Professor Richard Wolff’s latest Global Capitalism lecture titled “March 2020-March 2021: Covid and the Crash” is now available on our website and YouTube channel. As usual, he opens with updates before digging into his main theme: looking back on the events and meaning of a full year in a pandemic and economic crisis.
In this lecture, Prof Wolff discusses how patents on the Covid-19 vaccines are preventing the manufacturing of life-saving vaccines, even while ready factories sit idle.
“There's something profound in a global capitalist system that is protecting the profits of a small number of companies around the world, particularly American, at the price of death and illness all over the world.”
Adding insult to injury, this effort to protect their profits comes after the Pharmaceutical companies research was already subsidized by billions of taxpayer money.
Speaking of taxes, Professor Wolff discusses the wealth tax presented by Elizabeth Warren which would apply only to the richest one tenth of one percent of the American people, and even then only tax the portion of their wealth over 50 million or 1 billion dollars at a rate of just 2%. However, there has been strong push back from both Republicans and Democrats alike. Prof Wolff explained the existing kinds of wealth tax that affect most Americans, illustrating that the lack of taxation on stocks and bonds is simply a tax break for our wealthiest citizens.
“I hope you are asking, ‘Why in the world would we have a wealth tax on the kind of wealth the average person maybe can get (a home, a car, a piece of land on which the home sits), but the wealth of the wealthiest (stocks and bonds) is not taxed?’ And you know the answer, don't you? It's because they're the wealthiest. They got it set up that way. It's a wonderful tax dodge for them. That's all it is. That's all it ever was…”
This was “normal” before the pandemic and this latest crisis of capitalism hit, and it laid the groundwork for an even greater windfall for the wealthy over this last year.
In World Wars I and II, the American government passed “excess profits taxes” which prevented outsized profits on the back of a nation and its citizens who are struggling with and dying in the face of a collective crisis. The pandemic has often been referred to as war, but no such taxes have been implemented. This allowed for many big “winners” of the last year, including Jeffrey Bezos, whose wealth increased from $130 billion to over $200 billion. We may hear calming phrases such as “we’re all in this together,” but are we?
“The billionaires got richer to the tune of almost $1 trillion dollars while 20 million people are on unemployment insurance, using up their savings, leaning on their family and friends for the loans to keep them going saying goodbye to the American dream… The rich got richer, and everybody else either got poor, or got sick, or both. What kind of a society, what kind of a system, responds to a viral pandemic in such a way?”
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way, and our own American history gives us a clear example of how it could be done differently. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the most popular President in U.S. history. He had no intentions of doing away with capitalism and even defended it. But in a time of crisis, he oversaw a redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom in the middle.
“But not Mr Trump and not Mr Biden have ever indicated any understanding or any intention to do what Mr Roosevelt did. It's not that they didn't do what Roosevelt did, they allowed the opposite of what Mr Roosevelt did to happen.”
Professor Wolff concludes by expressing that we are going to be changing as a society in the years to come in ways and at paces we're mostly not prepared for. But given the role of the United States in the world the least we can do is talk about it, and ask ourselves what the greater implications are of an American capitalism struggling for survival at all costs.
We hope this lecture helps this effort to face those realities, recognize the relevant history, and identify the moralities we wish our society to adhere by.
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