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Richard Wolff Discusses the Failure of Capitalism with Bill Moyers

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The fact of this talk is telling in and of itself: that a mainstream commentator would devote an entire segment to the idea that capitalism isn’t working. While that idea may seem obvious to many NC readers, it was supposed to remain relegated to the sphere of deviance (see Daniel Hallin’s spheres of discourse for more detail).

Having said that, some of Wolff’s remarks are very insightful, and others are puzzling. He talks about how much the minimum wage has fallen in real terms, his only mention of unions is in the Roosevelt era. And this is from a pro union guy! Yet the systematic attack on unions was critical to lowering wage levels. So unions are in the sphere of deviance (not clear whether due to Wolff being cautious of mentioning them overmuch or that part of the discussion being left on the cutting room floor).

Similarly, Wolff pooh poohs financial regulation, peculiarly dismissing the fact that it worked well for two generations. And what broke it was not bank lobbying but the high and volatile interest rates of the 1970s, which resulted from imperial overreach (Johnson refusing to raise taxes when the economy was already at full employment; he deficit financed the combo plate of the space race, the war in Vietnam, and the war on poverty. And Vietnam was the reason for not raising taxes; the war was already unpopular, and a tax increase would have made it more so). At one point, Moyers brings up oligopolies as another driver of increased concentration of wealth, and Wolff misses the opportunity to take up the idea (the failure to enforce anti-trust regulations is a not-sufficienlty well recognized contributor to rising income inequality).

Despite those caveats, there is a lot to like here, so do enjoy this segment.

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88 comments

  1. Liah

    This was a fabulous interview. Later, last night, Greg Smith gave an equally fabulous interview as (re)broadcast on CSPAN. It almost felt like…the… truth…

    Naw…

  2. Lambert Strether

    Wolff: “Not to be too critical of our President.”

    What do you mean, “our,” Perfessor?

    * * *

    Worth listening too, definitely, but some bits of it are rather like having the serrated edge of a steak knife scraped across an open wound.

    1. JohnnyGL

      Lambert, that little phrase got an eyebrow raise from me, too. My first reaction was, “you can’t seriously call yourself a Socialist if you’re not going lay into the President’s godawful record of governing”.

      Pretty funny how he’s not big on bankster prosecutions, either. Just blame the sys

      1. JohnnyGL

        Just blame the system, no one in particular is at fault. I didn’t like that kind of wishy washy stuff.

        But the interview picked up, especially at the end, with the commentary on the state of the American dream. The critique of Economics was fun, too. “It’s a celebration of the system and an apology for the status quo.” I laughed at that one.

        1. Coldtype

          People should really check out Dr. Wolff’s podcasts because he goes into far greater detail about why regulations are only a short-time fix when it comes to dealing with transgressors among the dominant sectors of capitalism, e.g banking and corporations.

          He argues that given their enormous wealth and the political power that this translates into, corporations will, with sufficient time, erode regulations and capture the regulators. As long as all of the major decisions of a corporation are restricted to a board of directors (roughly 15 to 20 people on average) and a small core of executive officers (generally 10 to 15 more people), regulations are merely obstacles to be inevitably surmounted. It is counterproductive in his view to leave in place a system whereby all the decisions and the lion’s share of the rewards accrue to a tiny elite within a corporation while those who comprise the majority, the workers, are left to suffer the consequences of decisions in which they had no voice.

          Wolff’s solutions are therefore far more radical than increased regulations alone. As a critical first step he argues that banking should be a public utility along the lines of the State Bank of North Dakota. Second, he believes that worker self-directed cooperatives in which workers themselves serve as their own board of directors as patterned after the Mondragon Corporation, a federation of cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain is the antidote to the thoroughly undemocratic, hierarchical corporate structures that now dominate.

          For more on the Mondragon Corp. see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation

          Dr. Wolff’s essays and podcasts can be found here: http://rdwolff.com/articles

          1. Goin' South

            Yep. Regulating Capitalism is like putting a serial killer under house arrest. It won’t work for long.

          2. jake chase

            Worker cooperatives in an age of global capitalism? Every one would be bankrupt within a year, unless they exported production to Viet Nam like everyone else.

            The real problems are monopoly and rent and speculation and usury, and a tax system that rewards all three while punishing labor and production. Politics provides the only answers and institutional legislative corruption insures all solutions which do not eliminate that will be bogus. Wolff seems well intentioned and informed about history, but his ideas about solutions seem very naive.

        2. steelhead23

          He is right, you know. Those crooked CEOs are merely actors on a stage, Wolff would indict the playwright, the system, and worries less about the actors and their actions, which fit the script. Our desire for prosecution is, shall I say it? a tad childish and it displays a clinging to the script, or, have given up changing it, so it has to be those actors who’ve gone off-script. This is a rational leftist argument. Capitalism isn’t working. Regulation tends to work only so long as it is vigorously enforced and keeps up with “innovation.” If we cannot control the excesses of capitalism through regulation as Wolff posits, then the logical next step is changing the system – rewriting the script. For many, this is simply a dream for we have a complex interacting political, economic, and media system that is four-square behind capitalism.

          OWS is the most revolutionary action in the last 50 years and yet proposes regulation of capitalism rather than socialism as a solution. They should listen closer to Mr. Wolff.

          1. Code Name D

            This is another example of Utopian Paradox that I mentioned in another thread. It’s the asumption that we can expect a disfunctional system to functionaly regulate itself.

            All though I am not sure I agree completly. For example, if repealing Glass Stegale caused the housing bubble and crash, then this regulation is necisary.

            You can claim that the flat tire was caused by a bent rim, but you can’t fix the rim without also replacing the tire.

        1. nonclassical

          ..you mean bushbama?…:

          http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/12/wikileaks-cable-obama-quashed-torture-investigation

          “Back when it seemed that this case could become a major international issue, during an April 14, 2009, White House briefing, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs if the Obama administration would cooperate with any request from the Spaniards for information and documents related to the Bush Six. He said, “I don’t want to get involved in hypotheticals.” What he didn’t disclose was that the Obama administration, working with Republicans, was actively pressuring the Spaniards to drop the investigation. Those efforts apparently paid off, and, as this WikiLeaks-released cable shows, Gonzales, Haynes, Feith, Bybee, Addington, and Yoo owed Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thank-you notes…”

    2. Carla

      “Not to be too critical of our President” was when I stopped watching the interview. My gag reflex would not allow me to continue.

      1. ScottW

        A litany of criticism about Obama would only have gotten those who feel the same way to say, “Tell me something I don’t already know,” while turning off people who still support Obama, but are open to change, but need to be nurtured along.

  3. William Neil

    I have to chuckle, Yves, because I am working on an essay about the strange way “progressives” decided on a $9 per hour minimum wage target, linked only to inflation and the golden year of 1968: suddenly, no one wanted to talk about links to productivity gains – except Dean Baker and a few others – even though mainstream economic thought has been fascinated with that elusive goal of greater productivity/topic and everyone has graphs showing the gaps between the minimum wage and median wage, and productivity gains. Actually, there are three minimums talked about besides the one “decided”: about $12 per hour (James Galbraith’s figure broached in 2012 – early in Foreign Affairs mag!);Baker’s mid-range missing share of productivity based on conservative assumptions of 16.47 or so, and a full share for labor of about $21 per hour.

    So I was wondering where the leading Marxist economists might be and tried to find out what Wolff was saying: no luck, he was non-commital on what it should be and posited all the complexities about whether it might cost jobs or not and all the factors which could distort correlations – good or bad. My hunch is that somehow it doesn’t seem crucial enough “structurally” for him…so he didn’t want to get hung up on it…

    I actually think we can learn a lot from how it was decided to come out at nine dollars, ditch productivity links…a topic that I suspect, makes most mainstream economists see many ghosts of old debates…going all the way back to Ricardo and Malthus on subsistance wages and the labor theory of value…and the fact that Marshallian economics has an entirely micro inside the firm perspective on setting wages/adding that additional worker…yet as Baker has suggested, isn’t it strange that the link between the minimum and productivity was severed in the 1970′s…and never been rejoined…

      1. Carla

        Well, if he starts at $9.00, it will be easier for him to compromise down to $8.15, dontcha know.

        Not to be too critical of our President.

        1. nonclassical

          ..you mean bushbama…?:

          http://failedempire.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/wikileaks-obama-protected-bush-administration-war-criminals/

          “As with most of the revelations from Wikileaks, there is little here about which one should be surprised. The most recent batch of leaks – along with the Iraq War Logs and Afghan Diaries – merely provides concrete evidence to support what most people have suspected all along. It was long apparent that Obama was not interested in pursuing criminal prosecution of Bush and his gang of lawless thugs – indeed, the Democrats made clear their unwillingness to uphold the rule of law back in the 2008 mid-term elections, with Nancy “Impeachment is Off the Table” Pelosi’s now infamous words.

          The most pertinent issue here is not the despicable behavior of the Obama administration. Anyone who has been paying attention has come to expect such deeds from Obama, since he is a corporatist president who represents the interests of the elite and not ordinary Americans. I have commented extensively on this in the past and need not do so again here.”

    1. diptherio

      As my econ advisor used to point out, everyone is worried about wages getting too high and what that will do to the economy, nobody every talks about profits getting too high. I wonder why that is…

      1. hunkerdown

        To paraphrase the aristocrat worshippers, “When was the last time a poor person ever created a job”… for an economist?

        1. jrs

          Well I guess that’s what we need then, to start hiring economists that work for the working class, of course there’s not much money there but ….

      2. jrs

        basically some people worry (sincerely or not) about minimum wages backfiring for their intended beneficiaries or those in a similar economic situation (customers etc.), profits can’t ever backfire on their intended beneficiaries as such, because they have pretty much ALL the power in this society. They can backfire on the rest of us of course.

    2. Paul Tioxon

      William,
      You need to look up Jared Bernstein, who spoke to this exact topic on MSNBC.

      http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/02/25/minimum-wage-meta-analysis-evidence-over-theory/

      You know, it might not hurt to start watching just little more TV every now and then, just to see what the rubes are watching.

      Funny you should mention Marxists, are we talking good Marxists or evil Marxists, what ever, here is some material from the Monthly Review. You know, it might also be useful to read some New Left and Socialist web sites such as the Monthly Review. They have economists there who studied economics and did not go to work for Wall St or a captured regulatory agency. You’d be surprised what research they have been doing with just their minds and a library card.

      —————————————

      “Of course mainstream economists are a long way from seeing these problems in their full historical dimensions, or from recognizing that both the capital-labor problem and monopoly power are endemic to capitalist development. For Stiglitz, as he explains at the end of his book, the issue is simply one of the revival of antitrust, government regulation of the economy, and progressive income redistribution. There seems to be no real inkling that the conflict between labor and capital extends to the class bias of the capitalist state. Barring the sharpest kind of class struggle, what Stiglitz suggests in the way of reform is unimaginable. And even with it, we cannot be certain much would change within the system. We no longer live in that special period of the post-Second World War U.S. welfare state and European social democracy, in which the existence of the Soviet Union and attempted alternatives in the third world, coupled with an exceptional prosperity, pushed the West toward meaningful reform. Instead we live in an era of neoliberal globalization and financialization, which have pushed the world in a regressive direction. Such structural problems as growing class inequality and rising monopoly power are, moreover, inherent tendencies of capitalism as a system. They will end only with the end of capitalism itself.”

      http://monthlyreview.org/2013/02/01/mr-064-09-2013-02

    3. sharonsj

      American productivity is at an all-time high and Americans work more hours than ever. But the profits are still going straight to the top.

  4. Andrew

    I could only take 10mins. it looks like Wolff came to the interview determined to stay on message. Not that it’s a bad message I just couldn’t stomach another 20mins if he is going to bang on in the same narrow area.

    Like Yves said, he was presented with some nice opportunities to broaden the discussion in a good way, but he ignored them. Maybe he took his media training too much to heart.

  5. don

    Wolff mentions that he was a student of Paul Sweezy, who co-authored (with Paul Baran) ‘Monopoly Capitalism: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order’. So I think it safe to say that Wolff understands fully oligarchy.

    As for financial de-regulation. Wolff is more interested in what explains the de-regulation (of markets in general) than on its consequences, so as to come to grips with the historical and structural necessity for de-regulation within the context of the capitalist imperative of expansion/growth. More symptom that cause.

    Yes, Wolff kept his discussion somewhat narrow, but keep in mind that he was speaking to a general audience with limited economic understanding.

    1. nonclassical

      ..those who conflate (intentionally) “markets”, as in “free market should regulate itself”, with Wall $treet-”financial sector” could read a few books:

      http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_16?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=treasure+islands+tax+havens+and+the+men+who+stole+the+world&sprefix=treasure+islands%2Cstripbooks%2C340

      http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Money-Politics-Debt-Third/dp/0773527435/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361857773&sr=1-1&keywords=hot+money+and+the+politics+of+debt

      http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Money-Politics-Debt-Third/dp/0773527435/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361857773&sr=1-1&keywords=hot+money+and+the+politics+of+debt

      http://www.amazon.com/Traders-Guns-Money-Financial-Times/dp/0273776762/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361857851&sr=1-2&keywords=traders+guns+and+money

      http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Economic-Hit-John-Perkins/dp/0452287081/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361857895&sr=1-1&keywords=confessions+of+an+economic+hitman+by+john+perkins

        1. diane

          truly ……

          (and if not, what the fuck is wrong with us, how have we let anything that used to be inspiring …. die so thoroughly, in the hands of monsters?)

  6. Sukh Hayre

    I think the $9 has a lot more to with perception management. This wage is “topped up” with very low income tax levels on minimum wage earners. It is probably also “subsidized” through the foodstamps program.

    This allow the minimum wage to be kept below “poverty levels” and this makes those that make more than minimum wage, but not a lot more than $12 per hour feel a bit better about themselves and the wage they earn.

    Those earning minimum wage are “trained” to accept that they need to accept minimum wage because their’s is a job that “anybody could do”. Nevermind the fact that nobody WANTS to do these jobs. Minimum wage earners are also “trained” do blame themselves for not having done better in school, and almost feel happy about the fact that they are getting something for nothing because the pay no income tax and get foodstamps to boot.

    “Trained” isn’t the right word, but I hope you know what I a trying to say.

    “Covert” means are used to make the system as a whole, acceptable to the large majority that live paycheck to paycheck, and those in the middle-class that need to feel that they are getting further ahead than all those people who are only “qualifed” to earn minimum wage.

    This is what it takes to keep society civil.

    1. Sukh Hayre

      I’ve got a whole theory on why the wealth gap was allowed to expand over the last 30 years:

      When you are an exporter of manufactured goods and oil are running huge trade deficits, and those providing you the goods and oil are willing to accept IOU’s in return, it actually makes sense to keep wages suppressed for the majority and let wealth become concentrated in a very small percentage of the population because this limits what the majority of your citizens can afford to pay for imported goods and oil.

      Had the wealth been more equally spread, all that would have meant is that everyone would have been able to pay more for goods that the Chinese were exporting and the oil that the Middle East was exporting.

      When the maximum benefit of this strategy has been squeezed out, then you can begin to implement policy that is more progressive and allows the domestic economy to grow again.

      This is also when you see that the U.S. somehow miraculously become energy independent when the reality is, they were delaying development of their own energy resources for as long as they could deplete the rest of the world’s natural resources. Not only does the U.S. become energy independent, but their energy costs are significantly lower than the rest of the world’s which gives them a huge competitive advantage.

      Sadly this advantage is blown due to the fact that urban sprawl and the driving it requires eats up much of this benefit. Also the fact that people have become to see being able to afford to drive as a birthright. This is slowly changing, and will continue to do so.

      I’m guessing that gas prices will become high enough that driving habits will change significantly, and many people will be forced to learn to do without a car because that is no longer a luxury that every U.S. citizen can afford now tht the end of U.S. hegemony is at hand.

      1. jake chase

        You say “the U.S. somehow miraculously become energy independent when the reality is, they were delaying development of their own energy resources for as long as they could deplete the rest of the world’s natural resources”

        Actually, US policy in the 1950s can best be described as ‘drain America first’. Imported oil was subject to quotas, because, from 1930 on, the US problem was a domestic oil glut and ruinously low prices for the plutocrats who controlled it. The situation changed about 1965, and the banks lobbied to support OPEC’s aggressive oil price increases, understanding their potential as a source of massive recycling profits, through loans to oil poor soverign governments, not to mention domestic usury through credit extensions to strapped US consumers.

    2. Andrew

      The even sadder thing is there are millions who are willing to do almost any work for a minimum wage, but are denied an opportunity to do so…….Never mind I suppose it’s their fault they don’t have the capital, skills, resources or desire to become an “entrepreneur”.

      1. nonclassical

        “entrepeneur”, for which the French don’t have a word:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj394dJK-pg

        Here are a few Quotes from George W. Bush :

        “The inhabitants of Greece are the Greecians”

        “The French don’t have a word for ‘Entrepreneur’”

        “The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.”

        “If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.”
        ……………

        ..while there are revisionists at work on this history, some of us actually HEARD
        our very own war criminal say so..

        1. anyone

          Shrub – aka Cheney’s sock puppet – will eventually be recognized as the Yogi Berra of his era, although Yogi was at least marginally successful in some of his management endeavors. The Shrub? Not so much. Although he certainly did prove to be tremendously useful to the neo-con crowd he ran with.

          1. nonclassical

            ….Yogi was absolutely Yoda, compared to “W”…

            love Yves’ Yogi quote:

            “In theory, theory and practice are the same….in practice, they are different…”

          2. jake chase

            Yogi was dumb like a fox. GWB was dumb like an overprivileged provincial Yalie. The only thing unusual about him was his popularity. Has anyone ever explained it?

    3. cripes

      @ Sukh Hayre:

      You must never have worked for minumum wage.

      Unless you are a single parent with dependants, and therefore eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, I can assure you that you will pay the full measure of federal taxes and FICA, after standard deduction, like everyone else.

      A single adult earning minimum wage 40 hours weekly (another rarity since most minimum wage jobs won’t be full-time) at 15,080 annually will not be eligible for food stamps or medicaid. No paid sick, vacation or holidays either, or medical or pension benefits, unless he’s very lucky.

      At 25 hours weekly, he/she will earn about 9,425 if he never has a sick day or vacation day, which will also be unpaid. And if he receives any food stamps at all (varies by state) will be reduced to minimal benefits as a result of all that earned income.

      Those single parents struggling to support children on these starvation wages won’t be sufficiently compensated by stamps or EITC, which is only designed to keep enough income to feed those children, not raise the living standard for the battered parent.

      Minimum wage is far worse than you imagine. In fact, it is less than the cost of maintaining and reproducing labor, less, in real terms, than the cost of keeping slaves in the antebellum south, where they were assured a roof and meals and seasonal or cyclic unemployment did not render them homeless and destitute.

      In short, our “minimum wage” is subsidized by the society at large, by the families and communities and to a very limited extent, by the state, which again is the rest of us, to the benefit of the slave labor employers.

      It’s a crime.

  7. Steve

    Wherever a person chooses to work for a minimum wage – the costs of living in that area dictate that those wages can only buy so much of a given lifestyle. It seems to me that no matter what the unemployment rate or the minimum wage the goal needs to be to solve the issue of lifestyle. Today those with ambition and skills still can succeed – but their success is limited by their own ability to access capital and resources.

    It seems to me that people of far less ambition and skill (but ample access to capital and resources) have a much greater chance of success – and therein lies the bigger problem. While they may succeed to the point of satisfying their own lifestyle wishes – the scarce resource (capital) is not applied in such a way that creates the maximum benefit for the whole. But what better way is there? Are we supposed to rely on government or some other entity to redistribute capital? No one would stand for that – so what other mechanisms are out there that can solve the problem?

    1. Carla

      Steve: “It seems to me that people of far less ambition and skill (but ample access to capital and resources) have a much greater chance of success – and therein lies the bigger problem. While they may succeed to the point of satisfying their own lifestyle wishes – the scarce resource (capital) is not applied in such a way that creates the maximum benefit for the whole. But what better way is there?”

      Steve, I think this problem is rooted in our debt-based money system, and so the “better way” is to learn about our monetary system and change it. Our monetary system was designed by the banking cartel to benefit the bankers! Our central bank (the Federal Reserve, a private institution in fact) functions very much like the Bank of England. You can learn a lot about it in just a few minutes at http://www.positivemoney.org.

    2. LifelongLib

      “Are we supposed to rely on government or some other entity to redistribute capital? No one would stand for that…”

      I would.

  8. Doug Terpstra

    A good system critique, but Wolff’s stance on regulation is immediately self-contradicting. He’s “not enthused about regulation because … all the previous promises about all the previous regulations didn’t work. And they didn’t work for two reasons … either the regulations that were passed were then undone, or they were evaded. And that’s the history of every regulation.”

    Hmm, Glass-Steagall worked well for eighty years; then Clinton repealed and it didn’t work anymore. So I guess we shouldn’t try that again. No point; it’ll just be repealed in 2090. Hello, Richard? Regulation isn’t the problem; the problem is evasion and repeal. Duh!

    Worse: “I’m not enthused about arresting these people or punishing them in this or that way. And the reason is simple … we get some banker and we haul him up in front of a court, and we find out he’s done some things that are not good[?] [criminal!] … he gets fined, he gets removed. The next one is subject to the same rewards and punishments. The same inducements. The same conditions.”

    The same rewards maybe, but what “punishments”? I have a faint inkling that we might possibly get more crime if we remove all deterrent and never prosecute a single high-level felon. Shouldn’t we at least try to jail one of these perps, even reconsider the guillotine, and see if that in some small way reduces the whack-a-mole pattern of recidivism?

    I think we need more fifth-graders working on this problem, and fewer economists.

    1. Carla

      @Doug Terpstra: Actually, the greatest problem with regulation is that most of the time, the industry being “regulated” writes the regulation. Because of the crisis conditions at the time, Glass-Steagall was an exception to that. The Affordable Care Act, on the other hand, is a perfect example.

      1. Min

        About the regulated writing the regulations and the Great Depression: The Pecora Commission was very effective in discrediting the big banks of the day. The term “bankster” came into existence at that time. It is a big mistake not to pursue criminal prosecutions related to the financial crisis, which could number in the thousands. Not only would we see criminal justice, we would set the stage for political justice.

        Now, with its embrace of austerity, the UK has not done so well in the aftermath of the crisis, but they did at least one thing right in their bank bailout. They fired the top executives of the banks. There was an interesting contrast in 2009, IIRC, between the testimony of the TBTF CEOs before the US Congress and the UK Parliament. The US CEOs were unrepentant, even cocky. The UK CEOs were contrite. It may or may not have been a good idea to bail out the Wall Street banks, but it was a terrible idea to retain the people who got us into this mess. All we did was reward them for fucking up.

    2. Phrase

      … Doug, … i agree . … The amount of suffering which is being inflicted on fellow human beings … to maintain a global neoliberal illegitimate financial hegemonic system … inimical to sovereign nations, participatory franchised democracy, a healthy civil society , a robust and sustainable ecosystem , … would at least ruffle up a little bit of moral indignation. … imho… Gar Alperovitz speaks of the level of pain experienced by the economically impoverished as a key facilitator of change, … experiential mega-hurt, … which if not destructive, and having the appropriate critical mass … could move in ways which would transform today’s major systemic institutions to reflect a transformed paradigm , … reflecting moral, ethical, normative principles … . I was so disappointed and shocked by what i perceived as Wolff’s insouciance . … Right, stay hopeful and when one wakes the predatory ideology will just be yesterday’s nightmare . … Somehow i don’t think that attitude would be received well in Greece for instance, … or in Italy as expressed in the recent election. … For Italy, will the votes for change actually be able to bring about change ? … Interesting, and i don’t know. … But to me the interview was a puff piece, designed for family viewing before the hot milk just before bed. … Ohhh ! … all the best … phrase

    3. Goin' South

      You’re enthusiastic about treating symptoms. Wolff is focused on getting at causes.

      Why do things blow up unless they’re tightly regulated? The profit motive at the center of Capitalism.

      Why do regulations that seem to work get repealed? The profit motive at the center of Capitalism.

      Why do people in charge of Capitalist institutions do immoral, anti-human things so bad that justice seems to require their punishment? The profit motive at the center of Capitalism.

      Leave the Capitalist system in place and anyone trying to prevent it from becoming the monster it is today will be like the boy trying to plug all the holes in the dike.

      1. Eric Patton

        It’s not an either-or. One can be anti-capitalist (though if one is going to be anti-capitalist, one should also be pro-something) and still believe many bankers should be prosecuted.

        1. Goin' South

          The problem arises when people are foolish enough to believe that throwing Dimon and Blankfein in jail will actually solve anything. It might make us feel better, but others will take their place and do the same.

          1. Doug Terpstra

            I agree with Eric; it’s not either/or.

            But regarding prosecutions, couldn’t we at least try it, please, since it actually has worked in the past? Let’s replace the wars on drugs and terrors with a war on criminal financial cartels. Like Bill Black, I strongly believe that special prosecutors, grand juries, Rico indictments and convictions on an adequate scale would have profound deterrent effect, as they did earlier with organized crime on a regional scale. Frog-marching Dimon, Blankfein, Corzine and a few of their cronies into real prisons, as William Black advocates, would undoubtedly dampen fraud, bribery and insider trading at the casino.

            Similarly, following the Gilded Age and age of robber barons, robust regulatory law (Taft-Hartley, Glass-Steagall, etc) with committed executive enforcement effectively bridled and harnessed the capitalist workhorse for many decades, building broad wealth and a healthy middle class. Granting that you’re right, that regulation and prosecutions are fruitless, I’ll still gladly take that feel-better pill anyway. Palliatives do have their uses.

            I’d too would eagerly throw out the demon-spawn with the bathwater in lieu of cleanup and rehab, but ours is merely an academic debate anyway, a classic “more-filling/tastes awful” contest within the peanut gallery. Neo-fascism is a fait accompli. The recent “lesser-evil” election shows that consent has been forged and neither reform nor a paradigm shift is really in the cards right now, absent exogenous shock.
            My critique is that Wolff dismisses robust regulation and prosecution as pointless in spite of evidence that they did work in the past under conspicuously different leadership, while at the same time, he doesn’t really evince corresponding passion or commitment to revolution or offer a definitive image of the new paradigm he envisions to replace our new world (dis)order. He dismisses regulation, crime prevention and punishment as passé but doesn’t outline a viable alternative.

    4. jj

      Well the problem is not fith graders solving economic crisis because you need a laurate to even question leaving a fifth grader with a crisis question to tell you the truth but really nobody can solve global crisis’. It does really start with one person???

  9. dannyc

    No prosecutions? No Jail? Wolff doesn’t believe in regulation; does he believe in law?

    Wolff ‘s irresponsible. Who does he think is buying those $50 Million dollar apartments he laments?

  10. tiebie66

    I kept on thinking that he owed a debt to Marx, but did not acknowledge that giant. Because then his ideas would seem much less novel? Or he is not familiar with Marx? To be clear: Marx pointed out that capitalism had some rather serious flaws with serious social consequences. You heard it there first, and in great detail.

    I do not want to be unkind, but I feel that he is talking his book. I found the lack of a nod to Marx and the absolution of the bankers to be jarring. If I’m way off base here, I’d appreciate knowing why.

    1. bulfinch

      Maybe it was because it’s such an obvious presupposition that paying dues seemed like a waste of precious broadcast time. Or perhaps he was trying to avoid alienating anyone for whom the name Marx is a “trigger” — which a lot of Americans. It seems not unreasonable if you’re trying to jacket your message in a manner which reaches as wide an audience as possible.

  11. Gerald Muller

    Isn’t the truth that capitalism is, to paraphrase Churchill, a very bad system but all other systems, especially socialism, are worse?
    As our fathers realized, capitalism needs rules, that is regulations, and, since greed is at the core of the system, laws that avoid this greed to become contrary to the good of the people.
    The fact that the necessary rules have been broken by politicians linked to Wall Street, as Yves explained so well in her book, does not mean that capitalism itself is wrong or bad. Like every system it needs rules that are enforceable and enforced for it to function.

    1. Eric Patton

      Participatory economics (parecon) would, in theory, be a far superior alternative to capitalism. However, it requires recognizing the existence of a third economic class.

  12. diane

    our fathers, ????? Speak for yourself please, the so called founding father$ (let alone their predecessor$), who were (in retrospect) so beholden to, and/or competitive with, the City of London, could never hold a candle to so many of our real dads, who repeatedly tried to fit in, and therefore survive, without hurting folks they loved, …but got fucked anyways, let alone what our mammas have endured..

    1. diane

      (sorry, that was a response to Gerald Muller’s comment directly above my directly above (and to the left) comment, versus a comment re the main ‘post.’)

  13. Hal Roberts

    Take a solid Capitalist system within a nation with most of it’s boats floating, then flood it with illegal labor while at the same time shipping jobs out of the country. That will sink a lot of boat’s and that’s what been going on since the Globalist endeavor started, now we have a socialist bail out going on. That is not the fault of Capitalism, it’s the fault of the globalist.

    1. McMike

      What is a globalist, if not the natural extension of capitalists seeking lowest possible costs, least possible regulation, weakest possible labor, and greatest cost externalization?

      Gloablists are the Janus face of drug cartels.

        1. McMike

          “The USA was always about a standard of living for the citizens with the ability to fail, not get bailed out.”

          Can you cite any evidence for that ethos operating regularly in practice?

          I mean, above, say, the top 5% income level.

      1. Hal Roberts

        The only problem the USA had with Capitalism was that the lack of accountability, Glass-stegall and the baby bloomers (timothy law brats) were retiring which meant their would not be enough wall st investors to keep the DOW going up so they sold their country out in the name of profit. That man is full of it and playing a game of misdirect the people.

        1. McMike

          Oh, I suspect most around here agree that the last three decades represent a particularly perverse and extreme example of piracy run amok.

          But even a modest examination of history reveals that there is not much new under the sun.

  14. Pelham

    One could argue that regulation worked well for two generations in part due to the existence of the Soviet Union and a potential alternative global system that hemmed in global capitalism to such a degree that the rentiers never quite attained the traction in Washington that they later achieved, enabling them to handily shape policy any way they wished.

    Regulation repeal could also be seen as an inevitable outgrowth of the natural progress of capitalism from a focus on the production of more or less useful things to a financially oriented system engaged in the production of more or less useless profits reserved for those at the top. If that’s the case, the time is past for regulation — it can never work again, given the huge concentration of power at the top of the economic/political system — and the time has arrived for something completely different, from the bedrock up.

  15. Huw Evans

    You are confusing Naked Capitalism with Government Capitalism -that is collusion between the Politicians and the Banksters.
    As Milton Friedman advocated so eloquently if you leave capitalism alone, without interference, it will regulate itself – Oligarchs will arise and subside as new companies enter and steal market share the “darwinian” processes of success or failure will apply. The trouble with our version of Capitalism is Government Interference which ALWAYS has a negative influence and creates the very disasters it is trying to prevent ( …on behalf of the people of course!)
    Fractional Reserve Banking and Fiat currencies are a collusion between the Banksters and the Politicians at the expense of the masses!

    1. LifelongLib

      American capitalism has depended on government from the beginning. Tariffs, canals, land for railroads, limited corporate liability, public education, freeways, R & D, suppression of strikes and unfriendly foreign governments…

  16. Xelcho

    Seems strange to me, no one has commented on Wolff’s assertion that democracy failed the lower 90% or so. Meanwhile the debate surrounds non-capitalism vs capitalism with rules and regs. While interesting, seems radical to me, in that both require magic to unseat the power centers. I would think that a more meaningful approach would be to ask what would it take to make democracy work, e.g. get the majority (poor & working poor) represented in the republic?

    Further, to quote Goin’ South “The profit motive at the center of Capitalism.”

    This driving force of capitalism was never touched. Why not?
    X

  17. Hugh

    Reading through the transcript of the interview, I have to say that while Wolff criticizes the “system” and capitalism his analysis lacks depth and coherence. All in all, he reminds me of Krugman. Krugman will use words like depression from time to time, but then he always falls back into familiar partisan patterns and fails to apply the insight that the country is in depression to the rest of his analysis. Wolff does much the same with the system and capitalism. He invokes them but he doesn’t do anything with them. It’s like so you’ve had this insight, now tell me how this has changed the rest of your thinking. I for one can’t see that it did. The rich really aren’t to blame. CEOs are just following the rules. Yes, there is wealth inequality, but Wolff doesn’t really focus in on it. He just throws a few figures out and moves on. Other than the headline criticism of the system which we live under, it just seems poorly thought through.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Yes! It’s an insidious form of defeatism, without any compelling vision for a new paradigm. Reform is futile; don’t regulate or prosecute; regulations will be evaded or repealed and a new mole will only replace any one you whack. It’s really quite empty.

  18. Teejay

    Yves, With Win 7, Firefox 19.0, and Adobe FP 11.6.602.171 I’m getting a “Boo Hoo” @ the Moyers/Wolff clip telling me to install FP 11.6.602.171. ?

  19. jj

    Its probably not such as the fact that someone sows great for fedraists,but people who like to treat people as if there zombies and bite people in a capatolist market. The tough part about the whole thing is not becoming a zombie yourself after a bite-that’s where it does break down. Capitolizing on people’s misfortune and milking something is being the dingo??? Its imperialistic and there really is no place in a capitolistic government for the zombies tending to trend towards an imperiolistic governing ball of fire?? Its okay for small markets maybe??? But not something cannibistic where people get chewed up and spit out equally??? Where is the sanity in that you would want to say maybe. No body has to glow for those type of individuals so that they can purshase a couple of 100 grand candy bars at a small pit stop or else man is actually impregnanted and the man is the dad???

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