Political Education

Frances Fox Piven: Saving Capitalism From Itself

Some ninety years ago The Great Depression exposed the soft vulnerable underbelly of capitalism. Today the COVID-19 pandemic and technological advancements further expose our economic system’s shortcomings:

– Massive unemployment.
– Business closings.
– A minimum wage that is not a living wage.
– Minority communities being disproportionately affected.
– The need for national health insurance.
– Not enough savings to survive a crisis.

Even when the various governments lift their state’s lockdowns people may choose to stay away from reopened venues.

The pandemic has exposed our capitalist systems weak defences against economic crisis,

Further testing of our capitalist arrangements is the continuing technological revolution that is forcing dramatic changes into the workplace. Change such as robotics and automation removes American workers from their office cubicle, assembly line, and their employment.
How can capitalism be saved from itself?


Frances Fox Piven has triggered right-wing political commentators like Glenn Beck who has referred to Piven as one of the “… most dangerous people in the world”

She is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her scholarship and activism have centred on social movements, electoral politics, and welfare policy.

In the 1960’s Frances Fox Piven and her partner, Richard Cloward proposed “the strategy of forcing political change through orchestrated crisis.”

The original Cloward-Piven strategy called for the collapse of political and economic systems that are inadequate to meet challenges. The system and economy would crash in “a profound financial and political crisis.”

In an interview with Mother Jones magazine, Piven said, “I think everybody has a sense that this (the pandemic) is a kind of world-transforming crisis and that we may not recover from it. Also, the normal pillars of responsibility and authority and wisdom in our society are not functioning.”

Once the inadequate systems crashed they could be rebuilt in an efficient, effective, and economical manner.

Cloward and Piven envisioned a national system of guaranteed annual income administered by the government. Poverty would be eradicated. Political and economic arrangements would be strong enough to withstand a crisis.


Our capitalist system should not be an economic ‘law of the jungle’.

Capitalism needs to be a nuanced system that protects itself from its shortcomings and works for all, not just the lucky and the wellborn.
Our economic system should protect people from the extremes of capitalism such as poverty wages and a lack of basic benefits in labour markets, vulnerability brought about by old age or disability.

We have restrained and reformed our capitalist system in the past providing regulatory protections against monopoly, pollution, and toxic food and drugs. We have provided Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to create a safety net to make people more secure.

The free enterprise system has always used government. Entrepreneurs of free enterprise system have always used government. Other stakeholders in our system can also use government to achieve stability and equity.

In response to the economic chaos brought about by the pandemic, Spain is planning a basic income.

Pope Francis has said, “This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage.”

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang has proposed a ‘Freedom Dividend’, citing “…Americans (who) have no source of income—no ability to pay for groceries, buy homes, save for education, or start families with confidence—then the future could be very dark.”

As Frances Fox Piven has said, there is a “… simple moral imperative: A good society strives to meet the basic needs of all its people.”

The time has come for some form of a universal basic income to further strengthen our system and our society.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Wikimedia Commons for the image


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