Demonizing the truthtellers

Renowned socialist thinkers coming to USM in April
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  March 14, 2014

feat_richardwolff_main 

CRITIC OF CAPITALISM Professor Richard Wolff
taught economics at UMass Amherst from 1973-2008.

The Cold War is long over (though it may not seem that way, these last few weeks), but to decry capitalism, the economic system that played such a major role in that international conflict, is still considered taboo.

That didn’t stop a collection of University of Southern Maine student groups from getting together to bring nationally known socialist economist Richard Wolff to Portland, where he will deliver a talk: “Capitalism Hit the Fan, So Now What? Economic Democracy and America’s Future.” (The event was supposed to take place this Wednesday evening; due to potentially hazardous travel conditions, organizers decided Tuesday afternoon to reschedule Wolff’s visit for late April. Stay tuned.)

At speaking events throughout the country, the Harvard-, Stanford-, and Yale-educated economist argues that capitalism, while it may be all we know, is worth examining, criticizing, and ultimately overthrowing. 

The Phoenix spoke with Wolff about his philosophy and what he sees as viable alternatives to our broken system. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

What, in your mind, is the most glaring evidence that our current economic system is not working?  I think the one I would pick is the growing inequality of wealth and income and the growing inequality of political power and cultural access that come from that. In other words, as the one percent becomes insanely — or obscenely — wealthy...the rest of the people disappear. I literally see students in my office with tears coming down their faces, as they explain that they can’t take out another 5-10 thousand dollars, they can’t turn to their parents, their parents feel bad about it. The absurdity of this... The future of the United States depends on the workers you produce. To make it harder and harder to go to college and university, this is shooting yourself in the foot. These are all signs of a society spinning out of control. And we live in a society that cultivates a blindness to all this.

What role you think US academic institutions have played in our understanding, or lack thereof, of the economic crisis; what role do you think they could play moving forward?  There was a time, and I hope it comes again, when academics had the courage and independence to be a leading force in facing up to difficult realities, if not mobilizing people to deal with them. We’re not there right now. Particularly in my field of economics, the complicity of our profession with the status quo is overwhelming and very debilitating. The response of my discipline has been to retreat into an ever-more technical economics, focusing on details, minutia, basically looking the other way as a system unravels because there aren’t rewards for being the truthteller, for being the critic. You get more rewards for playing by the rules. I find that very tragic. There are of course exceptions — there are professors, there are students, there are even whole departments that are willing to face the problems our country faces. But we live in a country that has specialized in demonizing critics of our economic system.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY DEIRDRE FULTON
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE  |  July 24, 2014
    When three theater companies, all within a one-hour drive of Portland, choose to present the same Shakespeare play on overlapping dates, you have to wonder what about that particular show resonates with this particular moment.
  •   NUMBER CRUNCHERS  |  July 23, 2014
    Maybe instead of devoting still-more resources to food reviews, Maine’s leading news organizations should spend money on keeping better tabs on Augusta.
  •   BLUESTOCKING FILM SERIES SHOWCASES WOMEN'S STORIES  |  July 16, 2014
    Among last year’s 100 top-grossing films, women represented just 15 percent of protagonists, and less than one-third of total characters.
  •   CHECKING IN: THE NEW GUARD AND THE WRITER'S HOTEL  |  July 11, 2014
    Former Mainer Shanna McNair started The New Guard, an independent, multi-genre literary review, in order to exalt the writer, no matter if that writer was well-established or just starting out.
  •   NO TAR SANDS  |  July 10, 2014
    “People’s feelings are clear...they don’t want to be known as the tar sands capitol of the United States."

 See all articles by: DEIRDRE FULTON