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  • BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Our system capitalism, which we finally have

  • to debate now that it’s so dysfunctional. Our system isn’t working. It isn’t producing

  • for the mass of people. And an economic system that is only as acceptable or should be as

  • it’s performance.

  • BILL MOYERS: And

  • SARU JAYARAMAN: It’s an incredible irony that the people

  • that who put food on our tables use food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S.

  • workforce. Meaning that the people who put food on our tables can’t afford to put food

  • on their own family’s tables,

  • ANNOUNCER: Funding is provided by:

  • Carnegie Corporation of New York, celebrating 100 years of philanthropy, and committed to

  • doing real and permanent good in the world.

  • The Kohlberg Foundation.

  • Independent Production Fund, with support from The Partridge Foundation, a John and

  • Polly Guth Charitable Fund.

  • The Clements Foundation.

  • Park Foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.

  • The Herb Alpert Foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and

  • creativity in our society.

  • The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation.

  • The John D. And Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant,

  • and peaceful world. More information at Macfound.Org.”

  • Anne Gumowitz.

  • The Betsy And Jesse Fink Foundation.

  • The HKH Foundation.

  • Barbara G. Fleischman.

  • And by our sole corporate sponsor, Mutual of America, designing customized individual

  • and group retirement products. That’s why were your retirement company.

  • BILL MOYERS: Welcome. There’s hardly a sentient grown-up

  • in this country who isn’t aware that our economy is no longer working for vast numbers

  • of everyday people. The rich and powerful have more wealth and power than ever; everyone

  • else keeps losing ground. Between 2009 and 2011 alone, income fell for the 99 percent,

  • while it rose eleven percent for the top One Percent. Since the worst of the financial

  • crisis, that top One Percent has captured the increases in income while the rest of

  • the country has floundered. Stunning, isn’t it? The behavior of many of those One Percenters

  • brought on the financial crisis in the first place. We turned around and rescued them,

  • and now their wealth is skyrocketing once again. At the bottom, working people are practically

  • flat on their back. President Obama has finally recognized they need help. In his State of

  • the Union, he proposed an increase in the minimum wage:

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest

  • nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise

  • the federal minimum wage to nine dollars an hour.

  • BILL MOYERS: But as the economist Dean Baker points out

  • this week, “If the minimum wage had risen in step with productivity growth it would

  • be over $16.50 an hour today.” We talk a lot about what’s happening to the middle

  • class, but the American Dream’s really become a nightmare for the poor. Just about everyone

  • has an opinion about the trouble were inthe blame game is at fever pitch in Washington,

  • where obstinate Republicans and hapless Democrats once again play kick-the-can with the problems

  • we face. You wish they would just stop and listen to Richard Wolff.

  • An attentive and systematic observer of capitalism and democracy, he taught economics for 25

  • years at the University of Massachusetts and has published books such asDemocracy at

  • Work,” “Occupy the Economy,” andCapitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown

  • and What to Do about It.” He’s now visiting professor at The New School University here

  • in New York City where he’s teaching a special course on the financial crash. Welcome, Richard

  • Wolff.

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Thank you, Bill.

  • BILL MOYERS: Last night, I watched for the second time

  • the popular lecture that is on this DVD, “Capitalism Hits the Fan.” Tell us why you say capitalism

  • has hit the fan?

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Well, the classic defense of capitalism as

  • a system from much of its history has been, okay, it has this or that flaw. But it quote,

  • unquote, "delivers the goods.'"

  • BILL MOYERS: Yeah, for most everybody.

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Right.

  • BILL MOYERS: That was the argument.

  • RICHARD WOLFF: And so you may not get the most, but it'll

  • trickle down to you, all the different ways

  • BILL MOYERS: The yachts will rise.

  • RICHARD WOLFF: That's right. The ocean will lift all the

  • boats. The reality is that for at least 30 years now, that isn't true. For the majority

  • of people, capitalism is not delivering the goods. It is delivering, arguably, the bads.

  • And so we have this disparity getting wider and wider between those for whom capitalism

  • continues to deliver the goods by all means, but a growing majority in this society which

  • isn't getting the benefit, is in fact, facing harder and harder times. And that's what provokes

  • some of us to begin to say, "It's a systemic problem."

  • BILL MOYERS: So we put together some recent headlines.

  • The merger of American and US Airlines, giving us only four major airlines and less competition.

  • Comcast buying NBC Universal, also reducing competition. The very wealthy getting a trivial

  • increase in taxes while the payroll tax of working people will go from 4.2 percent to

  • 6.2 percent. Colossal salaries escalating again, many subsidized by tax breaks and loopholes.

  • The postal service ending service on Saturday. What's the picture you get from that montage

  • of headlines?

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Well, for me it is captured by the European

  • word "austerity." We're basically saying that even though the widening gap between rich

  • and poor built us up, many of the factors that plunged us into a crisis, instead of

  • dealing with them and fixing that problem, we're actually allowing the crisis to make

  • the inequality worse.

  • The latest research from the leading two economists, Saez from the University of California in

  • Berkeley, and Piketty in France confirms that even over the last five years of the crisis,

  • through 2012, the inequality of wealth and income has gotten worse, as though we are

  • determined not to deal with it. All of those headlines you talked about are more of that.

  • I mean, the astonishing capacity to make it harder for people to have a delivery of their

  • mail on Saturday, to save what is in a larger picture, a trivial amount of money, but that

  • will really impact-- thousands of people will lose their jobs, everyone will lose a service

  • that is important, particularly in smaller places around the United States that are not

  • served by anything comparable to the Post Office.

  • And then as you pointed out, and I have to say a word about it, this amazing display

  • in which we raise the top income tax on the richest people from 35 percent to 39.6 percent

  • only for those over $450,000 a year, while for the 150 million Americans who get a weekly

  • or a monthly check, their payroll tax went up a whopping 48 percent from 4.2 to-- this

  • is so grotesque an inequality that you're watching a process that is sort of spinning

  • out of control in which those at the top have no limits, don't recognize any constraint

  • on how far they can take it.

  • BILL MOYERS: If workers at the bottom get the increase

  • in the minimum wage that President Obama proposed in his State of the Union message, they will

  • still be faring less well than their counterparts did 50 years ago.

  • RICHARD WOLFF: That's right.

  • BILL MOYERS: What does that say to you?

  • RICHARD WOLFF: The peak for the minimum wage in terms of

  • its real purchasing power was 1968. It's been basically declining with a couple of ups and

  • downs ever since. So that if you adjust for the current price, the minimum wage was about

  • $10.50 roughly, back in 1968 in terms of what it could buy.

  • And it's $7.25 today in terms of what it can buy. So you've taken the folks at the bottom,

  • the people who work hard, full-time jobs, and you've made their economic condition worse

  • over a 50-year period, while wealth has accumulated at the top. What kind of a society does this?

  • And then the arguments have come out, which are in my profession, a major staple for many

  • careers, are arguments that, "Gee, if you raise the minimum wage, a few people who might've

  • otherwise gotten a job won't get it because the employer doesn't want to pay the higher

  • wage."

  • Well, if that logic is really going to play in your mind, then you should keep lowering

  • the wage. Because if you only made it four dollars an hour, just think how many more

  • people could get a job. But a job under conditions that make life impossible.

  • BILL MOYERS: Who decided that workers at the bottom should

  • fall behind?

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Well, in the end, it's the society of the

  • whole that tolerates it. But it was Congress's decision and Congress's power to raise the

  • minimum wage, as has happened from time to time.

  • Even this time, not to be too critical of our president, but when he was running for

  • office, he proposed a $9.50 minimum wage. Here we are in the beginning of his second

  • term, and something has happened to make him only propose a nine dollar minimum wage. So

  • even he is scaling down, perhaps for political reasons, what he thinks he can accomplish.

  • When, if we just wanted to get it back to what it was in 1968, it would have to be $10

  • or $11 an hour.

  • BILL MOYERS: Many economists say, "We just can't do that

  • because it would be devastating."

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Well, the truth of the matter is that there's

  • an immense economics literature, I'm a professional economics person, so I've read it. And the

  • literature goes like this. On the one hand, there may be some jobs that are lost because

  • an employer having to pay a higher minimum wage, will not hire people or will hire fewer.

  • That will happen in some cases. But against that, you have to weigh something else. If

  • the 15 million, that's the estimate of the White House, the 15 million American workers

  • whose wages will go up if we raise the minimum wage, we have to count also, the question,

  • those people will now have a higher income.

  • They will spend more money. And when they spend more money on goods and services, that

  • will create jobs for people to produce those goods and services. In order to understand

  • the effect of raising the minimum wage, you can't only look at what will be done by some

  • employers in the face of a higher wage in lowering the employment. You have to look

  • at all the other effects.

  • And when economists have done that, economist from a wide range of political perspectives,

  • you know what they end up with? There's not much effect. In other words, the two things

  • net each other out and so there isn't much of a change in the employment situation overall.

  • To which my response is, "Okay, let's assume that's correct. At the very least though,

  • we have transformed the lives of 15 million American working people and their families

  • from one of impossible to get most of what America offers, to a situation where at least

  • you're closer to a decent minimum life."

  • BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting then that there is no economic

  • reason why those at the bottom should not share in the gains of economic growth?

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Absolutely. There is no economic reason. And

  • in fact, I would go further. We know, for example, that the lower the income of a family,

  • the more likely it is to cut corners on the education of their children because they don't

  • have the resources. So here's an unmeasurable question about the minimum wage.

  • How many young people who are born into a minimum wage family, that is it's so low as

  • we have it today, will never get the kind of educational opportunities, the kinds of

  • educational supports, to be able to realize their own capabilities and to contribute to

  • our society? That alone is a reason, whether you think of it in terms of the long-term

  • benefit of the country, or you just approach it as a moral question or an ethical question.

  • By what right do you condemn a whole generation of young people to be born into families whose

  • financial circumstances make so much of what they need to become real citizens impossible?

  • BILL MOYERS: You remind me of something that President

  • Obama said in his second inaugural address.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: We are true to our creed when a little girl

  • born in the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody

  • else, because she is an American. She is free and she is equal. Not just in the eyes of

  • God, but also in our own.

  • BILL MOYERS: That's eloquent, but hardly true.

  • RICHARD WOLFF: That's right. And it's painful for some of

  • us to hear that, because it is so obviously untrue. It is so obviously contradicted by

  • the realities, not just of those who work at the minimum wage, but all of those who

  • work at or even at 50% above what we call the poverty level. Because when you look at

  • what families like that can actually afford, they have to deny huge parts of the American

  • dream to their children and to themselves as a necessary consequence of where they are

  • put.

  • And I don't need to be an economist to put it as starkly as I know how. We can read every

  • day that in the major cities of the United States, apartments are changing hands for

  • $10 million, $20 million, $30 million, $40 million. People have enormous yachts that

  • they cruise -- we all see it. We all know it. We even celebrate it as a nation. How

  • does that square with millions of people in a position where they can't provide even the

  • most basic services and opportunities?

  • We don't have equality of opportunity. Because there is no shortcut. If you want equality

  • of opportunity, you're going to have to create equality of income and wealth much closer

  • to a genuine equality than anything-- we're going in the other direction. And so I agree

  • with you. It's stark if our president talks about something so divergent from the reality.

  • BILL MOYERS: When study after study has exposed the myth

  • that this is a land of opportunity, how does the myth keep getting perpetuated?

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Well, my wife is a psychotherapist. And so

  • I ask her that question often. And here's what she says to me. Often, people cling all

  • the harder to an idea precisely because the reality is so different and becoming more

  • different. In other words, I would answer the myth of equal opportunity is more attractive,

  • more beautiful, more something people want to hold on, the more they know it's slipping

  • away. And they would like to believe that this president or any president who says it,

  • might somehow bring it back.

  • BILL MOYERS: When you say that there's no economic argument

  • that people should be kept at the-- should not share in the gains of economic growth,

  • the response is, "Well, that's what the market bears.”

  • RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, in the history of economics,

  • which is my profession, it's a standard play on words. Instead of talking about how the

  • economy is shaped by the actions of consumers in one way, workers in another way, corporate

  • executives in another way, we abstract from all of that and we create a myth or a mystique.

  • It's called the market.

  • That way you're absolving everybody from responsibility. It isn't that you're doing this, making that

  • decision in this way, it's rather this thing called the market that makes things happen.

  • Well, every corporate executive I know, knows that half of his or her job is to tweak, manipulate,

  • shift, and change the market.

  • No corporate executive takes the market as given. That may happen in the classroom, but

  • not in the world of real business. That's what advertising is. You try to create the

  • demand, if there isn't enough of it to make money without doing that. You change everything

  • you can. So the reference to a market, I think, is an evasion.

  • It's an attempt to make abstract the real workings of the economy so nobody can question

  • what this one or that one is doing. But let me take it another way. To say that it's the