One of the long standing taboos in the US is an open discussion of our capitalist economic system. Mainstream economists talk of business cycles, recessions, depressions, upturns, downturns, etc, in an effort to avoid discussing just how unstable capitalism is. In 2009 that changed. Professor Richard D Wolff, a PhD who taught economics at UMass for many years, published a book entitled Capitalism Hits The Fan, a compilation of articles and essays written between 2005 and 2008. Since that time he has been on a whirlwind of personal appearances and radio/TV talk shows discussing just how capitalism has worked, or not worked, for people over the last 50 years.
In September 2011 Occupy Wall Street, soon followed by thousands of other Occupy actions, sought to shine a light on the inequities of the capitalist system in the very heart of the US financial industry. Almost as if from a script the corporate media and authorities acted out Gandhi’s famous quote, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” In my opinion we’re still in the fight stage. In the latter part of 2011 Rick Wolff and David Barsamian sat down and had 3 conversations. David is well known as the founder and host of Alternative Radio, an excellent radio program distributed free to community radio stations across the country. In April of this year City Lights published those conversations as Occupy the Economy Challenging Capitalism.
This is a small volume but Prof Wolff’s discussion of the capitalist economic system of the last 50 years is expansive and succinct, no degree in economics required. Prof Wolff describes how, since the end of WWII, the capitalists have worked to undo the New Deal, using the wealth accumulated since the 1970s to essentially buy the US government and enact laws benefiting the rich at the expense of everybody else. He shows us how the end of the labor shortage and introduction of the computer into manufacturing in the 70s helped open the door to wage stagnation and personal debt at a level never seen before. He discusses how these actions contributed to the economic crisis we find ourselves in today. Class warfare? Absolutely, and we’ve been holding the short end of the stick for far too long.
This is a discussion of just how unstable and unjust our economic system is with some ideas on what we can do about it. Occupy Wall Street has played a major role in bringing the inherent injustices of capitalism to the awareness of the people, the 99%, and Prof Wolff sees the movement as a harbinger of meaningful change. There is a realization that politics is not going to fix our economy, it’s the economic system itself, capitalism, that is in need of overhaul. A starting point for Prof Wolff is democratizing the workplace, replacing the boards of directors and major shareholders with the workers, acting as their own boards of directors and shareholders, making the decisions that affect them, their families, and their communities on a daily basis. Collective ownership. As an old Wobbly I couldn’t agree more.
This is a beginning, an educational process. As more of the 99% become aware of these simple truths the more powerful we become.
Richard Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, Univ of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at New School University in New York.
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