The United States has more than 5.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and has suffered more than 177,000 deaths from the disease. With the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths of any country in the world, recent public opinion polls found nearly 60% of Americans disapprove of President Trump’s handling of the health crisis and are very worried about the effects of the pandemic on the American economy.
The failure of the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to act on pending legislation passed by the House in mid-May that would have reinstated now-expired enhanced federal unemployment controls and extended a moratorium on tenant evictions, has been tracked. of a breakdown in negotiations and lawmakers adjourning for a summer recess until September. Congress’ inaction has millions of Americans worried about how they will pay for food and rent in the weeks to come.
Between the Lines, Scott Harris spoke with Richard D. Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and currently a visiting professor in the graduate program in international affairs at New School University, at New York. Here Professor Wolff discusses his recent paper, “The sham of orthodox economics has been exposed in the wake of COVID-19,” and weighs in on the US government’s failure to provide basic assistance to working families amid the worst public health crisis in more than 100 years.
RICHARD D. WOLFF: The United States of America has between 4.5 and 4.75% of the world’s population. In other words, you take the 320 million Americans, they together represent about 4.5% of the population of this planet. However, if you look at the percentage that the United States represents in people infected with this virus and in people who died from this virus, it’s about 25%. We have 5% of the world’s population. And 25% of fatal virus cases worldwide. It’s indescribable. We are a “developed, wealthy and advanced industrial economy”.
All of these words are meant to mean that we would be better equipped, better, able, better prepared to get through a virus like this than most other countries in the world. And fundamentally, I think we have the ability to do better than most of the rest of the world, but our system is so broken that it’s so incapable of doing what it could and should do.
It is an indescribable and inexcusable statement of abject failure. And the failure is shared by the private sector and by the government. What the government is doing to prepare us militarily, it could have, it should have done to prepare us for a virus. But because the people who run this society have to believe in the fairy tale that private enterprise is the best thing since sliced bread, that private enterprise does everything best, that private enterprise left to its own devices is the best possible solution to life’s problems – the government has not done in the medical field what it does in the military. And so we found ourselves unprepared for this virus when it hit. It is a testament that the private sector in this country cannot and does not work well. This is proof that government, which is dominated and shaped by private enterprise—we all know this—is equally incapable of compensating for the failures of private capitalism. We are stuck with a system that has just demonstrated to us, and it is doing as we speak, that something as basic as our health, our ability to breathe and live is not safe under a capitalist system. And this is not a theory. It is not a possibility. It’s not a guess. This is the reality we live.
SCOTT HARRIS: Professor Wolff, at this particular moment. Many young people have a very, very different view of our system and its ability to support them as they grow, pursue careers, age and retire. I think there are a lot of concerns about our system and the conclusion of many that it is flawed. Do you currently see opportunities to redesign our systems that have not been possible in the past years and decades?
RICHARD D. WOLFF: Absolutely, young people were told to work hard, study hard, go to college, get their baccalaureate. If you can, keep going and get more degrees. These days it’s so expensive. You’re gonna have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars, go deep in debt to get that degree. They did all that. And they find out they won’t find a job. If they find a job, they won’t earn enough money to repay those loans. This means that they risk having a bad credit score. That means they can’t really get married, start a family, or buy a house. All of these things that used to be called the American dream are out of reach and they feel betrayed because they have been. Older people are discovering that social security is not enough to live on and that the future is more precarious than it has been in decades because of the pandemic.
But he was already in trouble before. Mortgage debt, car loans, credit cards and student loans. These are the four large rocks carried by a population that they crush. And I think what you’re seeing is people recognizing that this economic system can make the Jeffrey Bezos of this world super rich, but for the vast majority of people this economic system isn’t working and something better has to be done because we’re looking at — and I’m now literally talking weeks from now — we’re looking at a set of conditions that are going to make even what we have now pale in comparison.
For more information on the Economic Update with Richard Wolff, visit economic update.libsyn.
democracy at work.