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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.
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,
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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 we’re in – the 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 as “Democracy at
Work,” “Occupy the Economy,” and “Capitalism 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
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.
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
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
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
market is another way of saying, "It's our economic system that works that way." That
is a very dangerous defense move to take.
RICHARD WOLFF: Because it plays into the hands of those like
me who are critical of the system. If indeed it isn't this one or that one, it isn't this
company's strategy or that product's maneuver, but it is the market, the totality of the
system, that is producing unconscionable results, multi-million-dollar apartments next door
to abject poverty, then you're saying that the system is at fault for these results.
I agree with that. But I'm not sure that those who push this notion of "the market makes
it happen," have thought through where the logic of that defense makes them very vulnerable
to a much more profound critique than they will be comfortable with.
BILL MOYERS: You graduated from Harvard.
BILL MOYERS: Then Stanford.
BILL MOYERS: Was this the economy you were taught at those
three elite institutions to celebrate?
RICHARD WOLFF: No. No, this is the economy that I came to
understand is the reality. For me, and I learn things at all those institutions, it's not
that. I came to understand that in America, economics is a split, almost a schizophrenic
kind of pursuit. And let me explain. On the one hand, there are the departments of economics
in colleges and universities across America.
But side by side with them is an entire other establishment that also teaches economics.
You don't have that in other disciplines. There aren't two history departments or two
anthropology departments, or two philo-- so what is this? I looked into this. It's because
there are two separate functions performed by the economics departments and then by the
other ones.
And the other ones are called business schools and business departments. In fact, in most
universities, in all those I've been at, the economics department is in one set of buildings,
and across the campus in another is the business school. And there's actually tension in the
university about who teaches the basic courses to students that they're required to take
and so on.
Here's what I discovered. The job of economics, to be blunt but honest, is to rationalize,
justify, and celebrate the system. To develop abstract theories of how economics works to
make it all like it's a stable, equilibrium that meets people's needs in an optimal way.
These kinds of words are used. But that's useless to people who want to learn how to
run a business, because it's a fantasy.
So they are shunted someplace else. If you want to learn about marketing, or promotion,
or advertising, or administration, or personnel, go over there. Those people teach you how
the economy actually works and how you'll have to make decisions if you're going to
run a business. Over there, you learn about how beautiful it all is when you think abstractly
about its basic principles.
BILL MOYERS: The invisible hand.
BILL MOYERS: The market.
RICHARD WOLFF: All of that. So for me, I began to realize,
"Okay, I'm an economist. I'm in that one. But I want to understand how the real economy
works." And then I discovered that I needed to reeducate myself. I had to go learn things
that I was never assigned to read.
BILL MOYERS: After Harvard? After Stanford? And after Yale?
RICHARD WOLFF: It actually happened while I was there. I
was already, there were a few people--
BILL MOYERS: --as heretics.
RICHARD WOLFF: Yes, they do.
RICHARD WOLFF: You know, but you know, capitalism--
I like to say to people, capitalism, like all systems, when it comes into being, is
born a few hundred years ago in Europe and spreads around the world, like other systems
before it. It has always produced those who admire and celebrate it and those who are
critical of it.
I used to say to my students, "If you want to understand the family who lives down the
street, suppose there's mama, papa, two children. And one of the children thinks it's the greatest
family there ever was, and the other one is quite critical. If you want to understand
the family, do you choose only one child to interview, or do you think it might be wise
to interview both of them?"
For me, I began to interview the critics of capitalism, because I thought, "Let's see
what they have to say." And that for me opened an immense door of critical insights that
I found invaluable. And I've never forgiven my teachers for not having exposed me to that.
BILL MOYERS: But so few have done that. As you know, as
you've written, as you have said, we've not had much of a debate in this country for,
I don't know, since the Great Depression over the nature of the system, the endemic crisis
of capitalism that is built into the system. We have simply not had that kind of debate.
Why do you think that is?
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, I think we have had it from time to
time. We have had some of the greatest economists in the tradition, for example, Thorstein Veblen,
at the beginning of the 20th century, a great American economist, very critical of the system.
Someone who taught me, Paul Sweezy, another Harvard graduate. These are people who have
been around and at various times in our history, the beginning of the 20th century, during
the 1930’s, again in the 1960’s, there was intense debate.
There has been that kind of thing in our history. I mean, we as Americans, after all, we take
a certain pride, which I think is justified, we criticize our school system. We just spent
two years criticizing our health delivery system in this country. We criticize our energy
system, our transportation system.
And we want to believe, and I think it's true, that to criticize this system, to have an
honest debate, exposes flaws, makes it possible to repair or improve them, and then our society
benefits. But then how do you explain, and that's your question, that we don't do that
for our economic system?
For 50 years, when capitalism is raised, you have two allowable responses: celebration,
cheerleading. Okay, that's very nice. But that means you have freed that system from
all criticism, from all real debate. It can indulge its worst tendencies without fear
of exposure and attack. Because when you begin to criticize capitalism, you're either told
that you're ignorant and don't understand things, or with more dark implications, you're
somehow disloyal. You're somehow a person who doesn't like America or something.
BILL MOYERS: That emerged, as you know, in the Cold War.
That emerged when to criticize the American system was to play into the hands of the enemies
of America, the Communists. And so it became disreputable and treasonous to do what you're
doing today.
RICHARD WOLFF: And for my colleagues, it became dangerous
to your career. If you went in that direction, you would cut off your chances of getting
a university position or being promoted and getting your works published in journals and
books, the things that academics need to do for their jobs. So yes, it was shut down and
shut off. And I think we're living the results. You know, if I were--
BILL MOYERS: Of the silence? Of--
Yes. Of the lack of debate. We're living in an economic system that isn't
working. So I guess I'm a little bit like one of those folks in the 12-step programs.
Before you can solve a problem, you have to admit you got one. And before we're going
to fix an economic system that's working this way, and producing such tensions and inequalities
and strains on our community, we have to face the real scope of the problem we have. And
that's with the system as a whole and at the very least, we have to open up a national
debate about it. And at the most, I think we have to think long and hard about alternative
systems that might work better for us.
I was intrigued to hear you say elsewhere that this is not just about
evil and greed. And yet you went on to say capitalists and the rich are determined not
to bear the costs of the recent bailouts or the crisis itself. You even go so far as to
suggest, as to question their patriotism, and that they may not have the country's interest
at heart. If that's not greed, what is it?
Oh, I think it isn't greed. It's-- and let me explain why. Yes, I'm critical
of corporations and the rich because they do call the shots in our society, and so that
brings on them a certain amount of criticism, even though they don't like it. So I will
do that. But beyond that, let me absolve them in the following way. Bankers do what this
system goads them to do.
If you talk to a banker, he or she will explain to you, "These are the things that will advance
the interests of my bank. These are the problems I have to overcome. And that's what I try
to do." And my understanding, and I've looked at this in great de-- is that-- that's correct.
They're not telling a story. They're doing. They're following the rules. They do the things
that advance their interests and they avoid the things that would damage their interests.
That's what they're hired to do as executives or as leaders of their institutions. And that's
what they do to the best of their ability. So for example, I'm not enthused about arresting
these people or punishing them in this or that way. And the reason is simple, if we
get, I won't mention any names, but 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.
And we substitute the next one. He gets arrested though, he gets fined, he gets removed. The
next one is subject to the same rewards and punishments. The same inducements. The same
conditions. If we don't change the system, we're not going to change the behavior of
the people in it. So in a sense, I do absolve them even when they are greedy, because they're
doing what this system tells them to do. And if we don't change the system, substituting
a new crop will not solve our problem.
You're also not enthused about regulation, which is what so many liberals
and others are calling for now. Is there some parallel reason for that?
Yes. I find it astonishing to hear folks talk about regulation. We regulated
after every one of our great panics in the 19th century. By the way, in those years,
we were more honest. We didn't refer to a "Great Recession." We used much more colorful
language, "The panic of 1857." I mean, that describes what people felt. Anyway, after
every one of our panics, crises, recessions, depressions, we have regulated. And the regulations
were always defended, first by lower-level officials and eventually by the president
and the highest authorities, usually on two grounds.
"With this regulation, not only will we get out of the crisis we're in, but," and there
was a pregnant pause, "we will prevent a recurrence of this terrible economic dilemma." It never
worked. The regulations never delivered on that promise. We're in a terrible crisis now.
So all the previous promises about all the previous regulations didn't work. And they
didn't work for two reasons.
Yeah, why?
Either the regulations that were passed were then undone, or they were
evaded. And that's the history of every regulation. During the Great Depression, it was decided,
as it has happened again now, that banks behaved in an unfortunate way that contributed to
the crisis.
So in the Great Depression, a bill was passed, a regulation called the Glass-Steagall Act,
1933 Banking Act, which basically said, "There has to be two kinds of banks, the banks that
takes deposits cannot make risky investments. For that we need something separate called
an investment bank. The first thing will be a commercial bank, takes deposits, and we'll
make a wall between them."
Okay. The bill was passed. For the banks, this was trouble. This was a problem. They
didn't like this. So they spent the first 30 years, 20 to 30 years evading it in a hundred
different stratagems. Meanwhile, they began to realize that with some work with politicians,
they could weaken it.
And after a while, they decided that even better than evading and weakening, why don't
we just get rid of it? And so in the 1990s, they mobilized, led by some of our biggest
banks, whose names everybody knows, and they finally succeeded. The Congress repealed the
Glass-Steagall Act, and President Bill Clinton signed the repeal.
It was a bipartisan repeal.
Right. It's a joke. That allowed the banks to make risky bets with
their depositor’s money. Eight years later, our financial system collapsed. It's like
a joke. This is a system that creates in the private enterprise a core mechanism and a
logic that makes them do the very things that need regulation and then makes them evade
or undo those regulations.
You probably saw the recent story that Facebook, which made more than
one billion dollars in profits last year, didn't pay taxes on that profit. And actually
got a $429 million rebate from you and me and all those other taxpayers out there. GE,
Verizon, Boeing, 27 other corporations made a combined $205 billion in profits between
2008 and 2011 and 26 paid no federal corporate income tax. What will ultimately happen, Richard
if the big winners from capitalism opt out of participating in the strengthening, nurturing,
and financial support of a fair and functioning society?
Well, the worst example I just learned about a few days ago. And I got
it actually from Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont. That during the very years 2009,
'10, '11, that the federal government was basically bailing out the biggest banks in
the United States, they were busily establishing or operating subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands,
in the Caribbean, in order to evade taxes.
And it's a wonderful vignette in which the very government pouring money to salvage these
private capitalist institutions is discovering its own revenue from them being undone by
their evasion of the regulations about income tax by moving to Cayman Islands where the
corporate tax is zero instead of paying their corporate tax in New York or wherever they're
Your assumption that runs through your books, through your teaching, through
this very interesting DVD, is that democracy, theoretically if not practically, but you
hope practically, acts as a brake, B-R-A-K-E, a brake on private power and greed. And it's
clear that that brake doesn't work anymore. That it's not slowing down the growth of power
to the capitalist class.
Right. And I think it's very poetic here in the United States. In the 1930s,
when we after all had a crisis even worse than the one we had now by most measures,
higher unemployment, and greater incidents of poverty and so on, we did still have a
political system that allowed pressure from below to be articulated politically.
We had the greatest unionizing drive in the history of the United States, the CIO. We
had strong socialist and communist parties that work with the CIO, that mobilized tens
of millions of people into unions who had never been in unions before. And they went
to the power structure at the time, President Roosevelt as its emblem.
And they said, "You have to do something for us. You just have to. Because if you don't,
then the system itself will become our problem. And you don't want that. And many of us in
the union movement don't want it either." Although some of the Socialists and Communists
might have been quite happy to go that direction. And I think Roosevelt was a genius politician
at that time.
He understood the issue. He went to the rich and the corporations of America, the top,
who had become very wealthy at that time, and he basically said to them, "You must give
me, the president, the money to meet at least the basic demands of the massive people to
be massively helped in an economic crisis. Because if you don't, then the goose that
lays your golden egg will disappear."
And he split the corporations and the rich. Half of them were not persuaded. And I believe
they represent the right wing of the Republican Party to this day. But the other half were.
And they made the deal. And so we had this amazing thing. Politics, the threat of the
mass of people from below to politically act to change the system led us to see something
we've almost unimaginable today.
A president, who in the depths of the Depression, creates the Social Security System, giving
every American who's worked a lifetime of 65 years a check for the rest of their life
every month. He created unemployment compensation to give those millions of unemployed a check
every week. And then to top it off, he created and filled 12.5 million federal jobs because
he said, "The private sector either can't or won't do it."
So in the midst of a terrible depression, when every level of government says, "There's
no money," Mr. Roosevelt proved there is the money. It's just a question of whether you
have the political will and support to go get it. And when people listen to me explain
this history, and it's always amazing to me how many Americans kind of never got that
Don't know it.
But when I do that, and they say, "Well, that's a very risky thing for
a politician to do, support the mass of people by taxing the rich, unthinkable." And then
I remind them, Roosevelt is the most popular and successful president in American history.
Nobody had ever been elected four times in a row before that.
And it was so upsetting to the Republicans that after Mr. Roosevelt died, they pushed
that law through that gives us a term limit of two presidential terms. So it wasn't the
end of his political career, it made him the most powerful popular president we've ever
had. There must be a lesson here somewhere.
Well, it was one of the few times in history in which the political elite
and a few financial elite formed an alliance for the people.
And yet, Richard, it still took the war the create the spending that
pulled us out of the depression, right?
Right. Because they were always large groups of corporations and the
rich who were angry at all of this, like they are today, who didn't want to pay higher taxes,
much higher than corporations pay today, who didn't want to pay high personal income tax
rates, much higher than they are today. But they had to. Right, people don't remember
in 1943, President Roosevelt proposed a top income tax bracket of 100 percent.
His bill that he sent to the Congress, a proposal, was that anyone
who earns over $25,000, which would be roughly $350,000 a year now, in current dollars, would
have to give every nickel of it, beyond the $25,000, to the government, 100 percent. That's
maximum income. The President of the United States, with massive popular support. And
when the Republicans said, "No, we can't do that." They fought. And the compromise was
a 94 percent top rate.
Compared to the 39 percent, and .6 percent that we have today. I mean,
you can see there that that-- that was a lesson. That I believe the corporations and the rich
in America have learned. They saw that they were forced between two choices. A real revolutionary
possibility, or a compromise. They voted for the compromise. They gave the mass of people
real support, far better than anything they're getting now.
And they did that because politics was a real possibility to undo their economic system.
After the war, I think our history is the history of a destruction of the Communist
and Socialist parties first and foremost, and of the labor movement shortly thereafter.
So that we now have a crisis without the mechanism of pressure from below. And that may look
to those on top as an advantage because they don't have that problem.
They don't have a C.I.O. They don't have Socialists and Communists, the way they do in Europe.
But I think it's a Pyrrhic victory, because what you're teaching the mass of the American
people is that politics, debate, and struggle, is a dead end. And if you think people are
just going to sink into resignation, that's wishful thinking. They're going to find other
ways to protest against the system like this, because the pressures are building in that
direction. I think this is a capitalism that I would say has lost its sense of its social
conditions, its social limits. It's killing the mass support without which it cannot survive.
So it is creating tensions and hostilities that will take left wing, right wing, a variety
of forms. But it's producing its own undoing and doesn't imagine it because it focuses
so much on making more money in a normal way of business that it somehow occludes from
itself. It doesn't see the larger social conditions and what its behavior is doing to them.
For a moment, wasn't there kind of quirky or eccentric symbiosis between
the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street? That, 'cause in their own different ways, they were
reacting to the colossus that was coming apart all around them. And upending their lives.
Absolutely. I think in country after country going through this crisis, you're
seeing more or less the same thing. A upsurge of right wing agony and hostility and opposition
to what's happening in this capitalist system and a left wing one. But only difference from
country to country is the balance between the two.
And I think the Tea Party comes first because being a right wing party in this country's
much easier, much more socially acceptable to form, and there's the old roots of it,
anyway, in the John Birch societies and all the rest in American history. So we have a
Tea Party resurgence.
Then echoed a couple years later by the Occupy Wall Street, which is a left wing response
to all of this. And I don't think we've seen the end of either of these. I think these
were the first explosions of this process, the first reflections and signs of a society
coming apart because capitalism can't deliver the kind of society and results that people
want. And I think we're going to see more of it and there may be difficult forms of
it. But it is part of a system that has come, I think, closer and closer to its historical
if not end, then a severe crisis.
BILL MOYERS: But there is no agitation here. People seem
not to know what to do here.
I think Americans are a little bit like deer caught in the proverbial headlights.
They thought that they were in a society that kind of guaranteed that each generation lives
better than the one before.
That the American dream gets better and better and is available. They promised when they
got married to one another to provide the American dream to each other. And then they
promised their children to provide it to them, that the children would have a good education,
that children would have the opportunity. They can't quite believe that it's not there
You know, for 30 years, as the wages in America stopped rising since the 1970s, Americans
reacted by doing two things. Because they couldn't give up the idea that they were going
to get the American dream. How do you buy the American dream, which becomes ever more
expensive, if your wages don't go up, per worker, per hour? Which they haven't since
the '70s.
The first thing you do is send more and more people out to work. The women went out in
vast numbers. Older people came out of retirement. Teenagers did more and more work. Here's a
statistic. The OECD, leading agency gathering data on the world's developed economy shows
that the average number of hours worked per year by an American worker is larger than
that of any other developed country on this planet.
We work ourselves like crazy. That's what you do if the wages per worker don't go up.
You send out more people from the family in order to be able to get that American dream.
But of course if you do that, everybody's physically exhausted.
The stresses in your family become more powerful. What's happened to American families is a
well-known result over the last 30 years. But the other interesting thing, to hold onto
the American dream that Americans did when their wages didn't go up anymore, was to borrow
money like it's going out of style. 
You cannot keep borrowing more and more
if your underlying wage is not going up. Because in the end, it's the wage that enables you
to pay off what you've borrowed. And it was only a matter of time, and 2007 happened to
be that time, when you couldn't do it anymore. You couldn't borrow anymore because you couldn't
pay it back.
And so you stopped your mortgage or you stopped your credit card payment or you couldn't make
your car payments. And this is a situation that explodes the expectations of a good life.
And I think Americans are stunned. And they haven't yet kind of gotten their heads and
their arms around the reality they face. And so what-- we see people in shock, if you like.
I mean, I'm stretching the metaphor, but--
That's all right.
The American dream that they thought they could access, that they were
told they could access, if they just worked hard or went to school or both of the-- it's
not there. A whole generation of young people is learning that in order to get the education,
without which the American dream is not possible, you have to borrow so much money that your
whole situation is put in a terrible vice.
Then you discover, at the end of your four years and you have your bachelor's degree,
that the job you had thought you were then entitled to and the income you thought would
go with it, they're not there. And yet you have the debt, the effects of this on our
society, not just for the young people confronting it daily, but for the parents who helped them,
who led them to expect something, that is producing a kind of stasis, immobility, shock.
But beware, if my psychiatrist wife is right, as she usually is, what happens after that
period of stasis, of shock, is a boiling over of anger, as you kind of confront what has
happened. And that you were deceived and betrayed in your expectations, your hopes. And then
the question is, where does that go?
I'm struck by the fact that you give a fairly dire-- not fairly, a dire
analysis of what's happened to us in the last several years. But at the end of both your
book and of your lecture, you don't wind up cynical or pessimistic. You--
Not at all.
You sound like you're saying, "Let's take to the barricades."
Yeah. I think there's a wonderful tradition here in the United States of people
feeling that they have a right, even if they don't exercise it a lot, to intervene, to
control. There is that democratic impulse. And I put a lot of stock in the hope that
if this is explained, if the conditions are presented, that the American people can and
will find ways to push for the kinds of changes that can get us out of this dilemma. Even
if the political leaders who've inherited this situation seem stymied and unable to
do so.
Richard, I want you to come back in a few weeks. Before you come back,
I want to alert our of readers of our website, have them submit some questions. You've opened
so much of it, I know they'll have some questions.
Well, I'll--
But I'll bring them here and we'll deal with this. 'Cause I know you have
some alternatives, that you've given a lot of thought to the critique, but you've also
given a lot of thought to the correcting of our system. And will you do that?
I would love to, because one of the things that has happened to me
in the last two years is as we've developed the criticism and people see the process of
how we got here, the most insistent questions is, "What do we do? Where do we go? If regulation
isn't the solution and if punishing this one-- if it is a systemic process, how can we conceive
and talk about an alternative system?"
Richard Wolff, I've really enjoyed this conversation. The DVD is "Capitalism
Hits the Fan." And the book is "Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism." Thank you
for being with me.
Thank you, Bill, for the opportunity.
BILL MOYERS: You heard Richard Wolff say there are very
good reasons to be angry at capitalism’s takeover of democracy, but, he went on to
say, don’t write off the democratic impulse that is at the heart of the American promise.
It can break out anytime, anywhere.
Here’s an example. The day after President Obama’s State of the Union, restaurant employees
marched on Capitol Hill in support of a fair deal for workers who live by customer tips.
PROTESTERS: What we want, is justice in our industry!
BILL MOYERS: Although those tips are often meager or non-existent,
for the past 22 years, these workers have been stuck at a federal minimum wage of $2.13
an hour.
PROTESTERS: Hey Hey, Ho Ho, $2.13 has got to go!
BILL MOYERS : At the head of the march, Saru Jayaraman.
BILL MOYERS : The organization she co-founded, Restaurant
Opportunities Centers United, is fighting to improve wages and working conditions for
the people who cook and serve the food we eat at restaurants and then clean up when
we’re done.
SARU JAYARAMAN: Because restaurant workers they serve us and
they should be able to put food on their own tables…
Bill Moyers: Outside the Capitol, she and the protesters
are joined by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut…
REP. ROSA DeLAURO: Storm that Hill, make the difference.
BILL MOYERS: Inside, the activists are greeted by Congresswoman
Donna Edwards of Maryland, who, with DeLauro, has introduced legislation raising the minimum
wage for tipped workers.
REP. DONNA EDWARDS: I know that when I waited tables, I didn’t
just do it because I needed some extra change. I did it because I had to pay my rent. I did
it because I had to make sure that I had food in my refrigerator. I did it because I needed
transportation to get back and forth to school. It was a job.
BILL MOYERS: Saru Jayaraman’s new book “Behind the
Kitchen Door” is an insider’s expose of what it’s really like to work at the lowest
rungs of the restaurant industry.
SARU JAYARAMAN: There are actually now over 10 million restaurant
workers in the United States. So seven of the ten lowest paying jobs in America are
restaurant jobs, and the two absolute lowest paying jobs in America are restaurant: dishwashers
and fast food preps and cooks are the two absolute lowest paying jobs in America. These
workers earn poverty wages because the minimum wage for tipped workers at the federal level
has been frozen for 22 years at $2.13 an hour, and it’s the reason that food servers use
food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, and have a poverty
rate of three times the rest of the U.S. workforce.
We got to this place because of the power of the National Restaurant Association; we
call it the other NRA. They’ve been named the tenth most powerful lobbying group in
Congress and back in 1996 when Herman Cain was the head of the National Restaurant Association,
he struck a deal with Congress saying that, “We will not oppose the overall minimum
wage continuing to rise as long as the minimum wage for tipped workers stays frozen forever,”
and so it has for the last 22 years
Now sure, some of them earn tips on top of those wages, but there are plenty of workers,
particularly imagine your average server in an IHOP in Texas earning $2.13 an hour, graveyard
shift, no tips. The company’s supposed to make up the difference between $2.13 and $7.25
but time and time again that doesn’t happen.
They live on tips, and when slow night happens and you don’t earn anything or very little
in tips you often can’t pay the rent. And I guarantee you in every restaurant in America
there’s at least one person who’s on the verge of homelessness or being evicted or
going through some kind of instability.
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, and they don’t
use food stamps because they want to, they use food stamps because their wages are so
low and they face higher levels of what’s called food insecurity than other workers.
So they can’t afford to eat!
The other key issue that we find that workers face is the lack of paid sick days and healthcare
benefits; two-thirds of all workers report cooking, preparing, and serving food when
they’re ill, with the flu or other sicknesses. And with a wage as little as $2.13, so reliant
on tips for their wages, these workers simply cannot afford to take a day off when sick,
let alone risk losing their jobs.
Ninety percent of foodborne illnesses in the United States, can be traced back to sick
restaurant workers. So, you know, it’s common sense, it’s a public health issue, it’s
good for the workers, the families, and the small businesses, because our research has
shown that when small business actually pays better, provides these benefits, we’ve found
they have less turnover, higher productivity, higher profitability.
The majority of workers are adults; many are parents and single parents, single mothers,
using the restaurant job as their main source of income, and by the way taking great pride
in restaurant work. Really loving being a restaurant worker, hospitality is something
people take great pride in and so we need to make this industry professional, the way
that other careers are professional. This is not a job that you move on to something
else, this is a career for many, many people who stay in this industry for their lifetimes.
So people need the opportunity to move up the ladder, to move to better jobs, to be
treated like professionals, given a paid sick day, given a wage that they can sustain their
families on.
We partner with more than a hundred small business owners around the country who are
doing the right thing, providing good, decent wages, better working conditions, paid sick
days, benefits, opportunities for advancement. These employers don’t charge exorbitant
amounts to their customers, their prices are very comparable to everybody else but they’ve
worked it into their business plan and we have them organized into a restaurant industry
roundtable and offer assistance, advice, both from them and from us about how any restaurant
owner could do better, could provide better wages and not have exorbitant prices. So I
think that’s the first thing I would say to a small business owner is, “Look, there
are tons of people who are already doing it. We’re here to help you, they’re here to
help you try this new way of doing business.”
PROTESTERS: We’re workers united, we can’t be defeated.
We’re workers united, we can’t be defeated…
BILL MOYERS: Acting on that democratic impulse, Saru Jayaraman
and the protesting workers march from Capitol Hill to the Capital Grille steakhouse, owned
by one of the biggest restaurant chains in America…
SARU JAYARAMAN: Eighty-six thousand customers of yours have
signed a petition calling on you to pay a minimum of at least five dollars an hour to
your workers…cause $2.13 is just not enough to live on. So here you go.
BILL MOYERS: A final thought: Watching those workers, it
occurs to me that a capitalist system that no longer meets most people’s needs simply
cannot last. It may survive for a time by fraud, farce or force, but once the capacity
or the will for self-correction has been lost, so, too, is lost its reason to be, except
to enrich the few at the expense of the many. Sooner or later the oppressive thumb of the
One Percent has to be lifted -- either voluntarily removed, or severed by public anger and popular
will. For the moment, those restaurant workers still believe in democracy -- still believe
they can undo politically what predatory capitalism has done to them economically; still believe
their cry for justice will be heard. And if it isn’t, what then are their choices? What
would you do?
Tell us at our website, Billmoyers.com. You’ll also find more about Saru Jayaraman and her
call to take action for fair pay and better conditions for restaurant workers. And, send
us your questions for Richard Wolff.
That’s all at Billmoyers.com. I’ll see you there, and I’ll see you here, next time.


被馴化的資本主義露出野性 (Moyers & Company Show 207: Taming capitalism run wild)

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