Rail: Contemporary left-economists, often relying on Keynes, have criticized recent austerity measures as detrimental to the recovery effort. Yet you argue that reductions in deficit-spending, with all their consequences for living standards, would be a necessary element of any real recovery on a capitalist basis. What would you say, then, to the workers who occupied the capitol building in Wisconsin? Are they acting in vain, or even against their own interests, if they want to retain their jobs?
Mattick: I would say that they are acting in their own interests insofar as what they are really fighting for is not the economy, but their pensions, their food, their living standards, their rent, etc. They are under an illusion if they think that their welfare is concordant with the welfare of the economy. People have to learn that the welfare of the economy, in a moment like this, is in contradiction to their own welfare. In Wisconsin, workers apparently went along with their unions, who were willing to sacrifice their members’ living conditions in order to prop up the Wisconsin economy. A more rational point-of-view on the part of Wisconsin workers would be to say, to hell with the Wisconsin economy!—we want food, we want boats to go sailing on the lake, we want pensions, and we want nice schools for our children. The truth is there is now a real conflict between the interests of ordinary people, so-called—that’s to say the working class—and the interests of the capitalist economy. The preservation and future prosperity of capitalism demands the impoverishment of the population, and if they prefer to be impoverished to save capitalism, well then, they will be impoverished. The instinctual desire not to be impoverished seems to me a intelligent one, but the problem is that they don’t yet understand that capitalism is not going give them back their pensions and their wages.
Rail: Does that mean that it’s simply impossible to fight against cuts?
Mattick: I think that anti-austerity struggles have to become more radical. They have to concentrate on immediate material goods. For example, there are now millions of people who have been thrown out of their houses. There are a lot of empty houses, so people have to begin moving into those houses. There is a lot of food, so people have to take the food. If factories have closed, people need to go into the factories and start producing goods. But they cannot expect that employers are going to give them jobs. If they could be employed profitably, they already would be, as I say in the book. And they can’t expect the government to give them jobs. The government doesn’t have any money. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important ways to fight austerity. This is still a rich country. There’s all sorts of stuff around. People have to begin to take the stuff that’s there. They have to demand the immediate improvement in their living conditions—very concrete things. So instead of asking for work, which they cannot get, they should just ask for food. A very intelligent move would be to say, OK, you can’t give us jobs—then just feed us, feed us for nothing. It’s not like there’s no food.
Read the whole interview.