The layers of the mask keep peeling away

Capitalism has been incredibly successful in producing advances in technology and quality of life for many people, especially in the developed world. But the system is also inherently exploitative, and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the US where it has spawned an incredible level of economic inequality and greater insecurity for the vast majority of the population even as a tiny segment of the population get obscenely richer.

The only way that such a system can survive is if the inequality is masked by means of a welfare state that can soften the edges of the hardship, and most capitalist societies have adopted such policies in the past. But in recent years there has been a tendency to remove even those meager welfare provisions and throw people to the wolves and nowhere is this more apparent than in the US. It looks like the oligarchy here has decided in favor of a pure and unvarnished capitalism where the right of a few to make obscene amounts of money must be unrestricted by such petty considerations as providing people with at least the minimal protections from its ravages.

It is not that the mask has been whipped off. What is happening is that the layers of the mask are being slowly peeled away, revealing the hard edges of capitalism. The Daily Show looks at how they don’t even bother to hide the corruption at the top anymore. The system seems to be inherently unstable. In such situations, a kind of faux stability can last for some time before some tipping point occurs. I am frankly shocked that public outrage is not greater at what is happening.

(This clip aired on March 12, 2015. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. raven says

    Factually correct.

    The stock market is at record highs. Corporate profits are at record highs. The economy is growing nicely. Meanwhile the average American is getting poorer.

    A recent report was titled, middle class shrinks in all 50 states. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin was the worst. We are getting steadily poorer overall. Inequality has been increasing since 1970.

  2. Who Cares says

    Oh this is not restricted to capitalism. The main difference being that capitalism claimed it would benefit everyone, and it did for a while.

  3. raven says

    I am frankly shocked that public outrage is not greater at what is happening.

    This is literally the trillions of dollars question.

    1. So far it isn’t happening. The last election, the Oligarchy party won big time and controls the US House and Senate.

    2. So when will the peasants grab their torches and pitchforks and storm the castles? This happens every once in a while.

    3. No one knows. By looking at other of the 210 experiments (countries) running, we can get an idea.

    Look at Greece and Iceland. Conditions have to be really horrible before anything happens. Greece just elected a former commie. They have 25% unemployment and close to half the country is looking at poverty. Iceland threw some bankers in prison.

    4. I’m guessing we will have to wait until conditions in the USA are much worse than today. Maybe a decade, maybe a few decades. As a Boomer, it’s likely I’ll be dead before the US people wake up.

  4. Who Cares says

    Technically speaking the stock market is only at a record height due to inflation and the Fed (and now the ECB as well) pumping billions to banks at effectively no cost which is then loaned out to corporations at almost no cost which they then use it to buyback their own stock or buy other corporations driving up the stock market.

    If you just correct for inflation then I’d expect the Dow to be still recovering from the 2008 crash

  5. says

    “I am frankly shocked that public outrage is not greater at what is happening.”

    I’m not. Whether intentionally or just by selfishness and greed of the wealthy, the US’s “educational system” is an abject failure and getting worse. The quality of education kids get in the US has continuously declined, leading to a disinterested, incurious and uneducated populace that doesn’t know how bad the system is. Why else does the US place below most G20 countries in education?

  6. busterggi says

    ” I am frankly shocked that public outrage is not greater at what is happening.”

    This is the American people we’re talking about remember? The one where 80% can’t find their own country on a globe.

  7. Brian E says

    Was it Mencken who said that poor Americans don’t see themselves as poor, just rich people who are going through a tough spell? It’s the American dream, every bum on the street is a rich man in waiting, no need to change the system, as s/he’ll be rich and in his/her rightful place presently.

  8. moarscienceplz says

    Who cares #4

    If you just correct for inflation then I’d expect the Dow to be still recovering from the 2008 crash

    Oh really?
    The DJI bottomed on March 6, 2009 at 6626.94. Today it closed at 17,763.24. If you had bought on that day, you would have a 168% profit, which is an annual gain of 9% compounded over that last 6 years. The CPI during those years was this:
    2.83%, 1.41%, 3.25%, 1.81%, 1.81%, & 0.80%.

    You are talking out your ass.

  9. smrnda says

    I’m not sure that it’s correct that capitalism is really to credit for advances in technology and quality of life. The more I look into it, there has always been massive state investment in research and development, yet we get this myth of R and D being an entirely private sector concern.

    Capitalism (regulated) can do a good job along with government R and D with taking technologies and making them marketable and consumable, but hey, let’s check out all the advancements in computing technology that were the product of government research. The OS owes more to Edsger Dijkstra (who actually solved the mathematical problems while at a Dutch university) than any alleged ‘pioneer’ of standard desktop OS.

  10. Brian E says

    Further to what smrnda says, Chomsky argues that it’s anti-capitalist, the way the U.S. has spent billions developing technologies that led to the internet, and via the the pentagon system that is given to private enterprises to make a motza. It’s like with the disastrous banks, privatize the profit, socialize the risk is their so called capitalism.

  11. Paulo Borges says

    To me it seems that people are missing 2 fundamental points in the discussion.
    First capitalism needs and generates inequalities, we all know that since the time of Adam Smith, however when capitalism depended on industry to make money there was some distribution of wealth on the form of salaries, this made it possible for the conditions of life to improve all over the western developed countries in the last 2 centuries.
    Secondly, since de 90s there have been some changes that cut the wealth distribution: delocalization and the ability to make billions on the virtual economy of the financial markets (a self-feeding monster, creating more and more “exotic” financial products). None of these areas generate employment.
    The big question to me is – Can we reform capitalism and make it better (less inequalities) or do we need to invent another system altogether?

  12. Sleeper (from Sci-Blogs) says

    #4 Who Cares

    Quantitative Easing is just an asset swap. The money the banks get isn’t loaned out to corperations as it’s part of the banks reserves. Banks don’t lend their reserves, except to other banks.

  13. moarscienceplz says

    I would argue that we should consider that we may be in the start of an era where traditional capitalism can’t function as it has, even with government sanding off the sharp edges. To enter the “gamefield” when you have no money has traditionally involved trading your skills for money. Once upon a time, simply having healthy muscles was all you needed. Then, machines did most of the physical work, but you could still get paid for typing, filing and simple bookkeeping. Then computers made most of those jobs obsolete. Now, even high level skills like designing and mid-level software development, and artistic skills like model-making and even animation are being more and more mechanized. I think we are getting close to the point where there will not be enough niches for human-only input to allow most people to have gainful employment.
    What happens then? Do we go back to the days of soup kitchens feeding 25% of the population like in the 1930’s? Or do we consider every person to be a shareholder in the economy and give them dividend checks, like Alaska does with its oil and gas revenues? Or something else?

  14. doublereed says

    Capitalism doesn’t imply lasseiz faire or lack of regulation or lack of government investments. That’s the right-wing framing of capitalism.

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