John E. Roemer, a Yale economist and political scientist, discusses the perils and prospects of capital and capitalism, how economic trends are affecting labor and society, and what it means for the place of the U.S. in the world. Capital fell on some not-so-hard times after World War I and World War II. Now we are seeing capital on the ascendancy again, with the concentration of capital in the hands of the top one percent resembling pre-1914 inequality. So says John E. Roemer, American economist and political scientist now on the faculty at Yale University.
Dr. Roemer discusses the forecasts that he made in his well-known book “Free to Lose: An Introduction to Marxist Economic Philosophy” (1988) with Andrew Mazzone of the Henry George School of Social Science. Many predictions made by Karl Marx in the 19th century haven’t come true, but forecasts about the growing concentration of capital have proven “quite accurate,” Dr. Roemer says in this Oct. 13, 2016, Smart Talk.
“Capital is just a synonym for wealth,” Dr. Roemer points out. It’s good for society to have lots of wealth, but problems arise when capital becomes “extremely concentrated in the hands of a small number of people.” The luck of the “birth lottery” translates into riches for some but poverty for the many.
How all this affects labor’s relations to capital, and what it means for the place of the U.S. in the world, is explored in this challenging colloquy.