"All economic systems are born, they evolve and change over time, and then they die, giving birth to the next system. Slavery: born, evolves, dies. Feudalism: is born, evolves, dies. Capitalism: born, evolves… The next phase is the passing away and where before I understood that as something that was coming, I now begin to think it's already here." - Richard Wolff
Prof Wolff’s September 2020 Global Capitalism lecture titled “Capitalism’s Decline Accelerates” presented the mounting failures of capitalism and the resulting exploding social problems. At one point, he describes how capitalist ideology has hobbled the government’s ability to react to today’s crises:
“So fragile is the private capitalist sector of the United States, so anxiety ridden, that it has systematically blocked the government from producing goods and services in competition with private producers. And because the private sector was so insecure (even before its current failures) it needed to keep the government hobbled. The government has to go to the capitalists to get more revenue; tax them, borrow from them. Always on its knees. And what has this ideology done? It puts our cities, our states, and even our federal government in an impossible situation. With tens of millions unemployed, with a society still in shock from the fundamental changes all around it imposed by the crash, imposed by the virus, everyone needs more public services to get through this period. And yet in just this moment the cities and towns can't help. They can't even provide the poor level of support they provided before."
He also details the scapegoating that is not only typical of the Trump administration, but is evident in many of our own reactions to today’s crises:
"Americans are treated to a government that either tells you outright that it is prepared when it isn't, or tells you outright it is containing the virus when it isn't, or it finds someone to blame. Scapegoating has become a national sport in this country. 'Immigrants! The Chinese! Foreigners in general!' Or, if you want to get even more precise 'Students having parties!' or anyone else you could imagine blaming. It's almost as if the scapegoating is itself a sign, because as the system declines it becomes that much more urgent to invent alternative explanations so you don't even have to get near the argument that this system is declining..."
So how do we move forward? How do we get beyond these destructive ideologies and scapegoating habits? To this, Prof Wolff asks his listeners another question:
"Are we better off fighting heroically against the establishment to make the little changes that will make things better but leave the system intact? Or are we better advised now to recognize that this system is the problem, that the real sickness of our time isn't Covid-19, it's capitalism?"
Don’t miss this latest Global Capitalism Live Economic Update lecture. Watch it now on our YouTube channel, or listen to it on your favorite podcast player.
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The next Global Capitalism lecture will be in November, just after the US elections. This lecture will be formatted and presented differently in order to provide you with appropriate post-election analysis. Stay tuned and check our calendar for more details in the coming weeks.
Learn more about Professor Wolff’s latest book The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself.