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On this week's show, Prof. Wolff comments on how and why "consumerism" matters and on why Biden's "progressive shift" is both like and unlike (far more limited so far) FDR's. Wolff then interviews two Canadian professors of labor studies, Bryan Evans and Carlo Fanelli, on the stakes for labor in fighting for a "living wage."
Wolff: “If you think of yourself as a "worker" you right away understand that you're a worker and somebody else is a boss. It's an identity that explains and contains in it the differences amongst us. "Consumer" doesn't work like that, because the boss consumes and the employee consumes. And this is an attempt to say we're all in it together.... So "worker" is an identity in our society that leads you right to understand differences. "Consumer" tries to erase all of that."
In this episode of ACC, Prof. Harvey talks about the birth of the neoliberalism following the crisis of the 1970s. The vast government spending of the 1960s was replaced with fierce austerity measures imposed on the population, in an effort to bail out corporations and enable the wealthy elites to regain power and control. The neoliberal era was ushered in by political leaders like Reagan and Thatcher, who saw labor and high wages as a real threat to the capitalist class.
Harvey: "Neoliberalism is often presented as a set of ideas that became hegemonic for some reason or other. Well, there's a certain truth there. But, my own view is that neoliberalism was something which arose because the class power wanted to do something and it needed a rationale to do it. And it looked around for a rationale and it found it. And it found it in neoliberal theory... And that these ruling ideas were those in which supply side conditions become foundational for public policy. Public policy should take care of the supply, on the inputs as it were, and the demand will look after itself... The ruling ideas at any epoch are the ideas of the ruling class."
In this episode, Prof. Robles-Durán is joined by Leilani Farha, a Canadian human rights lawyer and Global Director of The Shift, to talk about the effects of the pandemic on housing markets.
Farha: “Who are cities for? Why is the rent too damn high? How come no one can afford to live in our cities, whether in the global North or the global South? And I find a lot of the discussions around wealth inequality and gross inequality in societies does not talk about the role that real estate plays. It's not just a consequence of inequality to live in homelessness. Real estate and financialization of housing is a driver of inequality, and that's part of the work I'm trying to do is to get people to realize it plays a huge role.”
A patron of Economic Update asks: "According to a recent Axios article on Americans' trust in institutions (linked below), 77% say they trust their employers and 62% trust businesses, both outperforming NGO's and government by significant margins. After a mass upward transfer of wealth, decades of wage stagnation, union-busting and job outsourcing by businesses and employers, why do so many Americans still think so highly of these institutions? And what can be done to convince the average American that employers are not their friends, and have no incentive to act responsibly?" This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.
Wolff: “There's a carefully cultivated ideology that allows the business community to do what it wants in the pursuit of its profits while blaming the collateral damage of the profit pursuit on the government. Very nice arrangement for the business community, [a] great service rendered to the business community by the politicians, the academics, the theoreticians and the media who keep this ideological game going. And the solution, well it's kind of obvious, we have to remind people that what the politicians do is what they are told to do by the people who put them in power. If you want to blame the government, and it surely bears part of the blame then you should understand that that's reasonable because the government, in the end, is much more responsive to the folks with the money (the business community) than it ever has been to the mass majority who are employees.”
A patron of Economic Update asks: "We hear from conservatives how the "Founding Fathers" of US Democracy were staunch Capitalists and wanted no part of Socialism. I always thought that argument was strange as both "The Wealth of Nations" and 'Das Kapital" were published after this nation was formed. I would appreciate your comments on this discussion." This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.
Wolff: “Socialism indeed developed, and certainly this is true of Karl Marx, precisely out of the…critical sense that capitalism had promised to bring liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy and so forth, but hadn't done so. So you needed a further change from capitalism to socialism to actually achieve the liberty, equality, fraternity etc. that was in the minds of the leaders of the American and the French Revolutions.”
In this Wolff Responds, Prof. Wolff broadly examines Biden's multi trillion dollar economic plan for taxing and spending. The US has been severely impacted by both the economic crash and the pandemic. A heavy price has been paid by the richest country in the world: highest number of deaths from COVID than any other industrialized country, loss of education and productivity. The American system has proven to be painfully incompetent to deal with pandemic. This massive spending plan might be a case of too little, too late.
Wolff: “It is very much an open question whether this is all too little or too late. Or whether throwing money is adequate when you've got a system that isn't working well. Let me repeat, with six hundred thousand people dead in this country, one of the richest in the world, one of the most developed medical systems, it suggests that money and wealth aren't solutions and throwing more [money] at the current crisis may not be a solution that's adequate either.”
Learn more about Prof Wolff's latest book, The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself.
Now also available as an eBook!