Excepts from an interview with Richard Wolff ( Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. And he is currently a Visiting Professor of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School University in New York. Since 2008, he has been writing and speaking chiefly on the global capitalist crisis) from the Real News.
DESVARIEUX: So, Richard, in your latest Truthout article, you write, quote, “The Republican-Tea Party alliance operates a weapon of mass deflection, protecting capitalism from criticism. Sadly, the Democrats neither expose nor attack the Republican project. . . .” Can you just explain how the Tea Party deflects concerns away from capitalism?
WOLFF: Yes. I think they do that by picking up on what is a theme in American history for a long time and which has always struck outside observers as somewhat bizarre. Let me explain. When millions of people lose their job in what is clearly a collapse of capitalism or a business cycle downturn, whatever you want to call it, in other countries the workers who lose their jobs, the communities that suffer from unemployment, they point the finger of anger and resentment and criticism at the companies that fired the workers and at no one else. That’s their first line of criticism.
Here in the United States we’re different.
We have been taught over many, many decades that somehow we shouldn’t get angry at the corporation that in fact fires us, but rather leap over the corporation and blame the government as much as possible. I always told my students that if I were a capitalist, I would be very pleased by this procedure. I can go around and pretend that when the economy is good, it’s all my doing. And then when the economy turns back–turns bad (excuse me), it isn’t my doing, it’s that other fellow over there, the one with the government hat. And I think what the Tea Party is doing is really revving that up, really beating the drum to have people believe that the cause of the crisis is in some way the government, that the cause of the crisis not already being over is somehow a fault of the government to keep people’s upset resentments and criticisms focused away from big business, from the people who actually lay you off when you lose your job, and move it instead to government and government officials, so that the capitalist, the business community, gets off without the blame.
DESVARIEUX: But Richard, why has the Tea Party been so successful in this narrative and also electorally? You have popular movements that are coming from the left, you know, like Occupy Wall Street and things of that nature, and they didn’t fully engage in the democratic process. Why do you think the GOP has been able to be so successful?
WOLFF: Well, I think that they are building off of–or cashing in on might be a better way to put it–the last 50 years of American history. Let’s be real honest here. For the last 50 years, we as a people have felt it appropriate to criticize our school system, our energy system, our medical insurance system for the last two years, even our system of marriage. We criticize systems with one overwhelmingly obvious exception. That’s the capitalist system. For 50 years it has been taboo in this country to criticize business, the business community, the economic system that puts them in the driver seat of our economic system. To do that has been to court a comment that you’re either ignorant or somehow disloyal to America and things like that. So we have a long history of teaching people from the beginnings of school that when you’re upset with things economic, your target should be government, not the economic system. At the Tea Party simply cashes in on that history by saying, look, the economic crisis is the worst we’ve had in 75 years (true enough), and therefore you should be really angry (and we’re going to show you the way) at the government, which we are going to blame, because that’s what everybody is used to. I think they’re performing a function that makes it very easy to understand why they get such enthusiastic funding from all sorts of wealthy business interests, because, again, they’re shifting the criticism and the upset about how this economy is working away from the capitalist system that is the way we organize production, away from the people who sit at the top of that system, and focusing it instead on the government.