2009, Movies

Capitalism Hits the Fan (2009, Stu Jhally)

In the grand tradition of academic lectures being filmed for our enjoyment, this is a film of Richard Wolff lecturing from his book Capitalism Hits the Fan at the height of the economic crisis.

The problem with analysis within the midst of something is that it cannot be correct due to the sheer fact that that something is not over yet. The problem with watching such analysis 9 years later is that I the viewer am more aware of the faults of the analysis than a viewer would be in 2009.

Wollf’s theory about the cause of the economic crisis seems pretty intuitively correct, even if it seems overly simplistic. To over-simplify further, it is this: American employers stopped paying their employees well and started making up the difference in lost wages by indirectly (or even directly) lending those people money and charging extraordinary interest. Wolff’s thesis is a little more complicated than that, but that it is the gist of it. It’s probably not quite as simple as Wolff would have us believe, but I feel like this fundamental change is certainly part of what helped caused the financial crisis.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can indeed criticize Wolff’s dour predictions, in part because he was wrong, at least so far, about what was going to happen going forward. But I think we can criticize him in two ways even without the benefit of hindsight:

  1. Wolff’s criticism of regulated capitalism is not strong and is essentially baseless. He claims that what happened in the United States would just happen again if the US adopted new regulations. However, he ignores literally every other capitalist country in making these claims.
  2. But he also hilariously idolizes Silicon Valley as some kind of Communist Utopia. It makes one assume that he read an article or two about a few start ups and he thought they were so great he literally didn’t do any other research. But the idea that Silicon Valley is full of successful, employee-run enterprises is hilariously wrong.

Still, Wolff’s analysis of the causes of the crisis are thought-provoking and worth your time.


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