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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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BILL MOYERS: You remind me of something that President Obama said in his second inaugural address.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We are true to our creed when a little girl born in the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American. She is free and she is equal. Not just in the eyes of God, but also in our own.

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

RICHARD WOLFF: That's right. And it's painful for some of us to hear that, because it is so obviously untrue. It is so obviously contradicted by the realities, not just of those who work at the minimum wage, but all of those who work at or even at 50% above what we call the poverty level. Because when you look at what families like that can actually afford, they have to deny huge parts of the American dream to their children and to themselves as a necessary consequence of where they are put.

And I don't need to be an economist to put it as starkly as I know how. We can read every day that in the major cities of the United States, apartments are changing hands for $10 million, $20 million, $30 million, $40 million. People have enormous yachts that they cruise -- we all see it. We all know it. We even celebrate it as a nation. How does that square with millions of people in a position where they can't provide even the most basic services and opportunities?

We don't have equality of opportunity. Because there is no shortcut. If you want equality of opportunity, you're going to have to create equality of income and wealth much closer to a genuine equality than anything-- we're going in the other direction. And so I agree with you. It's stark if our president talks about something so divergent from the reality.

BILL MOYERS: When study after study has exposed the myth that this is a land of opportunity, how does the myth keep getting perpetuated?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, my wife is a psychotherapist. And so I ask her that question often. And here's what she says to me. Often, people cling all the harder to an idea precisely because the reality is so different and becoming more different. In other words, I would answer the myth of equal opportunity is more attractive, more beautiful, more something people want to hold on, the more they know it's slipping away. And they would like to believe that this president or any president who says it, might somehow bring it back.

BILL MOYERS: When you say that there's no economic argument that people should be kept at the-- should not share in the gains of economic growth, the response is, "Well, that's what the market bears.”

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, in the history of economics, which is my profession, it's a standard play on words. Instead of talking about how the economy is shaped by the actions of consumers in one way, workers in another way, corporate executives in another way, we abstract from all of that and we create a myth or a mystique. It's called the market.

That way you're absolving everybody from responsibility. It isn't that you're doing this, making that decision in this way, it's rather this thing called the market that makes things happen. Well, every corporate executive I know, knows that half of his or her job is to tweak, manipulate, shift, and change the market.