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David F. Ruccio

David F. Ruccio

I am now Professor of Economics “at large” as well as a member of the Higgins Labor Studies Program and Faculty Fellow of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. I was the editor of the journal Rethinking Marxism from 1997 to 2009. My Notre Dame page contains more information. Here is the link to my Twitter page.

Articles by David F. Ruccio

Pandemic Depression

11 days ago

From David Ruccio
U.S. billionaires have recouped all of their wealth—and more—during the Pandemic Depression. Meanwhile, since May, the number of poor Americans has grown by about 8 million. And the number of American workers applying for and receiving unemployment benefits continues at record levels.
According to Forbes,
Pandemic be damned: America’s 400 richest are worth a record $3.2 trillion, up $240 billion from a year ago, aided by a stock market that has defied the virus.

When the Covid-19 pandemic began to sweep the world earlier this year, the wealth of U.S. billionaires plummeted in lockstep with the stock market. Yet, just six months after the market bottomed out—with hundreds of thousands Americans dead and the coronavirus still to be contained—the wealthiest Americans

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Limits of mainstream economics today

14 days ago

From David Ruccio
Keynes’s criticisms of neoclassical economics set off a wide-ranging debate that came to define the terms of—and, ultimately, the limits of debate within—mainstream economics.
On one side are neoclassical economists, who celebrate the invisible hand and argue that markets are the best way to efficiently allocate scarce resources. On the other side are Keynesian economists, who argue instead for the visible hand of government intervention to move markets toward full employment.
That tension, between the theories and policies of neoclassical and Keynesian economics, is the reason why in most colleges and universities the principles of economics are taught in two separate courses: microeconomics and macroeconomics. Moreover, the tension between the two schools of thought

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Inequality in the United States—pandemic edition

September 24, 2020

From David Ruccio
Year 3 of the Trump presidency was absolutely terrific—indeed, record-breaking—for Americans.
At least that’s how things look in terms of the headline numbers from the Census Bureau: median household income was up (by 6.8 percent, a record) over 2018 and the official poverty rate decreased (by 1.3 percentage points, to 10.5 percent, the lowest rate observed since estimates were initially published for 1959).*
And then there’s Kevin Hassett, former chair of Trump’s White House Council of Economic Advisers (who returned to the White House to lead its pandemic-response team, downplaying the danger of coronavirus and pushing the administration to re-open the economy amid lockdowns and social distancing) who seized on the report to make another of his wild claims:
If

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Beyond the Mainstream

September 21, 2020

From David Ruccio
In this post, I continue the draft of sections of my forthcoming book, “Marxian Economics: An Introduction.” This, like the previous two posts, is for chapter 1, Marxian Economics Today.
This is certainly not the first time people have looked beyond mainstream economics. There is a long history of criticisms of both mainstream economic theory and capitalism from the very beginning. Although students won’t have read about them in traditional economics textbooks.
Those texts are generally written with the presumption there’s only one economic theory and one economic system. The existence of Marxian economics opens up the debate, creating space for both multiple ways of thinking about economics and a variety of different economic systems.
Criticisms of Mainstream

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A tale of two capitalisms

September 17, 2020

From David Ruccio
Marxian economists recognize, just like mainstream economists, that capitalism has radically transformed the world in recent decades, continuing and in some cases accelerating long-term trends. For example, the world has seen spectacular growth in the amount and kinds of goods and services available to consumers. Everything, it seems, can be purchased either in retail shops, big-box stores, or online. And, every year, more of those goods and services are being produced and sold in markets.
That means the wealth of nations has expanded. Thus, technically, Gross Domestic Product per capita has risen since 1970 in countries as diverse as the United States (where it has more than doubled), Japan (more than tripled), China (almost ten times), and Botswana (where it has

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Mainstream macroeconomics—pandemic edition

August 31, 2020

From David Ruccio
Right now, the United States is mired in an economic depression, the Pandemic Depression, not dissimilar to what happened in the 1930s and again after the crash of 2007-08.
Real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product contracted by an annual rate of 31.7 percent in the second quarter of 2020 (according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis) and at least 27 million American workers are currently unemployed (counting workers continuing to receive some kind of unemployment benefits, according to my own calculations).* By all accounts—from both macroeconomic data and anecdotes reported in the media—the current situation is an economic and social disaster equivalent to what the United States went through during the first and second Great Depressions.
The question is, does

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Pandemic Depression

August 28, 2020

From David Ruccio
The number of initial unemployment claims for unemployment compensation in the United States once again surpassed one million—for the 21st time in the past 22 weeks—signaling a continuation of the Pandemic Depression.
This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 1 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. While initial unemployment claims remain well below the recent peak of about seven million in March, they are far higher than pre-pandemic levels of about 200 thousand claims a week.
The number of continued claims for unemployment compensation has also fallen from its peak but the total from the previous week (the series of continued claims lags initial claims by one

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Billionaires—pandemic edition

August 24, 2020

From David Ruccio

2019 was a very good year for the world’s wealthiest individuals. The normal workings of global capitalism created both more billionaires and more combined wealth owned by those billionaires.
According to Wealth-X, which claims to “have developed the world’s most extensive collection of records on wealthy individuals and produce unparalleled data analysis to help our clients uncover, understand, and engage their target audience,  as well as mitigate risk,” the size of the global billionaire population increased strongly in 2019, rising by 8.5 percent to 2,825 individuals, while their combined wealth increased by 10.3 percent to $9.4 trillion.
To put that into perspective, the world’s real Gross Domestic Product grew by only 2.9 percent (International Monetary Fund)

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To the victor belong the spoils

August 21, 2020

From David Ruccio 

The phrase, which was used in the early nineteenth century to describe the the spoils system of appointing government workers, accurately describes the American economy today.* And it’s pretty clear who the victor is, and it’s not the working-class.
Instead, a small group at the top have come out as the victor—and that’s been true for decades now.
How do we know?

Well, all we have to do is look at the growing gap between the amount produced by American workers and what they received in their wages. Gross Domestic Product (the green line in the chart above) grew by a factor of almost 16 from 1973 onward while workers’ wages increased by a bit more than 5 before the COVID Depression.
So, American workers only received back in the form of wages a small percentage

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Whither global capitalism?

August 18, 2020

From David Ruccio
Mainstream economists and commentators, it seems, are worried that the global economy is going to come crashing down as a result of the COVID crisis. That’s why they’re willing now to consider the possibility that the current crisis is more than a normal recession, more serious even than the so-called Great Recession; in their view, it’s an economic depression.
That, at least, is the argument they present up front. But there’s something else going on, which haunts their analysis—that capitalism itself is now being called into question.
But before we get to that alarming specter, let’s take a look at the logic of their analysis about the current perils to the global economy—starting with the Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson, who is basically taking his

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Zombie capitalism

July 30, 2020

From David Ruccio

Capitalism’s crises are clearly becoming deeper and more severe. After the crash of 2007-08, the United States (and much of the rest of the world) was subjected to the Second Great Depression, the worst economic downturn since the depression of the 1930s. Now, in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, business activity has ground to a halt and unemployment has soared to levels reminiscent of the first Great Depression.
Not surprisingly, both Main Street and Wall Street firms have once again turned to the U.S. government to be bailed out through a series of programs that dwarf anything the world has seen before.

The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department have stepped in with a broad array of actions to keep capitalist enterprises afloat, including up to

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Divergent recoveries—pandemic edition

July 21, 2020

From David Ruccio
The existing alphabet soup of possible recoveries—V, U, W, and so on (which I discussed back in April)—is clearly inadequate to describe what has been taking place in the United States in recent months.
That’s because there’s no single path of recovery for everyone. For some, the recovery from the pandemic crisis has been just fine, while for many others there has been no recovery at all. Instead, things are going from bad to worse. In other words, there’s a growing gap between the haves and have-nots—or, as Peter Atwater has put it, “there have been two vastly divergent experiences.”
That’s why Atwater invented the idea of a K-shaped recovery.
I think he’s right, although I don’t divide the world up in quite the same way.
The stem of the K illustrates the quick and

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178 new cases per million people in the United States compared to 27.6 cases for the world as a whole.

July 12, 2020

From David Ruccio

Since the first of June,Lost my job and lost my room.I pretend to try,Even though I tried alone.
— Sufian Stevens, “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)”
Yesterday morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 1.3 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of the 48.7 million workers who were laid off during the preceding fifteen weeks.
Here is a breakdown of each week:
• week ending on 21 March—3.31 million
• week ending on 28 March—6.87 million
• week ending on 4 April—6.62 million
• week ending on 11 April—5.24 million
• week ending on 18 April—4.44 million
• week ending on 25 April—3.87 million
• week ending on 2 May—3.18 million
• week ending on 9

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The condition of the black working-class in the United States – 9 charts

June 26, 2020

From David Ruccio
Before he was killed, George Floyd worked as a truck, a bouncer, and a security guard. Ahmaud Arbery worked at his father’s car wash and landscaping business, and previously held a job at McDonald’s. Breonna Taylor was a certified Emergency Medical Technician who had two jobs at hospitals in Louisville, Kentucky. Eric Garner worked as a mechanic and then in New York City’s horticulture department for several years before health problems, including asthma, sleep apnea, and complications from diabetes, forced him to quit. Trayvon Martin was the son of a program coordinator for the Miami Dade Housing Authority and a truck driver; he washed cars, babysat, and cut grass to earn his own money.
All of them, and most of the other African Americans who have been killed in

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45.7 million USA unemployment claims

June 19, 2020

From David Ruccio

They came for him in the morning, before coffee break. — Stewart O’Nan, The Odds

This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 1.5 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of the 44.2 million workers who were laid off during the preceding twelve weeks.

Here is a breakdown of each week:

• week ending on 21 March—3.31 million
• week ending on 28 March—6.87 million
• week ending on 4 April—6.62 million
• week ending on 11 April—5.24 million
• week ending on 18 April—4.44 million
• week ending on 25 April—3.87 million
• week ending on 2 May—3.18 million
• week ending on 9 May—2.69 million
• week ending on 16 May—2.45 million
• week ending on 23 May—2.12

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Freedom—pandemic edition

June 18, 2020

From David Ruccio
“Formal” freedom is the freedom of choice WITHIN the coordinates of the existing power relations, while “actual” freedom designates the site of an intervention which undermines these very coordinates.
— Slavoj Žižek, On Belief                           
The novel coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated how shallow and restricted the notion of formal freedom is in the United States.
After years of pretending that private healthcare and health insurance expanded the freedom of individual choice, even with the changes introduced by Obamacare, the existing health system has failed to protect most Americans from the ravages of the disease. Right now, with over 2 million confirmed cases and over 100 thousand deaths, the United States has over one quarter of the world’s cases

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Cars and drivers—in the age of inequality

June 11, 2020

From David Ruccio
How many of you read Car and Driver magazine?
Not many of you, I presume. But maybe you should. At least the June 2020 issue.
It’s certainly a sign of our obscenely unequal times that a magazine better known for its reviews of foreign supercars and domestic muscle cars and for an editorial policy that courts controversy only when it attacks SUVs (in favor of minivans and cars) highlights the story of Oliver, Jason M. Vaughn’s family’s 260,000-mile Subaru in a piece subtitled “The Fear of Failure.”
Turning the key has become an act of faith. As the engine grumbles to life on this fine southwest Colorado morning, the yellow check-engine light comes on, as it has every day for the past four years, and the same questions swirl in my mind. Is this the day that tiny

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Rigged unemployment numbers—pandemic edition

June 8, 2020

From David Ruccio
There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics.
— Robert Giffen, Economic Journal (1892)
Are U.S. unemployment numbers rigged? Sure, they are!
They’re not rigged in the way Paul Krugman implied last Friday (“This being the Trump era, you can’t completely discount the possibility that they’ve gotten to the BLS”). Or in the way former General Electric CEO Jack Welch suggested back in 2012 (when he asserted that the Obama White House had manipulated the job figures for political gains). Or in the way Donald Trump used to say the unemployment rate was “phony” (“The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35 [percent]. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”) until, of course, he became president and declared the rising jobs numbers a “blowout” (even

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Where has all the surplus gone?

June 4, 2020

From David Ruccio

Where did all the capitalist surplus in the United States go last year?
Well, as in recent years, a large portion was paid to the Chief Executive Officers of the nation’s largest corporations, the ones that make up the S&P 500.
According to the Wall Street Journal, median pay of the CEOs of those corporations reached an astronomical $13.1 million, setting a new record for the fifth year in a row. Most S&P 500 CEOs got raises of 8 percent or better during the year—compared to the increase in median household income of only 3.34 percent.
The top 10 list goes from Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts’s $36.4 million (where median employee pay was $78.9 thousand) to Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai’s $280.6 million (where employee pay was $258.7 thousand).
For purposes of comparison,

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“A riot is the language of the unheard”

June 2, 2020

From David Ruccio

[embedded content]
More than 50 years ago (on 14 April 1967), Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of his famous speeches, on “The Other America,” at Stanford University.* King patiently explained to the audience of students and faculty members that, while in his view “riots are socially destructive and self-defeating,” they are “in the final analysis. . .the language of the unheard.”
Today, as protestors take to the streets across America, in response to the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, King’s words speak louder than ever. America, he warned, “has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met” and that “large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about

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Corporate university—pandemic edition

May 27, 2020

From David Ruccio
Will colleges and universities reopen in the fall? That’s the question on the minds of many these day—administrators, faculty, staff, students, and their families, not to mention the communities in which they live.
All institutions of higher education (in the United States and in much of the rest of the world) had a difficult spring, having to close their campuses for in-person instruction (as well as many other activities, from athletics to study-abroad programs) in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and resort to online classes. There wasn’t much advance notice or planning and, notwithstanding the heroic efforts of faculty and staff and the unequal means of students who found themselves back at home, the results were at best uneven and less than

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Who’s been laid off?

May 21, 2020

David Ruccio

If we needed any more confirmation of who’s been laid off during the current crisis, all we need to do is examine the change in average hourly wages in the United States.
In the past month (so, April 2020), the year-over-year increase in hourly wages jumped to 7.9 percent. That’s more than three times the average increase since 2008 (2.5 percent) and more than two and half times the increase since Donald Trump took office (3 percent).
That doesn’t mean American workers are now earning more. Oh, sure, perhaps a few, who have been granted temporary increases to commute and work in precarious conditions—the ones who were receiving so-called “heroic pay,” which in many cases (such as Kroger supermarkets) is now being cancelled. No, the April increase mostly tells us, first,

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Reserve army—pandemic edition

May 17, 2020

From David Ruccio

You know things are bad—and going to get worse—when a mainstream newspaper like the Washington Post invokes the Mohr:
What Karl Marx once called “the reserve army of the unemployed” will probably keep wage growth in check as the recovery inches forward.

Despite the inverted commas, Marx never used that exact phrase. He referred to an “industrial reserve army” or “relative surplus population” (in chapter 25 of volume 1 of Capital), which he saw as both a result and a condition of capitalist growth.
The course characteristic of modern industry, viz., a decennial cycle (interrupted by smaller oscillations), of periods of average activity, production at high pressure, crisis and stagnation, depends on the constant formation, the greater or less absorption, and the

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From almshouses to nursing homes—pandemic edition

May 12, 2020

From David Ruccio
I’ve often read that people who wash their hands in innocence do so in blood-stained basins. And their hands bear the traces.— Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage
The first time care for elderly and chronically ill Americans was radically transformed was during the first Great Depression, as almshouses were overwhelmed and public support grew to replace old-style charitable “indoor relief” with new-style government-funded “outdoor relief,” based on cash payments to people to support themselves in the community. According to Sidney D. Watson (pdf), “The Social Security Act of 1935 embodied this new approach to American social welfare, creating cash benefit programs to provide the elderly and needy with the money to support themselves at home rather than in institutions.”*

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Generation screwed—and screwed again

May 11, 2020

From David Ruccio

You know your generation’s screwed when even Monopoly is mocking you.
Back in 2016, I argued that Millennials were in fact generation screwed.
For example, in 2010 (when some of them were 20 to 24 years of age), their unemployment rate was 17.2 percent, much higher than the already high national average of 9.9 percent.*
Partly because of the difficulty they had finding jobs, but also because they have been saddled with high student and healthcare debt, the typical Millennial family lost ground between 2010 and 2016, falling further behind the typical wealth lifecycle than any other birth cohort. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (pdf), a typical 32-year-old family respondent in 2016 (born in 1984) was 34 percent ($12,000) below the 32-year-old

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Are we all in this together?

May 8, 2020

From David Ruccio
It must be confessed that though the plague was chiefly among the poor, yet were the poor the most venturous and fearless of it, and went about their employment with a sort of brutal courage; I must call it so, for it was founded neither on religion nor prudence; scarce did they use any caution, but ran into any business which they could get employment in, though it was the most hazardous. Such was that of tending the sick, watching houses shut up, carrying infected persons to the pest-house, and, which was still worse, carrying the dead away to their graves.
— Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year
I’m almost sick of hearing the refrain, “We’re all in this together.”
I say almost, because I do think there’s a utopian moment in that phrase in the midst of the

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Gleaners and us—pandemic edition

May 7, 2020

From David Ruccio
We already had high food insecurity in this country and now we are putting another layer of need on top of it. — Kevin M. Fitzpatrick
One of the many irrational characteristics of capitalism is that billions of tons of food go to waste while hundreds of millions of people struggle with hunger on a daily basis. And like all the other senseless attributes of the way the economy is currently organized, the mismatch between the enormous quantity of food that is available for human consumption but is not consumed and the vast number of people who are food insecure has been highlighted and heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic—especially in the United States.
Even before the pandemic, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that approximately 30

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Your job or your life

May 4, 2020

From David Ruccio
 
source
When social solidarity is essential, it’s common to hear pious sermons against class warfare. Unfortunately, there is a class war. And its victims, so many of them front-line workers, didn’t start it. — E. J. Dionne Jr.
New research confirms what we’ve all been seeing for the past couple of months: the lowest paid, most precarious workers are the ones who are being forced to face the choice between their jobs and their lives.
And, looking forward, as those in charge push to reopen the economy, the most vulnerable workers are the ones who will most find themselves caught up in the ultimate dilemma of capitalist employment during the COVID-19 pandemic: stay at home without the ability to earn a paycheck or go back to work and increase the chance of getting the

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“Nothing will fundamentally change”

April 28, 2020

From David Ruccio
Three and a half weeks ago, Bernie Sanders became the last challenger to drop out of the race, thus clearing the way for Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee on the November presidential ballot.
Since then, the novel coronavirus has engulfed the country (and, of course, the world), the U.S. economy has mostly come to a standstill, and tens of million American workers have joined the ranks of the unemployed, while “essential” workers are forced to commute to and labor in perilous conditions and jobless families have found it necessary to walk or take to their cars to wait in line by the thousands outside food banks.
Biden therefore has to find a way of presenting a progressive alternative to Trump by articulating some clear ideas, and perhaps eventually a

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Billionaire wealth in the USA

April 25, 2020

From David Ruccio

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, “Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes, and Pandemic Profiteers,” reveals that the wealth of U.S. billionaires is indeed staying at home.

Since 10 April 2020, there’s been both an increase in the number of billionaires (to 629) and a surge in billionaire net worth. Billionaire wealth increased $282 billion, or 9.5 percent, in just 23 days, bringing the combined net worth of the billionaire class to $3.229 trillion.
That’s on top of a dramatic increase in both the numbers and total wealth of U.S. billionaires for the past three decades. In 1990, 66 U.S. billionaires held a total wealth of $118.8 billion, or $239.56 billion in 2020 dollars. The United States, by the beginning of this year,

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