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Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It Paperback – October 12, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Richard Wolff has been a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst since 1981. He has been a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs, at the New School in New York since 2007. Wolff's major recent interests and publications include studies of US economic history to ascertain the basic structural causes of the current economic crisis and the examination of how alternative economic theories (neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian) understand and respond to the crisis in very different ways. His past work involves application of advanced class analysis to contemporary global capitalism. He has written, co-authored, and co-edited many books and dozens of scholarly and popular journal articles. His recent analyses of current economic events appear regularly in the webzine of the Monthly Review.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Olive Branch Pr (October 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156656784X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566567848
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Visiting Professor at the New School University in New York. Wolff's recent work has concentrated on analyzing the causes and alternative solutions to the global economic crisis. His groundbreaking book Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism inspired the creation of Democracy at Work, a nonprofit organization dedicated to showing how and why to make democratic workplaces real. Wolff is also the author of Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism and Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It. He hosts the weekly hour-long radio program "Economic Update," which is syndicated on public radio stations nationwide, and he writes regularly for The Guardian and Truthout.org. Wolff appears frequently on television and radio to discuss his work, with recent guest spots including "Real Time with Bill Maher," "Moyers & Company," "Charlie Rose," "Up with Chris Hayes," and "Democracy Now!." He is also a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities across the country.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The current global financial crisis is not due to new problems, nor was it unexpected. As "Capitalism Hits the Fan" illustrates it's simply the most recent downturn of the disaster prone free-market system. As far back as 2005 University of Massachusetts economist Richard Wolff was sensing this coming downfall of the markets. Instead of taking the liberal approach (blaming government deregulation and a handful of corrupt corporations) or the conservative approach (blaming over-regulation) he targets what mainstream politicians don't dare to target: capitalism itself.

Capitalism has seen two major downfalls in the past 75 years and has been heavily peppered with slightly less painful contractions in that same time period. Many students of economics would simply brush this off as the inevitable consequences of the business cycle that accompanies the capitalist system. Such an explanation might suffice if it wasn't for the all out attack on workers that can't be attributed to the cycle. Dr. Wolff explains what many right and left-wing economist have been screaming for years but, without truly considering the consequences. Americans are working longer hours (the most in the industrialized world) more productively (with a 75%+ increase of productivity in the past 30 years) for ever falling wages.

The most noted effect of such a trend is the pendulum swing between FDR style "New Deal" policies and Regan-Bush style financial deregulation. When one style of capitalism fails, the voters flood to the other style in hopes of rejuvenated prosperity. However, as Wolff explains, regardless of where the pendulum swings both styles of capitalism are met with disastrous consequences for American citizens.
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In this collection of startlingly prescient short essays from 2005 to 2009, Richard D, Wolff presents an analysis of the current economic disaster all too rarely encountered. In each of the book's three chronologically arranged sections - roots, economics, and politics of the economic crisis - he amply demonstrates how, through the decades, capitalism has oscillated from stability to meltdown to recovery and back. Increasingly, Wolff points out, it has been the workers who have borne the great burden of corrective or "recovery." For this, he levels strong criticism at both the right (Republicans) and the "mainstream" left (Democrats, Krugman, Stiglitz, et. al.). Using clearly reasoned arguments and detailed evidence, he concludes that unless capitalism undergoes profoundly radical structural change, we are doomed to endlessly repeat the cycle that produces these crises.
At times, Wolff, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, evinces a sour grapes attitude about what he sees as the difficulty of his like-minded colleagues to land plum academic positions. This, he believes, is a major reason the economic debate gets mired in oscillation mode. One look at Obama's staff of economic advisors strongly suggest he has a point.
The only quibble I have with this significant book is that there is a certain repetitiveness to the essays. However, given the import and freshness of its ideas, perhaps repetition is a good thing here.
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Professor Richard Wolff is a Marxian Economist working in academia. These two aspects of his being allow for an objective analysis of the current and former economic situations. He sits outside of the necessity of justifying or cheer-leading capitalism in any of its orthodox forms. He can thus see both neo-classical and Keynesian economics objectively. It is a very powerful stance for analysis or criticism but not necessarily the best aspect for prescribing change for the system itself. He has no bias to try to save capitalism for itself, but wants to find a new structure `post-capitalism'. I admire this stance .

In this collection, essays from the run-up and the immediate fall-out of the most recent capitalistic are anthologized. The strength of this organizing principal is that you can see over time the development and concerns that grow and allow you to place it in time. For example, the Professor is able to give the structure and shape of the bursting of the bubble and its fall out as early as October 15, 2005, two years and eleven months before the biggest crisis point in the living memory of Capitalism. As an outsider Wolff is not looking at the economy as a way to leverage profit, so such a call is easy to make. The predictive power of the model is impressive. The only more impressive call would have to put a time-line on the bursting. If he could do that, he could have made money on the run-up and selling everything short. In all honesty, the prescience is impressive. Many were aware of the bubble, if only retroactively. (I know now: when people who know nothing of a subject think they will be millionaires by leveraging whatever prevailing trend, it is time to sell.)

The biggest weakness here is structural and hard to avoid.
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Capitalism Hits the Fan is full of essays that Richard Wolff wrote for the socialist Monthly Review from 2005 onwards. Being a socialist economist in the USA officially makes him a lonely guy as far as the dominant narrative of saltwater and freshwater economists goes, but Wolff's unique insights make me want to follow his essays in the Monthly Review on a regular basis.

Why? Because Wolff supplies a whole host of insights that you can't get anywhere else, even from such liberals as Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Who else can bring the issue of fundamentalist Christianity into a discussion on economics? And Wolff's essays at particular points in time make me think that as an investor I could have profited handsomely if only I'd read his essays at the time they were written, and I'd done a little bit of additional thinking on my part. I particularly like the essay he did on the issue of increased risk as it impacts every level of society. Clearly, Wolff is a breath of fresh air as far as economic thinking goes.

The only issue I have with him is his insistence that it's necessary to transform our economy into a new socialist style economy (NOT capitalist) that does not conform either to the traditional capitalist form or state capitalist form, as practiced I presume from Sweden to Germany to Russia. This is Wolff's Achilles heel in his thinking from my perspective.

But if you can get beyond this overly idealistic soft spot, you will be delighted in reading this book. Your IQ will increase, and you will want to read more of him.
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