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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

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

13 days ago

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

20 days ago

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

21 days ago

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

27 days ago

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
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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US student debt jubilee—pandemic edition

April 22, 2020

From David Ruccio

The coronavirus outbreak is serving as a mind-expansion exercise, making hitherto unthinkable solutions thinkable. Debts that can’t be paid won’t be. A debt jubilee may be the best way out.
— Michael Hudson
The United States is currently experiencing a dystopian orgy of death and destruction.

In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of Americans are falling ill, tens of thousands are dying, and everyone else is living in fear they’ll contract the dreaded disease. Meanwhile, tens of millions of workers have either been laid off from their jobs, losing both their paychecks and healthcare benefits, or are being forced to have the freedom to work under precarious and unsafe conditions.
Not surprisingly, they want some relief—both

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Modern monetary theory—pandemic edition

April 18, 2020

From David Ruccio
Modern Monetary Theorists are having a moment, as governments (many of them run by conservative regimes, such as Donald Trump and the Republicans in the United States) are running gigantic fiscal deficits in order to combat the economic crisis occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.*
This time, with the $2 trillion CARES Act, the U.S. federal government has taken an additional step down the road of Modern Monetary Theory, by having the Federal Reserve buy an unlimited amount of Treasury bonds and government-backed mortgage bonds — whatever was necessary “to support smooth market functioning”—in other words, by simply creating the necessary money.
But, as Michael Hudson et al. explain, the idea that is being celebrated right now—that running government budget deficits

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Back to normal?!

April 15, 2020

From David Ruccio
We can’t stay this way forever—with physical distancing (now that all 50 states have finally issued some kind of Stay at Home order), schools closed (and operating with a semblance of education through online teaching), businesses shuttered (even while the stock market soars).
The question that seems to be on everyone’s lips is, when are things going to go back to normal?
But who wants to return to normalcy? The novel coronavirus pandemic has revealed, if nothing else, just how dysfunctional the situation was in the United States even before COVID-19 started to cut its deadly path across the country. Tens of millions of workers have been furloughed and laid off and there’s still relief for them in sight. Instead, they’re being forced to have the freedom to drive to

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Tale of two cities

April 13, 2020

From David Ruccio

sources [frontline workers, coronavirus cases]
As the Guardian explained earlier today, the coronavirus has discriminated in inflicting its terrible toll on the two very different cities that make up New York City.

Different boroughs, even different neighborhoods within each borough, are experiencing coronavirus almost as though it were two different contagions. In wealthier white areas the residential streets are empty; parking spots that are fought over in normal times now stand vacant following an exodus to out-of-town weekend homes or Airbnbs.
In places like the Bronx – which is 84% black, Latino or mixed race – the sidewalks are still bustling with people making their way into work. There is still a rush hour. “We used to call them ‘service workers’,”

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16 million American workers have filed initial unemployment claims during the past three weeks.

April 10, 2020

From David Ruccio

This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 6.61 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of 6.65 million workers who were laid off during the week ending 28 March and another 3.31 million in the previous week.
All told, more than 16 million American workers have filed initial claims during the past three weeks.
To put that into some kind of perspective, I calculated the initial claims totals for two other relevant 3-week periods: the worst point of the Second Great Depression (encompassing the weeks ending on 14, 21, and 28 March 2009) and the weeks immediately preceding the current one (so, 29 February and 7 and 14 March 2020).
As readers can see

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“The economy”—pandemic edition

April 8, 2020

From David Ruccio
We’re back at it again: “the economy” has broken down and we’re all being enlisted into the effort to get it back up and working again. As soon as possible.
The Congressional Budget Office has announced that it expects the U.S. economy will contract sharply during the second quarter of 2020:

Gross domestic product is expected to decline by more than 7 percent during the second quarter. If that happened, the decline in the annualized growth rate reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis would be about four times larger and would exceed 28 percent. Those declines could be much larger, however.
The unemployment rate is expected to exceed 10 percent during the second quarter, in part reflecting the 3.3 million new unemployment insurance claims reported on March 26 and

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Job contagion

April 4, 2020

From David Ruccio

Evidence thus far suggests that low-wage workers, most of whom can’t perform their labor remotely, are more likely to either lose their jobs (because of shutdowns, especially in leisure and hospitality) or be forced to continue to work in close proximity to others (either coworkers or customers), and therefore are more likely to contract coronavirus.
Moreover, if and when the economy recovers, employers are likely to adopt labor-saving technologies and other forms of automation in sectors outside the work-from-home economy. What that means is that many of the low-wage jobs lost in this downturn will never come back.

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“It’s a lose-lose” for workers

April 2, 2020

From David Ruccio
It’s now an almost daily occurrence: Donald Trump starring in the White House pandemic briefings, flanked by business executives—from Walgreens, CVS, Target and a host of laboratory, research, and medical-device corporations—to form a mutual admiration society.* The various scientists, public-health experts, and emergency personnel, the ones people want to hear from, are accorded third rank.
And American workers are nowhere to be seen—or heard—even when, as on 24 March, Trump decided to speak for them as wanting nothing more than “to get back to work.”
The fact is, while millions and millions of workers have been furloughed or laid off in recent weeks, waiting desperately to receive financial assistance, many more continue to be forced to have the freedom to labor for

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Common sense economics

March 31, 2020

From David Ruccio
In the United States and around the world, governments are responding to the twin pandemics—of novel coronavirus and escalating unemployment—with massive bailouts. Not unlike what happened more than a decade ago, after the global crash of 2007-08.
But there seems to be something different this time around—not only because of the speed of both the viral contamination and the economic meltdown, but also as a reaction to the terms of the bailout that was enacted in the midst of the Second Great Depression.
Here, for example, is Peter S. Goodman reflecting on the response in Britain and the European Union:

During the last crisis, the global financial catastrophe of 2008, the authorities protected corporate interests above those of ordinary people, many economists assert.

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Claims in USA for jobless benefits last week rose to 3.28 million from 282,000 a week earlier.

March 29, 2020

From David Ruccio

The Labor Department on Thursday reported the number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits last week rose to 3.28 million from 282,000 a week earlier. Nothing in the 53-year history of the series comes close. In the worst week of 2009, when the job market was reeling, initial claims hit 665,000.

Worse, the millions in new claims don’t reflect all the people who were pushed out of jobs last week as the novel coronavirus crisis emptied out Main Streets, shut businesses down, and impelled many other corporations to curtail their operations and furlough or lay off workers whom they directly or indirectly employ.
As Quoctrung Bui and Justin Wolfers explain,

be aware that these numbers come with some pretty important caveats. In particular, this

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Back to work? A modest proposal

March 27, 2020

From David Ruccio
By now, many readers will have seen or heard Donald Trump’s call for the country to get back to work within the next couple of weeks, accompanied by a slew of other insidious and irresponsible remarks along the same lines—from business executives, politicians, and pundits, including ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Fox News. 
What can one say in response to such a blatant disregard for workers’ lives, all in an attempt to protect capitalism, restore private profits, and goose the stock market? Yesterday, Jack Amariglio, Professor of Economics Emeritus from Merrimack College, came up with the perfect rejoinder. . . 

My modest proposal (no satire implied): 
All those 1/10th-ers of the 1% and their political lackeys who are calling

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Unemployment pandemic

March 24, 2020

From David Ruccio
Capitalist crises are neither predictable nor do they stem from a single cause. Instead, at least as I see it, the possibility of a crisis is always there but the causes and triggers are all historical and therefore multiple and varied.
Sometimes, crises in capitalism stem from difficulties in extracting more surplus from workers and a resulting fall in corporate profit rates; at other times, they are caused by the bursting of speculative bubbles and a run on funds within the financial sector; and, as seems to be the case this time around, many corporations relied on cheap money and extended their indebtedness way beyond their ability to pay in the event of an unexpected “shock” (like the novel coronavirus pandemic and, in the United States, by the Trump

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Dark times

March 21, 2020

From David Ruccio

In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing.
About the dark times.
– Bertolt Brecht
( trans. John Willett, from the Svendborg Poems)

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus for the past two months (the last real post, aside from daily cartoons, was back in January). But readers have encouraged me to get back in the game and resume my “occasional” commentary on economics, culture, and society.
Right now, in these dark times—as the number of confirmed cases of and deaths from the novel coronavirus pandemic, in the United States and around the world, continues to soar—we’re focused on immediate measures, individually and socially, to stay safe. And, of course, capitalist economies are in meltdown, not only in stock markets, but with massive

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