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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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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.