Economist Professor Richard Wolff joined the Thom Hartmann Program to discuss how the rich are making the poor, poorer.
Here is a transcript of that interview.
Lynn Parramore is writing over at the Institute for New Economic Thinking about economic despair, and how it affects humans and societies. She points out that in 2015 this is long before the pandemic. In 2015, life expectancy in America dropped for the first time in 100 years. It dropped again in 2016, life expectancy dropped again in 2017.
And during that same period of time, life expectancy for people in the top 1% increased by 140%. Increased 140% faster than those in low-income groups. This makes us an absolute outlier among nations.
Meanwhile, sociologist Shannon Monnet at Syracuse Syracuse University was looking at which communities were being ravaged by opioids. And what she found was that it wasn't it had nothing to do with how many drug representatives came to town or, or you know, how many pharmacies there were doctors there were. It had to do with inequality communities that were highly unequal, not poor, but highly unequal.
Poverty often went along with it. We're more likely to have horrible opioid addiction epidemics. And she says in communities with more economic stability, a strong safety net better quality jobs, fewer people were dying from opioids, what does despair and specifically economic despair, how has that changed history over the centuries?
Professor Richard Wolff is with us. The Economist, co-founder DemocracyAtWork.info, author of numerous books, his most recent "The Sickness is the System - When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself". @RDWolff is his Twitter handle.
Professor Wolff, your thoughts on this?
Well, I think it's, it's a warning sign. And it's something we better heed that the despair is the forerunner of the political explosion. In other words, it's a way of understanding that your situation is becoming untenable. Inequality is not an arrangement that in the long run is tenable. If the majority of people are more and more squeezed, as they are.
And as they have been for the last 50 years in our country, at the same time, that immense wealth is immediately visible in the same community, or at least on the same TV set or internet screen, you're going to create tensions, bitterness, envy, and despair. And the signs of despair are everywhere the case, deeper work, that power more signs is a famous work of the two folks at Princeton that is now globally studied. And now, Shannon monarchs work at Syracuse.
These are documentations based on systematic statistics, we ought to learn the lesson. And in answer to your question about history, it's been a clear a clear lesson to learn that this spare for example, if you read Charles Dickens, his famous book, The Tale of Two Cities, London and Paris, the descriptions there of the despair, both in Paris and in London, were the forerunners of explosive changes in those societies, ultimately, the French Revolution with its guillotines with its end of feudalism, these are historic changes.
And I think we're going through it now as well, that the COVID is a kind of extra whack on us. But we were already suffering as the work you cited shows, opioids and all the other signs of deaths by despair. If we do not deal with these despairing issues, in some rational way, they are going to lead to political explosions that will be accompanied by big, sudden difficult changes violence and all the rest that has followed when these kinds of signs have not been heated.
Would it be in your in your mind? Would it be your opinion? Would it be accurate to say that the Trump phenomenon is an outgrowth of the economic despair produced by 45 years of neoliberalism, or what I call Reaganism?
I have no doubt at all about it. And I would use the example that I think is the one most likely to be in people's minds over the period from 1914 to 1933, that's not a very long number of years, under two decades, the people have a very prosperous country, Germany, went from being at the top of the world, along with the British and the United States, the most successful economies but in those years from 1914 to 1933.
They were destroyed in first World War One they lost, then the worst inflation in western history in 1923, wiped out all the savings of the middle class. And then when the Great Depression hit in 1929, it was one blow to many last war, inflation, basic crash. They went and I say this advisedly. They went crazy as a people, not just with despair, but with a kind of hopelessness and desperation that made it possible for an opportunistic politician to see an unbelievable chance.
Coming up with the kinds of conspiracy theories we have seen again, in the Trump administration, there was this little fellow from Austria, Austria, dark haired, short, celebrating something he wasn't, namely arion tall, blue eyed Germans. And he built a Nazi movement based on speaking to that despair that other political parties were not able to do with the exception of the far left. That was his real counterpoint. We've had the same thing without a powerful far left, which may be what saved us.
Who knows? But, uh, yes, I think that Trump is a symptom, as are the folks who attacked the capital on January 6, there is simply a symptom of a despair. We never know in advance when the system creates a despair, what direction political direction that despair will take, it can go to the left, that's kind of what happened in the 1930s. Or it can go to the right. And that's what happened with Mr. Trump. And it now remains to be seen whether people will understand this message of despair, or whether we will all be watching, wondering which way it will go this time.
Well, and to that point, in the two minutes we have left it democrats are now talking about this 14 $100 You know, one-time payment that everybody's going to get about means testing it, turning it into a welfare programme. You know, we've successfully resisted means-testing Social Security, although Republicans have been calling for that for 50 years. What are your thoughts on that?
I am very, very depressed about it, to be honest with you. This is Nikolas timing at a time when we cannot afford to do this. We are now going through one of the worst depressions in American history. I would argue it's the worst. Yes, the Great Depression of the 30s was technically worse, but that one didn't happen together with a public health catastrophe. This one is and the combination of public health catastrophe and capitalist crash.
That's a one-two punch this country has to come to terms with it needs a radical programme of relief far beyond what Mr. Biden has proposed, let alone the pared down version coming from the Republicans. Here's my fear, my great fear that he will make Mr. Biden will make a compromise. They will cut it down. They will means-test.
The end result will be inadequate to what our situation is. And then as that situation deteriorates further, the republicans with or without Trump will turn around and blame the democrats for it.
This is the way American politics works and it frightens me to death.
This transcript is taken from a live interview between Thom Hartmann and Professor Richard Wolff in February 2021. You can watch a recording of the interview on the Thom Hartmann YouTube channel.