Wow!

The world is splitting. And the anguish in Europe is did we choose wrong? And even if the consensus remains - no we didn't - it would be very naive for anyone to doubt that that question is being asked more and more with ever greater urgency day after day. And may explode into the public view at any moment. The world is changing in major ways and the direction of change is now clear. And Europe is right at the cusp of what it means to stop denying and to finally confront the implications of these changes for each European country.

I hope this kind of analysis is useful. I hope it opens up thoughts, lines of inquiry that you will pursue. Because that will be a kind of partnership with us and that's what we seek: people who will share this video with friends, co-workers, neighbors. This is important material for people to think clearly about. And, as I point out that we want and invite your partnership, let me also add go to our website please. There you will find ways to get on our mailing list which is an easy and costless way to keep track of all the videos and all the materials we produce, easy way to partner with us. We won't flood your email inbox. It's a way for us to work together. Thank you.

Transcript by Brendan Tait

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Cities After… The Problems with Supply and Demand in the Housing Market

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"Housing is a basic human need and the market tends to ignore social needs, as it prioritizes individual profit.” - Prof. Robles-Durán

There is a widespread belief that the central culprit of the housing crisis in most metropolitan regions around the world today is the lack of supply. This notion has been well spread by mainstream media outlets and urban professionals, such as urban planners, architects, housing developers, and real-estate agencies. For those disseminating this idea, ending the housing crisis is straightforward: more and more housing needs to be built. In this episode of Cities After…, Prof. Robles-Durán contests this belief, explaining that this solution is built on the false notion of a stable market free of externalities and inherent contradictions. Addressing the housing crisis solely through supply and demand dogmas makes little sense in the era of real-estate financialization and mega-landlords. There is a much deeper systemic issue brewing than simply an unequal relationship between supply and demand.  


Transcript has been edited for clarity

Thank you for streaming Cities After, a radical exploration into the capitalist contradictions of our urban world and the many anti-capitalist futures to come. This is a Democracy At Work broadcast, and I'm your host, Miguel Robles-Duran.


There is a widespread belief that the central culprit of the housing crisis that consumes most metropolitan regions around the world is the lack of housing supply. This notion has been well-spread by mainstream media outlets and in urban professional circles, such as urban planners, architects, housing developers, real estate agencies and the like, commonly citing housing deficits together with competition and the economic law of supply and demand, to explain the lack of affordability of housing. For those disseminating this insight, ending the housing crisis is straightforward: more and more housing needs to be built. I want to use this episode to contest this notion, but most importantly to argue that addressing the housing crisis solely through supply and demand dogmas makes only partial sense in the era of real estate financialization and mega-landlords.


Decades of global politics in favor of free market housing, with all its imaginary ideals of self-regulation, open competition, no government intervention, private-public partnerships and the absurd supply and demand price-setting rhetorics, now precede today's striking increase in
housing prices and interest rates, which have made purchasing a home an unattainable feat for low- and middle-income earners. This dire economic scenario, coupled with the expansion of untethered global finance and predatory rental practices, such as the ones I spoke about in the
previous episodes about mega-landlords, have also made renting a decent urban home inaccessible to anyone without high earnings or governmental subsidies. Simply put, housing – which is an elemental human necessity – is widely out of reach of those that need it the most. Due to its planetary scale, the current housing crisis is arguably the biggest and most critical in history, which adds to its unfathomable nature. Whether you are in Auckland, Seoul, Jakarta, Cape Town, London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Toronto or almost every major metropolitan area in the world, you will see that it's experiencing a significant housing emergency, and in the USA it is as dire as it has ever been.


According to the recent First-Time Homebuyer Metro Affordability Report by Nerd Wallet, out of the 50 largest cities in the United States, only two are within the financial means of the average income earner. And on the side of the rental market, the latest data from the U.S Census Bureau reveals that close to half of American renters allocate more than a third of their income towards housing costs, and among them almost a quarter spent a minimum of 50 percent of their income on housing. In the 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Report To Congress, the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that close to 600,000 people are living in the streets every night.


Now, the current housing crisis is a common headline in the news. Opinions abound as to what should be done to solve the housing crisis, and perhaps the most common consensus
cites the classic economic principles of supply and demand, which go a little bit like this: there is insufficient housing stock in relation to the significant number of people in need of housing, thus what should be done is build more homes as quickly as possible, and the real estate prices will naturally decrease. If it only was as simple as this!


Before I continue, I want to disclose that the following minutes of this broadcast are a preliminary attempt to make sense of these issues, and by no means do I feel I can portray a complete picture. More than any other podcast that I have made, I am taking the liberty to sketch as I speak, and have fun developing some ideas in relation to the current crisis in the supply of housing. I mention this because I am asking you to critique and help expand these ideas in the comments below in the YouTube stream. Also, I'm afraid I will need to use some
economic concepts that you might not be familiar with. If this is the case, please don't be afraid to ask me about them, and if you are familiar with the concepts but think they could be explained better in a different way, please let me know how. I guarantee you this won't be the only time that I will address this topic. And now let me get back to the show.


Since Adam Smith's 1776 book, The Wealth of Nations, the concept of supply and demand has been central in guiding the principles of the free market dogmas that dominate our political economy. At its core, it states that the availability of goods, or “supply,” and the level of demand from consumers, determine the price and quantity of commodities in a market.


According to Smith, when the supply and demand are consistent, the market is in a state of equilibrium, resulting in the stability of prices. However, when there is an imbalance between the
supply and demand of commodities, it unsettles the market, producing undesirable price fluctuations, and this imbalance is what most housing analysts today love to cite as the core of the crisis. As it is common with classic economic concepts, supply and demand is predicated upon the hypothetical goal of achieving a state of perfect economic balance or equilibrium, fueled by free market competition.


However, this paints a very abstract picture of a static or motionless real estate market,
where we must assume that there will be no internal contradictions or externalities at play in the system. Therefore, housing economists tend to integrate external factors or forces in their equations to understand or predict the real market. These externalities are typically variables like interest rates, employment trends, demographics, government policies, infrastructure development, and general economic conditions such as growth, recessions, etc. For over a century, supply and demand housing market analyses have incorporated multiple external factors to enhance their comprehensiveness, developing complex formulas and graphs that provide the industry with that reliable illusion of control and prediction over real estate needs, pricing, and profit. However, during a crisis, such analyses often failed to preempt or explain the
influx of problems and contradictions inherent to capitalism's housing market and its inability to provide decent and affordable housing for the general population. And despite their many clear limitations, these formulas continue to serve as guiding lights and accepted truth in the industry. Pro-capitalist economists and their proponents often point to external factors such as the housing construction slowdown, stagnant wages and the pandemic-related impacts to defend free market economic theories in the current housing crisis. However, their focus on these factors results in a failure to examine the numerous internal contradictions that are inherent in the destructive ways in which capitalism functions. By attributing blame of the housing crisis to external factors, they suggest that if these externalities did not exist, the internal mechanisms of capitalism would function well and without issue. In the eyes of the proponents of this dogma, the crisis is a market fluctuation that would correct itself, if externalities are taken care of and the housing industry achieved equilibrium between supply and demand – of course, providing there is free competition, thereby causing home prices to drop and fall within an affordable range determined by the economic capacity of the general consumer.


I would like to highlight two substantial contradictions on this line of thought. First, on the production and realization side: it is unlikely that there will ever be a moment where all the external factors that disrupt the theoretical equilibrium of housing supply and demand will be
controlled or eliminated. Undesirable external factors will perpetually emerge whether they originate from natural causes or appear out of capitalism's proclivity to generate crisis after crisis, in its unstoppable drive to limit labor costs and creatively destroy everything it touches, for profit.
I briefly mentioned the second contradiction but I want to elaborate further on it. By focusing on the ways to control or eliminate undesirable external factors for achieving that theoretical supply and demand equilibrium of housing, pro-capitalists turn a blind eye to the
highly conflictive internal contradictions that are fundamental to capitalism's profitable operations in the housing market. So let me draw on the work of Marx and that of my dear friend, David Harvey, to illustrate just five of the many internal contradictions I am referring to:

The contradiction between the exchange value of the house and its use value. The exchange value of housing in the market is increasingly disconnected from its social use as a place for shelter and living.

The contradiction between the social function of housing and the individualistic needs of the market. Housing is a basic human need and the market tends to ignore social needs as it prioritizes individual profit.

The contradiction between the demand for housing and the ability to pay for it. This one is simple. Home prices rise faster than wages and income, making housing unaffordable for many people.

The contradiction between private property and social needs. Private property conflicts with the social needs for shelter, cultural production, social reproduction, leisure, and overall welfare. Thus, constant clashes emerge when public entities or governments intervene to address housing shortages and other urban inequalities, and…

The contradiction between the monopolization of housing markets and the need for competition. As large landlords and developers acquire more properties and dominate the market, their profits increase substantially, leading to critical inefficiencies in housing provision and reduced affordability for consumers.

These are just five of many contradictions that are essential to the inner workings of capitalism, and it is very important to understand that their dysfunctional nature cannot be blamed or attributed to external factors, but only to the system itself. Capitalism cannot eliminate these conflicts as they are integral to its reproductive logic. This is why its growth commonly depends on the control of external factors to help it sustain the illusory sense of equilibrium on which the global economy rests, for this – the isolated logic of supply and demand – becomes an essential tool to help maintain that illusory sense of equilibrium.


So far, I hope I have done well to explain how capitalism's fixation on the control of external factors to approach that theoretical supply and demand equilibrium as the solution to the housing crisis is narrow, flawed, and full of irresolvable internal contradictions, but apart from all of the conundrums that I have showed, there is a particular property in the contemporary forms of financialized housing that make basic supply and demand arguments largely irrelevant to any form of conceivable solution.


Let me use some extreme examples from where I live, New York City, to dramatize the
particularities rendered by the financialization of real estate. Let me begin with Billionaires’ Row, which is a relatively new stretch of seven ultra-luxury, residential, super-tall skyscrapers along the southern end of Central Park in Manhattan. These towers are supposedly home to some of the wealthiest people in the world, including numerous celebrity billionaires, but the reality is that more than half of the units in those buildings are empty. Either they haven't been sold or simply no one lives in them.


Of course, Billionaires’ Row is the cusp of a luxury housing market that for more than a decade has been building to satiate the demands of global investors in search of real estate investments. The result of this dynamic is that New York City currently has an extreme surplus of luxury housing, but a severe shortage of housing for the great majority of its population. To put this in perspective, according to a report by The New York Times, more than 50 luxury residential developments with apartments priced above $10 million were completed in New York City between 2010 and 2020. Just one of these developments, called Hudson Yards, offers 4,000 units valued from $2 to $60 million, and tens of thousands more of this class of apartments were built across the city during this period. Additionally, as reported by The Real Deal, there continues to be a significant increase in the number of new luxury residential projects in Manhattan in recent years, with more than 8,500 new units planned or under construction as of August, 2020.


So, if you have more than $2 million to buy a home, I guarantee that you will find an excess of places to choose from, but if you're part of the 50 percent of New York City that earns close to the poverty line, you won't find anything remotely close to your budget. Currently, there is no specific data to determine the vacancy of luxury apartments in New York City, but many reports estimate that half of all the luxury units built in the last ten years are empty, and as if these numbers were not dramatic enough, in May of last year, the City's Department of Housing
Preservation and Development released a report that stated that there were nearly 43,000 vacant but unavailable rent-stabilized units in the city. These are units that are owned by landlords that have decided to not offer them to the market.


What I'm trying to illustrate with these examples from New York City is that the last decade has demonstrated that residential vacant properties are not unproductive investment assets for wealthy landlords. Contrary to the teachings of classic housing economics, these properties without buyers or without tenants are very profitable, once a wealthy landlord utilizes
advanced financial operations to treat them as a type of liquid asset that can be financialized further to hedge the property's theoretical value and extract capital gains from other markets. Of course, this isn't just a New York City phenomenon. With different degrees of intensity this has been occurring in most major metropolitan regions around the globe. In the advanced state of global finance, an asset management corporation can convert a portfolio of empty residential properties, i.e. fixed capital, into liquid investable capital in a matter of a few operations. This is a principal reason why we have seen an overall tendency of wealthy landlords to warehouse or hoard residential properties into thriving global real estate portfolios, and also is an underlying cause of why the price of the empty property does not fall and continues to be inflated, despite it not being occupied by people – its use value.
The development of advanced speculative financial instruments is rapidly allowing the treatment of homes closer to pure exchange value. In the global financial system, a house is just a commodity that can be accumulated and hedged for others in the pursuit of profit. Like many other derivatives or commodities, housing is a speculative instrument and this is its main purpose. The more the industry can separate its exchange value from its use value, the better it performs as a speculative instrument, and this is what I see as the general tendency of the housing market under the rule of finance. Simply put, the housing of people is not its main business. Tenants and owners to manage are, in fact, a nuisance.


So where does this leave the fundamental economic concept of supply and demand,
that everyone seems to be falling for? As you saw with the New York City examples, the market has been supplying enormous quantities of luxury housing to satiate the demand of global investors for these seemingly secure assets. However, this demand mostly is concerned with the exchange value of housing as a commodity and not at all with the real demand of people for housing to be used as a home. One could argue that global finance has created a new type of housing demand that due to its higher profitability, has slowly replaced the original demand of
people for housing. So as long as the demands of global finance are prioritized over the people's needs for decent and affordable housing, the housing industry will supply more and more luxury property or whatever is necessary to fulfill the needs of global finance. It is now a competition between the demands of people and the demands of finance.


Who do you think will win? To put it bluntly, in the age of mega-landlords and advanced finance capital, balancing supply with demand addresses a very different thing than resolving the housing crisis. Cities don't need more supply of the speculative housing they [finance capital] want built. This is actually the root of the crisis. What cities need is a flood of affordably-priced, decent housing, and I'm sorry to say but this will not happen just with well-intended YIMBY or “Yes In My Back Yard” manifestations towards more supply. The demand has been hijacked and the belief that more supply will fix it is simply irrational. Of course, all of these financial shenanigans underscore an enormous housing bubble filled with trillions of dollars of fictitious valuations and manipulations of what should be accessible homes. Be sure that when it bursts – and it will, it will produce a much bigger global crisis than the one we experienced in 2008. It will happen. But for the moment, as long as financial institutions are allowed to gamble with housing, there is no manipulation, control, or elimination of external factors that will be able to supply affordable housing at the urgent rate that is needed. I am convinced that the only way out of this crisis is to first, take housing out of the hands of asset management corporations, private equity firms, and all the other shady forms of speculative finance, and second, we must unite with housing movements around the world to lobby for the fiscal reallocation of resources into the construction of community controlled, non-speculative housing units. These are the two areas where I think most of our activist energy should be spent in the short and medium term. In the long term, of course, we should spend it on an urban revolution.

Transcript by Cindy Mitlo

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Economic Update: How Austerity Paves the Way for Fascism

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In this week’s Economic Update, Prof. Wolff interviews Prof. Clara Mattei on her new book "Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism."

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 and those of our children. I'm your host Richard Wolff. Today's program is special in a number of ways. We are experimenting with our format and our structure. And bear with us as we experiment in order to find the best possible programs to bring you. I am very proud, in that spirit, to bring to our microphone and cameras that we have a very special guest. Her name is Clara Mattei, she's a faculty member in the economics department there. And she recently published her first book. It's called Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism. Mattei's book shows how austerity economics paved in the past tense and may also pave in the present tense the way to fascism. And she's currently working on another book that reassesses the so-called golden age of capitalism from 1945 to 1975 and it's governing Keynesian economics through the lens of her analysis of austerity.

RW: So first of all Professor Mattei - Clara, if I may - welcome to our program. Your work is extraordinarily important and I wanted to share it with my audience.

CM: It's the greatest pleasure to be here. I'm an enormous fan of this program, I listen to it weekly. And so it could not be a bigger honor to have worked on this book and share it, be able to share it with you.

RW: Thank you, that's very kind. Let's jump right into this. First of all, I think I need to be sure that everybody understands what the word austerity means. And it's central to your work. So tell us briefly how you understand what that term represents, especially because it's a bit more commonly used in Europe, for example, than in the United States. So I think it's especially important to know how you understand it.

CM: It's crucial to define austerity, because the bold claim of my work is that we live under austerity capitalism. Which is much more important to understand how the society works, rather than just focus on new liberal capitalism. So this is why austerity really needs to be defined. Also because it's a word that is rarely used and when it is used is usually used in a very de-politicized way just to point at some cuts in government expenditure in general. So the reality is that austerity deserves re-politicization. And what I mean by that is to avoid just discussing austerity as this technical tool to manage the economy, by which we focus on whether it is actually capable of boosting economic growth and solving the budgetary and the inflationary issues. We need to rethink austerity as something more than just cuts in government expenditure in general and see it as the trinity, so the capital order... My work really looks at austerity as a trinity that is backed by powerful economic theory.

So let's focus on the trinity for a moment. Why a trinity? Well, because austerity is first fiscal austerity. But fiscal austerity, again, cannot be looked at the aggregate where the state... if the state spends or not. But what's relevant is where the state spends. And what you see is that it's all about cutting social expenditure, cutting on the benefits for the people; unemployment, housing, education, health, so forth and spending money on other factors. And today, more timely than ever, as you well know from the show, on war expenditures. This is those shifted resources from the majority to the minority who profits. And this fiscal austerity is not just about where the state spends but also how the state takes in its revenue.

And what you see here is that austerity is about regressive taxation, meaning that it's about the fact that the majority pay more of their fair share in terms of how much they get taxed while the minority is taxed ever less. And this is very important, especially in a society like the United States, for example, in which there has been constant cuts in the higher income brackets. So that while during 18 hours time we had 91 percent now actually it is down to 37% as of 2021. And we know that also it's about reduction in capital gain taxes and reduction in corporate taxes, while we increase consumption taxes. That, of course, hit all of us alike. So this is big school austerity: regressive taxation and cuts in social expenditures.

Then we have monetary austerity, again something that we are familiar with right now. Which is all about increasing interest rates. Again, a policy that protects and incentivizes the moneyed few; those who, for example, now can invest in treasury bonds and make a great deal of money from it, while the majority of us have to pay more in terms of credits. We borrow to get to the end of the month. And especially we will, as we will talk about in a little bit, potentially lose our jobs. Because we know that increases in interest rates have an effect on the labor market. And this is not by accident but the capital order actually theorizes that the whole purpose of austerity is indeed to repress wages, to keep workers in check.

So the second element of the trinity is combined with the third element of the trinity, which is industrial austerity. And industrial austerity can be understood as a variety of state policies, such as privatizations, so selling off to private capitalists the majority of state-run industries, attacks on labor unions and all forms of deregulation of the labor market, which makes labor more and more precarious. So it is this austerity trinity that allows us to see how really austerity is a very intelligent political mechanism to make sure that the majority of us have to accept the condition of low paid wage workers in precarious conditions while the minority gains benefits from all of our resources.

RW: Yeah, it strikes me also, and I'd be interested in your reaction, that when capitalism has its recurring crashes - downturns, recessions, whatever you call them - that these mechanisms, explained as technical adjustments to be made, are actually hiding a mechanism to put the burden of the economic crash on the mass of people to save the top 10 percent from basically having to suffer until we get to the next upswing. And then and only then will the mass of people have a chance. Let me push you:
tell us how you see the link to fascism. You know, the word fascism, the anxiety about fascism has become more explicit, particularly in the United States, but elsewhere as well in the last few years. Since austerity was a big reaction to the downturn in 2008 and 9, are we watching a kind of slow motion process whereby the post-2008 austerity is moving us toward fascism? Is that, in some sense, what you're arguing?

CM: We could definitely explore that direction of the argument. But let's say that the historical analysis I give I think points to a direction that is usually not discussed. What the capital order describes is the fact that the emergence of austerity happened in a moment of extreme contestation of the capital order, a moment in which the majority of the workers, of the people in the hub of Western capitalism at the time... so Britain and Italy after the First World War were really demanding a different future, were really rethinking the very foundation of how we organize production and distribution through councils, through cooperatives, through calls of economic democracy that would fundamentally overcome wage relations and private property of the means of production altogether.

And what you see is that thus austerity becomes visible as a tool of reaction to these calls for economic democracy and ultimately how it still functions today, to foreclose alternatives to capitalism. So in this setting fascism is very interesting. Because you see that if you look at what Mussolini - the founding father of fascism - was doing in the 1920s and what his fellow colleagues were doing in Britain - the cradle of liberal capitalism - in the same years, what you notice is actually that these comfortable binaries that contemporaries tend to use, by which, of course, there's liberal capitalist democracy on the one side and then we have these fascist exceptions, which are clearly the opposite of liberalism, that emerge historically... Well, this idea that we're talking about polar opposites - ideological, institutional worlds - crumbles if we focus on austerity.

And what you actually see is that fascism in Italy strengthened its rule, became legitimate as an authoritarian government thanks to its capacity to implement austerity. Because this was allowing fascism to look good in the eyes of the liberals, both within Italy and the international liberal elite - people like Montagu Norman at the Bank of England, J.P. Morgan-Chase, all the financial world in Britain and the United States in that moment was applauding Mussolini. Because Mussolini was the most efficient student of austerity being able to apply privatizations, massive privatization, cuts in wages by decree, cuts in social expenditures, layoffs of public employees, dear money, all of the austerity trinity package. So I think this is what's interesting, that the story that the capital order tells is a story that has us wonder how distant is supposed liberal capitalism that we pride ourselves with, with respect to these fascist tendencies. Because actually what you see is it's a matter of priority. So austerity is advanced and advocated for by all of the economic experts, our mainstream colleagues as, you know, the necessary tool to achieve economic growth and balanced budgets, and to tame inflation.

But really what you see if you adopt a class analysis lens is that what matters here is something much deeper and something much more essential to preserve the very foundation of the possibility to even have capitalism in place. Which is the fact that people cannot try to overcome wage relations, people need to accept their conditions of precarious labor power to be sold on the market. And this is something that is more important than anything. And that also shows how fascism is all about that. Fascism has been about repressing wages. And this has also happened in liberal democracies.

RW: Wonderful Clara. This is really very, very helpful. We've come to the end of the first half of today's program. Stay with us, we'll be right back.

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 critical system analysis and visions of a more equitable and democratic world through a variety of media, like the long-form lecture series I host called Global Capitalism, designed to help others understand current economic events and trends so they can explain the impact and effects capitalism creates across the globe to others. Global Capitalism is available on our website democracyatwork.info. There you can also learn more about everything we produce, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on social media and support the work we do. Please stay with us, we will be right back

Welcome back friends to the second half of today's interview with Professor Clara Mattei. I want to continue right where we left off. One of your central points had to do with fascism's ability to stave off revolution, to stave off the mentality that says if a capitalism works this badly maybe we should change our system. I want to ask you how do you account for working classes having accepted in some sense, having tolerated, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but why has this worked as well to keep capitalism going as we've seen it? Or are there exceptions? Are there times/places you could point us to where working classes were not taken in by all of this?

CM: It's really interesting because austerity is actually advocated for across party lines. And the biggest advocates of austerity have also been supposed labor representatives. So the Labor Party in Britain is a very good case of how austerity has been internalized by representatives of the labor movement themselves. And we have to remind ourselves that in Italy, for example, Enrico Berlinguer, who was actually the head of the Communist Party in the late 70s, was the one to reintroduce austerity in a very harsh way, in a moment in which the wage share had gone up and workers were again demanding a breakaway from capitalism.

So the question you pose, which is very pertinent, is how is it that somehow austerity has been so successful in becoming kind of a flag that is held by even those you wouldn't expect. And this is where I think we need to bring into the picture... There's so many elements, so I'm just going to point out the elements that I've investigated more, of course, because it's such a complex question. One element that I think needs to be kept in mind is that austerity is about consensus-building for the system. And that economists, economic experts have played an enormous role in assuring the loss of agency from the people. And so it is - potentially it's because of my professional bias - but I do think that it's very important to point out the political role that economists have played in giving us a way of thinking about the world that fundamentally disempowers us.

So to give you an example in the period I was looking at it was the moment in which - so the early 20th century - the so-called neoclassical framework - what people still study today when they're taking an economics course - was being diffused and refined. And guess what? This new classical framework is all about refusing the revolutionary elements that were ingrained in the Marxian economic theory that was actually quite popular at the end of the 1800s. So you expelled the labor theory of value, which means that you take out the worker from the economic machine and say "no, it's not thanks to the worker that value is being produced, it's actually thanks to the savior investor, to the virtuous individuals who are capable of abstaining and by doing their business they do the good of the whole." So you go against and you eliminate class antagonism from the view of the world. And moreover you put at the center stage no more the worker but the savior investor.

So you see that this creates this false emancipatory framework [which] is actually the most classist of all. Because it tells you 'well, if you haven't made it to the top it's because you don't deserve it.' So I think this is something that, you know, it's in the models, now assumed in the models. But it trickled down and it's diffused at all levels of society, to the point that we know very well that people in poverty now are ashamed of being poor and think it's their own fault. While we very well know that it's because workers are poor given the high level of exploitation, especially right now in the United States. So this element of consensus-building needs to be fully explored and the role and responsibility of our colleagues needs to be put on the table.

And then, of course, there's the element of coercion. I mean, you know, people can contest. And there have been moments. I mean I think even today we are in a moment in which people are trying to really, like, look beyond the trap. But this trap is powerful. It traps us for real in the sense that deflation, as we are seeing it today in the United States, is not by accident. And you know this very well, because you've discussed this thoroughly in your shows, how increasing interest rates has the purposeful objective of cooling down the labor market. Which means increasing the unemployment rate and getting people to be weaker and thus disempowering people once more. So I think to understand why people have accepted austerity we really need to think thoroughly the mechanisms that protect our consensus and ultimately, like, tie our hands also very much materially speaking. Once we lose our jobs we become more market-dependent. Because now you need to pay for school, pay for health care and creates this precarious nature that kills away and takes away the time we would need to actually organize and experiment with a different world.

RW: Yes, it has proven very difficult for the left in general to get a hearing for, to get a chance to really lay out this alternative. In a way that's what I see as the power of your book, in the sense that you're teaching those who are economists or who think like economists teach the rest of the population that there really is a completely different way of organizing the same material to come to radically different conclusions. All right, let me let me push you into an area you may not have gone yet. But you've done the work, so we need to hear your views about this. Would you advise any particular strategies? In other words, does your analysis suggest where the labor movement or socialist or communist political parties or social movements, where they need to go? What they perhaps need to do differently to be more successful contesting this way the system keeps going? So it can't keep using this almost technological 'we're just managing' and to expose it for the very one-sided system support that it is? In other words how do we how do we learn the lessons of your research?

CM: How do we? Yes. And this is, I think, important. And it's the reason - the very reason - why I wrote this book. It's a well-researched book coming from the archive, maybe 10 years almost at the archives. But it's clearly a book that does not hide its militant objective in a way. And I think the whole point here is that the first strategy is to really denaturalize our system and realize that austerity capitalism is the outcome of collective action to foreclose alternatives to capitalism. And thus it can be subverted through collective counteraction. So this already - taking history seriously and seeing how our system is actively constructed and how the capital order's constantly protected by the elite - I think, has an empowering message in telling us 'well then, there we can construct a different world.'

And the first step to break away and construct a different world, I think, is to really understand who the enemies are. And in this sense all of your enemies. So this is why I think one of the learnings for the book, from the book, that can be useful for activists and people out there, who are interested in changing the world, is to realize that, again, let's focus on the fact that austerity capitalism is not very far away from what even the supposed capitalist alternative - meaning Keynesianism - is all about. Right, so we have the austerity experts who are right now calling for harsh deflation, together with of course cuts in the social expenditures in favor always of the few creditors, investors. But ultimately if you look at the framework that the Keynesian economists are proposing we're not that far away, especially in the need to prioritize economic necessities. So, for example, stabilizing money right now to the detriment of political/social necessities.

So I think this is the first big learning is that if we look at the history of austerity and the history of capitalism we really realize that we need to think outside of the box and think about the fact that the Keynesian alternative presupposes austerity to begin with. Because it's an alternative that wants to stabilize wage relations, just by a different means.

But fundamentally when capitalism's existence is in trouble, when people are actually leaving their jobs - the great resignation, this anti-work movement - then it's threatening for the bourgeoisie, also for the Keynesian bourgeoisie. And this is why Keynes himself in the 1920s is a protagonist of my book. And I show how Keynes himself had one priority, way before getting critical of his austerity colleagues. He said "no, no, we need to preserve the capital order. So let's make sure that experts keep decision-making in their own hands. And then we can discuss, you know, some form of social redistribution." But this happens only after workers have lost their bargaining power with the Great Depression and everything that we know. So I think this is an important element to start, get us thinking.

And then, of course, last thing I would like to say is that inspiration for the past can help us also open up imagination for the future. L'Ordine Nuovo movement, headed by Gramsci, Togliatti, the workers councils that were growing in 1919 had some ideas of debunking not just bourgeois institutions but bourgeois worldviews, that were extremely empowering, with the idea of horizontal relations in the production process. Which are things that I think if we look at with, like, fresh eyes we can really learn from and associate with a lot of the movements that are still happening right now throughout the globe.

RW: Yeah, you know, you remind me of something a good teacher of mine once said - was a young woman and she said she's always been struck that in modern economics labor is understood as negative, as we call it a disutility. That somehow we are supposed to assume that getting together with other people to produce goods and services is horrible, unpleasant, a drag, something we would never do unless we were compensated by an object we can buy in a store. She said that was the greatest insult to human beings she could think of and completely crazy. Because the whole point of life might be to make work the joy, the relationship-building opportunity of a person's lifetime, given that you're an adult, you're five days a week there. In a way, tell me if you agree, you're also telling us to rethink the very logic that this is a technical problem we're supposed to forget; that what capitalists are about is maximizing their profit and the government policies they support and accept are governed by that principle.

CM: Absolutely, absolutely. The fact that we are reduced to passive consumers and that in the economic models the only option the worker really has is to shift/switch from one job to another and, you know, decide whether it's better to labor or to have time for leisure really shows us the limit of - the anthropological limits... I mean the limits that these concepts have and how they actually have a performative effect, in the sense that, ultimately, I think it does reduce our existence to an existence that is alienating, non-fulfilling.

But I'm really certain that we are in a historical moment in which there are plenty of opportunities to shake ourselves up. And the younger generation that I teach at the New School really makes me proud and excited. Because I really do see that given what they see around them - the level of criticism, the level of not just buying into even, you know, the fake progressive rhetoric that tells us that it's enough to increase the wages so that we can buy an extra technology app or, like, another device that we want... Really, I think we are in an age in which people are getting a sense that we can think bigger. And in a way that is more thought-provoking.

RW: Professor Clara Mattei I think with teachers like you it'll be an easier shot than if we didn't. And I'm really happy to have you as a colleague. And I hope that my audience understands this is a book you ought to take a look at. And as always I look forward to speaking with you again next week.

 

Transcript by Brendan Tait

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Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


About our guest: Clara E. Mattei is a faculty member at the Economics Department of The New School for Social Research, and was a 2018-2019 member of the School of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Studies.Her research contributes to the history of capitalism, exploring the critical relation between economic ideas and technocratic policy making. She recently published her first book titled Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism (University of Chicago Press, November 2022)  It investigates the origins of austerity after the WWI crisis to understand its logic as a tool of reaction against any alternatives to capitalism.

The book has received widespread media attention. Amongst many, it was in the Financial Times as a Best Economics Books of the Year, it was reviewed in The Guardian, Nature Magazine, The New Statesman, Jacobin etc. it was also extensively praised and cited by public intellectuals such as Noam Chomksy, Thomas Piketty and Yanis Varoufakis.

She is currently working on a book project which critically reassesses the Golden Age of Capitalism (1945-1975) and its Keynesianism through the lens of austerity capitalism.

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Ask Prof Wolff: What Is Economic Nationalism?

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Capitalism Hits Home: The Impact of Gender Roles - Care Work, Mass Violence & the Way Forward

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In this episode of Capitalism Hits Home, Dr. Fraad continues to explore the ways our upbringing within gender roles impact our relationship to society, and specifically, why it’s mostly men who commit acts of mass violence. Women traditionally occupy the role of “care worker” and learn to relate differently through the act of caring. Those care occupations, however, are some of the lowest paid and are highly undervalued. Other countries, such as New Zealand and Sweden, are exploring different ways of addressing both how children are raised in relation to gender as well as how to pay care workers a wage that reflects the skill and value of the work. Dr. Fraad looks at how these countries are making positive change and explores what we can learn from them.

*Note: The current number of COVID deaths in New Zealand, according to the World Health Organization, is approximately 2,560. The statistic used by Dr. Harriet Fraad was from the first 2 years of the pandemic in New Zealand.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

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Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona by Barbara Kingsolver

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Ask Prof Wolff: Does Our Education System Reinforce Capitalism?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "How could the education system transform under a worker-cooperative economy? What would schools look like for young children to young adults? How would it compare to a capitalist education system, which at least in some part, is designed to make us into workers for capitalists?"

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Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

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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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

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All Things Co-op: People Power - Imagining a World without Bosses

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In this episode of All Things Co-op, Kevin and Cinar speak with sociologist, political scientist, author and documentary filmmaker Dario Azzellini. They discuss recuperated workplaces—workplaces that have been abandoned by private capitalist owners and taken over by workers and reorganized to be democratically controlled—and why the process of engaging in struggle with fellow workers builds an enduring ecosystem of trust. They also explore critiques of the Mondragon corporation, why co-ops should be rooted in community and social movements, the dangers of co-op owners identifying as entrepreneurs, the long history of worker struggles around the world, and more.


All Things Co-op is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


About our guest: Dario Azzellini is a professor and researcher in the Department of Development Studies (Unidad Académica en Estudios del Desarrollo) at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas (Zacatecas, Mexico) and visiting scholar at the ILR School at Cornell University (Ithaca, USA). His primary research interests are labour studies, local and workers’ self-management, and social movements and protest. He has more than 160 academic publications, among them more than 20 books, 11 films, and more than 100 journal articles and book chapters, many of which have been translated into a variety of languages. Together with Oliver Ressler he produced Occupy, Resist, Produce, a series of documentaries on recuperated factories under workers control in Europe.

To learn morewww.azzellini.net; https://www.versobooks.com/books/1433-they-can-t-represent-us; https://www.azzellini.net/en/english 


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Economic Update: Social Security, Ohio Derailment, Puerto Rican Poverty - US Capitalism Provokes

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In this week’s show, Prof. Wolff focuses on the struggle over Social Security- real versus false alternatives- and the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment tragedy. In the second half of the show, Wolff interviews Alexis Colón about the colonial status of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans fighting against it.

Timestamps:

00:00 - 01:01 - Intro
01:02 - 10:06 - Social Security
10:07 - 14:33 - Ohio Train Derailment
14:34 - 15:45 - Announcements
14:46 - 29:50 - Interview with Alexis Colón


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 and those of our children. I'm your host Richard Wolff. Today we're going to have two segments, one on the Social Security system and the mess that it's in and the second one on that train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which demands much more analysis than it's gotten. Then we’ll turn to the way the United States deals with its colony in Puerto Rico. We have a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico here to discuss with us what all that means.

So let's get to it. The Social Security system is like a window on to US capitalism and it's a window we should look through because it'll teach us a lot about how this system works. You may have noticed that President Biden in his State of the Union message accused Republicans of wanting to cut Social Security benefits which traditionally the Republican party has tried to do. He is saying that he will defend it and that's what the Democrats usually say and we're going to see whether any of that is true but the fight has been going on for a long time. Many young people in America rightly worry or suspect that that program won’t be there when they get old enough to be qualified for it. You know—the whole idea of Social Security which was won by the American working class during the Great Depression, yeah at a time, when the government had a lot less money going for it than it has now, we were able as a nation to say we could and we would honor the people who have given a lifetime of work at the job using their brains and muscles to produce what the country needed at home, raising families and maintaining households. Yeah, we thought if you've done that for 30 or 40 years, the minimum respect owed to you is to not make you either destitute as an elderly retired person or a burden on your children’s families. So we created Social Security but the people who pay for it— which I’m going to explain in a moment—have a problem.

The system was set up in a particular way. It’s called pay-as-you-go and here’s what it means—a tax is applied to businesses and individuals to raise the money and then that money is used to pay out the claims—mostly of elderly retired working people after a lifetime of work, collecting their monthly social security check. They set it up that way knowing full well that the situation might arise where the amount of money being put into the system—the tax on working people and their employers—might not be enough to pay all the claims of the people who have a right to claim it and then some adjustments would have to be made.

The problem is basically, as happened so often in our society, that corporations, employers in particular, don't want to pay and rich people, in particular, don’t want to pay because they're corporations—they don’t have a retirement age and because they're rich—they don't need government support and so they don’t want to pay for anybody else to have them. You know that mentality…we encounter it a lot. It depends on being ignorant. Ignorant of the fact that all taxes go into the government to produce services that some of us use more than others. We have a fire department for the whole community. We don't charge people according to the number of trips the fire department makes to their neighborhood or the…fill in the blank. We maintain the air for everybody even though some of us deep breathe more deeply than others. We maintain the beaches even though some of us go there more often than others. You get the picture. We give huge amounts of money to defense industries even though we don’t all use the aircraft carrier in quite the same way, do we?

Social Security is just the same. All kinds of people make all kinds of different claims. Let me just make it clear to everybody if you die early you will have spent a lifetime putting money into the system but because you die say at age 65, you'll never get a penny back. You’ll be dead. Somebody else who lives to 100 will collect for all those years. Do we want to somehow try to discriminate between them? It's ugly. We don't do it. How is Social Security in trouble?…only if you are a liar. Here's the explanation—it is a fee. Social Security tax—6.2 percent—is taken out of your wages and an equal 6.2 percent is paid by the employer together it's 12.4 percent. That's what goes into the Social Security system and what comes out is what you're entitled to when you retire. So, to say that the system is somehow in trouble is to say that there's not enough coming in to cover everything that's going out, and depending on how you account for it and project—that’s supposed to happen sometime around between 2028 and 2035 depending on the numbers. So, people are getting excited already.

Here’s the fear of corporations and the rich—that they will be taxed more than they already are to cover the extra payments that may be needed by our older people. Our population is getting older so there's no surprise there. They don't want to…so they tell us—GOP and Democrats alike…most of the Democrats… the centrist ones in particular—that there's a crisis. We either have to raise the taxes or we have to cut the benefits. In other words, we’re going to hurt the mass of people one way or another. They like to pose issues that way because that avoids facing what the alternatives are and there really are alternatives. Let me explain. The only money going into Social Security is money out of wages and salaries—6.2% of that. If you earned income by interest you don't pay anything into Social Security on that. If you earn income by dividends on shares of stock, no 6.2 % is taken out for that, if you earn capital gains by buying shares at one price and selling them at a higher, no 6.2% is taken out of that. If we did take 6.2% out of the rich people's income because it’s rich people who get interest dividends and capital gains the Social Security System would be overflowing with extra money.

Here’s an even grosser number. The limit on applying the 6.2% is $147,000 a year. Everybody up to $147,000 a year pays 6.2 % of their wages into Social Security but a millionaire who gets a million dollars a year—he only pays up to the $147,000. All the rest of it—no charge from Social Security. That's a gift to rich people—that's all it ever was and that's what it is now. Social Security is a flat rate of 6.2% on wages—6.2 percent—no effort to charge people taxes according to their ability to pay. The way we handle income tax…that's why the income tax has come down as part of our government's revenue and Social Security has come up, because one of them is a progressive tax system—income tax and one of them is the opposite—a regressive tax system…that’s Social Security. That tells you who runs this society…who organizes and controls the tax system…it’s for the few—like everything else—and not for the many.

There is no crisis of the Social Security system. It's an easy solution. If you tax those most able to pay—which is already the principle of our income tax—and if it were added to the Social Security tax—all of us would have a secure retirement instead of terrifying the American people by the thought that they will be deprived of it. Shame on the Republicans and the Democrats who lie by telling us, “You either have to tax everybody more or you have to take away the benefits.” Not true now, never was…

I turn now to the horrible accident—derailment as they call it—of the railway Norfolk Southern in East Palestine, Ohio. I don't want to add to the details the 45,000 animals that have died from the toxic fumes, the illnesses the people there have suffered—and will continue—as the consequences flow. The horrible failure of that railroad to be safe in what it does and the failure of the government regulators to catch and prevent what the private railroads were doing…the failures are everywhere but there is a crucial lesson. Let me do it this way and I don’t mean to be flip, but I want to drive the point home. Railroads, airlines, all kinds of companies like that that provide services, like to have slogans that go something like this, “Safety is our number one priority.” Very nice phrase, except it's never true. Let me say that again so that there's no misunderstanding. It's never true and you know why I know that because the leaders of all those companies say so. They will say to investors…I’ve been at those meetings…and they will say to potential buyers of their shares, “We’re a profit-driven company. We maximize profits. We control our costs to maximize profits.” I have no reason to disbelieve them. That's what business schools teach the executives as young people before they run things like Norfolk Southern Railway through East Palestine. You know something? You can have two number one priorities. If it's profits—that's one thing, if it’s safety—it's another. What the derailments on our rail system—which happen every day—the numbers coming out now about derailments are stunning—how often they occur…you know what they are? Proof that when you're choosing between what's most profitable and what's safest…what's most profitable wins the day. That's not because people are mean, nasty, or bad—that’s the way the system works. You get rewarded if you maximize your profit. No official at the railroad got a reward because he or she was the safest one around—if even it could be measured. No. Our problem is a system that puts profit first…that says profit is what you get rewarded for and if you don’t make profits that's what you get punished for…. Of course, regulations then become just another obstacle for the executives to get around…just like a supply chain disruption…just like agitated workers…just like another tax. It’s something to evade, to avoid, to minimize, to get around and all the studies showing what the folks at Norfolk Southern did show you what length they went to to abort the safety regulations…to get around them, to suspend them. It never stops but it’s important to understand that's because of a system that in fact puts profits first.

The only way to solve these problems is not another regulation for the executives to get around—it's to change the system. Railroads could and should be run by a combination of the workers who work there and the citizens affected by the railroad as its customers and as the people living where the tracks run. If they together managed, they'd make sure safety was taken care of because safety would in fact be their number one priority and not profits, which is what capitalism arranges as the system focus. That's the problem—no one should mistake it for being anything else when considering what happened in East Palestine…the tragedy of that place.

We’ve come to the end of the first half of today's program, please stay with us. We’ll be right back with an important interview with Alexis Colón.

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 critical system analysis and visions of a more equitable and democratic world through a variety of media—like the long-form lecture series I host called Global Capitalism— designed to help others understand current economic events and trends so they can explain the impact and effects capitalism creates across the globe to others. Global capitalism is available on our website democracyatwork.info there you can also learn more about everything we produce, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on social media, and support the work we do. Please stay with us. We will be right back.

Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. You know, it has often been said, and with good reason, that countries that maintain colonies can often be judged by how they behave in relationship to those they have colonized. That may be a hint as to why colonies are now relatively rare when once they were so widespread and so common. It’s in the spirit of understanding colonialism–whether it's officially named that or not—that we have asked Alexis Colón to join us today.

Alexis graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor's degree in Natural Science and he also studied economics at the graduate school of the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras. His areas of Interest are political economy and geopolitics. Recently he's been researching the origins of the huge debt crisis that plagues Puerto Rico.

RDW: So first of all welcome Alexis. Thank you very much for joining us.

AC: Thank you for having me.

RDW: Okay, let's jump right in here…Is it your view—having lived, grown up, and devoted yourself to understanding the political economy of Puerto Rico—is Puerto Rico a colony of the United States?…and if you think so, what is the evidence you use to get you to that conclusion?

AC: Yes, I believe Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. To begin with, the US Congress has what has been termed by politicians, historians, and lawyers as [extraordinary] powers over Puerto Rico—meaning that Congress has complete control over Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans cannot vote in federal elections and economic conditions are considerably worse in the colony than they are in the metropolis. The poverty rate, for example, in Puerto Rico is 44% which is twice as high as Mississippi in the poorest US state. The Gini Coefficient measuring economic inequality is 0.55—which is higher than any U.S state. That is to say, the colony is both poorer and more unequal than any US state.

To further examine whether Puerto Rico is a colony of the US Empire, we first begin by defining imperialism, which according to Michael Parenti is called, “the process whereby the dominant political-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials and markets of another people.” This is exactly the process that has been unfolding in Puerto Rico since the US invasion of 1898. As Nelson Denis wrote in his book, War Against All Puerto Ricans, Puerto Rico passed into the hands of the US in1898, as “the spoils of victory in the Spanish-American War.” He further states that, ”the following year, the United States outlawed all Puerto Rican currency and declared the island’s peso with a global value equal to the US dollar to be worth only 60 American cents. Every Puerto Rican lost 40 percent of their savings overnight.” So the combined effects of a divided currency, a colonial land tax, and hurricanes destroying crops, was that the incipient bourgeoisie was rendered unable to meet its obligations, and the US banks foreclosed on them.

The banks then proceeded to turn the diversified Puerto Rican agriculture into one yard and sugarcane plantation which was more profitable to them at the time. Thus, Puerto Rico lost its ability to feed itself, to in turn feed the pockets of absentee landlords as Denis recounts, “by 1934 every sugar cane farm in Puerto Rico belonged to 141 syndicates—80 percent of which were US owned. So, the people of Puerto Rico have had their land, labor, raw materials, and markets expropriated by the US capitalist class. The Puerto Rican Independence movement has endured a brutal history of repression for independence activists have been systematically persecuted, arrested, tortured, and murdered. These repressive measures have delivered a huge blow to the Puerto Rican Independence movement, which is in turn, the reason why Puerto Rico is ruled today by two major pro-US parties. So, we don't have an independent movement—we are owned by intermittent governments. Excuse me, we are owned by Congress and we don't have voting representation in Congress. Our president is the US president and yet we cannot vote in presidential elections. So, to me, all of this is evidence that we are indeed a colony of the United States of America.

RDW: Yeah, it sure would sound like it in terms of the history of colonialism in general. It also means that over the 120 years, roughly, that Puerto Rico has been a property of the United States, that the results—if you're going to measure the experience—is pretty pathetic. If you are twice the poverty rate… if you are twice the inequality, or worse even, compared to the poorest US state, it's clear that having been a colony has denied— or 120 years—has denied to Puerto Rico the kinds of economic development that were distributed across the mainland, if you like, of the United States.

Let me pursue it by asking you…I’ve wondered and I think many have…why is the word commonwealth used?…in other words it's called the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The origins of the term commonwealth are exactly what the words mean—a situation in which the wealth of a community is owned or held in common. What you've just described is pretty much the opposite of that, so what does the word actually mean?

AC: Well, for Puerto Rico, they were a commonwealth in this case…really just a euphemism for colony. It is akin to the US Department of War re-branding itself as the Department of Defense basically.

RDW: Good answer. All right, next question…one of the things Puerto Ricans have been able to do—as part of their ownership by the mainland—has been to migrate. Give us, if you can, a sense of what migration by people from Puerto Rico…what it looks like and what it means given its enormous size and importance.

AC: Well the imposition of the US citizenship in Puerto Rico in the early 20th century has served as a sort of escape valve during times of economic hardship in the archipelago. There had been several migration waves from Puerto Rico to the United States to the point that now around twice as many Puerto Ricans live in the US mainland than they do in the archipelago. There was a great exodus of Puerto Ricans—of about half a million of us—into the United States from the 1950s to the 1960s. More recently there has been another great exodus during this last decade, which saw a record 133,000 Puerto Ricans moved to the mainland in 2018 alone. A particular feature of this latest migration wave is what has been termed a brain drain, which references the fact that there are many young professionals leaving. In fact, the probability of someone migrating from Puerto Rico who has a graduate degree is twice as high as someone residing on the island. Essentially, we are spending resources educating young professionals to go work in the US labor market and this portends catastrophic consequences for the economy in Puerto Rico.

Chief among those consequences is a reduction in the tax base. As the population continues to decline, so does the tax base and therefore the state’s coffers, further hampering the ability of the government to pay the debt. You now have a shrinking workforce supporting an increasing number of retirees which is unsustainable. Puerto Rico is faced with an aging population that increasingly cannot be provided for. La Junta has already put pension cuts on the table as part of their austerity measures so, therefore, I believe that the impact of migration has been mostly negative for the island. Furthermore, I would add that there were migrations doesn't do it justice. The reality is that Puerto Ricans are being violently displaced by austerity measures…by privatization…by crippling poverty and by creeping inequality. It is the crushing economic conditions that are behind the great exodus of Puerto Ricans into the United States.

RDW: Yeah, you know, it's common in my own studies that this word migration has been kind of hijacked into suggesting that it is some kind of casual choice of people who want even better other than they already have. Most of the time migration is a terribly difficult thing for human beings to do…ripped away from their communities of origin…their families, their localities, their language, their cuisine, their churches… all the parts of life…to go to a place where they cannot speak the language—where they have to learn everything from scratch… where they are often confronting hostile relationships with the police and with their neighbors. People do not do that usually—unless they are desperate. So, the real question is to ask what are the conditions that provoke an emigration? Before you attach some kind of notion of casual choice to this matter and—especially if you have any morality at all—if you face the privation that drives migration then you'd have a different attitude. You couldn't possibly treat immigrants the way, for example, the United States is now famous for at its southern border.

Okay, I don't want to leave people with all of just the negatives. I know enough to know that in Puerto Rico there are people who understand what you have explained to us…who see the situation. What are the movements for change in Puerto Rico? Are there movements for independence? Are there movements for a different economic system? Tell us a little bit about how Puerto Ricans are reacting to the very story you've told.

AC: Well, I believe that in Puerto Rico the labor movement has suffered a bit of a setback with the privatization of the power company—because they are one of the strongest unions in the country which is still active but less powerful now with the privatization drive. I think that undoubtedly the Independence Party has the most worker-oriented platform. However it's not a Socialist Party. It remains to be seen whether that party can rise to the occasion as a sort of vanguard party that will galvanize this working-class discontent brewing in Puerto Rico. Despite the absence of that organizational structure that working-class discontent is powerfully manifesting in protests and movements across the island. For instance, in the summer of 2019, as many as 1 million Puerto Ricans hit the streets to demand the resignation of former Governor Ricardo Rosselló. That was after a leaked telegram chat with members of his cabinet on top aides exposed them using misogynous and homophobic slurs. There are also…there also have been huge marches on May Day with workers repudiating the Junta and the banks. There are ongoing rehabilitation projects of abandoned buildings by the Colectiva Feminista which is a feminist and anti-capitalist organization that is fighting against displacement in Puerto Rico. You also have the Se Acabaron Las Promesas, another anti-capitalist group that has been protesting against the Junta. You also have conservationist groups that are actively organizing protests to defend natural resources and protect land across the country. Recently, in one of those protests, a private security guard opened fire against a crowd of protesters and shot one on the leg. I believe that those bullets fired into the crowd of protesters are a physical and violent manifestation of the class warfare being waged against all Puerto Ricans. But these violent acts are helping the people gain awareness of that class warfare. There is now a working-class consciousness in embryo that I believe will give birth to a free and independent Puerto Rico.

RDW: All right. Alexis, it’s very good that you end up our interview. I wish we had more time, but you have described both the conditions and the human reactions to those conditions. It's clear that anti-colonialism is as alive as the colonialism that provokes it. I want to thank you and I want to say to all of my audience, as always, I look forward to speaking with you all again next week.

Transcript by Barbara Bartlett

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Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

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About our guest: Alexis Colón graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez with a bachelor’s degree in natural science and studied economics at the graduate school of the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras. His areas of interest are political economy and geopolitics. Recently, he’s been researching the origins of the debt crisis in Puerto Rico.


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Ask Prof Wolff: Can Profits Be Excluded From Food and Healthcare? 

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Anti-Capitalist Chronicles: The Circulation of Fictitious Capital

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In this episode of Anti-Capitalist Chronicles, Prof. Harvey explains Marx’s analytical techniques of presupposition and posit and applies them to today’s capital circulation system and the crises that may emerge from the ever-growing fictitious capital investments. By looking at the presupposition, or what came before a system, and the posit, what happens as a result of an established system, Harvey takes apart the complex systems and issues today, such as climate change or the instability of fictitious capital investing in itself, and is able to illuminate some possible futures if we continue down these paths. 

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Global Capitalism: March 2023

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Challenging Capitalism

with Richard D. Wolff  

Co-sponsored by Democracy at Work & Left Forum

In this lecture, Prof. Wolff discusses the following topics:

  • France’s General Strike March 7, 2023
  • Women, Unions and Strikes in the US
  • Inflation, Profits, Inequality in the US
  • State versus Private Capitalism: China 


Transcript has been edited for clarity

Welcome friends and thank you for joining me for another Global Capitalism. Global Capitalism is produced by Democracy at Work, a non-profit small donor-funded media organization celebrating 10 years of producing all kinds of media that are critical analyses of capitalism and suggestions for how we can do better, how we can go beyond capitalism to make a much more democratically organized economy and society. Global Capitalism is brought to you by Democracy at Work and it's co-sponsored by The Left Forum.

I want to take a moment to highlight one of the projects of Democracy at Work: a book that I wrote and that was published by Democracy at Work entitled Understanding Socialism. It's a volume that goes through the history and the varieties of socialist theories and practices and comes to a conclusion about the way forward for socialism in the 21st century. It's available as a paperback, an audio book, and e-book. All of the information about how to order it and how to make use of it can be found at our website democracyatwork.info/books.

This evening I'm talking about challenges of capitalism. But it's better entitled 'Challenges to Capitalism.' And I've divided the presentation into four parts because there are four different kinds of challenges I want to draw your attention to, partly in the hope that they will, or my I talking about them anyway, will help them converge into the kind of organized unified challenge that can make the transition to a better system around the world. So I'll be talking first about the general strike in France going on literally as we speak. I will then be turning to the remarkable new role of women in unions and strikes across the United States. Not that it's new that women are doing that, but they're doing that with an intensity and in numbers that deserve a lot more attention than they've been getting. Third, I want to take a look at the American economy right now. There's a remarkable combination of rising inflation rates, rising interest rates, the instability and deepening inequality of our capitalist system. That, too, is a challenge to the system. And finally the fourth challenge will be the challenge represented by China and by the struggle between China and the United States, where I think you'll see a remarkable other way of capitalism being challenged you might not have thought about before.

Let me begin then with a nod to Hegel, with a nod to the notion that everything is a unity of opposites. I want to give an example of someone whose work and project is carefully crafted not to challenge capitalism, to avoid even raising the question of capitalism in her politics. And it's an arresting example of some of the forces that are pushing against the challenging of capitalism that I still think is the major theme of our time. The person I have in mind is the foreign minister of Germany. Annalena Baerbock is her name. You may have heard or watched her speeches. I pick her for several reasons. First of all, Germany is the most powerful economic unit within Europe. Number two, Germany is the only major ally of the United States in the Ukraine. Yes, I know it, we the United States has other allies, but the Germans are by far the richest and the most important of them. And so there's a special role for Annalena Baerbock in the world today. She also announced very recently that the German government, she in particular, are now calling what they are doing a "feminist foreign policy." Thereby she seeks to define something that has very different meanings in many cases than the one she gives to it.

Let me explain: Annalena Baerbock comes out of the Green Party in Germany. The Green Party is a major component of the coalition of three parties that currently governs Germany. Schultz, the man's name you've heard of, as the leading figure in this government comes out of the Socialist Party or the Social Democratic Party of Germany. But a crucial ally of the Socialists there are the Greens. And Annalena Baerbock is a representative and a leader of the Green Party. Now what's remarkable here is that Greens in Germany used to be a party that included in its earlier days a very powerful strong anti-capitalist component. Those were the people who, as in green parties in most of the rest of the world, understand that one of the causes, shapers of the ecological crises of our time is capitalism; the industrialization, the profit-above-all-else mentality, the disregard for the costs to our environment of making a bit more profit if you're a fossil fuel company or if you're a transport company or anything else. That had led greens around the world to consider, in a proper way I would argue, that capitalism is itself one of the major obstacles to solving the problem of climate change, global warming and all the rest. But the Green Party in Germany split years ago. And what remained of the Greens, what took over the Greens were those members of the party that weren't comfortable with challenging capitalism, that weren't willing to be anti-capitalist. They left, many of them formed what's called The Left/DIE LiNKE party in Germany. And others dispersed and the Green Party was left in the hands of people like Annalena Baerbock.

Here's what she means, apparently, by a feminist foreign policy: she is perhaps the most aggressive ally of the United States against Russia in Ukraine that you could point to. More even than Mr... well, let's leave it at that, more even than the British or any of the other countries that are allies of the United States. Annalena Baerbock wants very close to going to war with Russia, has even slipped in on a couple of occasions and talked like that - NATO versus Russia. She's ferociously anti-Russian, ferociously driven to this war, pushing inside Germany for Germany to do more, even recently the decision to send tanks. And, for those of you who don't know your history, the image of German tanks moving against Russia has an effect inside Russia that, really, if you wanted to unify that country behind their leader more than already is the case that would be a good way to do it. And we're watching that unfold now. Annalena Baerbock is a big supporter of abortion and access to abortion everywhere including in the United States. That's clearly part of what she means by a feminist foreign policy - ferocious against Russia and for war over there, ferocious in her support of access to abortion, but determined never to question, to challenge capitalism at all.

In contrast, I now want to focus you on four areas that are the opposite of Annalena Baerbock. People, often women, who are determined to make capitalism a key part of what they think needs to be challenged to make a better world. So let me begin with the first of our four topics: the general strike in France. And here this is going on now. And I want to explain it and draw the conclusion I think it teaches us. Repeatedly in recent French history an effort has been made to take away from the French working class gains and benefits that they have won over the years through strikes, through elections, in countless ways. One of these gains won is a national pension system. In France when you reach the age of 62 you can go on retreat, in the French language 'retrait', you can retire (in English) at age 62. Successive conservative, business-oriented governments have tried in France to take away that benefit. Here's how they've proposed to do it: those who work this way never honestly say what they are doing. They come up with clever wording in the hopes that they can fool elements of the working class not to see the deprivation being imposed on them. So of course they call what they're doing pension reform. What the reform boils down to, details aside, is simple: to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64. That's the issue. They've tried it before and they have repeatedly been defeated, mostly by workers going out on strike and saying "if you push this the country will come to a stop. You are not going to take away - whatever government you are, whatever president is sitting there... you are not going to take away from the vast majority of the French people a benefit to the quality of their lives that they fought hard for, it's not going to happen. And if you push it we'll push right back." And so the effort to do that failed more than once in recent history.

However, the conditions of modern French capitalism are such that the business community, the conservatives, the wealthy keep pushing whoever is in power to try to get this done. And the reasoning for that is simple. They don't want to pay the taxes that are part of how this gets funded. And so to save themselves having to pay taxes - this is a small minority of the French - they want to deprive the majority of the French of the pension they've won - the right to retire at age 62. And Mr Macron, the current President of France, has vowed that, unlike his unsuccessful predecessors, he is going to go after this, and he's gonna get it. And so a bill to that effect is working its way through the French legislature. It's not done - quite a ways from that. But the unions have decided that they're going to fight it like they have in the past. And they recognize that there's a bigger push on now. French capitalists are having difficulty at home and around the world, as capitalists everywhere are. And they want to squeeze their own working class, of course to help them hold on to their wealth and their dominant position by not having to fund pensions as much as before. But, of course, calling it always reform.

Here's the answer the unions have given. First, the arguments (but you'll see in a moment those are the least of it.) First argument: lower income workers/blue collar workers/factory workers and others do physically exhausting work. They tire people out and they lower life expectancy. And then they show all the statistics to prove that. Therefore they already suffered because they're not going to have as long a retirement as other workers. And they're the low-income people so they need the help the most. Cutting - what? - making them work until 64 rather than 62 is taking away two years. And they don't have very many because of the wear and tear on their bodies from the work that they do. So you're going to people who are already exhausted at the end of a life of working like that. And you're going to take away two of the few years they have in retirement. No, you're not.

Here's the second argument: France has prided itself in recent decades on raising worker productivity. What a nice phrase. You know what it means? It means you get more out of a worker per hour than you used to, you've raised labor productivity. Now you've done that in a number of ways. You have added machinery, you've improved the machinery, you now have AI, you have robotics, you have computers, all kinds of things. But you've also made workers work harder, work faster, etc. And that is wear and tear on the bodies and minds of people. You've made them work harder but you haven't kept up in terms of what it means for the mental and physical capabilities. Therefore you owe the working class some sort of adjustment to what you have pressured them to do. But you're not giving them more retirement as an offset. You're not giving them earlier retirement as an offset, which would make sense if you cared about the mass of your people. You want to take away two years of the retirement that they can look forward to enjoying. Don't call it a reform, you're depriving your working class of two years of retirement. That's what you're asking for: take away two years of whatever you can enjoy in the way of a retired life.

But I stress these are arguments. In France the unions long ago learned a lesson not all that well learned in many other countries. That the arguments are never what win the case. They're important, they're worth developing, they're worth publicizing. And the French are doing all of that. But you've got to get the bodies ou on the street. And that's why the unions declared. All seven or eight of the different federations of unions in France agreed together, cooperating to have a general strike. A general strike - they've been planning it for weeks - scheduled for the 7th of March. That strike is underway already, because different unions start at different points, and so it's sort of a stretched out event, because you're talking about millions of people. It will be not at all surprising if there's more than a million on any given day not working, staying at home and/or in the streets.

The unions in France know that to win this fight they need to be allied, they have to have allies. And the allies are two things in France that are worth our looking at and understanding. First they ally with social movements: movements against racism, movements against the persecution of immigrants, movements. You fill in the blank, the unions work with them. They'll go out and support them in exchange for them supporting the unions. And since everyone has an interest - everyone in the working class - the vast majority of France has an interest in holding on to the pensions they fought for and won this is an alliance that can be built. A bit more interesting in the French context is the fact there's a third player in this alliance: the unions, the social movements and the left-wing political parties. That's right, the unified left-wing political parties who contested in the race. And whose candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came a couple of percentage points behind Mr Macron. That's all, not a big difference. They have also mobilized to support and participate in this general strike.

It's a little bit like the next phase of what was called the yellow vest movement a couple of years ago, a movement of enormous power and strength which overturned initiatives by Mr Macron and only came to an end because of COVID and all that it implied for people getting together and marching down the street. So all of these forces are getting together. And unlike Annalena Baerbock in Germany the Greens in France are participating in all of this. Unlike Annalena Baerbock in Germany these people know that capitalism is a big part of their problem. Not all agree it's that, but those who are explicitly anti-capitalists are a recognized, welcomed part of the larger community that's focused on saying "you don't take away our pensions." And it's not lost on anyone that having that anti-capitalist component is a powerful support for the chances they have to win this fight with Mr Macron. They could not do it without the anti-capitalist political parties, without the anti-capitalist militants that are part of all of this. This is a challenge to capitalism. You want to take away working class rights - an effort of capitalists everywhere all the time. It's part of what maximizing profit is all about. It's a clever phrase: we maximize profit. Sounds like you're not hurting anyone. But it is always partly at the expense of workers; whether that means replacing workers with machines, whether that means exporting jobs to places where you can get away with paying workers less. You get the picture. The French are fighting back, they are challenging capitalism.

Not the least lesson of the French challenge to capitalism embodied in this struggle over pensions is the importance of unifying the labor movement; unions, left-wing political parties, including those explicitly anti-capitalist and the social movements, many of which have their anti-capitalist components. More and more it's becoming clear to people that capitalism is part of the problem. And that overcoming and moving beyond capitalism is part of the solution. That is a strengthening glue to bring all these things together. And the French are absolutely pioneers in the past as far back as the French Revolution, in the recent past in the yellow vests and now in this struggle over pensions.

I want to turn next to women labor unions here in the United States where I am speaking from. And I want to point something out. Since 2019 women have become half the labor force in this country. That is by labor force we mean the people who work for a wage at an enterprise etc. or a government office. The notion of women as in the home has long been questionable. And now it is simply a mistake for people to think like that. Women still have the majority of work assignments at home in the household, a leftover of a culture that has not yet adjusted to the economic realities of our time. But women are now half of the paid labor force in the United States, going up or down sometimes. Women inside labor unions have noticed the fact that women in a labor union are earning roughly 30 percent more than women who are not in a union. That's a bigger gap than you would see if you looked at men.

It's really interesting that women are now the leading force in unionization. 60 percent of the unions formed in the last two or three years of a rising militancy of labor organization have been women. Women are not only part of the labor force, they are more and more entitled to be called a leading part or the leading part of American unionization. And it's interesting for us to examine for a moment why that is.

Okay, here's an interesting thought for you to process or process with me. The majority of the workers deemed essential during the pandemic were women workers. Women lost most of the jobs that were lost because of the pandemic and the crash of the capitalist economy that happened together with the pandemic. Women were disproportionately affected because they are still given the majority of child care tasks. Women were disproportionately affected by the collapse of the inadequate child care system the United States already had before the pandemic hit, which was made much worse by the effects of the pandemic. In short, women lost the support they got from child care centers when those were closed. Wow! Women were forced by the pandemic and the crash and the failure of the government to step in and offset those things - a terrible failure of American capitalism. Women have become more militant. They've understood badly and painfully the failure of this society to support its working class. They are discovering through the dense fog of ideology that they need unions and that they need change. And that's why they're becoming leaders; striking, unionizing, teaching one another, their children and all the rest of us what they've learned. Which is there needs to be big challenges either to get capitalism to change itself and perform better for the mass of people. Or to give way to an alternative system that can serve the majority of people better. You can condense all that and think to yourself. It's a radicalization of women. That is indeed what is happening.

The growing inequality that I'm going to speak to in a moment as the third challenge to capitalism plays its role here too. But it plays its role in an interesting differentiation. The strains and stresses of capitalism, the relative decline in real income that we are suffering and have suffered for years now, the instability of an economy that has really crashed now twice in the last 15 years - 2008 and 9, the so-called Great Recession and then the crash of 2020, worsened by the pandemic. It's shaken everybody. That's why this society is riven with so-called culture wars and social divisions and regional divisions and racial divisions, the feeling that so many have that the country's falling apart.

Yeah, but it's playing a particularly interesting gender-different role. A much larger proportion of middle-aged white men find Mr Trump's effort to cope with this collapse more attractive compared to women, who are much more likely to go not in Trump's direction but in a progressive direction. It's quite clear if you look at the progressive Democrats the proportion of women among them is obvious. And that's continuing. This is a very deep fissure opening up underneath the complacent exterior of U.S society. Women are taking a lead. And I think we're going to see more and more that they come to understand, as the French did, that capitalism is a big part of the problem. And going beyond capitalism can and should be a big part of the response and the solution that people find and pursue.

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The third challenge to capitalism going on around us has to do with what I want to call (because I believe that's what it is) the broad-based continuing assault on the American working class. Which has analogs in other parts of the world, too. That's why I believe telling the story about the U.S will have implications for those of you watching from other parts of the world. The last five years have been extraordinary in their assault. Indeed, in the last 30 years the assault on the working class is absolutely remarkable. Here's how one can articulate it briefly: by the end of the 1970s the long historical rise of real wages in the United States came to an end. By real wages of course I mean the relationship between the money wage an average worker gets and the prices that that worker has to pay when he or she or they purchase the goods and services they need. Okay, in that situation it's important to recognize for about a hundred/hundred and fifty years before the 1970s real wages rose every decade in American history. Even during the Great Depression because even though wages fell then (money wages) prices fell even faster, allowing people to at least buy things if they had any money. Of course the unemployed don't count in that relationship. And they were the source of the suffering. Unemployment, you will recall, in 1933 was 25% of the American working class. So since the 1970s wages did not rise faster than prices as they had before. And so real wages didn't go anywhere. The real wage of an American worker in the late 70s is very little different from what it is today. The average growth of what you could afford to buy with your average wage was next to nothing for the last 40 years.

Americans were shaken by that because they had become of the opinion, carefully cultivated by the media and the forces that run this society, they had been told that they lived in an exceptional country whose direction economically was always up and onward. That there was this lovely American dream at the end of the rainbow that they would acquire. If only they studied hard and worked hard they would then be able just to keep on accumulating. Starting in the 1970s that story was no longer true. Now, in an honest society there would have been an honest debate. Leaders would have said "hey we can't raise your real wages anymore, what are we gonna do?" We didn't have honest politicians then, we don't have them now either. So there was no discussion. Everybody had to figure this out on their own, and most didn't. What most families did is try to figure out how to cope with the fact that they still wanted that American dream, they still wanted to give it to their children. But the rising ability to do so from your job was gone.

And you know what American workers did? They knocked themselves out, they tried to solve individually a problem that was a social/economic problem. And that never works out real well. You got to face it, a social problem needs a social solution, a personal problem needs a private solution. What did Americans do? They worked more hours, took on more jobs. But the big solution, terrible one, they borrowed money. Starting in the 1970s, like no working class in the history of the world, we've been borrowing money. We've been living on borrowed money, and that means borrowed time. You can't keep borrowing more if the underlying real wage isn't going anywhere. Because you're not developing the capacity to pay these loans back. And the American working class knew it. And it got more and more anxious about the level of debt: mortgage debt for your home, car payments for your car, credit card debt you build up. And the final one, the new one, 25 years old now, load up the family with debt to send the children to college. That's the basic squeeze on the working class.

But then in the last five years it got much worse. The economy crashed in the year 2008 and 9 because of what? Subprime mortgage. That's a fancy way of saying people couldn't carry their debts - the solution to the end of the working classes rising wages, because American capitalism was unwilling and unprepared to continue to pay. That's why they went overseas to China and India and Brazil, those employers, because they could get work done for less. And that way they screwed the American working class out of further gains by shifting to working classes in other countries. That's why they worked so hard to replace workers with computers and robots and artificial intelligence. That's why they brought in immigrants from poor countries willing to work for less. All of that, the charming ways capitalism has to maximize the profits at the expense of whoever. The last five years it got worse. We had another crash, the 2020 crash, one that started before the pandemic hit here. And then we had the pandemic. And as if that wasn't enough - and let me remind you in 2020/2021 half of all American workers experienced some period of unemployment because of the crash/because of the pandemic/because of both. That's amazing. Half of our working class had some time of unemployment, some a few weeks, some months. A real blow, uses up your savings, stresses the family out. Unbelievable treatment of your working class.

And as if that wasn't enough, before the pandemic is even gone we whacked the American working class with an inflation. And, for those of you who don't know, inflation is particularly bad for food - one of the most basic expenditures all working class families have. And for those who were able to raise their wages across the board the average level of wages going up was much less than the prices going up. Which means that you continued to whack the working class with a harder and harder set of circumstances. And then the Federal Reserve raises interest rates - another burden particularly difficult for the families most indebted. Which are who? The working class families - since the last 40 years accumulating debt which they now have to pay higher interest on.

Here's a point: you cannot do that to a working class without severe psychological, political consequences. You can try to hide it, you can try to blame it on - I don't know - the Chinese or waves of immigrants or whatever scapegoat you can look for. But you can't evade terrible consequences. And the rising shootings in this country every day, the racism and the white supremacy reviving as a desperate effort to cope with what's going on, the development each week of a new conspiracy theory to come up with some wild explanation. Because people are wild with worry. They know the system is in trouble. They feel that it's falling apart. And in many ways it is.

Except, of course, in the world of the mass media, of our corporate leaders and our political leaders. They need to keep the pretense going: oh, the economy is recovering. Really? We have a higher percentage of people living with their parents and grandparents than we have had in decades. The polls all indicate that more than half the American people feel the country is going in the wrong direction and feel that "things are falling apart." And in all of this horrible experience of the working class nothing should be surprising about this fact: those who are criticizing capitalism are getting an audience the likes of which they have not seen for nearly a century - should surprise no one.

Capitalism has not solved its problems. It's bringing them back to us big time. This is a new century. We've had three crashes: Dotcom Crash in 2000, Subprime Mortgage in 2008, COVID, 2020. Every four to seven years in the 20th century, right on schedule in the 21st. All the apparatuses of capitalism: monetary policy, fiscal policy, the Federal Reserve, the tax-and-spend programs, the Congress, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, all the brain power capitalism can mobilize cannot stop its instability and the enormous cost it takes out of the working class. Because those at the top spend their efforts making sure that the instability of capitalism doesn't impact them. It impacts the workers thrown out of work, it impacts the mass of working class people who face the inflation in the supermarket every day. The system is organized to put the burdens of itself onto the mass of people and to keep those at the top rich and comfortable.

But here's the big challenge: there is in the United States a coming together of the critics of capitalism, who've always been there, and the victims of capitalism. They were kept apart in a variety of ways for many decades. That is over, they are coming together again. And that is a powerful threat to capitalism - the coming together, the merging, the alliance between the critics and the victims of the capitalist system. I dare say it is the fundamental challenge that that system is going to have to face. And it's not going to have an easy time coping with it.

Finally, I want to show you a challenge to capitalism coming from yet another direction; not from France and mass mobilizations, not from women discovering their leading positions and possibilities in a labor movement, like in the United States and not from the assault on the working class, whether that's called austerity politics or neoliberalism or you-name-it. Here's another one from another direction. It comes from China. And it has to do with an old traditional anti-capitalism. What do I mean? Well, almost from the beginning of capitalism something was true about it that had also been true about the feudalism before it, the slavery before that and so on. Every economic system of which we know the history displays pretty much across its entire lifetime a combination of people who love it, celebrate it, approve it on the one hand and people who are critical of that same system on the other hand. The critics think we can and should do better. The non-critics - the celebrants - say 'no, no, this is as good as it gets, let's leave it alone.'

You really do know that. You know that there were people, for example in slavery, who thought it was the best system one could have, celebrated it in countless ways. And you know there were also people who said "my God, we can do better." If you ever study American slavery you'll know that there were many forces in the United States right from the beginning who didn't like slavery, who thought it clashed with their Christian morality, who thought it clashed with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, who were uncomfortable at The Constitution or the Declaration of Independence [which] are full of phrases about all men created equal and all the rest of it. And clearly the slaves weren't equal.

Yeah, there were people who were critical. It took a long time for the their criticism to merge with the victims of slavery to provide the basis to overturn it. Yeah, feudalism had its critics. And, you know, capitalism had its critics, too, right from the beginning - Karl Marx, who developed the criticism to a whole new level that has since inspired 150 years of experiments and practical efforts and theoretical efforts to critique capitalism and go beyond. But even before Marx and alongside of Marx loads of other people had various kinds of criticisms of capitalism. Some of them wanted to make it a better capitalism. Others said "no, that doesn't work, you have to change the system." They had exactly the same debate inside slavery, inside feudalism or any of the others.

So the socialist tradition took off. Basically in the early part of the 19th century it began to develop. 19th century non-Marxists, other people and Marx and the people he inspired, all in their different ways, developed the tradition of criticizing capitalism. And it spread all over the world with capitalism. Because you know what the fundamental cause of the critique of capitalism is? Capitalism itself. Wherever it spreads it brings those who love it and it brings those who are critical. It inspires people to admire it and it inspires people to think we can do better. We're grateful of the people who thought you could do better than slavery, because that helped to get us beyond that. And we're grateful to the critics of feudalism, you know, like Adam Smith, because it helped us get beyond feudalism. And we will likely be grateful someday to the critics of capitalism, myself included I hope, for having enabled us in a little bit of help to get beyond capitalism.

So where does this connect to China? Well, there was a very interesting development in the socialist movement of the 19th and 20th Century. To the surprise of everyone socialists over the century - the 19th century and into the 20th - became steadily more powerful. But they became powerful as a subordinate social force. Yeah, they won the trade unions and they developed the corps of intellectuals and they developed some social movements of various kinds. But the governments were in the hands of the capitalists. That's the story of the 19th century and that's the story most of the 20th. Then something odd happened. In 1917 as a byproduct of a terrible, worst war in human history - World War One - fought among capitalist countries struggling against each other, a byproduct of that was the Russian Revolution. And the Russian Revolution brought to power a socialist government for the first time. That was a real step up for what socialism could claim it could do. It went beyond being a movement of some people in a capitalist society to being the government of a society.

And they had a remarkably smart leader, Lenin. And one of the many things he taught and said about his revolution: two or three years into it he made a famous speech in which he said "you know, what we have here is we've made a revolution against capitalism but it's kind of only gotten halfway to where we need to go." And he had a name for what halfway meant. And you'll see how this connects to China in a moment. He called where Russia had gotten to, say by 1920-21, state capitalism - Lenin's phrase. What did he mean? He said well, we the working class, the Communist Party of Russia, we have captured the state, we made a revolution and we control the state. But what goes on in all of the factories of Russia at that time, in all of the offices, in all of the farms is what was here before. We either have a self-employed person trying to make their little business work or we have an enterprise in which there's a small group of people at the top. You know, like the owner used to be or like the private capitalist board of directors used to be and a mass of people who are the employees. Employers/employees - that's capitalism we don't want. We want to go beyond that. We don't want to keep going this division of the workplace into a few who run it and a mass of people who take orders. That's how slavery works: master/slave. That's how feudalism works: lord/serf. And that's how capitalism works: employer/employee. We don't want that. A revolution beyond capitalism has to go beyond that and we haven't done that.

Lenin was honest. What we've done is replace - here we go now - private capitalism - individuals, boards of directors, shareholders, all those people who have nothing to do with the government, they have all the enterprises. We've changed that. From many of them we took it away. And we now make them state enterprises. The government owns them, runs them. But you know what? We run them like capitalist enterprise; a small group of officials who run it and an army of workers who come for wages - their employees. They notice that the people telling them what to do have changed. But they're still in that position: employee versus employer. We haven't finished our revolution. Wow!

Lenin died very early - 1922-23; brain aneurysm and he died, wasn't leader of the Soviet Union very long. The next leader - more famous probably than Lenin - was Stalin. And he had hope maybe to go beyond, like Lenin did. But other countries didn't go through revolutions like Russia. There was no one to work with on the part of the Russians. So Stalin gave up. And Stalin said I'm going to create socialism in one country. Before that people had thought the world would have to change, you couldn't just do it here or there. Yeah, he gave up.

Now, China looked at what the Soviet Union did with its socialism, were impressed that they were able to take it to the next level, impressed that the government was doing what it was doing. But it also had to face the fact that something in Russia didn't go well. Because in 1989 the Soviet Union collapsed, imploded and went back to a mainly private capitalist system. Gee! And so the Chinese, raised up in the socialist tradition, aware of all of this, made a crucial decision that they were going to produce a different kind of socialism. They call it socialism with Chinese characteristics. What exactly does it mean? It means they're not going to do what capitalism did in its first two or three hundred years - be a private capitalism. You know, the kind of capitalism we have here in the United States or in Great Britain or in Germany, where most of the industrial activity, most of the production of goods and services is handled in enterprises, organized with an employer and an employee, the great division. We're not gonna do it with all private and we're not going to do it with Russia's alternative - the state taken over. That didn't work out.

Here's our solution: we're going to do a hybrid. We're going to give some position for private capitalists, both Chinese and foreign. But we're also going to hold on to a big sector of the state owning and operating. We're going to have a mixture of these two. And we're going to make them all controlled and coordinated by a powerful political force which is called the Communist Party of China. Notice I didn't say a word about private and state capitalism because the Chinese haven't gotten further than Lenin did. Lenin substituted state for private, China substitutes state-private hybrid for the private. That's the difference between the United States and China. The United States is overwhelmingly private, with a small state sector. China is more 50/50 - much bigger state but a huge private sector as well. But China hasn't gotten beyond the employer/employee relationship.

But what China has done is raise a fundamental challenge. Why? Because this hybrid, this combination of a private capitalism and a state capitalism controlled by a communist party has taken China, in half a century, from one of the poorest countries on the face of the Earth to the most serious competitor to the United States in the history of the United States or of the world, an unbelievable accomplishment. China has grown its economy two to three times faster than the United States for the last 30 to 40 years, the years during which the American capitalist system suffered a greater and greater inequality, tension-filled as I spoke about a few moments ago. This was a time when the Chinese soared in terms of their economic achievement.

But the issue remains: is the Chinese a solution? Or is the Chinese the last phase of a capitalism that can't work? If it's all state capitalism - that was Russia - or if it's overwhelmingly private capitalism - that was the United States and still is - is that hybrid the last way you can hold on to a capitalism? Are the difficulties, intentions and contradictions inside China - and there are plenty of them... are they the first signs of the final recognition we've tried everything, including this private/state hybrid, it doesn't work, it's not enough and we need to change the system? By which we mean finally no more minority of employers facing a majority of employees. That's not a sustainable system. Just like in the end slavery went when people basically understood it's not this or that detail of slavery, it's not whether the slaves are whipped or not or whether you separate the family or not or whether you feed the slave adequately or not. The problem is one group of people - a small minority - cannot literally own other human beings, that's got to go and it did. And one group of people doesn't swear to love, honor and obey another, where one is the lord with all the power and the other is the serf with none. That didn't work either.

What may well be happening in the world today is the most profound challenge to capitalism slowly emerging out of these four different kinds of challenge of capitalism. And that challenge is employer/employee organization of the workplace is the problem. It's the problem that lies behind the efforts of the few to deny two years of retirement to the many in France. It's behind the creation of impossible burdens, especially on the women workers of the United States, the creation of impossible burdens on the working class of the United States for the last 40 years. And it's the question emerging out of both the success China has had in outgrowing private capitalism in the United States and everywhere else versus the fact that it has not gone beyond what Lenin recognized as the continuing capitalism. And that socialists now have to, in a way, bite the bullet. They have to understand that it's at best one kind of socialism to play around with what is still a capitalist workplace. And it's another kind of socialism that says that workplace itself has to be revolutionarily transformed if we're going to get beyond the burdens, the flaws, the failures of a capitalism that works for ever fewer people.

Thank you for your attention. I want particularly also to thank you for being an active, engaged audience with us. And I want to close by thanking those of you that are already supporters of Democracy at Work both as partners and also in the case of some of you as people who donate who help us with the financial costs of doing that. And, again, if you are at all interested in joining in the supports our website is the way to do that. And the place to go: democracyatwork.info. Thank you and 'til next time.

 

Transcript by Brendan Tait

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Cities After… The Threat of Mega-Landlords

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[S3 E04] New

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In this episode of Cities After…, Prof. Robles-Durán discusses the growing prevalence of corporate landlords and their devastating impact on affordable housing and homeownership. The mass acquisition of single-family homes and apartment buildings by private investment companies, backed by global finance and, often, as Prof. Robles-Durán reveals our own pension funds, capitalizes on our basic need for housing as a human right and turns it into a profit-making enterprise. This phenomenon grows out of the capitalist-fed dream of private homeownership, which has never been truly accessible to the masses. We need community land trusts, cooperative housing, and to put an end to the predatory commodification of housing before it’s too late. 


Transcript has been edited for clarity

Thank you for streaming Cities After, a radical exploration into the capitalist contradictions of our urban world and the many anti-capitalist features to come. This is a Democracy at Work broadcast and I'm your host Miguel Robles-Durán. In this episode I will inquire into a rapidly expanding global threat to an elemental human necessity: mega-landlords.

As an introduction to the episode I want to give you my definition: a mega-landlord is a type of corporate landlord that leverages private equity to exploit the housing vulnerability of large communities undergoing financial stress during and after a crisis. The profitable objective of the mega-landlord is to transform entire populations of homeowners into renters and gridlock the housing market so that disadvantaged future generations become dependent on their rental properties for basic shelter. In my view mega-landlords are a legal new breed of urban terrorists. They must be urgently dismantled through concerted efforts of direct action, protest media exposes, political pressures and the passing of new legal instruments.

A little over three months ago, in November 2022, JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, with assets of more than 3 trillion dollars, announced that it had entered a joint venture agreement with the opportunistic private equity firm Haven Realty Capital; stating that they will begin acquiring over one billion dollars of build-to-rent properties, commencing with a regional focus in Atlanta's urban region. This announcement was just one of the most recent in a rapidly growing private equity investment trend towards the mass acquisition of single-family rental homes across the globe. As with most large enterprises under capitalism, this investment trend follows the many predictions of an ever expanding market from which to extract as much profit as possible and at the same time support the urgent needs of capitalists to launder and absorb their money surplus into more secure assets. For residential real estate the 2008 global financial crisis and recently the pandemic crisis created such expanding market conditions.

Among the most stocked early examples of these predatory behaviors are the residential real estate acquisition tactics employed by the American private equity firm Blackstone - this during the six year long Spanish mortgage crisis that began, of course, with the global financial crisis in 2008. During this period Blackstone specialized in providing urgent liquidity to cities and regional governments, this by acquiring rent-stabilized apartments from them. And parallel to this they were also purchasing and restructuring these distressed mortgages from banks at heavily discounted prices. Of course Blackstone later profited even more by taking advantage of low income renters and distressed borrowers, repossessing their assets at far below market prices as well as turning some of their homes into rental properties at market rates, in many places at 50 percent above their previous value. At present Blackstone is the biggest private landlord in Spain. So far it has poured in excess of 10 billion Euros, hoarding a residential portfolio of over a hundred thousand mortgages and over thirty thousand properties across the country. So before the 2008 financial crisis the majority of global real estate investors had only focused on acquiring industrial, commercial and retail property.

Blackstone shifted this paradigm. Guided by the opportunistic and predatory psychopathy of its founder and CEO Stephen Schwartzman, it became the pioneer corporation that laid out the highly lucrative operative principles that many residential mega-landlords of the future would follow. Let me illustrate what I mean by the psychopathy. In a financial services conference in 2010 Schwartzman said the following: "we are basically waiting to see how beaten up people's psyches get and where they're willing to sell assets. You want to wait until there is really blood in the streets." By the way, I'm sure that this kind of enlightening and compassionate talk must be the reason top universities of the world love to name buildings after him. For example MIT has the Stephen A Schwarzman College of Computing, Yale has the Schwarzman Center, Oxford University has the Stephen A Schwarzman Center for the Humanities. And even China's top-ranked institution Tsinghua University now has the Schwarzman Buildin that is somehow a college dorm and research center. Okay, apologies for this short diversion.

But now let me get back to the topic. So since its highly profitable ventures in Spain Blackstone has only been expanding its property-owner footprint. And thanks to the pandemic crisis it is now considered to be the largest commercial landlord in history. Just in 2021 its distributable earnings increased a staggering 85 percent, reporting the most lucrative results in its history. It has accumulated a global real estate portfolio valued at close to 600 billion dollars. And it now has total assets approaching 1 trillion dollars. To put this in perspective this is approximately 65 percent of Spain's annual gross domestic product or GDP. This is the GDP of the 14th largest economy in the world. Today Blackstone boasts a rapidly growing presence in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, with significant real estate investments in Germany, the UK, Japan, Brazil, India, China and obviously in its home turf the USA. Back in the mid-2010s Blackstone became the poster child of predatory mega-landlordship. After all, they were the pioneers.

And thus the American private equity firm has been a constant target from housing-rights advocates and legislators across the globe, and rightly so. By the way, if you're interested in knowing more about the fight against Blackstone I have two previous podcasts where I speak about some of these battles with Leilani Farha, the former United Nations rapporteur on the right to adequate housing and with the founding members of Spain's Plataforma de Afectado por la Hipoteca, translated roughly as a platform for people affected by mortgages. Both of them have been challenging Blackstone for years with some success.

However, today's residential landscape of mega-landlords is not as easy to target as it was back then. If anything it has dangerously fused with global finance to the point that it is now a relatively common form of investment in the portfolios of insurance companies and pension funds. And to make it even more complex this venture seems to be desired and heavily incentivized by state, regional and municipal governments. For example in the USA the majority of the distressed mortgages owned by the federal mortgage agencies known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were sold at bargain prices to Wall Street investors without significant regulations. This resulted in private equity firms acquiring over 200,000 single-family homes in suburban and urban areas across the nation. Another example that I talked about is Madrid, where the government has willingly sold thousands of protected homes to vulture funds owned by multinational private equity managers. By now almost every big global financial player is in the game, from Goldman Sachs to the Qatari Diar real estate investment company to Deutsche Bank to Blackrock, the largest investment management company in the world. Hell, even supposedly conservative welfare-state banking institutions such as Norges Bank, the Norwegian Central Bank have now large investments in residential mega-landlords.

The bottom line is that in a little more than a decade and thanks to two global crises the large ownership of rental homes is now considered a prime and profitable investment, one that it is secure enough to be trusted by our pension funds. Another way to say it is that it is so secure and profitable that pension funds are investing in our future homelessness. And by doing so they are also investing in favor of housing precarity for all young and yet-to-be-born generations. This is an extreme contradiction that I want to elaborate further.

But before I continue to dive in I need to make an important parenthesis about private property and homeownership. This is because the most common criticism against mega-landlords asserts that families of would-be homeowners cannot compete with the acquisition power of global investment firms, making it impossible for most citizens to afford the purchase of a home and thus forcing them to be renters for life, mostly crushing the dream of home ownership, that sacred right to possess and to have private property that has been so deeply ingrained in our capitalist societies. And this is now threatened by bigger capitalist predators. This critique is indeed correct. But for many of us that have advocated for housing as a fundamental human right the idea of home ownership as speculative private property is at the root of the problem and needs to be contested. Housing for many of us is a right that cannot be speculated on. It is the site for individual development, collective production and social reproduction that must be accessible to everyone. Therefore our work for housing justice is always focused on the eradication of the private property housing market by supporting the design and development of community controlled non-speculative property models of living, such as limited-equity housing cooperatives and community land trusts. I feel it was important to make these parentheses. Because almost every article I have recently read about mega-landlords romanticizes homeownership and private property as if everything was nice and perfect before the mega-landlords came into the picture and stole the right or dream away from the middle class.

To understand the current threat of mega-landlords we must have present that housing under capitalism and its system of private property has always been an instrument for the continuous coercion, exploitation and wealth extraction of the general population. Let me put this clear: landlords are social parasites, they provide no social value, they are so focused on extracting money that they perceive people's basic need for a shelter as an opportunity to generate substantial profits. They exist because they are legally permitted to accumulate wealth by privatizing and controlling the access to a home, which is an essential element of human survival. Building upon this critique, residential mega-landlords are just the latest and more evil stage of this capitalist nightmare.

So to close this parenthesis I want to read a quote from Karl Marx's economic and philosophic manuscripts: "private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it, when it exists for us as capital or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc. In short, when it is used by us. Although private property itself, again, conceives all these direct relations and realizations of possession only as means of life. And the life which they serve as means is the life of private property, labor and conversion into capital."

Okay, back to the threat of residential mega-landlords. As private property goes, rental homes are quite distinct from industrial property, retail spaces or office buildings, as they generate profit primarily from their occupants' basic need for shelter. And clearly having the finance industry as a landlord, with their sharp focus on boosting profits, no matter what, directly conflicts with the needs of current and future tenants for home security. However, concentrating the ownership of thousands of residential properties in selected urban areas has social implications that go way beyond the exploitation of tenants. As mega-landlords monopolize the housing stock of complete regions they have absolute control of setting rental and property prices, allowing them to socially engineer and manipulate urban environments for profit to a level that has never been seen before. This means that they can decide what kind of people they want in relation to their capacity to pay rent while excluding others. This power means that they can easily coerce municipal governments to pass legislation that favors them and not favors the population. It means that they can decide to hoard residential property, financialize it, add it in their portfolios and never sell it back. Mega-landlords and their investment partners have been betting in the creation of a new class of fully dependent precarious tenants-for-life. And this definitely sounds profitable.

As with all things with capital it makes profit by taking advantage of a vulnerable situation, a crisis or social need to exploit. It is opportunistic. But in many times it creates its own opportunities as it plunders. A good example of this was what I talked [about] at the beginning of the episode on the 2008 financial crisis. Bankers, governments, property developers and mortgage institutions work together to inflate a market bubble by tapping into the dream of home ownership of entire populations, promoting subprime mortgages and predatory lending practices. And once the bubble went bust a new opportunity was created to plunder from those that were evicted or no longer were able to maintain or afford to buy a home. And so the finance industry turned an eye towards acquiring rental property. And to add to this bonanza there is no doubt that the pandemic crisis has played an important part in the increased demand for rental homes.

To put the current housing crisis into perspective, according to the U.S Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, which is commonly known as Freddie Mac, the U.S currently has a five percent homeowner housing deficit, which accounts for approximately 4 million homes. This deficit is 50 percent higher than in 2018 and double from 10 years ago. The rights of interest rates, debt, the lack of consumer confidence, material costs and overall general inflation, of course, has only been exacerbating this deficit. Also, before the 2008 financial crisis the share of home renters was about 31 percent. In 2019, just before the pandemic, the share of renters was almost 37 percent. And in the few post-pandemic estimates that currently exist they gauge an increase of another 2.2 percent. So from a nation that had 31 percent of rental households to one that currently has 39 percent and increasing it is really astonishing what two global crises can do. The substantial increase in the number of rented households amongst younger and middle-aged demographic groups between 2009 and 2019 marks a very clear shift towards the impossibility of up-and-coming middle and low-income earners of ever owning a home.

Let me add another statistic to this dire panorama: from 2020 to 2022, which are the pandemic years, the Standard and Poor's Case-Shiller home price index, which is the index that tracks home prices in the United States, rose from 212 points to 307. This indicates that home prices in the U.S have gone up approximately 45 percent. This has created a fictitious 9 trillion dollar owner-occupied housing wealth bubble. And this happened at the time where approximately 2 million renter households were unable to afford their rent and many millions more were under financial stress.

Ultimately, as housing prices continue to rise sharply, not only in the U.S but around the world, it is making home ownership an unreachable dream for newer generations. In reality it appears there's nothing left to do but rent to a mega-landlord. But it is important to stress that this is not a unique American phenomenon. This is a global trend. And global finance is spearheading it, with the aid of your pension funds, of course. For instance the European Public Real Estate Association reported that the market capitalization of Europe's publicly traded residential real estate sector surged from 3.5 billion euros in 2006 to almost - listen to this - 85 billion as of July of 2021. This is an absolutely staggering increase of 2,300 percent in 15 years. 2,300 percent!

And the rent has not gotten cheaper. For example in some cases the rent prices in a city like Berlin rose 40/45/43 percent in the periods between 2016 and 2021. So what are the implications of the fact that mega-landlords are amassing millions of homes worldwide with the sole purpose of being traded as commodities in the stock market, needless to say with the aim of maximizing profits for investors?

I'm sure there are too many but here's a list of just three possible dystopian scenarios. Here's the first scenario: with the control of rental markets and the increase in accessibility of purchasing homes to non-financial buyers, mega-landlords will be increasing the rental prices substantially, to the breaking point of tenants, keeping them at the thin edge of economic instability, as long as they have a capacity to pay the rent. These rapacious practices will be aided by their easy access to the renter's financial data. On this front, JPMorgan Chase has recently unveiled an ubiquitous rent payment platform that, according to their Chief Innovation Officer of its Commercial Banking Division, would provide mega-landlords with beneficial data and analytics that can aid in setting rental rates, identifying potential investments and facilitating tenant screening. Yes, the extension of the finance industry into mega-landlordship improves their algorithms.

Here is the second scenario: besides the prospect of continuous rent hikes, abusive extra fees and reductions in maintenance and building improvements are to be expected as mega-landlords will try, no matter the social consequences, to keep the business lean and profitable. Blackstone has also been paving the way on this front. In a special investigative report the news agency Reuters mentioned that Blackstone Properties in the U.S have been flooded with common complaints of Black Widow Spider infestations, floods of raw sewage, plumbing leaks, vermin, toxic mold, non-functioning appliances and months-long waits for repairs. In Madrid the Tenants Union has also accused Blackstone of extreme rent hikes and lack of maintenance. The same happened in Stockholm, where the company bought 16,000 apartments and increased the rent by 42 percent on over a thousand of them while reducing their upkeep costs and maintenance.

And, lastly, here's the third scenario: with their enormous power, mega-landlords will influence even more urban, environmental, social and economic policy as they buy out politicians, sue municipalities and, of course, misinform voters. This is what the mega-landlords did in California back in 2018. When, in coalition with the Real Estate Development Lobby, they spent over 65 million dollars - seven of them by Blackstone - in a concerted campaign to oppose California's Proposition 10, which would have introduced rent control measures to help thwart the dramatic increase of rent-burdened families and an out-of-control level of homelessness. One of the mega-landlords in the coalition, the Chicago-based Equity Residential, has been, for example, hoarding trailer-home parks. This is where people at the brink of homelessness tend to live. And they've amassed throughout California, while subsequently initiated expensive legal proceedings against small municipalities that hosted these parks, aiming to eliminate regional rent-control ordinances. And here I go back to the pension fund contradiction I touched upon before. A large part of the 65 million dollars in campaign funds to stop Proposition 10 were derived from investor pools composed of several state and local pension systems, public university endowments, among others. Our governments, education system and other institutions, created to protect us and support our retirement, are all in it.

Across the world the finance takeover of housing is ramping up. And, as with most things touched by finance, the new asset class of single-family homes, coupled with the continuous buyouts of multi-family units directly threatens the livelihoods of the majority of the world's population, as well as the well-being and security of all coming generations.

I want to end up with a question to you: how is this not criminal? I'm looking forward to read your comments below. And if you like this episode please don't forget to give us a like. Until next time.

Transcript by Brendan Tait

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Ask Prof Wolff: Why Does a Piece of Lumber Cost More Today Than It Did 10 Years Ago?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "I don’t understand how inflation works. How can a 2x4 cost more than it did 10 years ago?"

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Economic Update: Establishment Media & Russia with Aaron Maté

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In this week’s show, Prof. Wolff  presents updates on dying empires and climate crisis; mass shootings; fast-food mega-corps fund referendum to slow California plan to raise fast food workers wages and working conditions, and why the debt ceiling debate in Congress is a phony GOP-Dem political theater. In the second half of the show, Wolff interviews Aaron Maté, independent US media critic with special expertise on Russia.

Timestamps:

  • 00:00 - 01:19 - Introduction
  • 01:20 - 04:44 - Climate care
  • 04:45 - 07:57 - Secret Service reports on mass shootings
  • 07:58 - 10:11 - Fast-food restaurants wages
  • 10:12 - 14:31 - Debt ceiling theatrics
  • 14:32 - 28:25 - Interview with Aaron Maté


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 and those of our children. I'm your host Richard Wolff. Today’s program is going to look at the interaction between dying empires— particularly the British and the American—on the one hand and the climate crisis on the other. We're also going to look at a new report from the Secret Service of the United States about mass shootings. We’re going to delve into an effort by fast food restaurants in California to buy their way out of paying higher wages and we're going to then talk about the so-called debt ceiling crisis playing out in Washington. After that, we'll have an interview with a very important independent news journalist and host, Aaron Maté.

So let's jump right in. The British empire started to decline at the beginning of the 20th century and spent the entire century declining. It's far beyond the United States whose decline is much more recent in terms of its beginning to go down as an offset, you might say, to its rise in the previous century. One of the things that we can see already is how the declines of empires play out in terms of how they deal with the crises of their time. We clearly have a crisis of our climate, of our planet, of what we have done to that planet and what it is doing as a result. It's instructive to see what has happened with an empire whose decline is further along than ours—Great Britain, the United Kingdom— so for example, last month, Minister Graham Stuart—he's the minister for the environment [climate] in Britain—got exposed taking campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies and supporting renewing coal mining in England and so on. You know it’s… it's pathetic. It happens too often but at a time when the climate crisis is severe and Britain is already declining…far along declining empire…it’s particularly painful to watch fake concern expressed with the climate while the reality is the opposite.

If that weren't enough, on the 25th of January the New York Times ran a remarkable editorial talking about the decline of the United Kingdom across the board in its health care and its living conditions…in its mass attitudes towards issues. It was a remarkable thing for the New York Times to do and tells you how stark the decline in Britain has gone. Of course, the New York Times being a US publication doesn't see the parallel signs of decline here in the United States…so let me offer you one as an example…there have been recent reports that a stunning sum— one trillion dollars—was spent in recent years to make a transition from a carbon to a non-carbon energy production system in the world. Out of the trillion dollars that were spent—and that is impressive—over half the amount was spent by the People's Republic of China. Coming a distant second was the United States and the United Kingdom nowhere at all. That's what it means when an empire is declining—if you're just willing to look at the accumulating signs.

I want to turn next to a recent report by the United States Secret Service, probably best known as being the people who guard the president of the United States. They did a special report on mass shootings. That's right—no longer are mass shootings just a matter for the tabloids and the sensational reporters but it's also beginning to worry the United States government as well it should—since we are an outlier when it comes to the sheer number and deadliness of our mass shootings and I don't have to remind people that recent weeks have been full of them.

Here are the two most interesting findings of the US Secret Service report. Number one, 72% of these shooters experienced a major financial stressor. That’s what the report calls them—a major financial setback in the previous time just before they began shooting and 100% had family stressors—that is deaths, emotional upsets, divorces, and all kinds of family stressors. Those were the two big items—jumping out of the report—producing mass shootings. I want to stress that in the mass media—and in our politicians’ empty words about prayer and so on—every one of these shooters is dealt with as an individual as if something peculiar about him or her life explains what they did. What is never really dealt with are the social conditions that produce so many [shooters]—the pressures on the job and in the home. Those pressures are not intrinsic. That's why no other country has the level of mass shootings we do—not even close.

You know something…the pressures on our families and the pressures on us at work are extreme and they have become more so. The inflation jacks up the pressure to keep up which of course we can’t. Yeah, you might do something about mass shooters if you stopped blaming the individual for the event and started looking at how the society could be changed [such as] giving workers higher wages, more time off, a different way of living. The work-life balance might be a better way to deal with these mass shootings than the way we've been using since the increase in them suggests that the way we've been dealing with it is a big fat failure.

I turn next to California. California established a commission and the commission was to look into the conditions of workers in the fast food industry. Exactly to look at the conditions which the US Secret Service says are part of why shooters shoot. But now the fast food companies got together and chipped in to fund a referendum about all of this that will at least postpone for another year this commission whose number one goal was to look into what it would mean to raise the wages of fast food workers in stages—to a target of $23 per hour. I want to list the companies that each gave over a million dollars to get this referendum passed to stall off paying fast food workers a decent wage. Here’s the ones that contributed a million: Chipotle, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, In-N-Out Burger, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yeah, please keep in mind that when you buy from any of them, a part of the money you turn over is used to persuade you to support a referendum that postpones a decent wage for workers just like you. You are funding…because believe me the million that they contribute…they’re going to raise their prices to get that million back from the very people they squeeze. I wouldn't be surprised if these companies spend more to block all of these efforts than it would cost them not to do it and just pay the workers what [they] should have been paying them all along.

I come finally to the debt ceiling theatrics. Why do I say theatrics? Well, let me explain briefly. The United States government spends money…you know that it spends money on the Defense Department. It spends money on Ukraine. It spends money on Social Security checks and a whole host of other things. How does it get that money? Answer: It taxes. It taxes corporations and the rich on the one hand and the mass of people on the other but often it faces the following weird quality of our political system. Corporations and the rich—like the mass of us—want the government to do things for us. Government helps corporations in a hundred different ways. Government serves us in a hundred different ways so we get service, they get service. They don't want to pay taxes…we don't either. They’re much better at getting out of taxes than we are so we kind of get stuck with taxes. They have—as I've told you many times—all kinds of ways to minimize, to avoid taxes altogether. What happens is the government can't tax but the government is demanded to provide services. What do our politicians do when the corporations want services and the rich want services and the rest of us want services but none of us wants to pay taxes? The politicians could stand up and explain this doesn't work but they don’t. We don't have courageous politicians…we have the other kind and you know what they've done? They’ve solved the problem by borrowing. That’s right, if you don't tax people but you don't want to cut back the services they want…if you want to please them by giving services and please them by not taxing…the solution is to borrow the money…and to grow it and to borrow more and more.

The accumulation of debts of our government means that our United States government today owes—get ready, national debt it’s called—32 trillion dollars. The total output of goods and services in the United States each year now is 22 trillion dollars. Our debt as a nation is more than the total output of goods and services in any year. That’s how fat it's become. But, here's the worst part friends, who do you think the government borrows from when the politicians solve their awkward problem by borrowing? They go back to the rich and the corporations and they borrow it from them. If you think you don't understand it, let me do it again, corporations and the rich are very good at getting out of paying taxes so if the government's going to meet everyone's need for services it has to borrow. You know who it borrows from?…corporations and the rich. They end up giving their money to the government not as taxes…end of story…but instead as a loan which the government has to pay back to them plus interest every year while the debt sits there. That’s why corporations and the rich—after giving lip service to the debt and we shouldn't grow the debt—are secretly very happy. They're making money instead of paying taxes. That's a simple, easy choice…isn’t it? Too bad the mass of American people don't have that choice because we don't lend to the government…because we don't have the money. Oh…that’s the real story behind the theater. Many times we've bumped up against the debt ceiling. Every time we've just raised the ceiling. That's what will happen this time. Meanwhile, it's theater in which our politicians try very hard not to explain to the rest of us what is going on here. It's a very simple hustle…no more, no less.

We’ve come to the end of the first part of today's show. Please stay with us. We will be right back with journalist and podcast host Aaron Maté.

Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. I am very pleased and proud to bring to our microphones and cameras—Aaron Maté. He is a journalist, a podcaster, if that word exists, he hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. He co-hosts Useful Idiots with Katie Halper who, you may remember, has been on this program as well. He writes at mate.substack.com. In 2019, he was awarded the Izzy Award in honor of I.F. Stone—a person who I grew up as a young person learning a lot from—for his outstanding achievement in independent media and for his coverage of Russiagate for The Nation magazine.

RDW: First of all, Aaron Maté, welcome, and thank you for your time.

AM: Great to be here.

RDW: All right. You're a critic of US mass media and I would like to sort of pick your brain if I could. Tell us, to start with, what are the dominant themes of the mass media as you see them now…that represent what you're focusing on your critique of… and I wanted to start with the place of the US in the world today. How would you characterize for us mass media treatment and what's wrong with it?

AM: If you look at how the role of the US and the world is covered in US establishment media, I think a fundamental problem is that it's presumed that we have the right to be the rulers and we have the right to tell other governments what to do. We have the right to impose sanctions that are designed to cripple entire economies and make people suffer and our motives in doing so aren’t questioned. So we talk about wanting to spread democracy around the world and I think it's taken for granted if you read establishment media accounts, that not only do we have the right to do all these policies but that our motives are pure and I just don't accept that as a journalist. As a journalist, we’re supposed to be skeptical of power, especially power within our own societies because that's the power that we're responsible for and I don't see US media doing that.

RDW: All right, good. Next question about the same issue of mass media. The 20th century was full of the story of a great struggle between capitalism and socialism often characterized as a great struggle between the United States and Russia or the Soviet Union then. Well, the Soviet Union is gone. Here we are again fighting Russia. What is it about the struggle between capitalism and socialism that the mass media keeps saying and what's the problem there?

AM: The US is a hegemonic power; it has hundreds of military bases around the world. As you've covered, its corporations control, you know, a huge proportion of the world. Well and so when you're a hegemon you need enemies constantly to justify your hegemony…your military bases, your interventions…all the money that is spent on war…on weapons of war. The Soviet Union played that purpose during the Cold War and it was also used to justify undermining any alternative to the US-led system. So, for example, even in countries like Vietnam or Nicaragua where you had governments arising from the, you know, the will of the population, the US tried to destroy those societies by blaming the Soviet Union as being behind everything. We're seeing a similar playbook today. Russia is used as a boogeyman whenever the US wants to try to control a country and destabilize it—that’s the function that Russia plays in the current US imagination.

RDW: Yeah and I think it's going to be provocative for many people that the closest we've come to war and even perhaps nuclear war with Russia was not when it was a socialist country—whatever exactly that means. It’s actually when it became capitalist— like us—that the war began to heat up and become a greater threat. It ought to make people wonder, as you quite rightly put it—what the reality was back then?…whether it was we need an enemy or it was a genuine problem with socialism.

What about the militant labor movement? The last couple of years in this country have seen a kind of resurgence or reawakening, whatever you want to call it, of workers fighting for unions, making strikes, and so on. How do you see the mass media coping with making sense of all of that?

AM: I think there's been a class war going on for decades —as you cover better than anyone else—and I think unions are obviously a very big threat to that. Just recently there were reports saying that union membership in the US is at record lows despite the individual gains at some places like Amazon and Starbucks. I think a mass media that is controlled by the same corporations that have every interest in breaking worker power and keeping unions down has been pretty much on board with that agenda.

You have some exceptions—you have some good reporters at corporate outlets that cover workers’ issues seriously—but overall, I mean, just look at how much effort is made to propagandize us into being convinced that we need to spend our resources on war—funding billions of dollars for a proxy war in Ukraine. One outcome of all these foreign adventures is that the argument is made that we don't have the money to take care of our people at home. So, we still don't have health care even as we’re authorizing just endless blank checks for foreign adventures like the current proxy war in Ukraine.

RDW: Tell me where is independent media…you’re in the thick of it…you participate…you're part of it. Is it working? Is it reaching an audience? Is it performing the function you yourself have described is its purpose?

AM: I think recent years have been very exciting for independent media. After years of being lied to…I think more and more people are done with establishment media outlets. The Iraq War, which so many major outlets bought into and we all know…just no one doubts anymore… that that was based on lies and the media failed to do its job in pushing back on those lies and in fact, became stenographers for those lies. You can take that to virtually every other war. Russiagate was a major fixation of the US media where we were told endlessly that Trump was installed by Vladimir Putin and that he was a Russian agent being blackmailed with secret tapes and that has all collapsed as well. Eventually, after so many humiliations and failures, people start to get fed up. I think in recent years we've seen an explosion in independent voices and people craving perspectives that are outside of the constraints of the establishment. I think it's a very good time to be in independent media and I'm very happy to be a part of it.

RDW: I would say the same thing for us. We are amazed at our growth. We’ve been here now for 10 years and we never dreamed we'd have the size of audience that we now have. Our ability to function and to grow—it's extraordinary. I kind of pinch myself a little bit every so often to make sure that this isn't a fantasy of mine. What about the reaction of the corporate media? What about the reaction of the mainstream? They must be seeing this too. Do you have a sense? Do you experience an effort to silence… to marginalize…to exclude the kind of media you’re talking about?

AM: I think there's an effort to basically pretend that independent voices, who don't drink the Kool-Aid, just don't exist. I experienced this throughout Russiagate—where you had this dynamic where every single day you have some new development and that would lead the establishment media to declare that Trump is finished. They’re going to find the smoking gun of collusion. I took the trouble of actually reading the available evidence and showing that what was there was not what was being claimed.

Throughout that period I was just ignored. I was insulted by, you know, some people in establishment media but my claims were never actually weighed. There was never any attempt at serious intellectual debate, which is what should happen in any minimally honest journalistic culture. You have people with different perspectives and you have a debate. When someone dissents from the prevailing orthodoxy, their answer is to ignore them…to try to censor them, or to dismiss them. In the case of covering the issue of Russia critically…that gets you dismissed as being an agent of Vladimir Putin or something like that. I think most people who aren't card-carrying McCarthyites can see through that.

RDW: Tell me, do you think it's a reasonable parallel the way that the Ukraine issue is being covered now?

AM: Do I think it's a parallel?

RDW: Yes and in terms of your experience with Russiagate and the work you…is there another Aaron Maté probably working in the wings somewhere around this Ukraine issue who is going to replicate kind of what happened to you?

AM: Well, I mean, I'm trying to replicate what happened to me because I'm also trying with Russiagate because I'm also trying to offer factual coverage of a Ukraine proxy war which I think is the most dangerous issue in the world. I think it's actually the outgrowth of the very dynamics of Russiagate because part of the problem with Russiagate—as I was warning about pretty tirelessly for a long time—is that it was normalizing this culture inside liberal politics in the US that we should be stoking war with Russia…that we should be looking down on diplomacy with Russia…that in accusing Russia of brainwashing millions of Americans into voting for Donald Trump and not voting for Hillary that that was pushing an agenda that treats Russia as this nefarious power that we can’t negotiate with and that's very dangerous when you're talking about the world’s other top nuclear power. I think you can draw a direct line between Russiagate and the Ukraine war.


I’ve been trying to point out some of the many facts that get overlooked in discussions over the Ukraine war. The fact that the war, as horrible as it is—it didn't begin when Russia invaded. There’s been a war going on in Ukraine since 2014 when there was a US-backed coup that overthrew the government of Viktor Yanukovych. That set off a civil war inside Ukraine in which rebels backed by Russia rose up against the new coup government and the coup government was backed by the US. Rather than pursuing peace and respecting a peace deal that was reached in 2015—under something called the Minsk Accords—the US has basically sided with Ukraine’s far right in undermining peace and undermining any prospect of peace inside Ukraine. I think it has put us on this path and that coincides with a US record of trying to bring Ukraine into NATO which US officials have long warned—internally—would be a very dangerous step. Also building up advanced weaponry on Russia's border…so for example, tearing up arms control treaties so that the US can install missile sites in Poland and Romania. All these issues are in the background of Russia's war in Ukraine and they're just not discussed. By not discussing them, we foreclose any possibility of diplomacy because for diplomacy to happen these issues have to be addressed.

RDW: Yeah, it's almost as though you have—in Washington—people with what the French would call an idée fixe. You know, a fixed idea of how the world works and they’re going to pursue their aggressive agenda without any regard for the fact that the world is changing all the time. If you ignore all of that, you're going to be running a policy that takes you right into a stone wall. I watched the competition between the United States and the People's Republic of China with a mentality—whether the Trump administration's trade wars and tariff wars or the Biden administration basically continuing it for lack of knowledge of what to do—it never works. The gap between China and the United States keeps narrowing. The Chinese outmaneuver us at every turn. The question isn’t asked…what's going on? It's a continual kind of hostility. If we keep the 7th fleet in the South China Sea somehow we're going to fix all of this… it’s bizarre.

RDW: I wish we had much more time. I had more questions for you. I hope you're right about what's happening to us in indie media and I hope it extends to a more politically diverse America than we’ve had so far. I wanted, above all, to thank you for the work you normally do and for being with us today. Thank you very much, Aaron Maté.

AM: Thanks for having me.

RDW: To all of you, as always I look forward to speaking with you again next week.

Transcript by Barbara Bartlett

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

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About our guest: Aaron Maté is a journalist who hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone, co-hosts Useful Idiots with Katie Halper, and writes at mate.substack.com. In 2019, he was awarded the Izzy Award (named after I.F. Stone) for outstanding achievement in independent media for his coverage of Russiagate in The Nation magazine.

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NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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.”

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SOURCES FOR SHOW SEGMENTS:

  1. Climate care: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/jan/26/uk-climate-minister-received-donations-fuel-aviation-companies

  2. Secret Service reports on mass shootings in US: https://www.secretservice.gov/newsroom/reports/threat-assessments/mass-attacks-public-spaces/details-1

  3. Fast-food restaurants wages: https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/25/business/california-fast-food-law-workers/index.html

  4. Debt ceiling theatrics: https://fiscaldata.treasury.gov/americas-finance-guide/national-debt/#:~:text=Over%20the%20past%20100%20years,to%20pay%20down%20its%20debt.

 
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Ask Prof Wolff: Why Do We Spend So Much on the US Military Industrial Complex?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "To what extent does the US Military Industrial Complex factor into the US economy as a whole? It seems like the US is at endless war and, in my opinion, there has to be a significant economic reason for this. Would the US economy take a great hit or maybe fall apart completely if not for the seemingly endless war profiteering?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

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Capitalism Hits Home: Where do Gender Roles Come From?

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In this episode of CHH, Dr. Harriet Fraad traces back the origin of gender roles to the beginning of civilization to explore how and why certain types of work have been historically and traditionally performed by the female gender.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

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Ask Prof Wolff: Why Can’t We Imagine Moving Past Capitalism?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "How should we answer when people say, 'capitalism is the only way there is, nothing else works.' How do we live without earning and profiting from our working and, in doing this, making ourselves prosperous from our own industry and ideas?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

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Economic Update: Are Mega-Corporations Ruining Our World?

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In this week's show, Prof. Wolff presents a critique of monopoly and oligopoly; past efforts and success in popular control over mega-corporations - in US and abroad; the fight back by mega-corporations to nullify reforms and regulations. Finally, some real solutions to the social problem and costs of an economy dominated by mega-corporations.

Timestamps

  • 00:00 - 01:11 - Introduction
  • 01:12 - 04:30 - Monopolies
  • 04:31 - 05:08 - Oligopolies
  • 05:09 - 07:15 - Unfair competition
  • 07:16 - 08:54 - Vertical integration
  • 08:55 - 10:01 - 19th 20th century responses to monopoly power
  • 10:02 - 10:22 - Sherman Antitrust Act
  • 10:23 - 11:00 - Clayton Antitrust act
  • 11:01 - 11:27 - Govt breaks up AT&T
  • 11:28 - 13:29 - Small Business Administration formation
  • 13:30 - 13:59 - Regulatory Capture
  • 14:00 - 15:21 - Announcements
  • 15:22 - 18:21 - Utility and Insurance Commissions
  • 18:22 - 20:07 - Small business response in France
  • 20:08 - 21:10 - Germany's response 50% seats on Board by workers
  • 21:11 - 29:46 - Solutions/Alternatives


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 and those of our children. I am your host, Richard Wolff.
Today's program is going to be devoted to large USA corporations, what they are, why they are there, and what their impact is. It is a topic many of you have asked me to address on many occasions. Instead of doing it a little here and a little there, which has been my approach so far, I thought I would take today's show and offer it as an analysis, not only of what mega corporations are and do in our society, but what can be done about it: how can it be challenged, contested, and changed. So let us jump right in.


Mega corporations: I simply mean the one, two, three, large corporations that dominate so many different industries in the United States. They typically use their economic power, strength, and size to buy political and cultural influence and power. They do that by buying mass media (being the great advertisers whose words and ideas you see all the time on the mass media); by donating to political parties and politicians much of the money they need to maintain their activities; hiring and firing and organizing lobbyists to work with the elected officials between elections and thereby to control political power. We know all of that. You do not need me for that. What I am doing is responding to their reality and that reality has recently been brilliantly analyzed, over and over again, by Ralph Nader, Chris Hedges, and many others well known to many of you.


Let us begin with a thumbnail critique of the mega corporations in our culture. Most of them are monopolists, that is, they are the only big fish in their industry. In that position, once they have acquired it, they can jack up the price of whatever it is they sell because they are the monopolist. There is nowhere else to go. The famous example from American history, which I will come back to, is the telephone. At a certain point, one company called AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph) was ‘the’ phone company. If you made a complaint about what they were charging you or the service they got for you, they would giggle at the other end of the telephone line they owned, by telling you: ‘You could always go to their competition.’ Ha ha ha! There was not any.


Sometimes monopolists have got themselves into trouble by this kind of behavior. Today, we have two examples: Walmart and Amazon. Both of them have destroyed thousands of small mom-and-pop businesses around the country and even some medium-sized bigger than mom-and-pop businesses. They have been a horrific destructive force in countless communities. That has got them a lot of opposition. There have even been communities that have blocked an Amazon warehouse from being located there or blocked a McDonald's hamburger or a Walmart because they do not like what it means. Often monopolists realize they can defend themselves better if they do not become the only one. Instead, when the competition winnows down the number of producers to two or three big corporations, they stop. They do not go to the ultimate one left because that will be a target for criticism. They have a stop sign. We will stay with three or four. By the way, in economics that is called an oligopoly, instead of a monopoly. Monopoly: one. Oligopoly: a few.


The best example is the automobile industry, which started in the 1930s with thirty, forty, or fifty car companies. Then it winnowed itself down to two, three, or four: General Motors, Chrysler, and so on. What is typically done by these big corporations is what we call unfair competition. They are big and they use their bigness, sort of like a bully would, by insisting that suppliers give them a better deal on inputs than the little guys get, or making sure that whoever they sell to, privileges their brand over any competitors. It is important to understand that capitalism has always tended to produce monopolies and oligopolies. It is built into this system. The easiest way to explain it is to tell you and to remind you (because I know most of you know this) that competition -- efforts by little and medium-sized businesses to out produce one another, to offer a better service or a cheaper product, or a better product -- always produces winners and losers: those who do well and their product sells and those who do not.


What you may not understand is that not only are there winners and losers, but the winners absorb, they literally eat up the loser. The company that goes out of business has to sell its equipment on the used equipment market. You know who buys it? The winner. The people who lose their jobs in the company that is out competed, you know where they look for a job next? In the company that won that competition. What slowly happens is many producers through competition become a few. If it keeps on going, it becomes the oligopoly or the monopoly. That is why the next time you hear some glib politician or some even glibber businessman/woman tell you about the wonders of competition, you are entitled to sneer.


Competition is what causes monopoly and oligopoly. Then there are cases when competition is deliberately removed. Here is an example: You are a big corporation, and you buy your inputs in the market, whatever they are. After a while, you realize you are never quite sure you will be able to get exactly what you want in the market at the quantity you want, and at the price you want. Tired of using the market, you buy the company. You absorb it. It is called vertical integration. You literally go out there, and instead of buying the product from the other company, you buy the company, so that production of that input becomes internal to your enterprise rather than external and has to be bought in the market. Once again, when you hear on the 4th of July, the joys of our market economy, please remember that large corporations almost always are the result of many decisions made by the company CEO and board of directors to get rid of the market, and to remove the market from their situation by bringing the other companies that they used to buy and sell from, to the inside. You know when they bring them inside? How it is all worked out? By economic planning. The very thing that you denounce as socialism is what every large company does inside because it has got rid of the market outside because it wanted to make more profits and have them be more secure. That is the story of the big corporations: how they work and how they got there?


Let us begin to unpack what we can do about it. I have to begin, as I like to do, with some history because we have, as a people in the United States (and there are similar stories for the rest of the world) risen up against big corporations over and over again in our history. I do not have time to go through many of them but the highlights.


At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, there was a mass movement here in the United States against huge corporations. They were called robber barons. That was the name of it. Books and articles were written. Newspaper journalists talked about the horrors of big corporations; the waste that goes on there; the illegality that goes on there; and the destructive social effects of big corporations. In 1890, we had the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The word trust was often used legally. In the campaigns against them, they were called the big trusts, the robber barons. Notice how different the society was when it called those people robber barons, whereas today they would want to be called (and they pay a lot for the PR) captains of industry. The Clayton Anti-Trust Act: in other words, Congress passed laws reflecting the mass movement from below to constrain them. The Department of Justice in Washington was equipped with an Anti-Trust division (which it still has) whose job it was (like the title says) to be against trust; to watch them; to catch them in their illegality; and to catch them when they violate the rules of an economic system like ours. It was all capitalism, but big corporations came in for a lot of attention. Same thing happened with that telephone company I mentioned before. The Government of the United States, under pressure from below, broke the company up. It broke it up into regional telephone companies that we still have because the monopoly that AT&T wielded was determined to be socially destructive and socially unacceptable.


We created in this country, something called the Small Business Administration, which exists to this day. You know why? Small businesses kept showing that they were being out competed and destroyed by illegal, unfair methods. Simple example: big corporation goes to a local bank and says: “We want a loan, and we want it at this interest rate.” The local bank says: “No, you have to pay more.” “Oh!” says the business. “Really! Then we are going to make sure that nobody banks at your bank. We are going to make sure that we go to another bank. We are going to put you right out of business.” The small business can not play that game because it does not have that many accounts. It is not a fair fight. It is not a level playing field. Big corporations get a bigger, better deal. So, we created the Small Business Administration, which deliberately goes out and offers small businesses lower interest rates and all kinds of other supports to keep them alive because the playing field is in fact tilted. Everyone knows it well that the big corporations did not take all this lying down. Who would expect that they would. As long as you allow them to be there, they will fight back. What did they do? They spent an enormous amount of money developing public relations: endless displays that you can see, and have to see, and have to listen to, about how the big corporation on the corner is really your good friend and is helping you. These days we hear about how it is all excited about the environment and fighting global war. Oh sure! It is even called by a name now: green washing to suggest what it is there for.


Another thing big corporations did is even more important. They began to realize that if the government was going to have an Anti-Trust Division, if state governments and others were going to do something (and I am going to give you some examples later), well, they could solve that problem by becoming the patrons. They could capture the regulators. It is called regulatory capture when the big companies that are supposed to be supervised by the political control of the supervising agency undercut the whole problem.


We have come to the end of the first part of today's show. Please stay with us. We will be right back.


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Welcome back friends, to the second half of today's “Economic Update.” We are talking about mega corporations, the big monster corporations whose initials we have all had to memorize and learn, and who dominate so much of what goes on politically, economically, and culturally. In the first half, we were talking about the ways in which we, as a nation, have fought back. I want you to get the history, so you know how possible it is, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. We do not have to resign ourselves to being dominated by large corporations. In addition to the problems of the large corporations, we have seen fightbacks. I mentioned some of them: breaking up AT&T and passing the Clayton and Sherman Acts.


Let me give you some more examples. In every one of the 50 states in this country, the states have established commissions. I am going to give you just two examples (there are more): A utility commission and an insurance commission. What does that mean? Very interesting! Both the utilities and the insurers (as they became monopolists or oligopolists, and as they became monsters in their industry) generated pushback. They generated anger from the companies, large and small, that had to pay exorbitant fees for the utilities they depended on, or the customers/individuals who did, or individuals and businesses who had to pay a fortune to big insurance companies who dominated the market. In every one of the 50 states, the pressure arose: ‘control these big companies.’ Here is what the commissions are entitled to do in the 50 states: before the insurance company or the utility company (by utility company I mean the electric company and all of that) can raise a price, they have to go before the commission; demonstrate what they are doing; show their books; and justify the increase they want. If they are already making a profit, and if the commission does not think they need to have a higher price to continue to make a reasonable profit, the commission has the right to say: “No, you cannot increase your price.” In other words, we are controlling and thereby limiting the monopoly power these mega corporations want and like to wield. Have we succeeded in limiting them? Absolutely.


Let me give you some examples from other countries. France is an interesting example. In France, small businesses, enraged about the unlevel playing field in competition with big ones, have organized themselves politically. What does that mean? They go to the two parties that usually are fighting in France: a conservative party (basically the mouthpiece of big business) and the Socialist Party (more likely the mouthpiece of the labor unions and the working class). The little businesses position themselves in between, and they say something very interesting in French politics. They say to the big guys: “You want us to work with you and help your candidates win? You have got to give us guarantees against the nasty competition you will otherwise subject us to, the unfair competition. If you don't give us that, we will make an alliance with the working class and we will screw you by supporting them in getting better deals for workers.” That is why the Socialist Party has succeeded, over and over again, in the last century in French politics, often occupying the presidency, often dominating the national assembly and so on. It is an interesting strategy, but it has worked. If you have ever been to France, you will know that small businesses are the heart of virtually every city. Big business is there, and big business has lots of power in France, but it is limited and constrained by this political way small businesses have blocked its advance.


Here is another example. In Germany, the working class was enraged by the behavior of these large corporations and forced through in elections by winning enough votes, again led by socialists. There has been a law now in Germany for many years: every German corporation, with more than 2000 workers, has to give almost half of the seats on the board of directors to individuals elected by the workers. Imagine that! Very hard for Americans to imagine that, but that is in Germany, the most successful economy in Europe. That is what they do to limit the power. Those big corporations cannot do all kinds of things because just shy of 50 percent of the board of directors will vote against them, and they need those workers to vote for other things they want to do. So, there is a limit and the control that is being exercised.


Government supervision has not proven to prevent big corporations, nor even to prevent their domination. It has limited it, it has constrained it, it has justified the efforts of people to make those kinds of reforms, but it has not solved the problem. The problem cannot be solved unless we deal with what big corporations are. We would like to believe we aspire to a democratic society, and those of us who are not so critical, imagine we have already gotten there. If you are serious about democracy, then one of the things a democracy ought to decide and put up to a vote is what size enterprise we want. Suppose we do not want mega corporations to have the kind of power that they do in our culture. They have captured most of the regulatory commissions and have dominated the two major parties. That is obvious. They shape the culture through their control of the media who are themselves monopolists and oligopolists. Therefore, there are hardly any voices of criticism. If we want to deal with that, then let us democratize the enterprise in the following sense: we should decide, “Do we want any mega corporations? Do we want none? Do we want something in between?” Let us not be fooled by people who say: “Well, if you want modern economic wealth, you have to have big corporations.” One of my teachers, many years ago, John Kenneth Galbraith made that argument that ‘we have to accept big corporations because otherwise we would not have the wealth we do.’ I have two answers to that. Number one: that is a proposition that has never been proved. Big companies always were small companies. If you ever talk to someone from a big company, honestly, maybe after two or three Martinis (they are used to that), you get the following story: “We were much more creative in this company when we were much smaller. Now we are a big unwieldy bureaucracy. Everything takes very long. We do not grow very fast.” Interesting! Let us see how far that goes.


Maybe we would be all better off with an economy that had fewer big monsters. Maybe we could decide as a society that little companies do not get the kind of supervision that big companies do. We can take the idea of the commission for utilities and insurance and take it more generally. Let us supervise everything that gets beyond a certain size. If you want to go beyond a certain size, you are now subject to constraints and rules and regulations that we do not impose on medium and small companies to prevent the big ones from abusing the gains that they get by being large and nothing more than that.


Let us make more smaller firms. Let us encourage smaller firms. Let us break up big firms into smaller firms, especially, if we believe in the market competition idea. Let us really have it. Maybe, let us be even bolder and imagine that not only do we organize enterprises in our society, which don't get to an overwhelming size (the way we have today), but let us make corporations into worker co-ops. You know we advocate for that. One of the reasons we do that is that they are not governed by profit. They are not governed by a competition that has to make them bigger all the time. If they grow, we can have more companies to serve a growing demand. We do not have to have one company that becomes a behemoth, an enormity that overwhelms us in ways we do not want. We can shape the economy we live in to respond to our democratic needs. What it is doing now is responding to a small number of capitalists who sit at the top of big corporations. They love the enormous power they wield. They love their ability to give themselves the kind of wealth that the pharaohs had in ancient Egypt: you know, the Elon Musk phenomenon and all that goes with it. Yeah! They like it. They promote the PR that is supposed to convince all of us to go along and imagine it should be this way, or it has to be this way, or it is efficient. It is not any of those things. It has been a big burden on the United States, at least, as much as anything else. It has led citizens, like us, in the past to fight back with anti-trust, commissions, and much more. It is time now, as we see the enormous inequality generated by these companies and the super rich. They are the ones who sit at the top. That is why you know names like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or Bill Gates or the others. It is because they sit at the top of these enormous wealth powerhouses. They are not wealthy because they are smart, well-known, and clever. We think they are smart, well-known, and clever because they sit on the wealth. We allowed that wealth to get to that enormous size.


Even if it were true that we might not generate as much wealth if we had smaller industries, maybe there is a good argument for sacrificing some of the wealth we produce to have a different way of relating to one another in our daily lives because we are not under the pressure of a few big corporations. The advertising coming at you from every corner: the fact that you have to look at the Coca-Cola ads, young people cavorting on the beach eight million times in your life is not a choice you made. That is their decision of how to get you to buy more Coca-Cola. That is because they profit from that. Is that really the way we want our society to be shaped in the present and the future by those who sit at the top of these monstrosities? I do not think so. I think, in fact, we could learn from the surges of pressure from citizens against those kinds of industries in the past, from the efforts they made, noble that they were, and the struggle that they took. They were outrun by these big corporations who used their money to blunt the effectiveness of the movements against them, to capture the very regulators that the reformists set up. Let us learn from that. Laws and regulations are not enough. The very core of the problem is how we allow private capitalists to compete themselves into monopolies and oligopolies. That is the root of the problem. That is what has to be changed if we are going to solve the problem. It is not a complex idea. It is only perhaps new and that is partly because those very forces make it very hard to get these ideas out there and across to the people who need to hear them, see them, and act on them.


Thank you very much for your attention. As always, I look forward to speaking with you again next week.

Transcript by Asma Siddiqi

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Ask Prof Wolff: How Do Austerity Politics Impact Policing?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "From a Marxist economic perspective, can you explain how austerity politics and austerity measures eventually lead to over-policing?"

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Anti-Capitalist Chronicles: The Impact of War on Civilians

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In this episode of Anti-Capitalist Chronicles, Prof. Harvey focuses on the impact of war on civilians, both today in Ukraine and historically. While it is a war crime to attack civilian populations, there is a long, deadly history of it. From the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the fire bombs in Dresden and Tokyo, the US is far from innocent of civilian attack. Harvey reminds us that the horrors inflicted on Ukrainians today should be judged in a similar manner as we judge those atrocities of the past. 

David Harvey's Anti-Capitalist Chronicles is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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Ask Prof Wolff: What Happens to the Stock Market After Capitalism?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "I, as a socialist myself, agree with the socioeconomic model that you advocate, with worker-owned cooperatives substituting today's private businesses. However, making the actual changes, reforms and, if you like, revolution, would also bring an end to stocks, stock-based companies, and the stock market. I can't get my head around how we actually get rid of the capitalist stock markets without letting the state take over with force or having the capitalists cause big damages to the economy as an act of revenge. What should we do with the stock market?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

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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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

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Cities After…Urban Activisms at the Border with Fonna Forman & Teddy Cruz

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In this episode of Cities After…, Prof. Robles-Durán interviews Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman about their work with public institutions and community partners on both sides of the US/Mexico border, in San Diego and Tijuana. Tijuana, as Cruz reminds us, has always been a geography of conflict and of crisis. Cruz and Forman’s work is deliberately situated at the intersection of formal, often exclusionary, American institutions and grassroots community organizing. By building coalitions, the interplay between various groups—researchers/political scientists and migrants/community organizers becomes more collaborative and less top-down. Their goal for creating community stations is to build public space that is “not about beautification, but public space that is deliberately injected with co-curatorial programming in perpetuity.” In this conversation, Cruz, Forman, and Robles-Durán discuss changes in border politics since Trump, asylum policies and climate change, working with formal institutions and creating “cultural coyote” organizations, the challenges they face while working at the local level, and more.

Cities After... is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


About our guests: Teddy Cruz (MDes Harvard University) is a Professor of Public Culture and Urbanization in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego. He is known internationally for his urban research of the Tijuana/San Diego border, advancing border neighborhoods as sites of cultural production from which to rethink urban policy, affordable housing, and public space. 

Fonna Forman (PhD University of Chicago) is a Professor of Political Theory at the University of California, San Diego and Founding Director of the UCSD Center on Global Justice. Her work focuses on climate justice, borders and migration, and participatory urbanization. She serves as Co-Chair of the University of California’s Global Climate Leadership Council.

Together they are principals in Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman, a research-based political and architectural practice in San Diego investigating borders, informal urbanization, climate resilience, civic infrastructure and public culture. They lead a variety of urban research agendas and civic/public interventions in the San Diego-Tijuana border region and beyond. Their work has been exhibited widely in prestigious cultural venues across the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York; Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; M+ Hong Kong, and representing the United States in the 2018 Venice Architectural Biennale. They have two new monographs: Spatializing Justice: Building Blocks and Socializing Architecture: Top-Down/Bottom-Up (MIT Press and Hatje Cantz) and one forthcoming: Unwalling Citizenship (Verso).


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Economic Update: Inequality’s Insidious Spread - COVID-19, India, Insurance

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In this week's show, Prof. Wolff presents updates on India's extreme inequality and its lesson, employers squeeze employees with "non-compete" job contracts, and how the profit motive distorts the concept of insurance. In the second half of the show, Wolff interviews Dr Stephen Bezruchka on how deeply and globally inequality endangers health with special attention to the US and Covid-19.

Timestamps:

  • 00:00 - 01:14 - Introduction
  • 01:15 - 06:55 - India's inequality
  • 06:56 - 10:03 - "Non-compete" job contracts
  • 10:04 - 14:47 - Insurance
  • 14:48 - 16:12 - Announcements
  • 16:13 - 30:55 - Interview with Dr. Stephen Bezruchka


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 and those of our children. I'm your host Richard Wolff. Today's show is going to be talking about the Indian economy, now that India is becoming the largest country on Earth, by population surpassing China, the non-competition clause in lots of job contracts that's being fought out in this country at this time and then the peculiar capitalist problems of our insurance industry that affect us all in countless ways. And then we'll have in the second half an interview with a remarkable professor of public health Dr. Stephen Bezruchka.

So let's jump right in. Oxfam over in the United Kingdom, one of the most widely studied and respected research institutes when it comes to charting distributions of wealth and income around the world, has just released a report on India. And there are things in there about India I want to talk to you about. But not so much because of the significance, although it's enormous for India, but the larger lesson about the world that is buried in what I'm about to tell you.

Okay, first Oxfam shows that the richest one percent of people in India, and remember it has 1.3/1.4 billion people in that country... The richest one percent own 40.5% of the total wealth. In 2020 India had a hundred and two billionaires. Today it has 166. The pandemic may have killed huge numbers of Indians as well as people around the world but it made more billionaires in that country. 40 percent of the wealth created in India between 2012 and 2021 went to the top one percent. Right? 40% of the wealth created in those eight years/nine years went to the top one percent. Over that same period of time only three percent of the total wealth created went to the bottom 50% of that population. Okay, at the same time 64% - two-thirds of the taxes raised in that country - came from that bottom 50 percent.

All right, what does this mean? It means that India shows the same extreme inequality that you have in the United States and in many other rich countries. And why am I telling you this? Besides that even Oxfam, which has seen a lot, found this level of inequality in such an otherwise poor but emerging economy, called it "obscene," a word I would attribute to the United States for the same reasons.

But why am I talking to you about this? India was a colony, the most important colony the British Empire ever had, more responsible for the wealth accumulated in England than any other part of the British Empire. It was an enormity, it fought very hard in the 19th century and right up to Mahatma Gandhi's leading it into independence after World War II. It fought for and won an independence that inspired people around the world. However, independence politically for a former colony is clearly not enough. Because what it did was enable the same capitalism that produced inequality in the countries that colonized to continue and do the same in the countries that were colonies of the colonizers. The inequality grotesque in UK today is replicated in India. To break out of the horrors of colonialism the greatest of the leaders of Independence knew that getting independence politically - governing yourself, - however important, was only half the battle. You had to also change the economic system. Because if you didn't you'd replicate in your own country what you had to fight against in the colonizer. That's why the most important leaders for independence, and let me name four of them, I could pick many more: Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Mao Zedong in China and Subhas Chandra Bose in India all argued you have to go beyond capitalism, as well as beyond your colonial status within capitalism, or else the system will resurge inside your independent country. Oxfam statistics about India prove how right those radical leaders of independence movements were.

My second update has to do with struggles over non-competition clauses. 30 million workers in the United States - that's 20% of our labor force - has this in their contract. Here's what it means: when you sign up to work at 'company A' you commit legally, you enter into an agreement never to go to work, or not to go to work for 10 years if you ever leave this 'company A' that you're signing the contract with you promise not to work for one of its competitors or maybe in the same industry or words like that. And you are subject to being prosecuted, tried, sued if you break that contract. And what it means is if you're working for an employer you can't leave and get a better job at better pay with somebody else who's in competition with your employer. It's a limitation on your freedom as a worker to do better. Since you're in one industry with its competitors you can only leave if you find a job in another industry. But in another industry you don't have the experience of this industry which would otherwise get you a higher salary. Employers fight like crazy for this. Because it's basically imprisoning their employees within the company because you're limited in terms of what you can do leaving. Companies don't have to be competing with one another for good workers. And workers are fighting it. It's just another aspect of the endless class struggle between employers and employees - now it's on wages, then it's on prices, then it's on working conditions. And now it's on non-compete clauses.

I would question, if I might, some of the arguments on the workers side who are arguing about liberty. In other words a non-compete clause limits the liberty of the worker. Of course that's correct, that's its point. But if you're really concerned about liberty, what about all the other things workers can't do? They can't take a break if they need it, because the employer can fire them, they can't speak in certain ways, they can't be politically active in certain ways, they can't, in fact, mobilize to form a union. Their liberty is constricted by the very way the job is set up, with a tiny group of people at the top who have all the power and the mass of employees have next to none. Liberty is not what we're talking about here, folks. Class struggle is what we're talking about. And your liberty is always limited when it comes to how you can better yourself if that interferes with the profit of those who run the show. That's why the critique of capitalism is the order of the day.

I want to turn next to the insurance industry, with particular emphasis on health insurance. I want to remind everybody about some basic economics here. Why do we have insurance of any kind? Because unexpected, unforeseen, unwanted things happen to us. And we want, knowing that, that there's a risk of that, to do something that protects us in the event that happens. It either protects us from that happening or it protects us from the bad consequences that might show. So for example if we're worried about fire doing damage to our home or an automobile accident hurting us or other people or you name it we buy insurance - health insurance, car insurance, you name it. Insurance is something societies do. As a community we maintain a fire department. Why? Is there a fire in my house? No. But there could be, there might be. There might even be a fire in the house next door. I want someone to come and put it out rather than risk it coming over to my house. So we collectively pay taxes to sustain a fire department, because it's rational to do it. And the same applies to the possibility of sickness. I can get sick. I want help if that happens. I might lose my job, I might lose the income because I can't go to work because I'm sick or I'm injured or I had an accident. And it's not just that. I'm worried about it with other people, because they might be my employees. If they're sick they don't come to work. They might be my relatives, they might be my neighbors, they might be the children of my neighbors who get my children sick. You understand there's lots of unknowns in the lifetimes we all lead. And protecting us is what rational people do.

But it gets messy if we allow private profit-seeking enterprises to enter in here between us on the one hand and taking care to protect us from the unknown in the future. Why? Well, let's give an example with health insurance. The insurance company is a profit-making enterprise. So here's what they want: they want to get the most money they can that we pay in the premiums, you know, every month or however we do it. And they want to pay out the least in the claims we make. So we have the bizarre craziness that we have insurance companies - health insurance companies, medical insurance companies... Here's how they work: they don't want to sell policies, except to people who are rich and can be sure to pay. And they don't want to sell policies to people who are needy of the very service that the insurance provides. So they pick and choose who to market their insurance policies to - those with the most money who therefore need it least and those with the least likelihood of making a claim, the ones who need it least in other words. They even charge them differently.

We allow profit-making to have the following kinds of result: millions of people who get a cough, get sick over the last three years had COVID but they didn't go to the doctor because their health insurance doesn't make that easily available. That's crazy, that's crazy. Profitable companies limited their policies to people who didn't need it. So those people didn't have the insurance they could have had and might have let them go to the doctor. But the insurance company didn't have them to worry about; those poor people who have trouble paying the premium and who are likely to need it. Profit-making is an irrational way to handle the insurance every society needs. We allow private profit to go in there and run that. And so we have an insurance system that's very profitable but does not protect huge numbers of us from all of the unexpected and unwanted surprises that life brings. That is a very basic flaw of the capitalist system.

We've come to the end of the first part of today's show. Please stay with us. We will be right back with professor and author Dr Stephen Bezruchka. Before we move on I want to remind everyone Economic Update is produced by Democracy at Work, a small donor-funded non-profit media organization celebrating 10 years of producing critical system analysis and visions of a more equitable and democratic world through a variety of media. Like the series Ask Prof Wolff, which is a collection of my responses to questions from Democracy at Work supporters. If you have a question you'd like me to answer go to patreon.com/democracyatwork or our website democracyatwork.info and sign up to support the work we do and submit your question. I try to get to as many as I can and I thank you for getting involved. You can also learn more about all the work we produce, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on social media and join our growing community of supporters who make all of this possible and for whom we are very grateful. So thank you and please stay with us, we will be right back.

RW: Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. I am very pleased, indeed I'm honored, to have a guest with us today Professor Stephen Bezruchka. Stephen Bezruchka and I have been corresponding for some time. And he has taught me quite a bit in those exchanges we've had. And I think more than with many people that I learned from he's someone that I think can also be a very important teacher for all of us. So it's doubly pleasing for me to have him share some of his time with us. He is a Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington on the West Coast. He worked clinically as a doctor for 35 years, including three decades as an emergency physician. He also spent over 11 years in Asia, in Nepal, working on public health there. He created the Population Health Forum in 1997, serves on the Board of Directors of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and works with its Economic Inequity Health Task Force. So, first of all Stephen, if I can presume to call you that, thank you very much for your time and for being with us today.

SB: It's a privilege for me to be on the program.

RW: All right, let me jump right in. You have a brand new book, the title of which is Inequality Kills Us All: COVID-19's Health Lessons For The World. Well, what could be a more urgent topic than that? COVID-19 is still with us, COVID-19 is on everybody's mind, has affected every one of our lives in probably more ways than we can count. So if it has important lessons to teach us maybe we can make good things happen out of a bad thing by figuring out what those lessons are and facing them. And the one you stress is the link between economic inequality in a society and its health, including how it handles a virus. Can you explain your basic idea for us?

SB: Well, beginning in 1979 studies began exposing the link between income inequality and various mortality measures in countries around the world. And to fast forward to the present we now have some four to five hundred studies linking income and wealth inequality to measures of health among countries, within countries [in] tremendous detail there, that mostly has escaped other people presenting these ideas. Possibly because they don't feel they have the background to do so. So more unequal societies have worse health outcomes is the general principle - more inequality leads to more problems. So this helps explain why today the United States, we in the United States, die younger than people in over 50 other countries. Those include all the other rich countries and some such as Thailand or Chile. You know, countries we wouldn't think of that people would have longer lives than we do. And this can be using the scientific principles of causality. It's not just an association, inequality causes worse health.

And I put the title to mean inequality affects us all to point out that nobody in the United States can escape the effects of inequality. As an example the oldest old person at any one time is never in the United States. So we are all impacted by inequality. And that is we're dead first among rich nations. And I think most of us, if we knew that, would prefer to live a longer life than a shorter one.

RW: All right, let me pick up on that. Many people, although not so many in the United States, but many people around the world have noted that the United States, what?, clearly one of the richest countries in the normal measure in the world nonetheless suffered numbers of dead from COVID-19, numbers of people who got sick, numbers of people who will be wrestling with the so-called long COVID for who knows how long. So it seems kind of clear, and I want your response, that your point applies very urgently right now that the United States had such wealth, has such a developed medical system but it didn't amount to very much when it came to protecting us from a terrible virus.

SB: That's right. To begin with, we conflate the terms health and health-care. In our day-to-day language we talk about accessing health, paying for health, getting health, ensuring health. But it's healthcare that should be the phrase there. So we think health and health-care mean the same. And therefore health-care must produce health. Now, to achieve our poor health status - we spend almost half of the entire world's health-care bill, it's a 4.1 trillion dollar economy in the United States for 2021. That's one sixth of our total economy is spent on health-care. And it's certainly a great economy for providing jobs and huge pandemic profits. But it hasn't provided health. We have 1.1 million deaths from COVID. You know, the concern is in China. And it'll be an interesting race to see whether China comes anywhere close to us, despite their having three times/four times the population that we do.

So COVID-19 has lots of lessons to teach us. One is that among U.S states in 2020 COVID mortality was linked to the income gap among U.S states. Among 84 countries COVID deaths were related to the income inequality among those countries. I mean, you know, all the nails are hammered into the coffin.

RW: Yeah, it strikes me as, you know, Americans normally would pride themselves; if we spend more than everybody else in the world for so-called health-care and our health outcomes are as mediocre or poor compared to those in these other countries then obviously either we're paying too much or we're getting too little for what we're paying or both. And normally you would expect someone to say "well, something is terribly wrong here." But instead we seem to want to continue to imagine that we are the center of the world's good health. Kind of a strange disconnection from what's really going on.

SB: I think the main lesson is to do away with the idea that it's health-care that produces health. Health is produced, you know, living longer is produced by other factors. One is, as I've already pointed out, more inequality leads to worse health outcomes. And part of the reason is we don't support early life - the period from roughly conception to when you're blowing out two candles on your second birthday cake - roughly half of your health as an adult has already been programmed. So longer lived countries privilege that period. There are only two countries in the world that don't give a working woman who's pregnant paid time off after she has her baby. One is, of course, the United States. And the other is Papua New Guinea - half of a big island north of Australia. Only two countries in the world with populations of a million or more that don't have a national policy of paid maternity leave. That's a disgrace.

RW: How do you account for me - I know you're a physician, you're a professor of public health... But a disgrace on that scale with what you've told us, how it limits how long we live and what you've told us about its role in making us suffer from COVID more than we could have or should have... How does this persist?

SB: Well, it's almost, you know, American exceptionalism is the idea that everything in this country is the best that it ever could have been and will be in the future. And it's all, you know, you can't... This is the greatest country in the history of the world. And that's an innate belief that anybody born in this country subscribes to. Now the people who tend to speak out as I do were not born here. I was born in Canada. I chose to come down here. And by that choice I will live a shorter life. You know, lives are considerably longer in Canada. And so a few other people who are as outspoken as I am have followed the same trajectory. They immigrated here thinking it was the best place in the world. And, boy, were they surprised.

RW: What do we do about this?

SB: It's very clear that most Americans do not know that we're dead first. And first we have to know that there's a problem. Namely, we have to become aware. You and I can harken back to 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik. They were the first country to launch a satellite into space. And it beamed a signal down on Earth. And, my God, we were caught unawares. You know, we had nothing in the works like that. You know, and the news portrayed this all over. And so what did we do? Well, we set a goal to land a human on the Moon by the end of the next decade. So once people become aware and they're bothered by something then we can have a goal. For example to become the... Well, to stop seeing our health decline let's... You know, our mortality rates are going up absolutely. We need to stop that. Otherwise we'll be like Russia in 1991 when after the former Soviet Union collapsed mortality shot up in Russia. And it hasn't returned to the levels that it was then. And our mortality is doing the same thing, not quite at the same pace as Russia's. But who knows what will happen in the future? So if Russia's example could be broadcast to the American people and then we would set a goal to stop our health decline so we don't live shorter, sicker lives. I think most Americans would buy into that. Then they have to ask the question of 'well, what do we need to do?' So we need to inform people what produces health in a society: a more equitable society - you know, tenants of socialism that you espouse.

I tell my students about worker-owned or about workers being on the boards of directors. On Thursday I'm going to point out for Mercedes-Benz in Germany a third of the board of directors are workers. So, you know, you got to teach this stuff at whatever level you can. Chapter 10 in the book is all about the various things that individuals can do, organizations can do, bosses in workplaces can do, teachers can do. It's something I haven't found in any other publication, very specific things to do. One of them is, of course, to gain fluency. I tell my students to do an elevator speech. You know, blurt out everything that encapsulates the key idea in 10/15 seconds and practice it when you get a marketing call in the evening that's being recorded for quality assurance purposes.

RW: Okay, wonderful. And my only comment: this is very helpful and I urge people to take a look at that book. There's much to learn in there about the problem we face that has to be more widely understood. I do worry that the profiting insurance companies and drug and device makers and doctors in hospitals will be slow to give up the privileges they've won in the name of better public health. But my hope is that in the end the majority will win what it has long deserved. And thank you again Stephen, I really appreciate your taking the time with us. And to my audience, as usual, I look forward to speaking with you again next week.


Transcript by Brendan Tait

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


About our guest: Stephen Bezruchka, a graduate of Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Stanford universities, teaches courses in population health in the Departments of Health Systems and Population Health and of Global Health as faculty in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.He worked clinically as a doctor for 35 years including three decades as an emergency physician.  He spent over 11 years in Nepal, writing the first trekking guide to that country, running a community health project, training Nepali doctors in a remote district hospital and advancing concepts of population health. He focuses on creating greater public understanding of the determinants of health through teaching, talking and writing at various levels from middle school onward.  He created the Population Health Forum in 1997.  He serves on the board of directors of the Washington Physicians For Social Responsibility and works with its Economic Inequity Health Task Force. 

His book:  Inequality Kills Us All: COVID-19's Health Lessons for the World is published by Routledge.  (blurbed by Richard on the back cover)

Links: https://stephenbezruchka.com/


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NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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.”

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SOURCES FOR SHOW SEGMENTS:

  1. Oxfam report on India: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-64286673
  2. “Non-compete” job conditions: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2023/01/19/noncompete-agreements-harm-
    women-people-color/11046736002/
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Ask Prof Wolff: BlackRock, Homeownership and Reverse Mortgages

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Based on the content that I consume, my expectation is that factions of the 1% like BlackRock intend to own all family housing in America and rent it to us. The prices of homes going down paired with higher interest rates makes the game even more favorable for those who can buy these properties in one payment. My question is, how will these parasites intercept houses from young people who are expecting to inherit their parent's home? Is there a mechanism for them to do that?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

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Capitalism Hits Home: Inflation & Manufactured Poverty

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In this week’s episode of Capitalism Hits Home, Dr. Fraad continues her discussion of the personal effects of inflation. In a country that bombards all of us, even our youngest children, with images of wealth and prosperity as a symbol of worthiness, it is humiliating to struggle to make ends meet. Our culture blames the individual for being stuck in a cycle of poverty, yet most of our policies push people further into hardship. It’s easy to feel despair and want to give up hope, but, as we wake up to the reality that our government and workplaces don’t have our backs, we can join together with the masses—our fellow employees—drawing inspiration from the recent wave of labor protests and unionization efforts across the US and demand better conditions.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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Ask Prof Wolff: Fascism, Keynesianism, and Military Spending

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "As we see billions once more go to Ukraine, as we have seen trillions upon trillions go to wars since WWII, isn't it correct to say that Military-Keynesianism is fascism? Technocratic fascism? If so, why? And if not, why not? A Boeing factory in every state, not to mention other military contractors that pay off the coin-operated politicians signifies fascist to me."

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

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Economic Update: Unionization, Marxism and Education

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In this week’s show, Prof. Wolff shares updates on Starbucks union growth; Texas journalists and Yale graduate students/employees unionize, strike, win; Western Mass Labor Federation denounces Biden's denial of railway workers' right to strike; two major kinds of US tax injustice: (1) exempting bonds and stocks from property tax when 10% richest own 80% of stocks and bonds, and (2) failing to levy excess profits tax on war profiteers as UK and Portugal have already done. In the second half of the show, Wolff interviews Notre Dame Professor Emeritus David F. Ruccio on Marxian economics, its absence from US universities, and its social insights.

Timestamps:

  • 00:00 - 00:48 - Introduction
  • 00:59 - 01:48 - Starbucks
  • 01:49 - 02:57 - Texas journalists unionize
  • 02:58 - 05:26 - Yale grad students 
  • 05:16 - 09:25 - Western Mass Labor Federation denounces Biden's denial of railway workers
  • 09:09 - 12:57 - tax injustices: property tax
  • 12:58 - 14:40 - UK and Portugal excess profit tax
  • 14:41 - 15:54 - Announcements
  • 15:55 - 31:29 - Interview with Dr. David F. Ruccio


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 those of our children. I'm your host, Richard Wolff.

In today's program, we're going to be talking about unionization, unions, labor actions across the country because they are heating up and changing the face of how we live our lives. I'm also going to be talking about tax injustice—two different kinds. Then, we're going to have an interview with a very important writer, Professor David Ruccio.

So, let's jump right in…the first little factoid to set the tone is what has happened to Starbucks workers across the United States. At the beginning of 2022, roughly a year ago, no Starbucks workers were unionized. As I'm speaking to you, the number has crossed 7,000. Across hundreds of Starbucks stores, workers who had needed and wanted a union for a long time but were unable to overcome the opposition of the company or their own anxieties and worries made the change. They became leaders of a unionization movement and a strike movement sweeping that corporation as indeed it is sweeping the whole country.

Let me give you another example. For the first time in the history of the state of Texas, a newspaper in Texas had its journalists—its workers—form a union. They did that two years ago. They struggled to get a contract with their employer. He didn't come across. They had a strike over recent weeks and guess what…that did it. The employer signed the contract and gave the workers an enormous wage increase. For those of you that are interested, I'm talking about the 117-year-old Fort Worth Star-Telegram which is now a unionized newspaper for the first time in the state of Texas. Right on its heels there are two more efforts pretty much going through the same experience—one in Dallas and one in Austin. So pretty soon the unionized workers in Fort Worth will have their fellow unionized journalists elsewhere in the state.

The third one I wanted to mention—choosing different parts of the country and different kinds of workers—is one I have a personal history with….Yale University's graduate students, roughly 2,000 of them, have been working for many, many decades. Why do I know that…because I was one. I was a graduate student some years ago and I worked at Yale and I worked for a ridiculously low amount of money for my professor who wanted me to do it and you don't say no to the professor who holds your future in his hands. I say his because there were very few hers at that time.

Well, those workers have been trying for decades to have a union so they get paid better…so that there's a little more care taken in providing them with the support they need to get their master's degree or their Ph.D. degree. Yale is a vicious—and long-standingly vicious—anti-union, anti-worker institution. It took a long time for the building and grounds workers to get a union which they have at Yale. It took an even longer time for the clerical and technical workers at Yale to struggle for and win and get a union and now it's the turn of the graduate students. Not only did the 2,000 vote for a union but I want to tell you what the vote was—1,860 in favor of the union…179 against it. A 91% landslide vote. The workers at Yale have come a long way and I know personally because I remember how hard the university worked to convince us we were graduate students…we were going to become professors…we weren't like truck drivers. We want nothing to do with a union and all of that and it persuaded a large number of students. It doesn't work anymore. The students understand when it comes time to pay your bills…tell people how much education you have…they still want the bill paid. You still have to earn a living. So there's remarkable things going on across the working class of the United States. We haven't seen anything like this for almost a century but I want to pick yet one more to close out this section of my talk this morning.

I want to make clear that there are other things going on in the labor movement and so I found something that struck me as very important. Thanks to some listeners and watchers of this program who sent this material to me. I'm talking about the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation (WMALF) that's a part of the AFL-CIO. It's the area of Western Massachusetts which has a federation of all the local unions across all industries…manufacturing services…all of it.

They get together on a regular basis and they voted on January 9th of this year to condemn—I’m going to quote now because I want to get it right—“to condemn in the strongest possible terms, the Biden Administration's conduct of December 2nd, 2022.” Here the resolution was real clear and to make it clear to all of you—that's when Mr. Biden enforced the return of railway workers, thousands of them, that were on strike or threatening to go on strike—to deny them the right to strike. They'd been negotiating with the company. They'd been doing what those Fort Worth journalists have done…what the Starbucks workers have done…what the Yale grad students have done. They were doing the same thing—exercising the right to strike to improve their working conditions and their pay. The Biden Administration came in—didn't have to—came in and threatened them with being arrested and put in jail if they exercised the right to strike—which used to be thought of as a basic part of anything calling itself a democracy.

So, let me read to you the resolution that was passed, by the way unanimously, by the Western Mass Area Federation of Labor. “The right to strike is a fundamental human right. Any legislation that denies workers the right to strike, whether the bill that Biden signed on December 2nd, 2022, the Railway Labor Act of 1926 or section 9A of the Massachusetts Public Employee Collective Bargaining Law. Any abridgment of that right to strike, they go on to say, “serves the interests of the bosses over the interests of the working class and should be deemed illegitimate.”

They then ask their fellow workers to support the following four-point program: “One, the union should stand in solidarity via our voices and our union resources with the railway workers’ demand for the right to paid sick time.” That was a big issue for them and reasonable work schedules. “Two, we should organize our members to resolve problems by taking collective action in our workplaces. Number three, we should build a democratic union where workers’ desires and needs are immediately taken seriously and acted upon…and fourth and final, we should deepen labor's commitment to hold elected officials accountable, to represent the interests of working people, and if and when they don't we should withhold our labor and our donations.” Take heed, Democratic Party…your reliance on the labor movement with giving so little back is coming to an end and that's led by the folks in Western Massachusetts.

I want to talk to you also, as tax season approaches, about the tax system here in the United States which is so fundamentally unfair and unjust. The way to deal with that is to identify the unfairness and fix it. The way not to deal with it is to cut the number of Internal Revenue Service agents trying to find people who are cheating the government out of the taxes they owe. What do I mean by injustice?

Let's remember what taxes do. We have basically three kinds of taxes in the United States. Number one—we tax income. When you earn money (your wage, your salary, your rent, whatever you have that brings you in money) you are asked to pay a tax on the income. That's the first kind.

The second kind–you are also taxed when you spend the money you've earned. For example, you pay a sales tax when you go to the department store and buy a shirt for your friends or yourself. You’re also required to pay a tax when you spend money on alcohol—that's a federal tax. Cigarettes—that's a federal tax and motor fuel, gasoline, and so on. So those are taxes when you spend money. Then there's a third kind of tax—not on the money you earn, not on the money you spend, but on the wealth you own. It's a property tax.

Most of us pay more than one of them. Some of us pay all three of them. So, if you hear someone say, “I'm double taxed,” you should grin or sneer—most of us are. There's nothing special about being doubly taxed. That's how tax systems work but here's the injustice…when I said to you that there's a property tax, now I can explain to you the injustice. It's a tax on property in the form of land. If you own land, you pay a tax on the value of the land, on a building, if there is one on the land, a home, a store. You pay a tax on the value of that property. If you have an automobile, you pay a tax for that. So do you pay a tax on all property? No. There's one enormous category of property that pays no property tax at all. Let me be real clear. Stocks and bonds is what I'm talking about—if you're really rich, most of your wealth is in the form of stocks and bonds. Most Americans have no wealth at all. If they have something, they have a home, they have land, they have a house and they pay property tax on that but if you're rich enough to have not only a car and a home but stocks and bonds that make you really rich those stocks and bonds pay no property tax at all. The 10% richest people in this country own 80% of the stocks and bonds. You get the picture. They are tax-exempt. That's why the rich get richer and you and I don’t.

We have a tax system that grotesquely favors those who need the favor least while continuing to tax your average person barely able to afford a home and a car. The injustice of it is screaming and here's the second injustice–in Europe today, in England, and in Portugal, particularly, the government has what are called excess profits taxes sometimes called windfall profits tax. If you have extra profit not because of anything you've done, but because of catastrophes facing society, the idea is you should not be able to benefit from catastrophes that hurt other people. So your excess profit (not the ones you get anyway but the excess because of the catastrophe) should be taxed by the government to help the people that are suffering from the catastrophe. So, England taxes energy prices—oil and gas because they went up due to the Ukraine war and the policies of governments to punish Russia for that war. That has nothing to do with the company that's making a billion out of charging high prices. Same thing is happening to food companies because of the difficulties of fertilizer coming out of Russia and Ukraine. Food prices have gone up as everybody knows and this is making huge profits for the food companies but hurting all the people who have to pay the higher prices.

So you tax excess profits of the food companies to help the people that are suffering the high prices. Portugal just did it…Britain has done it. I want you to understand—not only has the United States not done it—nobody proposes it. Nobody discusses it. We’re all supposed to pretend that we don't know that that's happening which is why I have mentioned it to you now.

We’ve come to the end of the first part of today's show. Please stay with us—we will be right back with professor and author David Ruccio. 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 critical system analysis and visions of a more equitable and democratic world through a variety of media—like the podcast Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraud that explores what's happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. You can find her show and more on our website democracyatwork.info You can also learn there more about everything we produce, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on social media—specifically our fastest-growing platform Instagram where you can get involved and help us explain why we need democracy in the workplace.

Please stay with us. We will be right back.

Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. It is with great pleasure and happiness that we have him with us today…that I want to introduce my guest, he is David Ruccio. He's a professor of Economics Emeritus—sort of like me but in his case, it's from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He's the author of over 90 journal articles and book chapters. He helped start the journal, Rethinking Marxism, and was its chief editor for 12 years. His latest book, Marxian Economics: An Introduction, was published last year by Polity Press. His blog, quite well known, is called Occasional Links and Commentary on Economics, Culture, and Society and his posts frequently appear on other blogs including the Real World Economics Review blog.

RDW: So first of all David since I’m going to call you that since we've known each other so so many years… thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to join us.

DR: Thanks, Rick…thanks for having me on.

RDW: Let’s jump right In and talk about your new book, really, literally, just off the press. you know I've been around long enough as you have to know that Marxism in its long history over the second half of the 19th century…the 20th century and into this century…has been pronounced over with, dead, gone…retired…disappeared, countless times…only to surprise everybody within 10 or 20 years to have a sudden resurgence.
Is your book part of a resurgence now? and if it is—is that part of why you wrote about it? So, how do you relate to this history of the interest in Marxism in general and Marxian economics in particular?

DR: Good question. In all honesty, yes and no. The no is…I didn't sit down to write it because things are going badly with capitalism and people are interested in alternatives. You and I have been doing this for many, many years through good times and bad, as I once told a group of students when they asked me to talk about the crises of 2007-2008. I walked in and I said, “I hate capitalism. I hate it when it's going poorly, as it is now and I hate it when it's going well as it has in other times.” So, this is what we do and we've been doing it for a long time. I think, however, it was part of the Polity Press invitation. I mean they're the ones who invited me—they wanted a book on Marxian economics and I put aside another project and decided to work on it so I would have done it at any time.

Now, I think, is a particularly interesting time. I think you know, I mean, we go back a long way…we can make the argument, I think, effectively, that capitalism has always had its critics and mainstream economics has always had its critics ever since they began. The way I do it in the book is capitalism brings forth its critical other and always has, but this time is a little bit different. After 2007-2008, right—what some people call the Great Recession, I call the Second Great Depression—after the pandemic, after the Black Lives Matter movement, after the concern about not only the environment but now climate crisis, I think people—and especially young people—are now, on one hand, more critical of capitalism and more interested in alternatives…what we call socialism…than at any other time in recent memory. I think there's a kind of new opening here.

RDW: I saw a poll just the other day that made me think about this again in agreement with your point. This is a Gallup poll and it showed that 28% of Americans identify politically with the Republicans and about 28% identify with the Democrats. Forty-one percent say they are opposed to both of them—they call themselves independent. My guess is, if you looked at the ages—the older you got they'd be in the first two groups and the younger you got they'd be in the third group which ought to make critics of the system sit up and take notice.

All right let me put the same question to you slightly differently. Who do you want to read this book…who are you trying to reach…what is it you hope this book will do or be for the potential reader?

DR: Listen, like every author in the world I want to reach everybody. I want everyone to read the book but you know, you’ve written many many books. You have an audience in mind and the particular audience I had in mind were my students. I'm retired now and I'm not in the classroom but I saw them as I wrote and partly based upon my lecture notes plus lots of new stuff and it's for all of those students who are forced in one way or another to take their Introduction to Economics. You taught Introduction to Economics…I did it for many decades…students never learn about alternatives so when they get Introduction to Economics they get a celebration of capitalism and they get a very narrowly defined mainstream economics. They don't get anything else.

This book, hopefully, is one of those other things. In fact, you know, I was contacted literally a week ago by a student at the University of Notre Dame, where I used to teach, who’s interested in Marxian economics and said he went to the department and no one could help him…not only are they not Marxists, they're not even read, they’re not even… they're not even literate in the tradition, so he's got nowhere to turn. So, what does he do? He heard from some of my former colleagues in philosophy and literature and there's this retired guy who might be able to help you out. So they keep contacting me and being who I am, I said okay, so we're literally this coming Sunday doing a zoom session on this book.

RDW: Wonderful, wonderful. I want to pick up on your mentioning your place of teaching for all those years—Notre Dame and I have kind of two connected questions. What was it like? How were you treated? This is one of the major Catholic universities in the United States… probably the best known. It's a place that is trying to be taken seriously as a university and I want you at the same time to answer the question that so many conservative politicians in this country like to say that somehow American universities are “full of Marxists.” I want you, because you actually worked in one, to tell me whether there's any sense to what they're saying and also—beyond what you've already told us in the story of that student—What was it like to be a professor in an American university like Notre Dame with the interests and the scholarship that you've devoted to being a critic of capitalism?

DR: You know it's a tale of two periods for me at Notre Dame. In terms of your second question—would but that it were the case—that American colleges and universities were full of Marxists—they are not—they weren’t at Notre Dame—they are not at all the colleges and universities that I know of in the United States and in many places around the world. Liberals of a kind of…I mean, American traditional liberal thinking—they are in many ways critical of what exists out there right now. Maybe that’s, you know, certainly more liberal than the general population but they’re not Marxist in any way shape, or form. They are not and they have not read Marx and when I would raise questions they would look at me like…what, what are you talking about?…they hadn't gotten it in their own education. Notre Dame hired me as a Marxist—got my Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, right, where you taught. They knew exactly what my background was and what my research was on which was at the time on socialist planning, various forms of socialism around the world and that's why they hired me. It was interesting because this was one of the few economics departments in the country—still majority mainstream economists—that prided itself on being an eclectic department. They wanted a little bit of everything. They wanted neoclassical economists and Keynesian economists but they also wanted post-Keynesian and structuralist pro-labor and in my case, a Marxist economist. They thought that I kind of identified with the Catholic Social Tradition and so we did for a couple of decades have a thriving economics department in which faculty could conduct their research and teach their courses and students would get all kinds of different stories or narratives about what capitalism was about, different criticisms of capitalism…different criticisms of mainstream economics and some of the alternatives and then things changed—and what changed was not just at Notre Dame…what things changed was American universities—what I call the new corporate university and Notre Dame was certainly part of that. It is interesting for us in economics because economics is taken to be one of those key disciplines. They don’t really care about literature. They don’t really care about any anthropology…they really care about economics and the administration—not the faculty and not the students—at Notre Dame decided they wanted a mainstream department. They wanted to get rid of all that eclecticism. They wanted to get rid of all that variety. They wanted just neoclassical and they stated this openly—neoclassical economists. As you know that makes them like lots…most economics departments around the country where students don't learn economic history. They don't learn the history of economic thought. They certainly don't learn Marxian economics or many of the other alternatives. They learn just one way of doing and thinking about economics. It's a shame and it means that we end up with—in terms of economics—a kind of illiterate population.

RDW: You know, the double irony—the same period of time in which they got rid of all of the Marxists, among others—is the time when the conservatives began their rhythmic repetition that the university is full of what it had just gotten rid of—the contrast between reality and what the politicians say. Why it’s so extreme it kind of suggests the Ukraine war but I won't go there because that's going to be a problem.

Let me ask you a different, although obviously related question.

DR: Sure sure.

RDW: Some people, typically those who don't know much about Marxian economics imagine that it is some sort of rationale for the government taking everything over that the government should own and operate and regulate industries…that the government should plan the distribution of resources and products—not the market. In other words, that Marxian economics is a kind of gloss on the state becoming the replacement for the private. How do you respond to that?…and we're running out of time, so this is a very difficult question and I'm giving you no time…no time at all to answer.

DR: Listen, I mean, historically I think we have to own the idea that’s what socialism was defined as—the state taking over. There's nothing in the Marxian tradition…there’s certainly nothing in the texts of Marx and Engels that said that's the way it should go…so that there have been some cases in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere where that has been the case…absolutely…but we live in 2023 and we live in the United States and there's not a lot of interest in the state taking over everything. So, when people are critical of capitalism and want an alternative, they're the ones who are going to invent it. You’re not going to invent it. I'm not going to invent it. People wanting concrete changes in their lives…people who are critical of—and say there's something wrong with this narrative—this silly little choice we have between conservatives and liberals. There’s got to be an alternative to that and one of those alternatives springs from the Marxian tradition. Here's a way of saying, “You want to redistribute goods and services well, Marx has come in and said that doesn't work so well.” We still got a lot of poverty. We still have a lot of inequality. what about the initial distribution? What may be wrong with the fact that the employers get to take home all the profits and do what they will and workers are still forced to have the freedom to go to work something may be wrong with that and that's I mean, just as a start, a kind of basic question that the Marxist could oppose.


RDW: David because we're running out of time I want you quickly to tell us what's on your agenda. What's happening, what's going to be your work in the immediate future?

DR: More of the same…continue to work on the blog, continue to work in this area. As I mentioned before, I was working on a book and put it on hold when Polity’s invitation came along. I said all right now's the time to write this book, so I'm working on another book called Utopia and Critique, that builds on some of the themes of the book. So the idea is: so what is Marxian economics? It's a critique of the existing common sense. It was a critique of the common sense in Marx's day and it is a critique of the common sense today. I'm interested in what does that mean in terms of utopia? How do we think about utopia as a form of critique? So that’s the next writing project on my table.

RDW: David, it's wonderful reconnecting with you. It's wonderful to hear your comments. I hope the rest of my audience is as intrigued as I am. I would urge you all to take a look at David Ruccio’s blog—it’s an ongoing commentary on what's going on. First rate in the insights you will not find elsewhere. To all of you, I will conclude today, as I always do, that I look forward to speaking with you again next week.

Transcript by Barbara Bartlett

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Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff is a Democracy at Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page, and help us spread Prof. Wolff's message to a larger audience. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.

Find quick and easy access to past episodes of Economic Update, including transcripts, on our EU Episode List page.


About our guest: Dr. David F. Ruccio is Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of over 90 journal articles and book chapters. His latest book is Marxian Economics: An Introduction, published last year by Polity Press.

 Dr. Ruccio was a founding member of the journal Rethinking Marxism, and he served as its chief editor for twelve years. A frequent speaker in interdisciplinary programs and conferences around the world, Dr. Ruccio has appeared on the BBC World News Service and has been interviewed by a wide range of national and international media. His blog is Occasional Links & Commentary on Economics, Culture, and Society, and his posts frequently appear on other blogs, including the Real-World Economics Review blog.

Links:  https://rwer.wordpress.com/author/dfruccio/

Twitter: @Dfruccio


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NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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.”

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SOURCES FOR SHOW SEGMENTS:

  1. Yale grad students unionize: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2023/01/09/graduate-and-professional-student-workers-vote-to-unionize-in-landslide-election/
  2. Texas journalist union: https://www.texasobserver.org/striking-does-work-fort-worth-journalists-win-only-newspaper-union-contract-in-texas/
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Ask Prof Wolff: Understanding Surplus & Capitalism’s Abuse of It

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Can there be another segment about surplus and economic sinks? If capital has to increase all the time, why is there a surplus? And if there is a surplus, why can't we spend it on social programs like health care and infrastructure?"

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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.”

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Anti-Capitalist Chronicles: Applying Marx’s Theories to Contemporary Struggles

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In this episode of Anti-Capitalist Chronicles, Prof. Harvey focuses on the concept of totality, conceptualized in Marx’s Grundrisse, and the importance of situating theoretical frameworks within on-the-ground struggles. Harvey explains how he’s spent his life’s work attempting to do this, focusing on issues such as housing, climate change, and more. Marx and Engel’s theoretical contributions are critical, but it is in the tangible application of them that the true benefits are realized.

David Harvey's Anti-Capitalist Chronicles is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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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.”

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Ask Prof Wolff: How To Get People on the Right to Hear Your Arguments

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "The war of ideas is real and, as often as I can, I engage with opposing ideas. From my perspective, I find that socialistic approaches to most social/economic issues check the box of many of the purported ideals of my more/less conservative neighbors, however, I cannot pierce the armor of their preconceptions. I'm tired of blaming their propaganda consumption. I want to affect their actions, not blame their cause. How can we overcome this deterrence? The cold hard merit of my arguments is not enough to overcome their insulation. Is there a better tactic for day-to-day arguments than relying on the merit of my arguments to bear fruit?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

Ask Prof Wolff is a Democracy At Work production. We are committed to providing these videos to you free of ads. Please consider supporting us with a monthly donation. Recurring gifts are especially appreciated because they enable us to plan for the future. Learn how we thank our monthly donors.

Do you have a question for Prof Wolff? With the Ask Prof Wolff series we hope to thank the d@w donors that ensure we can keep d@w shows free to everyone, while making video responses public so that everyone may benefit from the question and response. Become a monthly supporter of d@w and submit your question today!
 


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

February 08, 2023
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Cities After... Neo-Imperialism & Neo-Fascism at the Border

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In this episode of Cities After…, Prof. Robles-Durán takes a closer look at the ever-growing migrant crisis along Mexico-US border cities and its critical socio-environmental implications. It is an issue of urgency, particularly given the humanitarian disaster, the heightened American security impositions, the neo-fascist retaliations from Texas and other Republican states, as well as the political ramifications at both sides of the border.

Cities After... is a Democracy At Work production. We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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Check out the 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Now available at: lulu.com

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork


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Economic Update: 2023 World Economic Trends

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In this week's show, Prof. Wolff identifies and examines the larger economic dimensions and trends of three key aspects of today's global economy: Russia/Ukraine war, Europe's quandary, and the decline of the US empire. Attention focuses on the immense direct and indirect costs of the war in Ukraine; on Europe's desperate position and choices caught between the US and China blocs in the world economy; and on how the US empire is responding to its decline in the world economy. Our approach is to stress what so many others deny or minimize. The risk of war and lessons of the past decline of empires figure prominently in the analysis.

Timestamps:

  • 00:00 - 01:10: Intro
  • 01:11 - 02:42 - Inflation as class struggle
  • 02:43 - 04:50 - Non-profit vs. tax-exempt
  • 04:51 - 06:57 - Russia/Ukraine war
  • 06:58 - 09:19 - Direct costs of war: defense industry profits
  • 09:20 - 12:11 - Indirect costs of war: fossil fuel production
  • 12:12 - 14:41 - Eisenhower and the Military industrial complex
  • 14:42 - 15:48 - Announcements
  • 15:46 - 21:45 - Implications of war in Europe
  • 21:46 - 24:23 - Declining empires throughout history
  • 24:24 - 29:49 - Decline of US empire
  • 29:50 - 30:21 - NYC nurses strike


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 and those of our children. I'm your host Richard Wolff. Today's program is going to start by talking about very little things and then explode into talking about some of the biggest things happening early in this new year. I'm going to be talking about the war, that's right, the peculiar position of Europe these days. And then what it means to talk about a declining U.S empire. But before we get into those big topics I want to set the tone for talking straight and honestly about them by talking a bit straighter and more honestly than usual about two little topics.

The first one is inflation. Everybody's talking about inflation, prices go up. But let's be honest, the inflation, the one we're living through in the United States, Europe and beyond is also, and ought to be honestly acknowledged as, a class struggle. And here's what I mean very simply: prices are going up. In the United States, for example, between seven and nine percent per year. Let's remember what prices are. It's what you and I, the vast majority of people, pay to the tiny minority who are employers in our society - the ones who set the prices, who raise them. Because that's what an inflation is - when employers raise prices. So prices are the money we - the employees - give to them. Wages are what they give to us as employees. Prices have been going up by seven to nine percent. Wages in this country have been going up roughly half of that. In other words we're giving much more to our employers than they are giving to us. It's going up in both cases but they're getting the lion's share. That's a shift of wealth from the employees - the vast majority - to the employers - the tiny minority. That ought to be understood when we talk about abstractions like inflation.

Here's another one: entities, businesses that call themselves non-profits or not-for-profit. Don't believe it. I'll give you an example in a minute. They are for profit. They always have been for profit, most of them. Here's what they really are: tax-exempt. That's what the law gives them - the ability to do their business without paying taxes like your average business is required to do. It's just by calling them tax-exempt, their real honest name, we remind everyone that they get a special privilege. And so they long ago decided to market themselves with a new name: not-for-profit. That sounds like they're doing us a favor, they're not for profit. But, of course, that's not the truth.

And here's the best example I know: Yale University, where I was a student, where I graduated and where I taught for a while. I know the institution real well. It is tax-exempt. It doesn't pay tax to the Federal Government, it doesn't pay tax to the state of Connecticut and it doesn't pay tax to the city of New Haven, Connecticut where it is mostly located. It's tax-exempt but it calls itself non-profit. I have looked at the statistics for Yale for many years. For the vast majority, almost every one of those years, they were profitable as a university. What do I mean? They earned more money than their costs. Revenues were larger than costs; the difference, they made a profit. But they took the profit and put it into their savings account, their endowment it's called. And they call that a cost. And then they announced to the public "we're not for profit." Don't be fooled. Not-for-profit is usually profitable. And the irony: the profit they get is in large part due to the taxes they don't pay.

Now let's use that kind of honesty and directness on bigger topics. One is the war. Let's not pretend we're not involved in an enormous war in Europe, in the Ukraine, as we all know. I want to remind you all of the economics of war. Because it applies to this one. We used to call wars like this wars of the great powers: World War One, World War II were clashes of great powers. This one is too. But we're not willing to call it that. You know, like not-for-profit rather than tax-exempt. But I want to talk about what war is economically. First, wars have to be paid for. The United States has given over a hundred billion dollars to the war in Ukraine on the side of the Ukrainians. Okay, let's be clear, resources are used to produce guns and planes and uniforms and everything else being given to Ukraine. Those resources, human beings working, raw materials, machinery, transportation could have been used for other purposes. The cost of the war is resources not used to produce all kinds of things here in the United States for the people of the United States - workers doing work that could have benefited the United States. Other kinds of production are curtailed because we use the resources to produce for a war. Even if you believe (wrongly, but if you believe,) that unemployed resources and unemployed people were brought into production to produce for the war that's just a reminder that those unemployed people and unemployed resources could have been used to do all kinds of other things to deal with the problems of the United States.

Okay, next: wars produce extraordinary profits for the defense industries, the war machinery in this country; the planes, the rockets, the missiles, the tanks, the whatever. Enormous profits are made as energy prices have gone up, particularly in Europe. Huge extra profits were earned by energy companies. The Europeans did something typical, they taxed those energy companies. They said "your profits are windfall profits, you're profiting off a war, that's kind of obscene. So we're going to tax you to help pay some of the costs to us of this war." The United States could have done that. But, with the courageous leadership of Mr Biden, it did nothing of the sort. Defense industries are doing well, energy companies are doing well. Yeah, war is profitable for some, even if it's an immense cost for others.

Then there is the indirect costs of the war. I want to talk a little bit about those because those don't seem to be on the agenda at all as we, gung-ho, do our patriotic best. Inflation, you know what helps cause inflation? Big boosts in government spending. Guess what the war in Ukraine means? A big boost in government spending. The spending on the war in Ukraine is inflationary. And if we had honest leaders they'd talk about that. Because the inflation is something we say "we're fighting, we're raising interest rates, which hurts large numbers of people in order to slow down the economy." But the same government that raises interest rates through the Fed is stimulating the very inflation they're supposed to be fighting by massive spending - over a hundred billion dollars on the war in Ukraine. Wow! What about that! What does that mean?

Then there are other indirect costs. All over the world, because of rising prices of oil and gas, investors, big oil companies are spending money again investing in more fossil fuel production. There are struggles inside Germany as they reopen old coal mines to bring coal up, lignite. Some of the worst pollutants we have in the world are being revived to cope with the energy price increases that flow from the war in Ukraine. Yeah, the cost. Who will pay all the emphysema that comes from this pollution, all of the global warming that comes from it? The costs of this war are staggering. Then there are millions of refugees in countries that are not involved in the war. They are going to be there, in some cases for the rest of their lives. They're costing those societies enormous amounts of money. Other countries, fearful that the war might spread, are increasing their defense spending. Which means resources in those countries get diverted from socially useful projects to preparing for war. The costs of this war are huge and enormous. And I want to drive home an implication of this for all of you. And it's very, very important. These kinds of expenditures far exceed, when you add them all up, the immediate costs of war. And I'm not talking, of course, of the horrible destruction of the people and the economy of Ukraine itself. We might have avoided most of that had we come to a realization of the costs of war that I've just described. Because those costs are much larger than the billions of dollars we could have offered to the people of Ukraine. Instead of a war, here is an amount of money that allows those of you that would like to move from one part of Ukraine to another, out of the Ukraine to Russia, if that's your desire. We could have rearranged things. That would have advantaged millions of Ukrainians, besides not taking their lives and their economy from them, helping them. We would have saved a lot of money. As well as lots of lives. We should have thought about that.

When big powers clash the destruction is enormous. Like it was in World War One and like it was in World War II. We need to deal with these economic realities. And we haven't done so. And here's a last, far from least, but the last cost of war. Wars drive home a relationship that we should never forget. It's what Dwight D Eisenhower - President Eisenhower here - warned us of in this famous speech he gave when he finished his Presidency. He warned us against the following: if you have a huge military establishment, either because you fought a war like we did in World War II led by then General Eisenhower, you run a risk he said. And that risk is real here in the United States, he said. And the risk goes like this: companies whose profit depends directly or indirectly on producing for war are going to give money to politicians who vote for expending money on those companies. They use their profits to put into office the politicians who could vote for the military expenditures that make them the profits. The profiteers fund the politicians who fund the profits who fund the politicians. Very cozy. Leads to what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. It's alive and well. And much bigger now than it was when President Eisenhower warned us about it. This should never have been allowed.

Periodically, a war is necessary. If you're going to tell people, between the wars, how important it is to keep up military spending etc. etc., just like we do, you could have a windfall profits tax on the defense industry, couldn't you? Just like in Europe, they're doing to the energy industry. If you're making a ton of profit off of the death and destruction of war - these days in Ukraine - then we, the government, are going to tax your special profits. We're not going to allow you to profit off death and war and therefore keep it going. We're going to tax you and use it to help pay the costs, the small portion that I've just listed for you.

We've come to the end of the first half of today's program. Please stay with us, we will be right back. Before we move on I want to remind everyone that Economic Update is produced by Democracy at Work, a small, donor-funded media organization celebrating 10 years of producing critical system analysis and visions of a more equitable and democratic world through a variety of media. Like the series Ask Prof Wolff, which is a collection of my responses to questions from Democracy at Work supporters. If you have a question you'd like me to answer go to patreon.com/democracyatwork or visit our website democracyatwork.info and sign up there to support the work we do and to submit your question. I try to get to as many as I can. And I thank you for getting involved. Please stay with us, we will be right back.

Welcome back friends to the second half of today's Economic Update. In the first half we've talked straight, or I tried to, about great power conflicts. In this case those between the collective West on the one hand, Russia, China and so forth on the other being fought out on the tragic soil of the Ukraine. Okay, I want to go on now and talk more about the global implications of all of this, trying again to focus on the realities I see and not on the verbiage used to make believe other things are going on. I want to talk, therefore, about two things. Number one: Europe. And number two: the United States and what's happening in the broader global perspective.

Europe is in a terrible, terrible situation. It is caught between the two emerging blocks of the world economy: the United States and its Western European allies (sort of) on the one hand and China/Russia/BRICS and all of that on the other. The two blocks are both much richer than Europe; the United States, on the one hand, the richest country, China, the only competitively big and powerful economy in the world competitive to the United States and Europe - here we go - caught in between. Yes, I know, Europe is currently allied with - although you could more honestly say subordinated to - the United States. But that's not as fixed and permanent a situation as all kinds of people might like to imagine it being. For example the Europeans are disunited in a way that the states of the United States or the allies of China are not. They haven't been able to get together on many issues, even over the decades that they've been an EU, a unified Europe, number one. Number two, they are paying the price of the war in Ukraine much more than anything going on for the United States, on the one hand, or for China on the other. Their energy prices are off the chart. And it means that they can't compete in the world economy. Because unlike enterprises in the United States and China they have to pay for energy three/four times the amount. And energy is a crucial component to every kind of manufacturing and indeed to many productions of services as well.

So they are being disadvantaged. And I'm not even talking about the disadvantage to their people who are facing a cold Winter, who are facing budget-crushing costs for the basics of energy. Europe's inflation is greater than that of the United States. Which in turn is much greater than that of China. These are realities that have deep and long-lasting effects. Growing voices in Europe are wondering "have we made the wrong link? Should we be going with China?" Because it turns out many European countries depend on their exports to China. They don't want to get crushed in the struggle between the two big blocks - U.S and China. And they face the risk that the U.S and China might soften their conflict with one another at the expense of Europe. They certainly will be tempted to do that. And that's been done in the past more than a few times.

Then there are voices in Europe that say "no, maybe our best plan is to play them off against each other, get a benefit from the United States, use it to get one out of China and vice versa." But that's a very dangerous game. Because you can thereby provoke the two people you're playing off against each other to combine against you. And Europe would be a rich plum to divide between the two competing powers.

And then there's the fact that the people of Europe are used to social democracy, to a big fat dose of socialism, state intervention. They don't want to give up the privileges. There's all kinds of struggles inside Europe between the capitalist-owner elite on the one hand and the mass of people. And the mass of people have organized political expression; much stronger labor movement than either U.S or China has etc. etc.

So the conditions inside Europe are for struggle over what to do in their difficult in-between situation. And it's not clear who's going to win that internal struggle either. Europe may become the weakest link in the capitalist chain. Let me remind you, if you're not familiar with it, that Lenin was asked to explain why the Revolution happened in Russia in 1917 and not in more developed parts of the capitalist world like the United States or Western Europe. And his answer was Russia was the weak link, the weakest link in the international capitalist chain. And that's what made it vulnerable and that's why we could make a revolution there. Europe may become the weakest link in the capitalist chain. And it's something they are already thinking about.

Then he turned next to the empire decline story. I want to remind everyone to keep that story in your mind as you try to think through the period of of global turbulence that we are living in. Every old Empire of which we have record declined: Greek, Roman, Dutch, Spanish, Ottoman, Egyptian, Chinese, Persian. They all decline. Why would one imagine that the American empire - the U.S empire, the one that's been pretty much the dominant economic force in the world, at least since the Second World War, if not for some decades before that, too. Why would we imagine it didn't or wouldn't decline? Usually in declining Empires those Empires are led by people who cannot see, who must deny the internal reasons their empire is declining: too great a gap between rich and poor, too great a gap between those who run the society and those who are governed within it. They don't want to face their difficulties internal. So they externalize them. They constantly think their danger is external. You know, the Romans kept talking about the Barbarians beyond their borders. Wow! They even called Christians an external threat until they decided to adopt Christianity; bring the external inside, in the hopes to control it better. Did it work? No, the Empire, the Roman Empire disappeared anyway.

And we remember the British Empire too. It also declined. It desperately tried to externalize the problem. For example, it denounced the United States - we weren't the U.S then. It tried to stop the United States from becoming independent, went to war twice - 1775, again 1812. Wow! And they tried to blame every other country it could think of, other Empires - the French, the Dutch, the Russian. That's what World Wars One and Two were about; the British Empire against upstarts. They felt threatened, they always thought it was the external. It wasn't, it was the internal. Or at the very least the interaction between them.

And now we come to the U.S empire. It doesn't want to face the fact that in the decline of other empires wars were like punctuation points along the road of decline, because you kept saying it was external. So now we are threatened - we in the Americas, in the United States - by foreigners. We always were. We always, as a nation, saw the danger outside, like all those Empires did. I remember my first visit in Western Massachusetts to the town of Old Deerfield, where they have reconstituted the old colonial houses that existed before the United States was an independent country. And they had little plaques in front of the houses. And I read them and they're full of stories about how the heroic early settlers battled the savages that were the indigenous people. That's what they were called. Here were the Europeans, coming thousands of miles to take the land of people. And they made them the problem. They were the external people threatening us. And then it was the British who threatened us. Even though it was their Empire, we were their colony. No, no, they threatened us. And then it was the Mexicans, wasn't it? And then it was the old Europeans. And in World War One it was the Germans. And in World War II it was the Germans again. And then it was the Communists in Russia. And then it was the terrorists. And now it is again Russia - no longer communists, committed to capitalism. But we need we need a foreign enemy that threatens us. So we have Mr Putin and we equate him to Stalin - keep the idea going. We have Xi Jinping and we equate him to Mao - keep it all going: evil, evil, dangerous, threatening savages go way back in our history.

We ought to understand the war in Ukraine is part of the punctuation of a system with growing troubles. China is a real economic competitor. We haven't had that for this empire since this empire came into being. The Soviet Union was a small economic unit, tiny compared to the United States. It was never a real competitor. Now we face one. And it is growing. And it is growing faster than we can. And that's been true for 30 years now. We are in a problem position.

A unipolar world - U.S on top - is becoming a multi-polar world, contesting empires. And not just the US and China. Europe, as I tried to suggest, trying to find some way to survive in this multi-polar world. But that means that the U.S empire is in decline. We can dance and pretend all we want around it, try to keep up the denial. But if you remember that denial didn't work well for all those other Empires you might at least open the possibility that it's not working well for us either. And in an era of nuclear weapons do we really want to reproduce the history of the other Empires that shrank, that had to face rising other empires in that long list I began with? Or maybe we can learn something, a lesson.

It took the British two wars to stop trying to reverse the growth of the United States. After the second loss in 1812 the British gave up and they worked out a peaceful coexistence. So that [for] the rest of the 19th Century and even into parts of the 20th the United States could grow quickly and the British could hold on at least to much of the wealth their Empire had accumulated. [In] World War II they lost it. But they kept it a long time by not having war with the new emerging empire. The lesson they took the British two wars to learn; maybe the United States can learn it without the wars.

Ukraine makes me worry. Maybe the lesson hasn't been learned. Maybe the same denial and self-blindness that afflicted all those other Empires is afflicting the one we have now. But if we think a little bit about the great power struggles in a capitalist world, if we recognize that inside the United States the effort of those at the top to shift the burden of a declining empire onto the rest of us by cutting our wages and cutting our standards of living... I'm sitting here in New York City, speaking to you, having just heard about all the nurses that went on strike to close the health system and hospitals of this great city in this country. And it's not because of the details of the nurses and the hospitals. It's a system that can't function at home but can't face that reality, pretending its problems are abroad. And therefore causing its end to come sooner than it otherwise might.

I hope these perspectives are of interest to you, help you navigate the world we live in. And, as always, I look forward to speaking with you again next week.

Transcript by Brendan Tait

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NEW 2021 Hardcover edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff is now available at: https://www.lulu.com

“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

 

February 06, 2023
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Ask Prof Wolff: Is Capitalism a Religion?

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Is capitalism a religion? Has it become the established religion of the United States?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

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Check out the 2021 Hardcover Edition of “Understanding Marxism,” with a new, lengthy introduction by Richard Wolff! Visit: https://www.lulu.com/

“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 at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/democracyatwork

February 03, 2023
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Capitalism Hits Home: What Are The Personal Costs of Inflation?

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In this episode of Capitalism Hits Home, Dr. Fraad is joined by Prof. Wolff, host of Economic Update to discuss inflation and the collateral damage it has caused Americans. In the first part, Prof. Wolff explains what inflation is and the real reasons behind the rising prices. Dr. Fraad then explains what inflation means to the majority of people. She explores the personal, social and psychological effects the high cost of living has caused.


Capitalism Hits Home is a Democracy At Work production. The show addresses the intersection of capitalism, class, and personal lives, and explores what is happening in the economic realm and its impact on our individual and social psychology. 

We make it a point to provide the show free of ads. Please consider supporting our work. Learn about all the ways to support our work on our Donate page. Every donation counts! A special thank you to our devoted monthly donors (via both our website and Patreon) whose recurring contributions enable us to plan for the future.


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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.” - Richard Wolff

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Ask Prof Wolff: Capitalism is Unstable… and It’s Designed That Way

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Patron of Democracy at Work asks: "Are any complex systems eternally homeostatic? Cyclic behavior is a euphemism for millions of people will lose their jobs and homes, quit school, etc. I don't think that anyone imagines an economic system sans fluctuations. That would be truly Utopian. Or dystopian rather because fluctuations can be rightly considered a healthy feature of complex systems. But my overall impression in listening to professor Wolff is that these instabilities are borne in no small measure from the fundamental tensions that constitute the employer/ employee relationship."

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

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