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Capitalism Becomes Questionable – by Richard D. Wolff

The depth and length of the global crisis are now clear to millions. In the sixth year since it started in late 2007, no end is in sight. Unemployment rates are now less than halfway back from their recession peak to where they were in 2007. Over 20 million are without work, millions more limited to part-time work, millions have been foreclosed out of their homes. Those who retain jobs suffer declining real wages, fewer benefits, reduced job security, and more work. This year of “austerity” began with an increase in the payroll tax rate for over 150 million wage-and-salary earners from 4.2 to 6.2 per cent (a 48% increase from 2012) — a far more significant tax event than the trivial — but wildly hyped — increase of taxes on those earning over $450,000 annually from 35 to 39.6 per cent (a 13% increase from 2012). Austerity deepens as Republicans and Democrats negotiate merely details of their agreements to cut government spending on social programs helping working people.

Between the crisis and today’s austerity policies lie the bailouts — a bought government’s program to aid mega-finance and other large corporations with unlimited funds unmatched by anything comparable for the mass of working people and smaller businesses. The bailouts worked for them, for the large corporations who secured them for themselves. For that reason, “recovery” blessed them while it bypassed everyone else. Now austerity policies shift onto the general population major portions of the costs of the crisis and the bailouts. The situation is so bad and US government complicity with capitalists at the people’s expense so exposed that the capitalist system is becoming questionable. Criticism challenges the last half-century’s treatment of capitalism as the absolutely best possible economic system, beyond any need for discussion or debate, justifiably implanted around the world by military force, etc.

First of all, this deep and long crisis undermines decades of confident assurances and predictions that another deep capitalist depression was no longer likely or even possible. Capitalism’s inherent instability overwhelmed and thus proved the futility of efforts to prevent its crises. Moreover, both conventional and extraordinary monetary and fiscal policies failed repeatedly to bring Europe, Japan, and the US out of the crisis. Central banks, international agencies, and national executives charged with economic responsibilities have, since 2007, spoken with assurance and met often, posed for media photos, puffed and threatened, made a few last-minute, stop-gap agreements, resolved to meet again and do more at the next meeting. However, the crisis continued for most people. In many places it has gotten much worse. All this challenges glib notions that capitalism’s highest authorities have the system “under control.”

Implicitly, at first, millions of people began to question whether capitalism does still “deliver the goods” as its defenders so long insisted. In the US, declining economic conditions for parents coupled with rising school debts and declining job prospects for their children suggest rather that capitalism “delivers the bads.” The widening inequalities of wealth and income that contributed to the crisis have in turn been further aggravated by it.

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