‪’Capitalism Hits the Fan': A Lecture by Richard Wolff on the Economic Meltdown‬

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Economist Richard Wolff believes capitalism has spun out of control, is not salvageable in its current state, and that nothing short of a major systemic overhaul is needed to get America back on track and fix the problems that unraveled our economy.

In his lecture, “Capitalism Hits the Fan,” Professor Wolff dissects the 30-year-old root causes of the recent financial crisis. He explains how a combination of factors — outsourced jobs, flat wages, soaring credit card debt and the biggest corporate profits in history — led to the most severe economic crisis of his lifetime.

“Stressed, exhausted, this is a population that has reached the limits, it cannot carry more debt and it can’t do more work,” Wolff says. “That’s why this is not a temporary problem, this is not a blip along the way. We have reached the limits of the kind of capitalism this society has become.”

This lecture is no longer available in its entirety, but you can watch the trailer and visit “Capitalism Hits the Fan” to read more about it.

Thanks to the Media Education Foundation for permission to post “Capitalism Hits the Fan” for a limited time.

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  • Greg Butler

    A tremendous lecture that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. Thanks Bill Moyers & Richard Wolff.

  • me

    It’s not broken. What’s broken is this socialist system we have now that’s totinig itself as capitalism, when it couldn’t be any further from it.

  • johnnyjet

    check the calendar for the next time Feb 29th happens on a Fri. I think that video will be up for a very long time

  • German Vivas

    The types of market response from other than the business is occurring in the Jacksonville, FL.

    Prof. Wolff please consider having NO-FLAC (North East Florida Accountability Forum) as a panelist on your next presentation with Mr. Moyer. gvivas927@att.net

    German Vivas
    In tradition of Whitney Young

  • James Traynor

    And what did Silicon Valley do? It morphed into mega – businesses who are actively outsourcing.

  • not me

    Whats broken is the corrupt capitalist system that the right wing refuses to acknowledge. The left is not much better. But it is the 5 stages of grief the first is denial.

  • Rev SUV

    Richard Wolff was articulate and provacative, and I intend to buy his book. He is right that the system is broken.. Or rather the system has gone to its logical extreme. It needs to be thoughtfully and carefully tweaked.

    I wish we could talk to each other without the political posturing. . That has to come first.

    One challenge I have for Doctor Wolff:

    He said the wages are stagnant so more people have to go in the work place..
    I think, and observe that the number of women flooding the work place in the 70s…
    Which is a good thing ..
    Depressed wages
    And…people living longer has kept more people on the workplace.

    Labor is a commodity. When there is a shortage wages go up..

  • Gary Lloyd

    Thank you very much, Mr. Moyer, for having this wonderful and honest man on your show. May God bless Mr. Wolff for reporting the facts and issues that face those who work to keep America going (the middle and lower class of workers) and why they are getting poorer every year. I am very grateful for your television program and Mr. Wolff’s appearance. Sincerely, Gary L.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, the commodity (labor) breeds its own replacements, so there is never a shortage of workers. Wages will not go up until that is stopped. Why do capitalists want to prevent women from getting contraceptives? Just think about it.

  • Frank N

    This was the most clear, concise and insightful analyses by an economist that I ever listened to (Thank you Bill Moyers). Dr Wolff breaks through the typical econo-speak yet offers historical and detailed explanations as to our current malaise Vis-a-vis Capitalism. A question I would like to pose to Dr. Wollf for his next visit with Bill Moyers is; we have always understood that Capitalism is a “zero sum game” and that there must be winners and losers. Has any nation adopted a better example of Capitalism?

  • Jeff

    Dr. Wolff tells us what he thinks is wrong with capitalism but he offers no alternative or solution other than the relatively limited model of highly educated, highly motivated software engineers in a silicon valley start-up. I would love to hear him explain how he would apply this model to McDonald’s or Wal-Mart whose employees would likely immediately increase wages and reduce hours in a rapid spiral towards bankruptcy without a professional board of directors to provide supervision. Dr. Wolff reminds me of the naive professors I endured in college who had little concept of the harsh realities of business. I wonder how many times Dr. Wolff has had to manage employees who act more like schoolchildren than responsible adults. This is just more socialist diatribe with no answers just the same old complaint leveled by the left wing off and on over the last century. Exactly what I expect from PBS.

  • Anonymous

    You couldn’t hear one word Dr. Wolff said, did you?

  • Daniela G. Rubin

    The conversation with Richard Wolff was excellent, but it worries me that Wolff never mentions the consequences of global warming, superstorms, droughts, acidifying oceans, disappearing icecaps, floods, famines, sea surgers, earthquakes on the world economy when even The World Bank published a study in November 2012 titled “Turn Down the Heat,” warning that climate change and global warming will destroy the world economy. FEMA is going bankrupt with Sandy, $65 Billion, Katrina $75 Billion, droughts raising food prices in our farmlands and China, and 50 million climate refugees expected yearly, soon. Economists must begin to figure this in, if even the World Bank, let alone the IPPCC of the UN, Al Gore, The Sierra Club, NRDC, etc. The Union of Concerned Scientiists are warming about this vital and most important issue ever. Richard Wolff is wonderfully clear and true, but he needs to figute Global Warming into his discussion of the economy, doesn’t he?

  • Daniela G. Rubin

    Richard Wolff is so correct. This was an excellent coversation, and there is no doubt that Capitalism HAS Hit the Fan. The USA is ranked 95th among all nations in the world in FAIRNESS of distribution of wealth. The USA comes in behind 95 nations in fair distribution of wealth!–way behind even underdeveloped nations. It is utterly OBSCENE to hear the right wing ‘Teeth Party” call for cuts in Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security when what we really need is cuts to fossil fuel developers and closing of loopholes used for corporate greed. We need taxes on carbon emissions in order to save the habitable planet from filthy fuels destroying our biosphere and raising healthcare costs with increasing lung and respiratory diseases. These are economic issues of capitalism gone wild, as it impacts on healthcare costs. 30 % of American chldren suffer asthma from fossil fuel pollutants. Doesn’t Professor Wolff need to talk about how important it is to create clean energy jobs and rebuild the infrastructure for salvation of the people’s economic good? That Exxon, Chevron, Koch Bros. and other multinationals control our government, don’t they? Shouldn’t professor Wolff explain how the Supreme Court’s rightwing politics in decisions like Citizens U. v the FEC entrenched the oligarchy of multinational control of the US economy? Doesn’t he need to talk about how the Koch Bros. took control of the Teeth Party and turned it to their interests? It is NOT a grassroots movement, is it? Not after Karl Rove and the Koch Bros. got a hold on it. Doesn’t he need to talk about how the pharmaceutical corporations are controlling Medicare RX plans with crony politics during the Bush years that created a law prohibiting Medicare officials to shop for cheaper drugs? Perhas, Pr. Wolff covers these wildly greedy capitatlistic schemes in his book about how Capitalism Hit the Fan. I’d love to hear him answer these questions in his good clear discourse. He is delightful to listen to and Bill Moyers is ALWAYS the most informative and truthful journalism on television and the main reason I support PBS, Channel 13. Moyers is a treasure, a clear jewel of vitality shining in a dark swamp of nonsense major media sound bites signifying nothing! Thanks for this interesting conversation with Wolff, Bill Moyers. You are the BEST!

  • Willamette

    After WWII Co-Op plywood mills (worker owned and operated) were common in the NW US. Definitely a blue collar, low ed, strong back, long hours enterprise. Most lasted till the early ’70’s and the collapse of low cost Forest Service logs. If the workers ran the mill well, their shares, they initially bought in with, increased in value and a bonus was created every year once their mill got off the ground economically. In the beginning they sacrificed even average wages for the long term investment. True, some were along for the ride and benefited by those who were more responsible, but that is human nature, but not in the way you are cynically characterizing service workers. When you own a piece of something the perspective changes dramatically.

  • Justin Lee

    Since capitalism is a construct of the lending class(banks and wall street and bondholders) its clear the solution is this:
    1)borrow tons of money
    2) default on non-recourse debts
    3) destroy the lender class by wiping out their predatory capital.
    4) if they levered that debt, you double the destruction

    Pay off debt and never borrow from this scum class again

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.kelley.5 James Kelley

    I think Dr. Wolff’s lecture is a very accurate overview of the US economic/labor structure over the last 150 years. Really educational. However, I was disappointed in what he offers as a solution to our current predicament. I think for his conclusion, his solution, to rise to the level of credibility that I found everything that preceded it to be at, Dr. Wolff needs to elaborate much further.

    Leaving a large business and starting your own with a group of friends is an option only available to a small fraction of labor, and Dr. Wolff gave us just one example from a sliver of the business world where such a path is most accessible. He’s talking about some of the brightest minds in the labor pool. How can people currently building cars do that? How can a receptionist do that? Miners? Nurses? Researchers? Cashiers? You can, for example, say that people working at fast food restaurants could theoretically leave and start their own restaurant, but how many such enterprises could survive, if they could even get up and running in the first place? More elaboration is needed, and because I found this lecture to be so excellent and informative, I’d love to hear a followup lecture going into detail about how his remedy could be put into practice on a wide scale.

  • guest

    I’ve seen that error on a number of calendars this year: Friday, Feb. 29, 2013. The calendar printers must have all used the same incorrect database.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dorainer Doraine Raichart

    Thank you, well put! That is exactly what bothered me about the conclusion, and I too am eager for a followup lecture because I do like where he is going with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dorainer Doraine Raichart

    Good point. Another reason why we need a followup discussion from Prof. Wolff as to how this might go differently in his proposal, presumably without the use of regulation.

  • hmb@peoplepc.com—- USSA

    Agreeing with others commenting on the salient quality of this program’s guest Richard Wolff: as the program progressed I kept thinking of the three-legged stool (model) for our government that carpets our nation: namely, “We the People.” And with that in mind, I reflect on the demise of the USSR of recent memory. In the collapse of that system there was such a rush for captialist enterprise to rush in and take advantage of the vacuum (they thought) that would need what the world of free enterprise wanted to offer.
    As I understand it, the capitalist venturers rushing in were met with open arms by what had been the Soviet middle managers for the Communist regeime. Prepared to teach these folks the ways of the “free world,” it was said the arrivals were met with open arms and great joy, that became mutual when the former Russian Commisariat folk explained that their modus operendi was quite user friendly already, and they would be glad to work as they had all along through the years of the USSR managing the whole of their empire with the most exquisite model of Capitalism: that is– collecting all the wealth of those United States of Soviet Russia to the elect few at the top.
    With that, the influx of western Capitalists came to understand that the USSR had always been the very model of what raw capitalism world-wide, would think ideal. By that bit of knowledge, we must surely have to admit– Russia likely is for the United States of America’s free-enterprise ambitions the most outstanding goal to look forward to: that being all wealth surely accreting to the very few, accreting to the very fewer and fewer—- ad nauseum.
    But then, that would get us back to something like Czarist Russia, wouldn’t it? And,
    of course, that would militate something like the 1917 revolution there when the Marxist idealists thought they could change the world. Yep, it seems like what comes around goes around. Nothing bloody new, eh?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1257373115 Barbara Blough

    Well, on planet Earth this year, there is no February 29th.

  • Guy Anderson

    That was a brilliant and animated explanation of the current crisis. I particularly liked the idea that the global results do not necessarily need a global conspiracy as explanation (although I do feel there is an element of contrived NWO exploitation at play), but it is mainly corporations ‘profits for shareholders’ narrow objectives that has limited political and social influence and discourse. Also how economic theory has failed us all by polarising the discussions, and my surprise that, despite the increased complexity of technology and financial derivatives, Marxist analysis does still have a place.

    I would be very interested to hear much more from Richard Wolff, but he has opened up the crisis viewpoint to enlist all of our input.

  • Scott

    Excellent Lecture. would love to include Dr. Wolff.in this symposium http://igg.me/at/prophetsofrevolution/x/2322171

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002854082888 Michael Johnson

    Another solution – more unions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristopher.heinekamp Kristopher Heinekamp

    See Gortex for an example.
    While this is popular in computing (see: Valve), Goretex has had a lateralized structure since the 50’s or so.

    Though, it is primarily a system for producers.
    You have a very valid argument of the non-applicability for service and extractive industries.

  • 2bpoet

    I LOVE the solution of groups of thoughtful people running their own organization and business endeavors in collaborative teamwork. I think Plato would have called them the “philosopher-kings”. What Plato never addressed or saw was the need for the teamwork– to put the individual star-person into a context of maximum social and work-productivity. We may have been slowly evolving toward such a model through all the past 6,000 years of historical yo-yo-ing. BRAVO!

  • Skip

    Slight correction to the date this lecture is available……..there is no Feb 29th folks. Great lecture though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ray.pointer.5 Ray Pointer

    The ironic thing about how we had been so brainwashed for years about our superiority of capitalism over Communism is that we are now enslaved to China, which people are forgetting is a Communist nation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ray.pointer.5 Ray Pointer

    It’s a tough playing field when large corporations own it. Their very purpose is to create a monopoly to shut out competition. The trouble here is that large organizations ruin a market due to corporate inbreeding, which only results in incompetence and destroys innovation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ray.pointer.5 Ray Pointer

    I have been curious about where the financial masterminds are coming from. There has been a trend going on since the 1970s based on generating paper profits, not physical profits. Don’t these “brilliant” individuals understand that they are choking off their own market by their actions? If the people have no money, who do they think will be able to buy their products? A strong economy is based on money in circulation, not horded or hidden in off-shore banks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ray.pointer.5 Ray Pointer

    One of the arguments for ending military actions in The Middle East is because it is an ineffective use of money that is need domestically. Our credibility has already been destroyed. We have everything to gain by reeling in and cleaning up our own backyard. I am sure if you looked deeply enough, this may be among the reasons why we have enemies attacking us within our own shores. The United States can be a more effective by being true to the idea of leading by example by correcting our own problems, which need far more attention.

  • Doc

    They find a new market. Kill American market then go to India or then China. Only when all markets are depleted will they care. They have no loyalties to any country, only themselves and profit

  • Sashatree

    Dr. Wolff tells MY story. Born in ’57 to white suburban Westchester County in NY. I’ve been working my backside off since HS days….followed all the rules, etc. and his lecture is my life’s line. Profound. Exact. True. Thank you Bill Moyers. You are my hero – I am sooo grateful for all you teach us! And as well to Dr. Wolff. You are my new hero – my validator – my truth. Please keep airing this type of INTELLIGENT programming! We are starving out here!!

  • Chet Roman

    Great lecture and concise description of our current economic situation. For someone who is known for Marxian economics I’m surprised he did not mention the decline of labor unions as an additional reason for the flat working salary during the last 30 years.

  • Chet Roman

    Socialist? Do you even know the meaning of the word?
    That’s an example of how deeply propagandized the public has become by the 1% .

  • http://twitter.com/NotAJoe Joe Snow

    What Professor Wolff proposed as a solution is Socialism, which I`m all for, but it will never fly without another Civil War. So we have to go back to a highly regulated system & get money out of politics so “the board of directors” can`t destroy these regulations. That is the solution … to get money the HELL out of politics. Loved his subtlety tho, just not going to sneak Socialism by while Corporate money controls politics & the media.

  • http://twitter.com/NotAJoe Joe Snow

    Those may have not been as good as times as some believe, but as his his labor graph showed they were a hell of a lot better than what`s been going on the last 4 decades.

  • robert

    A fascinating and enlightening historical perspective. I remain perplexed, however, that Prof. Wolff appears to treat as axiomatic, the fundamental notion of growth-based economies. Steady-state economics is a growing field, and the only class of economic model that is sustainable.

    He mentions “radidal transformation” in his very last breath. Let me take that one breath further: We need to transform from a growth-based economic model, to a steady-state model. For more on this, I can recommend the information found at the website for the Center for Avancement of a Steady-State Economy (CASSE).

  • Pawel Dzienkowski

    Restructuring our broken capitalist system is a tall order indeed. As Wolff points out repeatedly, the people profiting from our dysfunctional economic order will not agree to relinquish power or profits. Implicit is the notion of eventual economic collapse, societal upheaval and violent conflict. Groups like Occupy and Tea Party are early manifestations of unpleasant times ahead. Man the barricades.

  • http://twitter.com/NotAJoe Joe Snow

    Your close … but the “Left” is not the Left, & as soon as people wake up to that change may get underway. You appear to be in Denial of the actual political nature of what Democrats pretend to be, you are playing right into the hands of the divide & conquer game when you call Democrats the “Left”, that allows this system to thrive unchecked. Your point of view puts you on the actual Left.

  • Greg

    Lincoln’s interest-free greenbacks saved this country once and can again. http://www.ukcolumn.org/article/bankers-bradburys-carnage-and-slaughter-western-front

  • Anonymous

    I felt the same way, and I’m thinking we’re coming up against a problem Dr. Wolff hopes we’ll confront, using the “daring” he calls for. These small-bore changes in Silicon Valley won’t change much–in fact, they haven’t. But I think he wants us to accept the principle that this Marxist approach, in this particular context, is logical, profitable, democratic, and American. He implicitly asks: If it works here but is too small to really help, what are the implications? That we need, somehow, to see the same process at work elsewhere, on a larger scale. And what are the implications *then*? Modify, or get rid of, this mealy-mouthed Keynes-vs-deregulation bargaining with corporate boards, and apply these principles more widely. (Then wages go up; the middle class can breathe again; etc.)

    (I’m not an economist, but it could very well have been part of the bailout deal: We’ll pour taxpayer millions into your company, but you need to become more democratic: the employees will govern your company. The Obama White House is clearly part of the same dancing-around-the-edges good-old-boy dynamic Wolff was running down.)

    So in this talk, as I see it, he normalized the concept of the communist enterprise, and then asked us to think through the next steps ourselves. Something’s going to happen one way or another–either the crisis causes a major change in our economic system, or the environmental crisis (caused by rampant capitalism) will give us its own answer.

    This talk, and the interview on the program, and these comments, have really challenged my thinking. Thanks, everyone.

  • Brett Williams

    Um. What do you mean “no longer available” did you or did you not upload it to the internet. Challenge accepted? Isn’t this it right here. http://thepiratebay.se/torrent/5874120/Richard_Wolff_-_Capitalism_Hits_the_Fan_(TV_Rip) WTF I don’t even.

  • Wade

    It seems to me that the beginnings of a
    solution might be to identify those people who are firmly committed
    to changing the current economic system into one which stresses
    sustainability through democratic, co-op-like workplaces. Such small
    business workplaces do exist in America, and they offer a variety of
    services and products. Many more could and would be created if the
    “believers” would endeavor to patronize those types of
    businesses exclusively, as much as possible. We see this already,
    albeit on a very limited basis, with co-op grocery stores, farms,
    etc. But there are many skilled craftsmen who could manufacture all
    kinds of durable, high-quality goods on a small scale, from clothing
    to furniture, to services such as haircuts, or repairs, etc. The
    internet is the perfect vehicle to publicize these types of
    businesses and organizations, and I am sure it is being used in
    limited ways for that purpose already. The point is that eventually,
    a viable, nation-wide community of like-minded consumers and
    producers can be established—a “counter-economy,” so to speak.
    If this new society remained dedicated to the cause, and hung
    together, it could eventually walk away from the influences of
    Corporate America entirely.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cynthia.linet.5 Cynthia Linet

    Thank you Mr. Wolfe for presenting the problem in a way we all can understand it. We must take over the means of production so that the working class can control them and effect a more democratic system.
    Yes, indeed, there can be no democracy until the means of production are democratically controlled.

  • Gayle

    The question is why do capitalists encourage illegal immigration? Our native population is stable. There cannot be any growth withhout immigrants.

  • Kim


  • Anonymous

    I saw Dr. Wolff on Bill Moyers’ program and he hints at a “game theoretic” problem: that our capitalistic society makes good people bad because that’s what happens when they try to optimize their outcomes when participating in this “badly-designed game.” However I heard no discussion about how you “redesign the game” in such a way that altruism – not greed – produces the optimal outcome for all involved.

  • Renee Reinhardt

    Economics is a separate entity from environmentalism. Why should he address something that is not his expertise? Why does Martha Stewart not discuss fuel injectors for race cars? Same reason- not her expertise and about as far apart as your environmental issues being inserted into economic policies.

  • Renee Reinhardt

    You could just look to Costco’s employee program and CEO for that information.

  • Renee Reinhardt

    I keep saying use religion, a true slavery, and make sure you have lots of victims, err ‘workers’, who must work no matter the conditions. Also add to that they want to get rid of public education and TX has instituted it to be against GOP platform to teach any idea of independent thinking o r any other concept of life, except by Christian standards, including education. They are prepping their slaves, which will come from the mildest misdemeanors into the prison system. They are now calling for minimum prison sentences to be increased- a lot!

  • Daniela G. Rubin

    Climate Crisis IS an economic issue, Renee. The World Bank says it will bankrupt the world economy with extreme weather, flooding, famine, drought, sea surges. water shortages, damaged housing and infrastructures of civilizations worldwide, and crop failures, climate refugees and death. Commodities will drop in production. CLIMATE CRISIS IS HERE BIG TIME NOW AND IS ALREADY HAVING A HUGE EFFECT ON THE WORLD ECONOMY. Hurricane Sandy, Katrina and Irene, etc. cost multibillions of dollars and hugely effected the economy of the country. Climate Crisis is an ECONOMIC ISSUE. FEMA will soon be bankrupt and UNable to help repair the damages of superstorms. Ask The World Bank and read its study TURN DOWN THE HEAT. You are obviously unaware of the dire situation of the habitable planet and how it connects TOTALLY TO ECONOMICS. It is ill informed to think otherwise, as climate catastrophe is the biggest economic issue facing all of life on earth and the USA. Study it climaterealityproject.org and look at the “Price of Carbon” and what is costing us all right now. Or go to 350.org and study the Divest in Fossil Fuels Campaign, a huge economic issue. Taxes on carbon emissions could save our economy and our lives. Study the connection between climate disasters and economics. It is CLEAR as day and vital as all get out. Wolf should address the economic impact of it, or he is missing an important issue of economics, despite that everything he says is correct!

  • Daniela G. Rubin

    Dr. Wolff DOES offer an alternative solution, but he is afraid to speak the new system clearly that we need. He skirts around saying it, but we need DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM. Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, FEMA, etc. are ALL socaiistic systems and they have worked and are good. Even agreeing to have a law to stop at a red light is a socialist law that keeps us from killing each other. SOCIALISM is the way to go, but it has to be DEMOCRATIC socialism. Right now we are living under a plutocratic oligarchy run by multinational corporations who control our government with special profit interests and NOT the good of the people THAT IS THE ENTIRE POINT OF WHAT Dr. Wolf is saying. The rightwing of the Supreme Court declared that Corporations are PEOPLE and their MONEY is FREE SPEECH so they control our elections with SuperPacs and ALEC and keep President Obama and the Legislature of doing any good for the people. The Koch Bros. oil barons were instrumental in putting the Tea Party in congress to stall the gov’t. with that nefarious decision in 2009 known as Citizens U. v. the Fed. Elections Commission. The USA is 95th in the world in FAIRNESS of distribution of wealth. Capitalism went freakishly out of control after the Eisenhower years. Dr. Wolf should get tougher and say it Democratic Socialim is what we NEED, and taxes on carbon emissions to save the economy. The World Bank has declared that Global Warming will wreck the WORLD ecomony, including the USA’s economy, but the fossil fuel industrialists have the planet in a death grip and that’s the truth.