READ THE TRANSCRIPT

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 its performance.

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 we’re 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.

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 and DVDs 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 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 payers. 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. But the combination of politics in both parties and in terms of the arrangements between the parties meant that they didn't do it.

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 believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into 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 percent 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 market is another way of saying, "It's our economic system that works that way." That is a very dangerous defense move to take.

BILL MOYERS: Why?

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.

RICHARD WOLFF: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Then Stanford.

RICHARD WOLFF: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Then Yale.

RICHARD WOLFF: That's it.

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.

RICHARD WOLFF: Yeah.

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.

BILL MOYERS: A few.

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--

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

BILL MOYERS: 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?

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

BILL MOYERS: Our conversation will continue in a moment, but first, this is pledge time on public television and we’re taking a short break so you can show your support for the programming you see right here on this station.

[PLEDGE BREAK – SOFT FEED BEGINS]

BILL MOYERS: For those of you still with us... here’s a report from earlier this year. You go to a restaurant or diner for a square meal, but the people who take your order and clean up after you are looking for a square deal. So they marched on Capitol Hill in support of a fair wage for workers who barely survive on minimal salaries and customer tips.

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.

At the head of the march, Saru Jayaraman.

PROTESTERS: Roc United!

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’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.

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.

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 US workforce. Meaning that the people who put food on our tables can’t afford to put food on their own family’s tables.

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.

The majority of workers are adults; many are parents and single parents, single mothers, using the restaurant job as their main source of income.

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. 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.

CAPITAL GRILLE MANAGER: Thank you.

SARU JAYARAMAN: Thank you.

[PLEDGE BREAK – END OF SOFT FEED]

NARRATOR: We now return to Moyers & Company…

BILL MOYERS: 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?

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, why?

RICHARD WOLFF: 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. And that in particular, they took the depositor’s money, businesses and individuals, and then made speculative investments and then the house of cards came tumbling down.

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.

BILL MOYERS: It was a bipartisan repeal.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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. Don't you learn over and over again that the regulations are simply another problem from the businesses you're regulating. 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.

BILL MOYERS: 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?

RICHARD WOLFF: 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 based.

BILL MOYERS: 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.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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 part--

BILL MOYERS: Don't know it.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

BILL MOYERS: 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.

RICHARD WOLFF: Right.

BILL MOYERS: And yet, Richard, it still took the war the create the spending that pulled us out of the depression, right?

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

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.

BILL MOYERS: 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.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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 anymore.

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--

BILL MOYERS: That's all right.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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?

BILL MOYERS: 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--

RICHARD WOLFF: Not at all.

BILL MOYERS: You sound like you're saying, "Let's take to the barricades."

RICHARD WOLFF: 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.

BILL MOYERS: 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.

RICHARD WOLFF: 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?"

BILL MOYERS: 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.

RICHARD WOLFF: Thank you, Bill, for the opportunity.

BILL MOYERS: That's it for this week. I'm Bill Moyers. See you next time.

[Credits]

Watch By Segment

  • Richard Wolff on Fighting for Economic Justice and Fair Wages

    Richard Wolff joins Bill to discuss the disaster left behind in capitalism’s wake, and the fight for economic justice, including a fair minimum wage.

    Air Date: February 22, 2013
    Richard-Wolff_3815_SG1Richard Wolff on Fighting for Economic Justice and Fair Wages
  • Saru Jayaraman on Justice for Restaurant Workers

    Activist Saru Jayaraman marches with restaurant workers struggling to make ends meet, and talks about how we can best support their right to a fair wage.

    Air Date: February 22, 2013
    Saru JayaramanSaru Jayaraman on Justice for Restaurant Workers

Encore: Taming Capitalism Run Wild

June 7, 2013

Modern American capitalism is a story of continued inequality and hardship. Even a modest increase in the minimum wage faces opposition from those who seem to show allegiance first and foremost to America’s wealthy and powerful. Yet some aren’t just wringing their hands about our economic crisis; they’re fighting back.

In an encore broadcast, Economist Richard Wolff joins Bill to shine light on the disaster left behind in capitalism’s wake, and to discuss the fight for economic justice, including a fair minimum wage. A Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, and currently Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School, Wolff has written many books on the effects of rampant capitalism, including Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It.

“We have this disparity getting wider and wider between those for whom capitalism continues to deliver the goods by all means, [and] a growing majority in this society facing harder and harder times,” Wolff tells Bill. “And that’s what provokes some of us to say it’s a systemic problem.”

Also on the broadcast, activist and author Saru Jayaraman marches on Washington with restaurant workers struggling to make ends meet, and talks about how we can best support their right to a fair wage. Jayaraman is the co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which works to improve pay and working conditions for America’s 10 million-plus restaurant workers. She is also the author of Behind the Kitchen Door, an exposé of the restaurant industry.

Learn more about the production team behind Moyers & Company.

  • submit to reddit

BillMoyers.com encourages conversation and debate around issues, events and ideas related to content on Moyers & Company and the BillMoyers.com website.

  • The editorial staff reserves the right to take down comments it deems inappropriate.
  • Profanity, personal attacks, hate speech, off-topic posts, advertisements and spam will not be tolerated.
  • Do not intentionally make false or misleading statements, impersonate someone else, break the law, or condone or encourage unlawful activity.

If your comments consistently or intentionally make this community a less civil and enjoyable place to be, you and your comments will be excluded from it.

We need your help with this. If you feel a post is not in line with the comment policy, please flag it so that we can take a look. Comments and questions about our policy are welcome. Please send an email to info@moyersmedia.com

Find out more about BillMoyers.com's privacy policy and terms of service.

  • Pat

    Seriously? You ended your Richard Wolff interview with THE question rather than some solutions to be considered? The case has been built over and over, but what can be done? Who’s got a plan? I’m tired of hearing that we Americans don’t seem to care.

  • Anonymous

    Pat

    Americans dont care, what ever work together mutual sacrifice that may have existed in some glorious past episodes is long gone. It was easy to protest and fight for our civil liberties and equality in the sixities, when rents in New York, Chicago, San Francisco were $200, not $2000 a month. (When there were 1/100th the number of the laws and lawyers, with the massive injustice that we have today (the poor get brutalized in court , while wall street and washington dc get a slap on the hand) (When corporations actually paid taxes, when the boss made 40 times the wage of the average worker, not 500 times greater, with the majority of middle class jobs going overseas).When the unions were strong with a solid middle class on one income with a roof over the average familys head. Life had some brutality back in the 1960′s which Martin Luther King tried to address. But since that time hundreds of billions have been spent on prisons, homeland security, and law enforcement to not protect the majority but solidify the power and wealth or the richest echlons of our society. The masses have been fingerprinted, DNAed, photographed, and scanned, digested in massive databases, where we are scared to death to step out on line. Meanwhile we are saddled with horrendous student loans, credit card debt, payday loans, loaded home loans, and all around paralized with debt. The majority of home purchases today are being done by wall street, which they can dump their investment down the road after they ride the housing market up. If we make any false step, in as much as we ruin our credit, or get any kind of criminal record, we may never obtain gainful employment. Its not a level playing field. The greed at the top is making everyone more vicious, at the top , middle and bottom. This is not the america I grew up with in the 1960′s, and 1970′s. All my dreams now are how to leave this country, and I supposedly make a good middle class income (with zero health care), but with also a constant fear of govt and law enforcement.

  • Ralph66

    This was an intelligent and perceptive interview.

    However, as Pat commented correctly, solutions (which Wolff alluded to) should have been included and weren’t. How will the massive needed changes occur? I did like his point that Americans being like the deer in the headlights, frozen, not mobilized yet; but those that are — the tea party folks and the “Occupy” movement are two sides of the same coin. It seems to me that both deeply feel the unfairness, but look for the segments within our system to blame — the tea party members blame “government” and the ‘poor’; the Occupiers blame big business and wealth. Wolff ‘blames’ the system. Wolff sees that business leaders aren’t going to change and the government is run by business wealth and power so of course what’s left is “the system.” It’s what needs to be changed but HOW and to WHAT? The return of FDR?

  • Melwoolf

    How wonderful this reply is…yet how desperately sad. I, too, grew up in the 60′s and 70s but I did get away from the turbulence which was Vietnam, Watergate and, over time, the disintegration of the middle class. I left to live in England in my 20′s and there, I found that I liked the “horrible and socialist” society of the UK and Europe, I felt comfortable, safe and relaxed!!! Higher taxes meant a kind regard and concern for those less well off – not the attitude of the US which regards the poor as “deserving their fate”.
    The US has become a paranoid, tired and aggressive country. I am depressed like you that the America of today is not the one in which my parents’ liberal and kind views raised me to think and empathize. We Americans pride ourselves on our “exceptionalism” and “we are the greatest” but that is nothing other than a disregard for other cultures and arrogance that we know best. Our chickens are coming home to roost and I don’t feel optimistic for the future. Humanity seems never to learn.

  • Anonymous

    I have 23 years in the computer field, I do not have the financial resources to leave america, but I want a country with a flat tax, like ireland or singapore, where I am proud of where my tax money is going and I’m proud of my country. How can I be proud of my country, when I feel raped at the tax office. When the largest of corporations pay zero tax or get money back, while my taxes go for horrendous waste in military, medical, prison industrial complexes. I pay a fortune in taxes and never recieve the most minimal of health care help, without paying out the nose. These other countries have problems as well, but I’m tired of being represented as the war monger, the country that imprisons the highest percentage of its population, the country that lets its inner cities burn, the country that refuses to provide affordable health care for the masses, when every other westrn democracy provides this care for a fraction of what we charge, while it provides every break, loophole, and benefit to the top echelon in society. Nero fiddles while Rome burns and all the govt really cares about is new wars overseas and how to distribute more wealth to the top. And now the govt wants to poison me and the rest of the masses with GMO (genetically modified food) which has been refused by most of europe, japan, south korea, and even Russia for our meat imports. This is a insane culture that only lives for greed, I seek out a america from 50 years ago, its not here.

  • val0riep

    now what…? READ ” the Leaderless Revolution” AND ACT OUT like a born again hippy!

  • Dennis

    Wolff makes a case for Capitalism no longer working for the majority and in need of substantive modifications. He says regulation won’t fix it without adjusting the underlying system being regulated. I too would have liked to hear how he would modify or tweak the underlying system. But there is an assumption here, that I think is worth pointing out. The assumption is that all it takes is coming up with the perfect fix or replacement system and then all will be well. This assumption is simply not supported by history. The history of economic systems is always one of rising and then falling, where the fall is usually based on corruption from within exposing the underbelly to either external or internal forces. The corruption is not a result of the form of economic system, because even if the economic system were perfect, the corrupt element would still exist and ultimately undermine the perfect system. This corrupt element always has been and continues to be the self centeredness of human beings. People will “game” their way around any obstacle, not unlike squirrels at the bird-feeder. So the cycle will continue endlessly until the corruption problem is dealt with. Still, I would like Wolff to be invited back to provide his view of the solution space to perhaps get the economic system rebalanced, since insightful ideas are few and far between. Bill Moyers might also want to invite a minister to the same show to address the issue of human corruption. That might get closer to the heart of the problem with our economic system.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll take a look at the book, but the hippie idealism of the sixities may have died with it. Steve Jobs with Apple, and even some google practices are like some of the greediest capitalist on the planet. (Google has done some great things to help the planet), but apple refuses to pay any taxes, or provide high paying manufacturing jobs in its own country. Seeking to exploit the cheapest labor on the planet with the least worker rights. Some how they start as good hippies but they morph into something else. Even downtown San Francisco is quite vicious. I spent time in mendicino, trinity, and humboldt county, you dont want to be near one of the growers crops near harvest time, they all carry weapons. Those are beautiful areas, and they really do try to live off the land with good sustainable policies in many pockets in america, but I think its hard to practice hippie principles in america, the cost of living is high even in remote parts of america. I do love the music from that era, its predominately what I still listen to today, it was a magical era in america, but its hard to live on idealism, the bills still have to be paid, and our police state knows how to lock up and inflict horrendous pain. There is no habeus corpus in this country, they can lock you up without ever being represented in a court of law. This is not the same country as in the 1960′s.

  • schrapnel

    I disagree with not convicting the banksters no matter if they are replaced by someone who will do the same. Fraud is fraud and should be convicted. There is the bigger issue that the system needs to change. Also, to say that it isn’t greed because they are doing what they are hired to do doesn’t absolve it from greed. They are personally rewarded with exorbitant incomes, capital gains, stock options, bonuses, etc. They would not seek out and have the experience and background for these types of positions if they weren’t greedy.

  • schrapnel

    Yes, regulation doesn’t work because Capitalism doesn’t work. As soon as someone, makes more and has more power than others equality will slowly devolve into inequality. Systemic problem. If necessity (healthy food, clean water, shelter, health care, modern day essentials, etc.) are guaranteed to all, debt-based economy eliminated, ceilings are put on personal wealth and power, etc. the society would be in a better state.

  • schrapnel

    Corporations should only exist for the people’s benefit and only allowed to exist as long as their product benefits the citizenry as a whole.

  • JJR

    Correct response on almost everything except on three points.

    Flat taxation is an unfair form of taxation (do yr own research).

    Even under that type of system, it does not specify where your taxes will be spent.

    Lastly, there will be no justice for the majority unless one understands the “class” system and the need to change it from capitalism (rule by people with money) to another type of system in which there are many.

    JJR

    JJR

  • Strawman411

    I take Mr. Wolff’s point about the imperfection of regulation, but he seemed to quickly gloss over the forty-odd years that Glass-Steagall (separation of commercial and investment banks) served us so well.

    He’s saying bankers will wriggle past regulators anyway? They had little success doing so in those days, because they knew honest (apolitical) prosecutors and judges would be introducing them to their new long-term cellmate, Bubba.

  • anetdude

    Mr. Wolff’s comments certainly describe the past several decades, but I agree he didn’t leave any solutions (maybe he wants us to buy his book to find out). I have a couple of suggestions: 1) a constitutional ammendment restricting the amount of money that can be contributed to a member of Congress to $100. 2) a constitutional ammendment which forbids members of Congress to either work for or become Lobbyists, however, I reaize the chances of this happening soon are slim and none and Slim just left town. We would have to elect people to Congress who would act in the interests of the country and their constituents before their own.

  • Anonymous

    We have gone over this same ground over and over, program after program. Enough, if corporations don’t have to pay taxes but still expect to be ‘Subsidy Queens’ then there is no longer any room for average taxpayers or small businesses. Time to leave and create a mirror system that is refocused on the original grounded precepts of the public good. Taxpayers have been victimized, we pay for corporate tax cuts, deferrals, and now all the corporations that have gamed the system to no longer pay any taxes by manipulating legislatures in creating seismic loopholes. The last straw for most was the taxpayer bailouts to cover banking fraud—who wants to wait around for bail-ins (same taxpayers paying, just a different name and scam where taxpayer’s banking assets (bank liabilities) are taken and given (stolen) to banks in return taxpayer/customers get worthless bank stock on the very banks needing recapitalization. There comes a point to when one either gets up off his or her knees and picks up their marbles to begin again or stays bent participating in their own victimizing. As a P. S. —have yet to hear about the pension plan scams governments are playing on taxpayers. Where (without notice or permission) pension funds are being privatized or nationalized and invested in questionable investments. Of course all losses are to naturally be absorbed by (don’t hold your breath too long) taxpayer/pensioners. For example, Portugal’s government listed some large telecom pension funds as their own as part of their balance sheet assets to impress the EU. Check it out on CAEIS Financial News.

  • Strawman411

    I strongly agree with your apparent conclusions about money in electoral politics equating to corruption, and share your skepticism, especially on the chances for a constitutional amendment.

    In today’s polarized America I doubt you could get three-quarters of the states — or two-thirds of Congress — to agree on an amendment proclaiming that babies are cute.

  • John Hepworth

    Dear Bill,
    Thank you for the chance to re-visit your illuminating interview with Richard Wolff. Your discussion of the increasingly surreal world we
    find ourselves in brings a mind an image from Richard Lester`s witty and at times wonderfully caustic 1973 film “The Three Musketeers”.
    In it Geraldine Chaplin plays a young Marquise and at one point we see her riding on a sort of carousel decked out in flowers and ribbons and is “powered” by four serfs who are wearing rags and looking as though they might collapse at any minute. By contrast Chaplin’s aristocratic, dressed-to-
    the-nines Marquise is enjoying her ride thoroughly and after a few spins on the carousel she squeals with delight –

    “Oh make them go FASTER !! Beat them ! FASTER !! FASTER !!”

    Who knew, back in 1974, just how close the Ancien Regime was to making a Big Comeback !…….When you mix egg yolks and vegetable oil you get mayonnaise and when you mix tiny minorities with fantastic wealth and poverty-stricken, powerless minorities you get feudalism ! End of story.
    However, bleak as the situation now appears, at least we know where we stand and as the psychologist Abraham Maslow has pointed out, there is something basically healthy and grounding about knowing the Truth……Rude Awakenings are by definition unpleasant but they are awakenings
    and that’s a start……. Loved the Alex Gibney film you recommended…..he is definitely one of “Smartest Guys in the Room”.

  • John Hepworth

    that should read “and poverty-stricken, powerless MAJORITIES you get feudalism”…..sorry about that J.H.

  • Richard Floyd

    I used to use the game of Monopoly to explain capitalism to my first year Sociology students. I would ask them to remember playing the game and how fun it would be for an hour or so. But, gradually and inexorably, one or two players would take over control of the board, and the fate of the rest of the players became inevitable.

    The parallel with the course of capitalism is obvious. A system that rewards winners and punishes losers necessarily provides advantages and imposes disadvantages that either help or hinder. The advantages make it easier to win, and over time they compound until, like Monopoly, the outcome is unavoidable.

    Thank you for having Richard Wolff shine some light on the current, disastrous state of our economic system.

  • Anonymous

    How about a simple jumpstart to our economy!

    http://tinyurl.com/a9nvb6p

  • Anonymous

    The following action from POTUS could at least jumpstart our economy today, and begin our emancipation from corporate governance.

    http://tinyurl.com/a9nvb6p

  • hogy

    Prof. Wolff only calls for systemic change. No society–communist or capitalist–has ever been able to change an entire system successfully.
    The top 1% must be forced to share with the rest of the country by paying higher taxes, removing their access to offshore secret accounts, and reforming their operation MO’s, which pay attention to one thing only: profits. The Glass Steagal act restoration would go a long way to enacting some sytemic change. Wolff only wants to talk in abstractions–like the economist that he is.
    I agree with his analysis that “the Market” is a myth and a dodge. I agree that capitalism is today utterly dysfunctional–but then it always was.

  • mountain19

    to the REPUBLIC for which it stands one nation under God w/liberty and justice for all. why the democracy all the time?
    excellent show this one was for sure, got to the core.
    thx

  • Lisa Evens

    Dear Bill,

    My partner and I were engrossed in the interview with Richard Wolff. At the end of the discussion he was about to say what he felt would be a positive solution if regulation, punishment, etc. were not the answer. As he began to answer you cut him off and ended the program. Why didn’t you allow him to finish his thought? We need to know what he feels is a way out of a dire situation. Why did you stop the show at that point? We hope this wasn’t due to some form of censorship!

  • rw4ni

    ok ok but u ended the show without giving his solutions – no regulation ? no revolution ? bill m should let the man give his plan since we all know the problems

  • Michael

    Hi Bill,

    I sometimes agree with you, especially about deceiving the market with false or misleading food labels.

    Here, however, I take issue with how you interviewed Richard Wolff. Not that it wasn’t obvious from his answers, but you neglected to mention that Richard Wolff wears being a socialist as a badge of honor? See Wolff’s own website (http://rdwolff.com/content/democracy-work-cure-capitalism) as it features this quote front and center:

    “Richard Wolff is the leading socialist economist in the country…”
    – Cornel West

    While he might speak some sweet-sounding words during an interview, his platform in its entirety is repugnant to Americans.

    I was quite surprised and disappointed that Wolff’s self-acknowledged support of socialism was not made clear to the listening audience at the beginning, middle, and end of the interview. Instead, Wolff’s destructive-of-freedom comments were made to sound like reasonable, widely acceptable considerations, without the qualifiers that should have been mentioned.

    There are great solutions by that promote improved fairness, justice, quality of life, health, and environment, while also maintaining and advancing individual freedom, liberty, privacy, transparency, and equality under the law. End corporate welfare, corporate subsidies, central banking, and those steps will start showing results and opportunity for all without a ruling party class.

    Sincerely,
    Michael Bedar

  • CSI America

    Liked the interview but something was missing for me personally. Couldn’t really put my finger on it. I would have like more substantive suggestions about remedying our broken system.

  • firespirit3

    INEQUALITY in as much as u create for urself!!! Ur free to make of urself what u will!! CAPITALISM IS FREEDOM!! we are not subjects of the govt everyone else is!

  • John Hepworth

    Try and see beyond the labels…..its actually a lot later than we think.

  • Anonymous

    Eliminate the campaign contributions by corporations and business entities, then we can have real representation. The government had BEEN bought by the highest bidder, and that should never been allowed to happen. Americans had had their country stolen from them, and they dont even have a clue!!!!!!! HAAAAA

  • Leeann

    Richard Wolff is not an economist or man worthy of listening to by any stretch of the imagination. It was not even an interview as Moyers sat back and listened in rapture to this man spin his disgusting views of a capitalist economy. Never heard a word about production.

  • Anonymous

    Wolff talks about symptoms and no causes. The cause is the government has allowed the monetary system to poison itself. Eliminate the revolving door, campaign contributions by deep pockets, end the Federal Reserve, and special interests running our campaigns.

    The system is broken and going in a tail spin. Bankruptcy is the only outcome and it is coming fast. Our country is not what is was 30 years ago thanks to special interests controling our politicians.

  • PJ Proudhon

    Libertarian Socialism is the alternative.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism

  • PJ Proudhon

    He did suggest “exploring the alternatives”, but apparently didn’t have the minerals to name the only viable alternative: Libertarian Socialism.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism

  • PJ Proudhon

    The anarchists in revolutionary Catalonia were doing pretty well at it, until Hitler backed Franco… If you’re looking for the alternative he was talking about, it’s called: Libertarian Socialism.

    http://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQBook

  • PJ Proudhon

    His suggestion was to explore alternatives to capitalism, by which he can only rationally mean: Libertarian Socialism.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism

  • PJ Proudhon

    Capitalism doesn’t work, so we should work to preserve Capitalism? I’d rather try the alternative, as he was strongly suggesting.

    http://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQBook

  • Anonymous

    Can anything expand for ever? If not then it’s not sustainable.
    If anything is not sustainable then, by definition, one day it will have to stop.
    Will it stop in a controlled way or a catastrophic crash? Given recent history, what do you think?
    If it will stop in catastrophe, what will take its place?

    It is rather embarrassing to have arrived at anarchy as the logical conclusion of a 46-year-old rather than the knee-jerk reaction of an angry young man but I believe in it in the same way that I believe in gravity. It’s coming whether you believe in it or not.

    Now, are you going to continue to go all-in on the current hand or start hedging your bets?

  • Russell Spears

    BUY BACK AMERICA: use crowdfunding for worker owners…

    http://www.theworkingworld.org/us/worker-owned-rockaway-cooperatives/

    Lets buy back small businesses like Daycare, Groceries, Gas Stations,
    Tax Services, Restaurants, Etc. give them over to the workers to own and
    if they are successful they can pay the money forward to buy another
    business….

  • Anonymous

    I beg to differ with you that no society has changed. It did right here in the US in 1776.

  • James Michael McDaniel

    I think it’s time for guaranteed income.

  • James Michael McDaniel

    Forget the interest whistles

  • James Michael McDaniel

    A base income with employment income as extra!

  • Greg H

    I always enjoy hearing Richard Wolff. He has an exceptional style and much knowledge. However, as I watched the program there was a glaring omission in the discussion of the shortcomings of capitalism, the destructive effect it has on the planet. The perpetual growth required by capitalism cannot be sustained on a finite globe. We can only survive if we move to an economy whose guiding principle is the sanctity and protection of the natural world, as it is the source of our very existence. Check out “The Capitalism Papers – Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System” by Jerry Mander.

  • Hamzah Muhammad

    A prevailing pattern: Bigger corporations causes more demand for greater regulation causes more demand for bigger government. Corporations are basically the legally instituted personification of the love of money. Another way to construe the pattern: greater sin causes more demand of greater legalism causes more demand for greater authority. Abolish legal corporate personhood and it is likely that much of this country’s issues will be resolved from the social, cultural, political, and legal problems institutions cause directly and indirectly. From restoring the American Dream, improving our capitalistic and democratic functions, to creating a larger middle class, possibly than ever before seen, to mitigating the problems of retiring baby boomers. As legal corporate personhood is a judicial interpretation and not concrete law, it would probably require–not a constitutional amendment, but a simple legislative bill that, in principle, will establish the fundamental truth that “only humans are people and citizens.” Corporations are construed as people through the first and fourteenth amendment. They are roughly 20% of all business-types, whereas, sole proprietorships are about 70%. From military to prison industrial complex, we suffer from an industrial complex overall. This proposition would centralize all private civil power into the human individual. It appears to be biblically, culturally, constitutionally, and declarationally justified. The viability of such a political campaign is both applicable to people of faith as it is coherent, with the will of God and secular people, with the will of the people. To stand against a proposition would be political suicide. Given the state of today’s politics, hardball is the only play that works.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with a flat tax is that it is regressive. For example, assume that the rate is 30%, who is going to be hit harder: the person making $15,000 dollars a year or the person making $150,000 a year?

  • Anonymous

    As a W-2 employee, (making around 120k a year) with no children and no home mortgage, I’m usually raped at about 30% from the federal govt and 10% from the state of california on top of all the other taxes. So I believe i would welcome a flat tax, I disapprove of 90% of where my taxes go, so I feel I’m always on the losing end of the equation, when the largest US corporations (Apple, GE, Boeing, etc pay zero federal taxes). The majority of my taxess go for bloated military, bloated medical, bloated prison industrial , bloated Homeland Security, bloated Transportation Security Agency) complexes
    So I feel I lose at every corner, as I dont ever get health benefits with these super high tax rates.

  • Shirley Ohfourohone

    If the ideas make sense, why does it matter whether the speaker identifies as socialist?
    I think many people, if given a menu of options/ideas, would realize they are more socialist than they think. Not entirely, but more than otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    @JSC1227: See other comments for arguments against your flat tax lust. I too wanted to leave the country but I’m marrying a ‘felon’ so I’m stuck. The situation is exactly as you describe, so my fallback is buying a bunch of land in the mountains. Not a great solution because it’s not as secure but hey, no neighbors….maybe my car won’t disappear from in front of my house!

  • NotARedneck

    The destruction is mainly due to the fact that nearly all the benefits of the “growth” go to a very small slice of Americans. This small slice does things with their wealth that are very wasteful and polluting.

  • Anonymous

    Your analogy of capitalism to the Monopoly game is spot on. In past years, the US had remedies to make it possible for newcomers to the “game” to achieve success and their own slice of the pie. These included minimum wage, labor unions, estate taxes, progressive income tax rates, strict business regulations, etc. Sadly, certain politicians have chipped away at these safeguards and it has become much harder (if not virtually impossible) for US citizens to be upwardly mobile. If things don’t change drastically in this country, we will soon have two classes: ownership and serfdom – and it will be impossible to move out of the latter.