1 comment to Moyers: Richard Wolff on Fighting for Economic Justice and Fair Wages
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. President Obama has finally recognized they need help. In his State of the Union, he proposed an increase in the minimum wage:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to nine dollars an hour.
BILL MOYERS: But as the economist Dean Baker points out this week, “If the minimum wage had risen in step with productivity growth it would be over $16.50 an hour today.” 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.
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: 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–
RICHARD WOLFF: … 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.
There’s a lot more where that came from. Well worth reading/watching.