Capitalism Itself is to Blame for Donald Trump


This article originally appeared at

America lashed out at our economic system, but our new president-elect won't be able to help. Instead, argues Professor Richard Wolff, we must change the way we approach work.

To cut to the core, the issue is capitalism. This system has generated stagnant wages for 40 years, coupled with rising inequality and debts and declining job benefits, security and public services. Established leaders in both major parties oversaw these outcomes and did nothing to reverse them. Republicans eagerly facilitated the mechanisms that delivered rising pain to workers; Democrats did little to slow them. Each party blamed the other, since that neatly avoided blaming the system. Voters were then constrained to choose between two mutually blaming managers of their deteriorating conditions.

Rising mass upset was stoked by repeated presidential elections in which candidates promised to change these conditions. The last, Obama, exemplified and underscored change by virtue of his skin. Yet his presidency, like that of his predecessors, betrayed hopes for significant change. Both party establishments were fully embedded in capitalism’s systemic trajectory of rising inequality punctuated by instability (successive downturns culminating in the 2008 crash).

Trump, like Obama, once again offered hope for change to those hurt over the last 40 years. Having never served in government before, he underscored his differences from both party establishments by highlighting his status as an outsider. He ridiculed the globalization both major parties endorsed to promise that he would return and protect good jobs. He attacked immigration to show he meant good jobs for “native” Americans. Clinton could not credibly do likewise, since she epitomized the establishment, took money from Wall Street, etc. By attacking his statements as racist, sexist, xenophobic and more, and characterizing his followers as deplorable, Clinton reinforced the we/them dichotomy around his candidacy. That helped him.

Why expect Trump to make any basic systemic changes? He will more likely make deals. Nor would he succeed if he tried to change how capitalism works. Even “strongmen” types such as Hitler and Mussolini with loyal mass movements behind them made deals with their dominant capitalist establishments. Lacking such movement backing, Trump more urgently needs deals with leading capitalists who have done very well in capitalism’s last 40 years; they will, again, block change.

The fate that befell Obama will haunt Trump. The Democrats will work for that. For the new left emerging from Occupy, the Sanders campaign, Black Lives and other groups, opportunity lies in pinpointing capitalism as the problem and in defining a direction for system change as the solution. Obama, Trump and Clinton cannot solve our social problems because they refuse to confront, criticize or see beyond the capitalism they thereby serve.

A new left politics will likely focus on how capitalist enterprises (factories, offices and stores) are organized. It will argue that in them a tiny number of people — major shareholders and boards of directors they select — wield undemocratic command, excluding the vast majority of workers. The few at the top make the basic decisions about what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits. For a long time, their self-serving decisions yielded what’s best for them but also what’s been socially destructive for the rest of us, including this election.

The emerging new left politics will work for democratizing enterprises and thereby the economy. In place of hierarchical, top-down autocratic enterprise organization, it will advance worker cooperatives, owned and operated by workers who make basic decisions democratically: one worker, one vote. The success of this movement would mean that political will and organization can finally address and transform the systemic roots of so many of this country’s problems. And those are the goals for a genuinely new politics.

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  • Autumn Cote
    commented 2017-09-09 23:19:53 -0400
    Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I enjoyxed reading your work. I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. If “OK” please let me know via email.

    [email protected]
  • Vishal Kr
    commented 2016-12-08 15:51:50 -0500
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  • Randy Woods
    commented 2016-11-22 04:30:02 -0500
    The article skips the big step of forcing those at the top to share power, it will take a revolution and or a massive collapse or a public willing to fund an end around play. The top has federal, state and local government in their pocket, major media and the ability to move themselves and the capital they control around the globe.
    Want change..the top will offer bait and switch politics, lets see what comes after Trump. Divide and rule media to pin the blame on someone else. Nickel and dime concessions to workers if pressed hard…that will be clawed back after the crisis passes.
    Take to the streets for change….face massive policing and prisons backed by a gathering storm of technology…facial recognition software to track people, cell phone tracking and tapping, reading emails….would the American, French or Russian revolutions succeed with their communications hacked? Security drones are starting to come on line, wait another generation and the will be armed semi autonomous police robots….try pleading to a robot for bread…even if police headquarters felt pity the ever present cameras would record their dereliction of duty if they pulled back the bots. The commanders would lose their jobs if the pushed the withdraw button so the robots would push the starving masses back regardless of sentiment.
    Want to skip the revolution? Would the progressive movement in the late 19th century gone as far as it did if every leader of the movement could have their life analyzed by a bought media looking for scandals past and present and a media that only prints juicy sound bites and leaves out the reasons behind the headlines. The superficial news and the buzz on social media will divide the nation, people will pin blame on each outer instead of uniting for major change.

    Even if you could radically reform the government a massive flight of capital will ensure before the gates can be closed.

    The end around is crowd funding worker owned business as a peaceful way to gather power…the problem…many people are so hard pressed there isn’t that much free capital left in the sinking middle class.
  • Joseph A. Mungai
    commented 2016-11-17 13:28:20 -0500
    In the mid 1990s I went to the South Bronx using my vacation time to become nationally certified in auricular acupuncture for substance abuse. I met the founder and director of the Lincoln Recovery Program ( ), Michael O. Smith MD, who was kind enough to tell me he’d meet with administrators at the psych hospital I was employed if they were interested. Excited, I amassed much information on auricular acupuncture and took it to the Facility Director and some unit psychiatrists. Of course the authorities didn’t want any competition with big-pharma or a treatment that might jeopardize their job in some way.
  • Joseph A. Mungai
    commented 2016-11-17 13:04:02 -0500
    As pointed out by Laura Ogle, big-pharma is an excellent example of the destructive forces of crapitalism. I learned this in the 1990s as a psych-RN. Imagine our soldiers returning from battle and prescribed antidepressants that are no more effective than a placebo or witnesses and families of unarmed people of color murdered by police.

    6/8/16 The Lancet: Most antidepressant drugs ineffective for children and teens, according to study — “The effect of misreporting is that antidepressants, possibly including fluoxetine, are likely to be more dangerous and less effective treatments than has been previously recognised, so there is little reason to think that any antidepressant is better than nothing for young people…Patients who take part in randomised controlled trials have a right to expect that maximum benefit will come from the data they generate. We doctors and researchers are failing to meet our obligation to research participants and to our patients, and we will only succeed if independent researchers such as Cipriani and colleagues are able to analyse individual patient-level data. Claims that appropriate access to such data is incompatible with intellectual property constraints and patient privacy must be strongly resisted.”
  • Joseph A. Mungai
    commented 2016-11-17 11:54:19 -0500
    11/16/16 It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown — “Making Our Money Do What We Want: Bemoaning what our government does with our money is an endless lament for many. But when our personal banks get involved with things we find intolerable such as exploitative lending or environmental injury, a new window of responsiveness opens up.  That was the realization of this week’s guest Fran Korten, publisher of Yes! Magazine, who began a national “Move Your Money” moment in support of the protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline – she identified the banks who were investing in it, shared it, and then the fun started. We also visit with Paul Glover, creator of the Ithaca dollar, which demonstrates how a complementary community currency can create a breakthrough for local economies by creating a new layer of wealth. Then we get brought up to speed on the progress of citizens in Santa Fe, NM where efforts to create a local public bank have crossed another threshold toward realization.  And PBI Senior Advisor Mike Krauss discusses how critical the role of governance is to insuring that new public banks don’t get coopted by the Powers That Be.” (57:53)
  • Joseph A. Mungai
    commented 2016-11-17 11:47:25 -0500
    I view WSDEs as the best and most fair way of moving forward. For those fearing automation eliminating jobs, they can push for a guaranteed basic income. This is one viable solution as long as we also have Improved and Expanded Medicare For All, a Public Education system to at least equal that of Finland, Tuition Free College and Public Banks. Coop communities will continue to produce high quality goods and services in safe environments for their families respecting the land we develop as a public resource, the air our children breathe and water they drink. Crapitalism, as defined by wall street (DNC + RNC), will certainly devastate humanity and our planet again. It’s a choice.
  • Michael Sheils
    commented 2016-11-16 20:53:28 -0500
    I hope I’m still alive to see the “emerging new left politics” finally emerge. My knees are a little creaky for doing much marching but I still got a little fight left in me. Hurry up already!
  • Laurie Oakley
    commented 2016-11-16 11:39:30 -0500
    Hi Mr. Wolff, In your most recent talk you referenced the situation with Volkswagen as just one example of how this system is coming apart at the seams and taking all of us with it. You mentioned the pollution willingly unleashed by the car manufacturer, even in the company’s own homeland, Germany, and noted the many lives affected.

    The situation with pharmaceutical drugs is quite similar. Many are aware of inflated drug prices, but most are unaware that they are sitting ducks for what has taken place between pharmaceutical companies, university researchers, medical journals, and doctors. This is not even new, yet part of the reason it goes unaddressed on all levels is because the vast majority of people do not want to acknowledge we might need to be questioning the safety of our medications and our beloved doctors who prescribe it.

    I would like to point you to one very good example, much like the Volkswagen story, concerning GlaxoSmithKline. It can be found at Far from being an isolated incident in medicine, this is business as usual. Do you have any ideas on how we might help the public, who accepts and believes the Volkswagen story, see the same type of thing at work in medicine?