Professor Stiglitz’s Plea to Save Capitalism

Popular Economics Weekly



Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz has been saying he wants to make capitalism work for everyone again in various writings, just as it did post-WWII, including this CNN commentary on the recent Earth Day. Is there even a viable alternative?

“America’s economy has not been working for a large portion of the country. Workers at the bottom of the income scale earn wages, adjusted for inflation, that are not much higher than what they were 60 years ago, while the income of a typical full‐time male worker hasn’t budged much from 40 years ago. In addition, life expectancy is in decline. But the economy is not only failing American citizens. It’s failing the planet, and that means it’s failing future generations.”

So how do we make it work for more Americans in the face of almost united opposition by the Republican Party? Firstly, we have to recognize the actual problem—Republican attempts to disempower large segments of Americans—women and blue-collar workers, for starters that have suffered the most from rollbacks in healthcare and workers’ collective bargaining rights.

We know the cost of the 2017 Republican tax cut bill; more than $1.5 trillion of spending cuts in Medicare and Medicaid coverage over 10 years in an attempt to lessen the projected $1 trillion annual budget deficit it is already costing; not to mention the endless attempts to cripple or outright abolish Obamacare without an alternative, and ban abortions, if not contraception outright.

And “In a new study for the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, we report survey results in which we find that one in five workers with a high school education or less are subject to a noncompete. A quarter of all workers are covered by a noncompete agreement with their current employer or a past one,” reports the NYTimes.

This means they are banned from working for a competing company in a similar line of work for a certain period, limiting their mobility and hunt for a better job.

This is why Americans’ life expectancy is on the decline, while rising in all other developed countries; which have universal health care, pay for the costs of state-run, higher education institutions, and in general protect their citizens with an extensive social safety net.

Why does America have more than ten times the per capital prison population than other developed countries, and stratospheric gun violence—now 40,000 per year killed with white males the largest segment of gun suicides—whereas other developed countries annual gun deaths number in the 100s?

We don’t need to be diverted by the many “crimes and misdemeanors” of POTUS and the White House. Republicans have been rolling back social benefits and increasing inequality since at least 1980 by commandeering the levers of power—Wall Street with the repeal of Glass Stegall and deregulation of whole industries, corporate America with now unlimited fund-raising due to their Supreme Court win in citizens vs. united, and gutting of the Voters Rights Act that weakened federal enforcement of voter discrimination against minorities in states with a history of discrimination.

The list goes on and on. So what can be done about it? Make government(s) again the solution, rather than the problem that Reagan liked to intone to his supporters, and that ran up the first record public debt. It wasn’t until President Clinton’s successful attempt to actually create a budget surplus in his last four years (1996-2000) that America first began to pay down that debt.

But the Bush/Cheney government frittered it away with multiple budget cuts and foreign wars, increasing it again rather than diverting the savings to domestic programs that would strengthen America, and led to the Great Recession.

The lesson is obvious. Government wasn’t ever the problem, since Republicans have been willing to spend taxpayers’ money to support their own programs and run up record debt without any intention to pay it back to the American taxpayer.

Instead, government has worked very well when it funded their wars, higher corporate profits, or gone into the pockets of their high-net worth supporters. We should never buy Republicans’ attempt to brand-name government as the problem, particularly when it has benefited them far more than the average American.

Will it save capitalism, as we know it?  Only if we don’t buy the Republicans’ mischaracterizations.  Modern capitalism is really the creation of modern liberal democracies, with it ability to nurture growth and innovation that accompany the democratic checks and balances to prevent its excesses.

Harlan Green © 2019

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About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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