(Is this really ) How Capitalism is Killing Itself?

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  • #33587 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    So let’s give this a go.

    I know little of philosophy and next to nothing of Marx. This video is interesting. Anyone want to talk about it?

    Marxism 101: How Capitalism is Killing Itself with Dr. Richard Wolff

    Youtube video [35m] Abby Martin/Richard Wolff “Marxism 101: How Capitalism is Killing Itself”

    • This topic was modified 5 years, 9 months ago by Darth.
    #33589 Reply

    For info the Youtube video URL has to be on a line of its own to auto-embed. Your’s just had it auto-wrapped so I’ve edited in a new line.

    #33596 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    Couldn’t make it work, here’s the youtube link

    I’d do politics if I could be sure of getting Wolff as a lecturer. He’s ace!

    Still listening…

    #33597 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    Couldn’t make the link work either – autoembeds. Try extracting it from this –


    #33598 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    Further reading:


    Thanks, Phil. Great catch!

    #33600 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    Baal, yes, it’s rare to hear such broad stroke clarity from an economist or a philosopher let alone a marxist. Last night I found a video of Wolff giving an incredibly simple yet compelling overview of why we are in the current economic crisis. I’ll post a link later.

    RE: this video. There are two parts, above others, about which I would like further understanding:

    19:05 “cronyism”: Wolff implies cronyism is inevitable. Why?
    27:20 “I earned it”: A capitalist would respond that recipients of dividends create wealth by choosing where to invest their money. Wolff doesn’t seem to counter that basic argument.

    #33601 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    A compelling explanation of the current economic crisis by marxist economist Richard Wolff. Could it really be this simple? Starting at 52:40

    #33602 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    Cronyism: in order to achieve oligopolies sufficiently large to achieve efficient expropriation of labour and assets (such as we now see) capitalists have to co-operate with each other and with government. A small capitalist, let’s say Margaret Thatcher’s grocer father, can only achieve so much by himself. Marx saw this as a logical development of the capitaklism of his day. I’m not sure if this clarifies matters :


    but it’s a thought.

    I earned it: I think Wolff would counter that in two ways. 1. That however benignly the reinvestment is done, it still represents a net differential between what the investor gets and the value of what is produced to sell him. In the open market, the system is perpetuated by this activity. 2. That the bulk of the unearned (except by virtue of being rich in the first place) dividend will of course be reinvested in further schemes designed to extract wealth from the proletariat. Like, for instance sub-prime mortgages, rather than anything which employs anyone at all.

    I’d say about Wolff that his charm, his gift for engaging the viewer. and total familiarity with his subject do make me more inclined to scepticism, not less. Even more because what he has been saying for some time agrees well with my own beliefs. We’ve seen where that can lead: much of our middle class reads the Daily Mail on the same basis.

    Wolff emphasises elsewhere that we’re all different, and that we all see things differently/different things in the same scene; probably as well to remember that when viewing his incisive and entertaining lectures. Such as these:


    #33604 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    Cronyism: So just to spell the argument out: cronyism and state capitalism are both (if not the same thing) ineviatable under capitalism because a concentration of economic power will lead to a concentration of political power (as the economically powerful purchase the political process to safeguard their privilege etc).

    I earned it: Not sure I understand your points. 1. Sure, the investor extracts profit from (or “rips off”) the worker. 2. Sure, if workers can be cut out of profit creation all the better. However, I do see how either of these counter the capitalist perspective that the investor is directing energy into wealth creation activity by making good decisions. I can see arguments to counter this I just wonder what the marxist economist Wolff might say.

    #33611 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    Cronyism: Yes, that’s my reading of the issue – I stress mine. The term being used currently is ‘crony capitalism’ and that’s pretty well the definition of it as far as I can see. Governments act in accordance with the requirements of oligarchical financial concerns to maximise the benefits to both. See also ‘revolving door’…

    I earned it: I guess if you asked Wolff he’d actually be glad to clarify the matter. My gloss on it would be that the ‘wealth’ created (this is Reaganomics, isn’t it?) is more or less illusory in practice, since the financial underpinning of the present economic structure is a Ponzi scheme. In which the people at the bottom of the pyramid are always the losers. Also, and I know Wolff would also mention this moral argument, does sitting on your fat arse on a yacht, watching the wealth roll in at the behest of your accountant, really qualify as ‘earning’? OK, some wealth trickles down to your accountant…

    #33645 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    OK. Been doing a little thinking on this one. What Marx proposed was that the capitalist model expropriated wealth from the people producing it. That the employer and investor made far more out of the deal than the guy doing the job. And that where possible, the capitalist will minimise his labour costs rather than even slightly reduce his own profits: those philanthropic capitalists will mechanise, rationalise, outsource, whatever, with the precise intention of minimising labour costs, and we see the culmination of this today.
    The now-deleted Clause IV of the Labour Party, drafted by Sidney Webb in 1918 embodies Marx’s thinking:

    <i>To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.</i>

    (more here:) http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/09/clause-iv-of-labour-party-constitution-what-is-all-the-fuss-about-reinstating-it

    But it’s flawed. Because that broad-brush ‘common ownership’ automatically ties government into ‘production, distribution, and exchange’. And puts it in a position where government takes control of those. ‘The best obtainable’, while it takes account of limited options, is a cop-out, and allows for a degree of compromise which is fatal to the project. And the ‘best obtainable’,again, was felt to be <i>nationalisation</i> – which <i>inevitably</i> led to State capitalism, in which the expropriation of the workers by a higher authority continued, and in the Soviet Union, increased. (Marx’s huge mistake was in having anything at all to do with Lenin.)

    It’s hard to see the way out, today. Still harder to imagine how change may be effective, given that capitalism has gone global, the population is exploding (cheap labour!) and that ever craftier ways of transferring wealth from the many to the few are invented daily in the City, and Panama… Let’s rephrase Clause IV a bit at this point, to read:

    <i>To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the <b>equal</b> ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange</i> – making no reference to administration and control, which may safely be given a clause on its own. Something like, maybe:

    <i> To secure a national administrative structure specifically designed to implement Clause IV and not interfere in its practical application, while providing for the basic needs of the community at large. </i>

    Cue industrial (agricultural, even financial) co-operatives, workers automatically holding shares in these, and remunerated by an agreed percentage of profits. At the point when government wakes up to what is going on, and starts representing the people, cue a single-algorithm tax system on all earners. Instead of tax bands, if x is your annual income then t = f(x) = your tax. Here the function f could be a logistic equation, for instance, in which t as a proportion of x rises smoothly from lower to higher incomes, and then flatlines at a given level. (I have no idea why the traditional tax shambles has lasted for so long and why regular tweaking by every chancellor since, ooohh, Henry VIII, hasn’t rationalised it yet) Cue a sharply reduced management cohort: management efficiency will be increased by recruitment from the productive workforce and company-specific training. And reduced management costs since the worker-shareholders will be determining pay. Cue all sorts of benefits.


    #33646 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    Ah. So *that’s* why there’s a thread about italics.

    #33648 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    ‘i’ is old html. I haven’t read that italics thread but at a guess – use ‘blockquote’ or ’em’.

    This is blockquote

    This is em
    <i>This is i</i>

    I will read your comment above when I have some time. Ta.

    #33650 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    <i> works fine on the main pages, just not on the forum. But I see there’s a handy cheat button in the reply frame, so I’ll use that.

    #33760 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    I’d hate to think I had the last word on this interesting and relevant topic. Anyone, please?

    #33771 Reply
    Chris Rogers

    Phil the ex Frog,

    Regrettably our Marxism lecturer at Uni really made a hash of teaching Marxist Theory, to the extent it was rather off putting, so like you, I’ve never really read too much of Marx’s theories, apart from the 1848 Communist Manifesto, a few other of his more accessible essays and a fair number of biographies.

    However, for a more accessible critique of Capitalism, you should take a look at Veblen, who wrote extensively about the horrors of US capitalism in the late 1900s, until his death in the 1920s, that, or jump into Das Kapital, but make sure you have a few additional intro’s on that particular text by a few political scientists to aid you as you wade through its numerous pages, many of which please remember could well have actually been penned by Engels, which itself is an interesting debate.

    #33870 Reply
    Phil the ex frog


    Before you go, can I just suggest that a point may be in danger of being overlooked here. Capitalism has evolved beyond the late 1890’s. Power has been recaptured by the financiers, to the detriment of all others. Using future debt for present purchases, they assure themselves an interest income stream on every transaction taking place, frequently to a value greater than the commodity thus mortgaged. This gives them a lien on the producer and consumer which arguably was last seen pre-Industrial Revolution: feudalism. Instead of being the serfs of the landlord and paying tithes to the Church, anyone using any financial facility is now the serf of the bank (your debt becomes its credit, available immediately to it), and paying tithes (interest) to it. Incidentally, because the overall value of the transactions doesn’t actually increase much, this leads to a progressive debasement of the currency, which some call growth.

    Not sure if I fully understand your comment. Let me see if writing a respond helps.

    I suspect you are overstating the importance of the financial sector’s excess.

    Not everyone is in debt. Big businesses are rolling in cash. Finance may be the big daddy but others are not suffering. Tech is positively booming. The hoarding of cash, mostly offshore, is the cause of the money supply crises isn’t it?

    That the majority of us live in debt is just a slightly more aggresive form of capitalism. Not feudelism. We are still paid wages.

    OK, perhaps I see what you’re getting at. Is it this: work is becoming less needed and less available as individual debt increases. So if no one is paid wages where the fuck does that leave us regarding capitalism.

    I went to a really interesting talk last week. Are you familiar with Maynard Smiths 8 leaps of evolution. Applying the attributes of these leaps the speaker proposed we are on the verge of number 9. Technology. Soon we will not recognise the world we inhabit. In ten years time no one will be allowed to drive cars on the road. No one will need to work. Very few will be working.

    #33871 Reply

    Phil – Thanks for the video links. There are some truths contained in Marxist thought, but at its core it remains idealistic and non viable.

    Western economies/societies have been hijacked by special interest groups who have taken control of various branches of the state with a view to using the power of the state to protect and justify their self decreed special role in society. A Marxist society would be even more prone to being hijacked by special interest groups.

    I have worked in socialist/communist societies. Individual people were well educated (often better educated than their western counterparts) and yet their economy was completely dis-functional with epic resource mis-allocation and waste. In terms of resource allocation the price signal has an important role to play. If this is removed, or suppressed then you can expect resource mis-allocation. This is exactly what is being seen in the west at the moment, and exactly what was experienced throughout the “communist” east.

    A central problem faced by humanity is environmental degradation and climate change. Maybe this can be tackled by people consuming less – and no political ism is likely to address this problem.

    #33872 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    OK, perhaps I see what you’re getting at

    That’s good enough for me. I was just trying to inject a concept into the discussion, and I am aware that its applicability is infinitely debatable. However. Wages <i>were</i> paid under feudalism. The innovation I’m suggesting was to detach the marginal value accruing to labour, not from the already-earned wage at the end of the week, or even day, but from the future expectation of wages. That is, the worker is now bonded to the bank, if not his employer (to whom his tie is weaker as he is free to leave his job, but not to renege on his debt) As an alternative view, the mediaeval Church demanded a cut of the marginal value in order to guarantee eternal life. A precursor of the now omnipresent insurance industry.

    I don’t think the observation that big companies are awash with cash is a huge obstacle to examining my suggestion with care. Ask what they are doing with that cash. And who is handling it, and what they are scraping off that cash as a cut.

    I’ll let you get down to it with Loony – it’s been educational so far.

    #33873 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    …we are on the verge of number 9. Technology. Soon we will not recognise the world we inhabit. In ten years time no one will be allowed to drive cars on the road. No one will need to work. Very few will be working.

    OK, I lied. What that describes is the ultimate triumph of consumer capitalism – human beings being virtually excluded from the mechanism of wealth accumulation by those controlling the resources. What I don’t quite see is how all those redundant humans will be enabled to obtain the credit required to buy stuff – and more stuff. And that may be the crisis whose trailer we are currently viewing. Gone now. Really.

    #33874 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    Ah, I see you’re not familiar with Fully Automated Luxury Communism!

    I’ll reply to you & Loony later. Couldn’t resist slapping this up over my coffee that I rush cause I’m late for work. FALC had nothing to do with the talk I refer to.

    #33875 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    Thanks for that, Phil. It addresses a number of relevant issues, as do the comments. But I remember the spectre of Thatcher justifying the sale of council houses in similar terms – “levelling up, rather than levelling down”. If bling is universally available, the egomaniacs will find something that isn’t universally avilable and flaunt that instead. It might be a good opening for tortuously handcrafted artefacts, which the automated market would be unable to produce. Or (a la Saatchi) collections of ‘art’, defined as such exclusively by its owners.
    The conclusion seems to be “If we could only make things different, how different they could be”, and ignores the probability that any transition is going to have to make it seem to the people with the power and the money that they will lose the advantages of neither. The practicalities of the process of change seem as remote as ever.

    #33878 Reply
    Phil the ex frog


    There are some truths contained in Marxist thought, but at its core it remains idealistic and non viable.

    We need to ensure to distinguish between his ideas. Don’t dismiss them all because of the obvious problems with some. For instance, his critic/analysis of capitalism is widely acknowledged as a ground breaking economic philosophy. Whereas his notion of a transitional workers state (as a step towards communism) is a highly contented idea.
    Basically do not dismiss all of Marx because of the USSR.

    And to dismiss Marxist thought as not viable falls into the trap of bundling all his ideas into one lump of terroristy stuff.

    I think you meant utopian but I can be pedantic. In philosophical terms Marx is a “materialist”, the opposite to an “idealist”.

    To grossly simplify what I barely understand: Idealism holds that ideas, such a religion, shape society and drive history. Materialism holds that real world material needs (economics if you like) drive actions, which are rationalised with, maybe even influenced by, ideals.

    Idealist: wow, I’ve heard the son of god speak and he told me to lob some stones at the romans and I will enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Materialist: fuck me they crucified fred for stealing bread. I’m joining jesus’s gang. Amen.

    Western economies/societies have been hijacked by special interest groups

    What groups do you mean? Please expand.

    I have worked in socialist/communist societies

    I’d like to hear more if your inclined to say to say.

    #33879 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    Corrections to make my comment slightly less stupid:

    his critique/analysis of capitalism is widely acknowledged as ground breaking economic philosophy. Whereas his notion of a transitional workers state (as a step towards communism) is highly contentious to say the friggin least.

    #33880 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    Are you familiar with the anthropologist David Graeber’s ideas about debt. One of his ideas is it money was born out of debt. There’s a book, an online article and a radio four series on this. I can poiunt you twords them if you like later. Gotta rush now. Late for a garden bridge meeting.

    #33881 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    I’m not familiar with it. Will take a look. Though I have for some time assumed that the utility of money as a means of exchange is now being nullified by its commodification as saleable debt. And if that’s opaque, I’m very sorry. I’m feeling my way through a minefield populated by German philosophers and economists…

    #33882 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    I am wondering if the transitional worker’s state was really what he hoped for. Rather that he envisioned it as one possible outcome of an evolutionary process as capitalism ate itself. His ‘dialectical materialism’ was after all predicated on ongoing change, with advances, reverses and changes of direction, complexly interlinked and probably unpredictable. He was looking at the trend of the time. It may have been Engels – no time to wade through Holy Writ right now, so you may want to check it out – who advocated complete separation of politics and economics: let the market get on with it, and let government deal with the social consequences. State Thatcherism?

    #33883 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    As in 1848, wars and rumours of European populist uprisings have now made it to the BBC. If the working/non property-owning classes ever felt marginalised and pissed off, immigration is the issue which may light the fuse:


    #33884 Reply
    Phil the ex frog
    #33885 Reply

    @ Phil – The special interest groups that have hijacked society are to be found in the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) sector. Politicians and the media are, for the most part, paid lackeys of this sector. All of economic policy has been subverted to meet the perceived interests of this group.

    The entrenchment of privilege is a common theme throughout history and in other places and at other times has variously resided in the Priest Class, the Aristocracy, the Military and the bureaucratic classes. Sometimes society just collapses under the weight of its own internal contradictions (e.g. USSR) and sometimes the ruling elites are removed by violence (e.g.French and Russian revolutions)

    What is different this time is that today’s hijackers have taken control of substantially the entire world and almost all economies and societies are experiencing similar problems.

    Modern society is complex – maybe too complex for any theory. Marxism basically assumes that under capitalism wages are lower than they otherwise would be in order generate an unearned surplus for the capitalist. This is partially true – but the capitalist takes risk and could lose all of his money if his venture fails. If it succeeds he is rewarded via the profit function. The opportunity for both loss and profit motivates the capitalist to try his best to succeed. This kind of arrangement is conducive to innovation. It is also wide open to abuse – the evidence of which is all around us.

    #33886 Reply

    @ Phil – There are many problems. One of which is that population continues to rise and yet, due to technology, demand for labor is falling. How does this fit with Marxism or indeed any other ism?

    What are these surplus people supposed to do?

    In theory China is capable of satisfying global demand for substantially all manufactured products. How will people outside of China earn money to pay for the product of Chinese labor? China is unlikely to convert itself into a slave economy for the world – why would it?

    How is Europe supposed to continue to fund its all encompassing social security system? Taking money from the rich is not likely to be an answer as most of their wealth is purely fictional. (If you own a $50 million house in London and you take money from all of these people than there is no-one left to buy the $50 million house and hence the house is no longer worth $50 million).

    If there more people, less jobs, and an inability to continue funding social security then there appears to be a problem. Remember not all problems have solutions.

    #33887 Reply
    Phil the ex frog

    Yes, terrifying.

    Warmongering spooks and pity whoring stars. Just more directing of anger against the weak. Ignore the thieving rich! Hate the darkies instead!

    I don’t see the insurrection of which Dearlove warns. Just more bullshit. This whips up fear/hatred at the same time as using that fear/hatred as the reason for more state persecution. Vote for persecution! Fucking horrible propaganda. Capitalism turning hard right as a defence against insurrection?

    #33890 Reply
    Ba’al Zevul

    I suspect it’s not as simple as that. And, while I accept that the rich nations have made a stick with which to beat themselves in creating hells from which people justifiably flee, I don’t buy the moral oneupmanship which asserts that everyone has a right to move anywhere they like and demand instant acceptance. Uncontrolled immigration fuels the far Right’s fire. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. What Dearlove said is verifiable from history, and current escalating violence associated with immigration in Europe has been poorly reported in the MSM here. There is very little mileage for the oppressors of the masses (my tongue is slightly in my cheek) if they demonise the cheap labour source represented by immigrants. Hating brown people isn’t part of the official agenda, IOW.

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