The top 10 percent has 50 percent of the country’s income, and the upper 1 percent has 20 percent of the country’s income. A quarter of American workers struggle on wages of less than $10 an hour, putting them below the poverty line, while the income of the average CEO of a major corporation is more than 300 times the pay of his or her average worker, a massive increase given that in the 1950s the average CEO made 20 times what his or her worker made. This income inequality is global. The richest 1 percent of the world’s population controls 40 percent of the world’s wealth. And it is getting worse.
We live in a new feudalism. We have been stripped of political power. Workers are trapped in menial jobs, forced into crippling debt and paid stagnant or declining wages. Chronic poverty and exploitative working conditions in many parts of the world, and increasingly in the United States, replicate the hell endured by industrial workers at the end of the 19th century. The complete capture of ruling institutions by corporations and their oligarchic elites, including the two dominant political parties, the courts and the press, means there is no mechanism left by which we can reform the system or protect ourselves from mounting abuse. We will revolt or become 21st-century serfs, forced to live in misery and brutally oppressed by militarized police and the most sophisticated security and surveillance system in human history while the ruling oligarchs continue to wallow in unimagined wealth and opulence.
When capitalism collapsed in the 1930s, the response of the working class was to form unions, strike and protest. The workers pitted power against power. They forced the oligarchs to respond with the New Deal, which created 12 million government-funded jobs, Social Security, the minimum wage and unemployment compensation. The country’s infrastructure was modernized and maintained. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) alone employed 300,000 workers to form and maintain national parks.
“The message of the organized working class was unequivocal,” Wolff said. “Either you help us through this Depression or there will be a revolution.”
The New Deal programs were paid for by taxing the rich. Even in the 1950s, during the Eisenhower presidency, the top marginal rate was 91 percent.
The rich, enraged, mounted a war to undo these programs and restore the social inequality that makes them wealthy at our expense. We have come full circle.
The elites cook statistics to lie about a recovery from the 2008 global financial crash. To gather unemployment statistics, for example, government agents ask people two questions: Are you working? If they answer “yes” they are counted as employed even if they have a temporary job in which they work only an hour a week. If they say “no” they are asked if they have been looking for work. If they have not looked for work in the last four weeks they are magically erased from the unemployment rolls. And then there is the long list of those not counted as unemployed, such as prisoners, the retired, stay-at-home spouses and high school and college students who want jobs. Alternative facts did not begin with Donald Trump.
“The quality of the jobs, the security, the benefits and the impact on physical and mental health have been cascading downward as the wages remain stagnant,” he went on. “We’re not in a recovery. We’re in an ongoing decline, which, by the way, is why Mr. Trump got elected. This is happening to capitalism in Western Europe, Japan and the United States. This is why an angry working class is looking for ways to express and change its circumstances.”
“Society has a responsibility to itself,” Wolff said. “If the private sector can’t or won’t manage that, then the public sector has to step in. It’s what [Franklin] Roosevelt said when he came on the radio: ‘If there are millions of Americans who ask for nothing other than a job, and the private sector can’t provide it, then it’s up to me. Who else is going to do it?’ If we cut back on welfare we are making people depend on the private sector. What happens to people thrown on a private capital sector that cannot and will not function in a socially acceptable way?”
There is no discussion in the corporate-controlled media of the effects of our out-of-control corporate capitalism. Workers struggling under massive debts, unable to pay for ever-rising health care and other basic costs, trapped in low-wage jobs that make life one long emergency, are rendered invisible by a media that entertains us with court gossip from porn actresses and reality television stars and focuses on celebrity culture. We ignore reality at our peril.
“We’ve given a free pass to a capitalist system because we’ve been afraid to debate it,” Wolff said. “When you give a free pass to any institution, you create the conditions for it to rot right behind the facade. That’s what is happening.”