Global Capitalism: September 2021 Live Economic Update

[September 2021] New

Direct Download

US Capitalism’s Decline Accelerates

with Richard D. Wolff 
Co-sponsored by Democracy at Work & Judson Memorial Church

In this lecture, Prof. Wolff will discuss the following:

  1. Medical (Covid) and military (Afghanistan) defeats deepen social divisions
  2. Exploding debt bubbles (gov’t, corporate, and personal)
  3. Threats of inflation
  4. China’s rise as a US competitor: its “surprise” strategy
Transcript has been edited for clarity

Welcome, friends. This is another Global Capitalism Live Economic Update, and we're doing it in September of the year 2021. 

As always, besides welcoming you, I want to remind you that this is a project of three organizations. First is the Judson Memorial Church, which is where, until covid, we had these meetings on a regular basis and to which we plan to return. But so long as covid is around us, as long as the new delta variation is as deadly and troubling as it is, we will have to continue with our remote presentations, such as this one. The second organization is the Left Forum, that runs annual conferences, bringing together left activists and academics, to share common interests, to learn from each other, and so on. And finally is the organization that brings these meetings to you directly, Democracy at Work. And I am part of that last organization, as I am basically part of the Left Forum as well. And I'm very glad to be able to be here with you.

I do want to say one brief word before jumping into tonight's topic. A few days ago, a remarkable Greek musician named Mikis Theodorakis died at the age of 96. He was a remarkable man. Some of you may know his musical work that was involved in the film “Zorba the Greek,” in the film “Z,” in the film “Serpico.” He was the producer of magnificent songs, operas, concertos, but also a steadfast fighter on behalf of the working people of Greece, and indeed of the whole world. He was part of the resistance against the German Nazis when that was the agenda in Greece. After the war, against the British, because that was the agenda in Greece. And after that, against the domination of the United States and its Greek allies. He was always an activist, always a brilliant musician, combining the best of the great parts of Greek culture and politics. He will be missed, and I wanted to talk about him for a moment because his songs were also important in my life.

Okay. We're going to be talking tonight about a topic that I call The Acceleration of the Decline of US Capitalism. Yes, we have spoken a bit about this before, and we will again, because the process of decline of a system is never quick. It may end up in something quick, but it is a long time in coming to its full achievement and its full passage. But the United States is also a place, not surprisingly, where the very reality of decline, and the acceleration of decline, are accompanied by what psychologists call “denial” — the difficulty, understandable, that people involved in a society in decline, the difficulty they have facing it, accepting it, trying to think through the implications of it.

You know, we have the example of the Roman Empire, the Greek Empire, more recently the British Empire. Of how difficult, in each case, it was to face it. The levels of denial that percolated through those societies, even to the point that activities that literally propelled the decline forward were continued even after one wonders how rational human beings could have missed the signs. I think you'll have that understanding, as we go through tonight's topic, as something going on in the United States today. And given the role of the United States in the world economy — still a very powerful and important role — this concerns, or should, everyone everywhere.

As is usual with these evenings, I want to begin with two shorter items that I think are particularly important and that are apropos, because this is the season of Labor Day here in the United States, the first Monday in September. We've had it already, but it's a time when people think about, reflect on, the conditions, the problems, the achievements of the working people — who, after all, are the majority, the vast majority, of this country's people.

So let me begin with the largest employer of labor in the United States, the largest single employer: the Walmart Corporation. With 2.2 million employees (not just in the United States, although that's where the bulk of them are, but in other countries as well) Walmart has become a megacorporation, a multinational corporation. And, as always, because of the nature of a corporation, 2.2 million workers — therefore 2.2 million families — are dependent on the decisions made by a handful of people sitting on the board of directors of the Walmart Corporation.

That's a handful of people, a group of people that could get into the small room that I'm currently sitting in and have a conversation. This tiny group of people makes all the basic job-related decisions upon which 2.2 million people depend, including whether those 2.2 million have a job, or get fired, or laid off, whether or not the job they have gets moved to another country which they can't move to and therefore they lose the job. They're the ones whose conditions of work will affect how healthy they are, how long they live, what kind of life they have, what kind of personality they bring home to their family at the end of the day. But all of those decisions, shaping all of those fundamental realities of life, are made for 2.2 million people by a dozen or more other people. 

And those decisions made by the board of directors? Those are not accountable to the 2.2 million. They're made without the participation of the 2.2 million. Or to say the same thing in simple English: Walmart is a glaring example of a capitalist corporation's absolute disrespect for anything having to do with democracy. In a democracy, if we're affected by a decision, we have the right to participate in making it. That's why there's voting for our political leaders. But the 2.2 million Walmart workers? They do not vote for the board of directors. They have nothing to do with the board of directors. They have no power over the selection of who those people are, the retaining of those people, the decisions those people make. They have to live with decisions from which they are excluded.

But I didn't bring you to this Walmart story to tell you all of this, because it's always applied to Walmart, and it applies to all capitalist corporations, with very, very few exceptions. No, I brought up Walmart today because Walmart has decided it needs to upgrade the technical capabilities of some of its employees. And it has figured out how to do that in a way that I think teaches you something about the decline of American capitalism. Here's what Walmart has done. It has selected half a dozen universities around the United States with whom it is partnering. (They love this word “partnering.” It's, you know, David partnering with Goliath, but let's humor them. Partnering.) And so here's what's going to happen. Walmart is going to pick up the tuition cost for the training these workers are going to get at these universities. It's going to tell the universities what the training is supposed to focus on, and it's gearing the programs to the training these Walmart employees are to get — according to what Walmart executives want.

And why is Walmart doing it? Well, it's obvious. It would be expensive for Walmart to set up this kind of training. It's done that in the past; it knows very well how expensive that can be. So it can piggyback off of universities that already have the classrooms, that already have the teachers. And they can cut a good deal with these universities, who are desperate for money these days in America, so they'll make almost any deal with a corporation — give them a half price on the tuition in the hopes that they get a bunch of the students.

And in the larger flow of things, what's happening? Education as the preparing of young people for a life that's productive — a general education, a liberal arts education — is giving way more and more across this country to education that has been (yeah, I'll say it) dumbed down to become merely training. I have no problem with training; training is fine. But it is something different from education that teaches people the rich diversity of the life they can lead, of the competencies they can accomplish, of the flexibility to change to an environment that training in a narrow specialty doesn't do, and never did. It’s not healthy for a society to subordinate education to training. But that's what Walmart wants, and therefore that's what Walmart gets. It is a way in which Walmart does its part in the decline of American capitalism — just like Walmart's growth was the destruction of tens of thousands of small businesses and the kind of capitalism that was, versus the kind of capitalism that Walmart exemplifies today.

My other short opening, before we get to tonight's major topic, also, in its way, illustrates the decline of US capitalism. I call this an update in the conditions of labor during this Labor Day season. And so let me start off with a statistic you might see as positive. For the first time in many years, the percentage of people in this country who live off wages and salaries who are members of a union went up in the year 2020. Didn't go up by much; it went from 10.3 percent of the labor force to 10.8 percent. Now that is an increase, and you might, if you were naive, think that it shows that the long 50-year decline of unions in this country is somehow over. 

But if you thought that, I have to, unfortunately, correct you. Because during 2020 the number of people, members of a union, declined by 321,000. So how could the percentage go up if the number of people declined? Because 2020, as you all know, was the year of (or the first year of) covid, when millions of Americans — many of them non-union workers in low-wage industries — couldn't go to work because of the economic crash and the pandemic. So the number of people without union membership dropped even more than those with union membership. So that's the reality beside the number. 

And where does that leave us? Well, 10 percent of our labor force is unionized. Nine out of 10 American workers have no union. They're not members of a union, their conditions of work are not governed by a union contract, they have no organized protection in their negotiations with their employer. And boy, does the condition of the American working class show that. 

But we can disaggregate it a little bit. We can compare the unemployment of private-sector workers — that's the major part of our economy — with public employees. That difference is stark. In the private (the larger) sector, private enterprise, the percentage of workers covered by a union contract is now (get ready) 6.3 percent. That's right — 94 out of every 100 American workers in the private sector have no union. Every one of those people — 94 of them out of 100 — is without union representation, without a union contract to protect them. Remarkable.

The situation is different in the public sector. In the public sector, about 34 percent of workers — about a third, in the public sector about 34 percent —are in a union. So that's much better. But it'll also explain why the big pressure of the Republican Party and the weak resistance of the Democratic Party have shown us how determined the political right wing is to go after the public-sector unions — the teachers, the firefighters, the clerks, and so on — because that's the only place unions still have some foothold in our economy.

And there's a lesson in all of this that is also a sign of a declining empire. Unions have been declining for a long time. And so has manufacturing in this country been declining, for the same long time. There's a link there, and let me tell you what it is. Unions grew up in the United States around manufacturing. That was when the United States was an important manufacturing economy. It isn't anymore, but it was for most of its period of a rising, growing capitalist economy. And because unions grew in manufacturing, they had something to do with the success of manufacturing workers in America to get strong unions, to fight for them, and to get decent wages and decent benefits. Pension plans: that was won by unions. Health coverage: that was won by unions. And so on.

But here's the irony of capitalism, which we are living through. The more successful the manufacturing workers in America were in getting decent unions — and getting the wages and working conditions that decent unions have always won for their members — they created their own disaster. Why? Because in the United States, in our capitalism, the more successful workers are in getting higher wages and benefits, the greater the incentive to the employer to offset their better wages and working conditions. 

And the last 50 years have seen employers in America respond to workers successfully getting decent wages and working conditions. The response of the employers was basically two things: Replace a worker with a machine; that was one. Relocate the job out of the United States to another part of the world where the wages were much, much lower and the working conditions for employers much, much cheaper. You know that story. You've seen the automation, the replacement of workers with machines all around you, culminating in the computer, the robot, and the artificial intelligence. And likewise, you've seen the outsourcing of jobs, as those manufacturing jobs left the United States in record numbers in recent decades, moving to China, India, Brazil, and many other parts of the world. 

Here's the lesson, in case you've missed it. The way US capitalism works is that workers are basically presented with this ugly choice: You either accept low wages or you're going to risk having no wages at all. Because if you succeed, over our opposition (where “our” are the employers), if you actually get high wages, we will respond by replacing you with a robot and moving your job to a place where we can get away with paying workers a small fraction of what we pay you.

A system that confronts the majority of its people, workers, with what I just said — you accept low wages or you risk having no wages at all — that's a system which sooner or later will be rejected by the people it confronts in that way. We can deny it; we can pretend it's not there — won't change it. Won't even stretch it out a bit further. The denial, as I'm about to show you, is going on and it is accelerating. And it is a demand on all of us to face it and think through what it means.

Before jumping into the major topic tonight, I do want to take a couple of moments out, if you don't mind, to talk to you about the team that produces these lectures, that produces everything that Democracy at Work does: our weekly radio and television program, Economic Update; these bi-monthly presentations; an enormous number of videos; and a book-publishing project that has now produced four — count them, four — distinct books in a variety of forms.

We are a team. I want to introduce us to you. We have two full-time, two half-time, and two contract workers that work with me. I pay, with fundraising that I'm doing, such as this, some amount of money to all of those people because they need it to survive. I'm a retired professor; I don't. I don't take any money from Democracy at Work. I use the money to build this program. And the team I have is superb. They work closely with me; I with them. And you should be aware that some of them are parents, have their own children to take care of, that the raising of money to make this project work is put to very good use, with a very good set of people.

We have been working at this for 10 years. I am enormously proud to tell you we now have a quarter of a million YouTube followers. It's taken us a while to build, but we know we can do it. We know the work we do reaches people. The evidence for that flows in every day and keeps us going. If we had more resources, we could reach an even larger number of people. That's the request: Be a partner if you can. Be a partner who supports us monthly, either via Patreon or through our website, democracyatwork.info. It is a partnership to change this society, and it is one we welcome you to join.

Okay, let's turn then to the signs of an accelerating decline of the US capitalist system. Bear with me because the list is long. I want to begin, because I think it's appropriate, with covid. Let's review very briefly how and why covid is a sign of decline. I begin with the basic stark statistic that I've mentioned before: The United States has four, four and a half, percent of the world's population and accounts for 20 percent of the world's deaths from covid. For a wealthy society — let alone one as wealthy as this one here in the United States — for a society with as highly developed a medical system as we have, to be able to give you those statistics is a sign of system disintegration. This country could not prepare for, and could not cope with, a pandemic. It did so far less well than dozens of countries — left-wingers, right-wingers, rich and poor. The failure in this society to do that is extraordinary. 

What makes it worse, and a further sign of decline, is the rationale that is offered by the major resistance to coping. That resistance, as many of you know, has taken the form of being unwilling to wear masks in this society, masks that have been used globally because they reduce the spread of an airborne disease; by the refusal to be vaccinated once the vaccines became available. And what was the argument? It was an abrogation of freedom. What? Yes, you see, the people objected they wanted to be free to wear a mask or not. They didn't want the government to tell them what to do. And they didn't want the government to tell them whether or not they should get vaccinated. They wanted the freedom, they explained, and they didn't want to be told what to do.

Now this is extraordinary. Not the demand for freedom, which I understand, but the peculiarity of people demanding something that they give up every other minute of the day. You all do know that. When you travel through an intersection in your car, if the light is red — that is, if the government has arranged for the light to be red — you are required to stop. You are not free to determine whether or not you obey the traffic signal. You will be punished if you don't. Every baby born in the United States is immediately inoculated, vaccinated, against all manner of diseases that have been controlled over the centuries in this manner.

You don't want a doctor working on you who doesn't have a license from the government to do that. Nobody is free to practice medicine in the United States without a license. Nobody is free (well, almost so in this country) to carry a weapon, to possess a gun, without some sort of permission from the government. And so on. The vast majority accept these rules. They don't complain about the loss of their freedom. Why would they focus, if their struggle is indeed about freedom, on this? Something that is killing people, hurting people, everywhere — especially those who don't wear masks and don't get vaccinated, as we see in the United States today. This is a sign of a population that is so upset, so stressed, so angry that they don't think through what they are doing. They grasp the first opportunity.

And we have another example of that in the United Kingdom, don't we? There the over-stressed, angry, bitter British working class voted in large numbers against not their own government for imposing lack of freedom on them; no, those conservatives in England cleverly focused the anti-government freedom demand on the Europeans, on somebody else. So the British decided, if only we break away from Europe — “Brexit,” they called it — then our problems will be solved. They did that, and their problems have gotten much, much worse. As anyone familiar with their economic, political, and social situation will recognize, these are all signs of a system in decline.

Let me turn next to the military signs. Afghanistan: 20 plus years of war — 20 plus. A war between the biggest military power on earth against arguably the smallest and the poorest. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries on earth. If ever you wanted an example of the David-versus-Goliath conflict, there it is. There it was. And the United States was defeated. This isn't a withdrawal; this is a defeat. That's why it looks like a defeat, and sounds like a defeat, and screams at us that it's a defeat. The reasons? It's a defeat, in case you hadn't figured it out.

But now let's look at it a little more closely. Brown University in the United States, a very well known Ivy League university, has a project on the costs of war. And it has measured the cost of the wars the United States has engaged in since 9/11. And that's mainly — not only, but mainly — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The price tag? Eight trillion dollars, if you include the costs of the veterans association that is going to have to be treating those with physical and mental ailments up to the year 2050. It'll actually go beyond that, but for sure until that. It's already eight trillion. Eight trillion dollars. I mean, I'm almost speechless here. What that could have done to transform the United States, to solve the problems — let me just list them to you. Eight trillion is more than you need to erase all student debt, and to relieve all kinds of other debts of other people, and to fix the infrastructure we keep talking about, and to provide all kinds of supports to people in this country that many people in other countries already have.

And you know something? Had the eight trillion been spent on doing those things in the United States, we wouldn't be declining. We would be in much, much better shape. Instead, eight trillion dollars was spent to move hundreds of thousands of US troops through Afghanistan; to unload uncountable bombs, and bullets, and missiles, and tanks on this already poorest country in the world. 

You know what this is? This is the classic example of societies overreaching abroad to hold on to their empire — not understanding that the neglect at home does more damage to that empire's foundations than if they hadn't made the effort to hold on to the furthest reaches of the empire. Afghanistan and Iraq are about as far as you can get. You keep going in that direction, you come back on the other side of the globe. It's an extraordinary example of a system self-destructing.

Let me turn now to other signs. Oh, there's one more thing about defense I really can't forebear to tell you, in case you missed it. Early in December, the Republican Party — with the support of a sizable number of Democrats — decided and voted to increase the defense budget. Let me make sure you understand it. President Biden had asked to continue last year's appropriation, about 715 billion dollars, for this year. Even though the major war we were involved in was brought to an end, obviously meaning we don't need to spend as much, President Biden — to keep everybody from freaking out that we might be getting that thing we used to call a “peace dividend” from a war that Mr. Biden told us was long overdue to be ended — Mr. Biden asked for level funding: 715 billion last year, 715 this year. But the Congress overruled him, and they added 24 billion more. So we're going to be spending more on defense after the war is over than we were spending when the war was going on. 

Here's the lesson: In this society, we don't have war for the reasons the government gives. We have war to take care of the one group that wins no matter what else happens in a war. And that group is called the military-industrial complex. The Taliban didn't win; they suffered enormously. They came out on top at the end, but to call what they had to go through for 20 years a win — that's a stretch. The United States clearly lost. The cost was enormous: dead Americans; dead Afghani citizens; innocent ones, civilians, military — horrible. But the companies here at home who sold the guns, the bullets, the drones, the tanks; who shipped the soldiers; who clothed them; who equipped them — they made out like bandits. Look at the prices of their stocks over the 20 years of the Afghanistan War, and you can see who won the war and who's making sure that whatever happens to the wars, the spending on them keeps going up.

This is a system that has lost even the little bit of rationality it once had. It is driven by specific, particular, what we used to call “special,” interests who are doing it at the expense of the society as a whole. The defeat in Afghanistan has been a powerful signal around the world that the American Empire is in decline. Most of the rest of the world sees Iraq as Afghanistan was, and as Iraq soon will be, as the United States is forced to withdraw there too. Vietnam was an early signal. The people running this society, in denial, couldn't learn the lesson. And as we know from great philosophers, those who don't learn the lessons of the past are condemned to repeat them in the future.

Here's another sign of economic decline. Government, corporations, and individuals are in greater levels of debt than we have ever seen in this country. The government of the United States is in immense debt, printing money like there's no tomorrow to cover over the debt. And around the world, people are asking questions they have not asked in the last 75 years: How safe is the US dollar? How risky is it if we hold our wealth in the form of US dollars? That's a wonderful, clear sign of system decline when those questions are asked and when countries around the world increasingly back away from holding dollars. And the only thing that prevents them from walking away from the dollar is the lack of a real alternative — although there is a place where a real alternative is coming. And you all know the name: China. And I will come back to that a little bit later.

Corporations are in as deep a debt as the government — maybe more so. Roughly one-fifth of American corporations are today called “zombie” corporations. Let me tell you what a zombie corporation is. That's a company whose profits, in the sense of the difference between the revenues they get from selling whatever they make from which you've subtracted the costs of making it — their net revenue, if you like — is not enough to cover the debts, to pay the interest and the principal on the debts they have. In other words, strictly speaking, they're bankrupt. They can't earn enough to cover the cost of labor, the cost of their inputs, and the debt that they have accumulated. So you know how they survive? Why there even are 20 percent who are zombies? Because they borrow more to pay off the debts they couldn't otherwise carry. Which means, of course, that next year they'll be deeper into zombiedom than they were this year, unless some magic brings them to profitability, which it hasn't been doing in recent years, for obvious reasons.

These are, therefore, corporations on life support. And where, ultimately, does the money come from that is lent to them? Well, more and more, private banks and private lenders won't lend to them. It's too risky to lend to a multi-year zombie. So it's the government that lends to them. Private enterprise on full life support from the government. That's why you don't hear from the right wingers so much. They used to love to tell you about how government is the problem and private corporations are the answer. The reality now is that the private corporations are in the deep doo-doo, and the government is holding them up. It makes life hard for right wingers, but as you might have imagined, that's not a problem for me.

And personally, we are all in debt. The families of America are in debt way over their heads. It means that more and more of the income Americans can earn (and it isn't impressive) has to go to taking care of their debt. Before they can spend a nickel on food, clothing, and shelter, they've got to cover their mortgage debt for their home, their car payments for their car, their money due on their credit card, or the money due on their student loan. Those are the four horsemen of the apocalypse of debt that are honing in on the American family. That's why they can't buy stuff. That's why corporations aren't investing in America. It's a market that's going nowhere. 

And you know where markets are exploding? Where there's real growth in the real wage that people have? Where they're not mired down in debt like this? Yeah, it's the People's Republic of China. That's why American corporations go there. Because that's how capitalism works. Every capitalist in America, especially those that have gone to business school and gotten their MBA, their master of business administration — they all learned a basic rule. If you're a capitalist who wants your business to be successful, go to where the wages are low, or go to where the market is expanding. For the last 25 years, China has offered you both, in a very neat package: unbelievably low wages, with a well-disciplined, well-educated labor force and the fastest growing market in the world.

There's no mystery here. They're leaving the United States and they're going to China. That's been the rule for most of the last 25 years. And there's a message there. Think about it. It's about decline in one corner and ascendancy in another.

Let me turn to inflation. We're worried about an inflation now, and we should be. Not, by the way, because the government is printing money — by itself that doesn't cause an inflation. Don't pay any attention to such arguments. Inflations are always caused by many things. It may be that printing a lot of money contributes, but for every time that the government printed money that inflation happened, I could show you a time when the government printed just as much and the inflation didn't happen. Inflations are happening now not because the government is printing money. It's been doing that on an enormous scale for many, many years, over which we had little or no inflation.

So why now? I'll give you the answer. Here's the big one. Corporations lost money during the crash of 2020 and the pandemic. Now that the pandemic seemed, until recently, to be ebbing, those corporations want to make more money. Not just the normal profit they made this year or previous years, but they want to make up for the bad 2020 and first half of 2021. So they're eager to make more profits. And you know what they do? They raise prices. 

Let's be real clear about an inflation: Workers don't set prices; employers do. They're the ones who have the power to determine the price of the hamburger, of the Rice Krispies, of the Chevy car — whatever. Workers pay; employers set the price. So the first thing to understand is if there's an inflation, it's because employers are raising prices. Nobody else does that. Workers, if they're lucky, come later and try to push up their wages to catch up with the rising prices. Over the last year, for example, wages on average have risen three to four percent. There even are some right wingers who point to that as if that were the cause of the inflation. The inflation, friends, is running over five percent a year — which means even a worker who gets a three- to four-percent increase is falling behind because they can't afford the goods that are now priced at five percent more. And of course it all makes a mockery of the fight for $15 an hour, because that fight has $15 an hour before you calculate what happens to $15 when prices go up in excess of five percent a year. It quickly becomes meaningless.

Yeah, an inflation is a dangerous thing. But it is a dangerous thing done to us, the majority, by the employers, a minority, for the reason that I told you: to make more money. That's their objective. That's what they're in business to do. You can blame the government — by flooding the economy with money, it of course makes it that much easier for the employers to get away with raising prices. But I can tell you for sure that inflation hurts those who are on a fixed income: the pension, which is fixed because of when you retire; the money of the poor, which doesn't go up. They all have to face an inflation without being able to do much about offsetting it. So guess what. The inflation — like covid, like the war — all works to make the inequality in this country greater still. And that too is a sign of system decay.

Let me come to the last part of this story. There is another way that decay is happening, decline is happening. Only this time the focus won't be on what's happening in and to the United States. This time the focus is on the relativity of decline — the fact that decline sometimes really means somebody else is rising and you're not. And so you are declining relative to the ascendancy of the other. And that ascendancy I want to talk to you about now is the People's Republic of China. It is the ascending global power. That is why the United States has turned — first under Obama, then more with Trump, and now with Biden — to be more and more shrill in its hostility. It's a little childish, it's quite theatrical, but there it is. The big new enemy isn't terrorism, the way it was; isn't the Soviet Union, the way it was; isn't in the Middle East, the way it was. It is now China. What's this about?

China is in the ascendancy. I could give you the statistics, but I've done that in the past. But I'll summarize. Over the last quarter century (that's a long time) Chinese economic growth — the annual growth of their GDP, which measures the total output of goods and services in China — has risen on the average six to nine percent per year. Over the same 25 years, the annual growth of the GDP of the United States has risen on average two to three percent. It's not even close. The People's Republic of China has been growing, for 25 years, three times faster than the United States. Which is why the Chinese are caught up, and are expected within a decade to be a larger economic entity in the world than the United States. And that will be the first time anything like that has happened in nearly a century. Wow. There is a relative decline. 

Let me give you the other major statistic. Over the last 25 years, wages in the United States have been stagnant. And by that I mean real wages, what you can afford to buy with whatever your wage is. So in other words, it takes into account the money wage you get, but it also takes into account the prices you have to pay with that money wage so that we can get a sense of what you can afford to buy. Americans over the last 25 years have seen virtually no increase in their real wage. Some statistics say it has increased over 25 years by 10 percent. If that were true, it would be something like 0.3 or 0.4 percent per year. That's incredibly slow, even by the standards of the United States's rising wages in the previous century.

But here comes the real shocker: Over the same 25 years, the real wages in China quadrupled. They went up 300-400 percent, depending on the different estimates — not ten percent. There's no contest. The mass of people in China are living on a scale they couldn't have imagined they could achieve.

And so we have almost the ultimate example in the last few weeks. It's a China that has taken the following steps,  punishing some of the biggest corporations in their country, demanding huge payments and getting them — which are to be used (ready?) to improve low-income jobs, pay them more, provide more benefits. And the argument the Chinese make is, we are now rich enough — even though we're far behind the United States still — we're rich enough to be much less unequal than we are. And we're committed to making big changes, changes painful to large corporations. And by the way, they really are painful. You know how we know? Because the prices of the stocks of those corporations, both in China and in the New York stock market, have dropped as investors are shocked by the amount of profits they're not going to get because they're going to make for a more equivalent, a more equal, society.

That is China's secret strategy, friends. They're not going to confront the United States militarily. They're going to decide and try not to. They're going to compete by growing faster and growing more equal, and to pull the rug out in the competition with the United States in an area for which the United States is not prepared and is in fact going the other way — growing slower and becoming more unequal. It's a brilliant strategy, created by the very decline of the United States that I've tried to make clear in my presentation today.

Thank you, as always, for joining us, for paying attention. And my hope is to engage you again two months from now when we have the next of these evening presentations. But please know we work hard to make these as interesting and informative — and yes, a little provocative too — as we can, because the time and the situation demand no less. I look forward to speaking with you again in a couple of months.

Transcript by Marilou Baughman
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