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Moyers: Rampant Capitalism Has Created a Social Disaster -- How Do We Right the Ship?

The public rescued the One Percenters after the financial crisis and now their wealth is skyrocketing once again. But what about the rest of us?

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So it is creating tensions and hostilities that will take left wing, right wing, a variety of forms. But it's producing its own undoing and doesn't imagine it because it focuses so much on making more money in a normal way of business that it somehow occludes from itself. It doesn't see the larger social conditions and what its behavior is doing to them.

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.