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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: 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.