U.S. Capitalism and Economic Injustice: Can We Do Better?

While criticizing U.S. capitalism remains taboo, Richard Wolff and David Barsamian discuss this failing economic system.

| June 2012

  • Occupy-The-Economy-Cover
    Since the 1970s, economic injustice has worsened and further corrupted politics as well. “Occupy the Economy” not only analyzes the crisis in U.S. capitalism today, it also points toward solutions to shape a better future for all.
  • Wall-Street-And-Statue-Of-Liberty
    Why has the government bailed out big banks, insurance companies and large corporations while millions of Americans work harder just to get by?

  • Occupy-The-Economy-Cover
  • Wall-Street-And-Statue-Of-Liberty

Today’s economic crisis is capitalism’s worst since the Great Depression. As more and more people lose their jobs, benefits, and even their homes, the rich keep getting richer. Why has the government bailed out big banks, insurance companies and large corporations while millions of Americans work harder just to get by? Occupy the Economy (City Lights Publishers, 2012) is a hot-button primer on the taboo subject impacting most Americans today: the failure of capitalism. In eye-opening interviews with prominent economist Richard Wolff, David Barsamian probes the root cause of the current economic crisis, its unjust social consequences and what we can and should do to turn things around. The following excerpt is from the book's introduction.

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For the last half-century, capitalism has been a taboo subject in the United States. Among politicians, journalists, and academics—and in public conversation generally—the word has been avoided or else exclusively praised in over-the-top prose. Professional economists have used words like “perfect competition” and “optimal allocation of resources” and “efficiency” to teach their students and assure one another how absolutely wonderful capitalism was for everyone. Politicians repeated, robot-style, that the “U.S. is the greatest country in the world” and that “capitalism is the greatest economic system in the world.” Those few who have dared to raise questions or criticisms about capitalism have been either ignored or told to go live in North Korea, China or Cuba as if that were the only alternative to pro-capitalism cheerleading.

Americans have criticized and debated their educational, medical, welfare, transportation, mass media, political, and many other institutions and systems. They have questioned and at least partly transformed such traditional institutions as racism, sexism, the heterosexual family and the state. They have even sometimes challenged this or that aspect of the economy such as prices, Federal Reserve actions, and so on, but almost never the particular economic system.

Questioning and criticizing U.S. capitalism have been taboo, treated by federal authorities, immigration officials, police and most of the public alike as akin to treason. Fear-driven silence has substituted for the necessary, healthy criticism without which all institutions, systems, and traditions harden into dogmas, deteriorate into social rigidities, or worse. Protected from criticism and debate, capitalism in the United States could and has indulged all its darker impulses and tendencies. No public exposure, criticism and movement for change could arise or stand in its way as the system and its effects became ever more unequal, unjust, inefficient and oppressive. Long before the Occupy movement arose to reveal and oppose what U.S. capitalism had become, that capitalism had divided the 1 percent from the 99 percent.

The importance of the Occupy movement was and is positioning its challenge to capitalism front and center among its concerns and passions. No oppositional mass movement of the last fifty years—one drawing broadly inclusive participation—has been similarly daring in going beyond single-issue focus to make economic injustice for the 99 percent and the ruling economic system central, defining issues. Despite the power of pro-capitalism ideology, Occupy has been able to contest it in amazingly profound ways in an amazingly short time and for an amazing number of Americans.

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