How can an amoral non-sentient economic system be at fault for anything?

Mr. Wolff, would you have a small discussion with me? A friend told me about you and recommended I read/listen/watch you on FB & uTube. Though my circumstancs give the lie, I am a capitalist,, progressive and a rational man. I would like to ask if you consider it possible to separate capitalism, a completely amoral system for creating wealth, a blameless tool, from the fools, tricksters and frauds that are perpetrated by people upon people and the system? I shudder when I hear people blame the system of capitalism, the best we've ever designed for creating wealth, rather than blame the people. It's why we have regulations, rules and laws: to keep people from hurting each other. If we could understand that people are to blame for all the ills of whatever we have. When people lived by barter, was it the barter system that was bad, or was it the people who abused bartering that were bad, not the system of barter. Capitalism is no different other than offering greater opportunity for both good and bad. The system doesn't know the difference. Capitalism is not sentient. If I could beg five minutes of your time to respond to me, I'd be grateful.

Official response from submitted

I'd be glad to offer more than 5 minutes. My response is to see your posing of "the system vs the people" as rather like the ancient question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Systems shape people and vice-versa in a continuous dialectic in which both poles are transformed. Thus I dont "blame" the people more or less than the system as that would make no sense to me. What I am doing is reacting to how the society I live in handles, grasps, interprets its problems (e.g., poverty, instability, inequality, injustice, catastrophic wars, ecological self-destruction, and so on). By and large, with few exceptions, blame is what we have and that blame is overwhelmingly focused on every possible contributing factor other than the capitalist system. Throughout capitalism's history - and especially since the beginning of the Cold War after World War 2 - criticism of capitalism has been taboo, a socially unacceptable critical response to capitalism. Thus the vast majority of theorists, politicians, academics, journalists, etc have seen that their careers, personal lives, even their physical safety and civil liberties were at risk to the extent that they and their work included the workings of the capitalist system among the important causes of contemporary social problems. I stress he ways in which capitalism contributes to, shapes, and often exacerbates urgent social problems chiefly to offset the now deeply embedded taboo of others who need to ignore, deny, or downplay capitalism's roles.

Last point: the dialectic of people and economic system is contradictory and always has been; it pushes both poles in different directions at the same time. As this dialectic interacts with all the other parts of society (politics, culture, nature, and so on) we get human history in which economic systems (the barter you mention but also slavery, feudalism, capitalism and so on) get born, evolve over time, and eventually die to be replaced by another system interacting with people and so on. In that historical process, we critics of an historical moment and the economic system it includes - just as, in different ways, the celebrators of each historical moment - play a small, non-negligible role in how it all plays out. The paragraph above summarizes the role I hope to be able to play.

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  • Richard Wolff
    responded with submitted 2017-07-07 15:17:55 -0400
  • Edward Tomchin
    posted about this on Facebook 2017-07-07 02:58:30 -0400
    Ask Prof. Wolff: How can an amoral non-sentient economic system be at fault for anything?
  • Edward Tomchin
    published this page in Ask Prof. Wolff 2017-07-07 02:56:21 -0400