How Capitalism Exploits Us

How does capitalism exploit us and what can be done about it?


In “How Capitalism Exploits Us,” Richard Wolff offers a critical examination of capitalism, challenging common misconceptions about markets and the nature of economic systems. Wolff elucidates that markets have existed across various economic systems, including slavery and feudalism, and are not exclusive to capitalism. The essence of capitalism, as Wolff argues, lies in the unique employer-employee relationship, which inherently involves a conflict due to the extraction of surplus value from workers by employers.

Wolff delves into the inherent tension within capitalism, where workers produce more value than they receive in wages, leading to systemic inequality and exploitation. This exploitation is not a result of individual malice but is embedded in the structure of the capitalist system itself. Wolff advocates for a transformative solution: the establishment of worker cooperatives where the traditional divide between employers and employees is dissolved. In such a system, workers collectively make decisions about production, distribution, and the utilization of surplus, leading to more equitable and democratic workplaces.

The video also addresses the implications of technological advancements within a capitalist framework, highlighting how innovations often lead to job losses and increased profits for a select few, rather than improved working conditions or reduced labor for all. Wolff presents an alternative vision where technology serves the collective good, suggesting a reduction in work hours and an increase in leisure time for personal and community development.

“How Capitalism Exploits Us” is a compelling call to rethink the foundational structures of our economic system and to consider the potential of cooperative, worker-led models for creating a more just and sustainable society. Through a blend of historical insight and forward-thinking proposals, Wolff challenges viewers to question the status quo and imagine a future where wealth and power are shared rather than concentrated.

Some seem to think that capitalism is about buying and selling things – using the market as a way of distributing goods from the folks who produce it to the folks who consume it. Markets are indeed an important phenomena, but they don’t have any unique relationship with capitalism.

For example, in the American Slave South, a different system, a slave system, the goods produced by slaves, for example, cotton, were sold. You had a market in cotton. You actually had a market in slaves too. So things were bought and sold all over the place. Markets existed but you didn’t have capitalism.

You didn’t have an employer and an employee – that is the core of capitalism. Slavery is a different system. The master doesn’t hire the slave. There is no need. The master owns the slave. In capitalism, the employer doesn’t own you. It may feel like that occasionally but he doesn’t legally own you.

In feudalism, it is yet again different. It is a lord and a serf, a serf who kind of belongs on the land, has obligations to the lord, but the lord doesn’t hire the serf, doesn’t pay him a wage, none of that. But there were markets in serfdom.

The unique thing about capitalism is not, therefore, a market. The unique thing about capitalism is about the relationship in production, in how goods and services are produced. It is a relationship that is not master-slave, that is not lord-serf. It is a very very particular arrangement: employer-employee. And in that relationship lies a fundamental conflict, tension, anger, resentment. Why? Because some people are doing all the work and producing more than they get – a more that we nowadays call the surplus, the extra.

Capitalism is a system premised on exploitation. Exploitation exists if and when the people that do the work produce a surplus that other people get and distribute as they see fit.

And if you are a capitalist, an employer, what of course is your interest? To give the worker the least possible while getting the most out of them because that’s the biggest surplus that they can get and the more surplus they have the more secure they will be.

So there is one condition in capitalism under which you will get a job – you will have to produce more for your employer than the employer pays you. You are always going to be ripped off in your job in capitalism because that is the way the system works.

It is nobody’s fault. It is the way the system is set up.

What’s the alternative?

When the people who produce the surplus – the workers – are themselves the people who get the surplus.

If all the workers together make a cooperative, then they aren’t split between the employers and employees because both positions are occupied by every person in the organization. There is no split.

How does it work?

Take any factory, office, store – change it as follows: No more board of directors, don’t need it.

Here is how we are going to do it. You come to work and you sit around making the decisions – all of the decisions that used to be made by the capitalists, the boss (insert: board of directors).
Workers become their own board of directors. Workers become their own capitalists. Or to say the same thing another way: the worker-capitalist division dissolves.

if you made all the workers get together democratically and decide how to distribute all the wealth they have all created, they would never give some people more money than they know what to do with while everybody else is worried about sending their kid to college because they can’t afford it.

When you are discussing a new technology that might pollute the air or the water, the decision is made by the major shareholders and the board of directors, a tiny group of people, who typically live in gated communities in a lovely, leafy residence far away from the factory or the office or the store that pollutes. So they can make the investment in the new technology and reap the profits If the workers who live and work and depend on the enterprise made the decisions, they wouldn’t do it that often because they’re the ones that breathe the air and drink the water so they would be much more sensitive to the real costs.

Every technological invention justified itself on the grounds that by this new machine we could get more done with less effort. But when those inventions are put into a capitalist economic system. The people that put the technology in place want to make profit out of it. For example, if a machine allows the workers to do twice as much as before, they fire half of the workforce. The remaining half works with the new machine, produces as much as before, the company realizes a fantastic profit because it doesn’t have to pay half the workers’ wages which they can keep for themselves. Here is an alternative. Let every worker do half as much work as he or she did before. Let’s run the working day four hours instead of eight. The workers would have engaged an enormous amount of leisure to pay attention to their own development, to their families, to their communities. If we use technology that way, we would use it to help the mass of people enjoy a better life rather than a small percentage of the people enjoy a greater profit. The problem was never with technology, the problem was with the system.

We are going to have to get rid of the capitalist system where it lives – in the stores, in the offices, and in the factories.

“Who owns land and natural resources? Seems to me you can’t get far until those two questions are answered.”

One of the many things I hate about my job is some boss person will come in and change everything up without even asking what we the workers need. Most of the time, they don’t even know how to do our jobs, if they even know what our jobs are. They come in and tell us this new way will be more efficient, if they explain themselves at all. It rarely works out. Meanwhile, we, the workers, know what the job is and how to make it better. Many of us would happily explain to a leader what needs to be done. Without more knowledge than that, I can confidently say that most workers can run the business without a boss.”

“Hit the nail on the head.”

“This just lays it all for everyone. It’s simple. We’re being exploited. We could be working 3 day weeks. The 0.1% needs to be overthrown not by guillotine but by withdrawal of the human resources. The only time they will take notice is with withdrawing the means of production. It’s always been the same. I’m being made redundant this week. After 20 years. I’m joining a co-op instead. Luv and Peace.”

Wow so no wonder the saying “The rich gets more rich and the poor gets more poor.” Well this is a huge gap of one percent of the population well this is known as greed. I say the people should have a say..”

Learn more about these ideas:


“Leading The Race” – Big Score Audio
“Different Futures” – Good News Tunes
“At The Speed Of Light” – Big Score Audio



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