Richard D. Wolff: How Capitalism's Great Relocation Pauperised America's "Middle Class"

tags: Guardian (UK), economics, Marxism, Richard D. Wolff



Richard D Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a visiting professor in the graduate programme in international affairs of the New School University, New York City. Richard also teaches classes regularly at the Brecht Forum in Manhattan. His most recent book is Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It (2009). A full archive of Richard's work, including videos and podcasts, can be found on his site.

Detroit's struggle with bankruptcy might find some relief, or at least distraction, by presenting its desperate economic and social conditions as a tourist attraction. "Visit Detroit," today's advertisement might begin, "see your region's future here and now: the streets, neighborhoods, abandoned buildings, and the desolation. Scary, yes, but more gripping than any imaginary ghost story."

Detroit, Cleveland, Camden and many other cities display what capitalism left behind after it became profitable for capitalists to relocate and for new capital investments to happen more elsewhere. Capitalism and its driving profit motive first developed in England before spreading to western Europe, north America and then Japan. Over the last two centuries, those areas endured a growing capitalism's mix of horrific working conditions, urban slums, environmental degradation, and cyclical instability. Capitalism also brought economic growth, wealth for a minority, labor unions and other workers' organizations. Writers like Dickens, Zola, Steinbeck, and Gorky saw that capitalism's workings clearly, while those like Marx, Mill and Bakunin understood it critically.

Workers' struggles eventually forced capitalists to pay rising wages, enabling higher living standards for large sections of the working classes (so-called "middle classes"). Capitalists and their economist spokespersons later rewrote that history to suggest instead that rising wages were blessings intrinsic to the capitalist system. How wrong that was, as I describe below....



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