BOOK EVENT: Third Wave Capitalism: How Money, Power, and the Pursuit of Self-Interest have Imperiled the American Dream

February 15, 2017
Sociology Lounge, Room 6112

America of recent decades is a land of contradictions: Soaring wealth and a poverty level above that of 1973; productivity up but wages for most Americans stagnant; the apotheosis of individual freedom and the paralysis of democracy; the election of a black president and the incarceration of a million black men; a growing acceptance of racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity and the triumph of a racially, ethnically, and sexually incendiary campaign for president; the increase in educational attainment and the growing mismatch between student skills and the needs of the job market; the cost of medical care skyrocketing and a decline in indicators of Americans’ health compared to other affluent countries; long periods of prosperity and soaring rates of depression, anxiety, and self-reported loneliness; a stagnating economy for most Americans and rage directed at those who would use government to provide relief.

Third Wave Capitalism seeks to understand these contradictions. It argues that the 1970s mark a turning point in American history. Just as the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century gave way to the corporate capitalism of the first part of the twentieth century, so the latter gave way to a third phase. “Third Wave Capitalism” is distinguished by the emergence of giant multinational corporations and large “non-profit” organizations; by novel technologies such as computers, the Internet, and biotech; and by globalization of production and of the market. At a deeper level, it is characterized by a rise in “rent-seeking” – the use of power to grab a larger share of the aggregate social wealth (as opposed to making money by providing something more or different that before); by a blurring of the lines between public and private sectors; by the decline of unions and other countervailing forces, and by the rise of virulent individualism and uncontested free market ideologies at the expense of any collective will to solve societal problems.

The book pursues this theme with detailed studies of the health care system, the school reform movement, the persistence of racial disparities and of poverty and the rise of the criminal justice system as a system of social control, the growing pressures on professionals such as writers and teachers, and the apparent rise in levels of emotional distress (expressed both as depression and anxiety and as political rage). It concludes with speculations as to the obstacles and preconditions for progressive social change.



John Ehrenreich is Professor of Psychology (formerly Professor of American Studies) at the State University of New York – Old Westbury. He is best known for his work on health care politics, including The American Health Empire: Power, Profits, and Politics (1971, co-authored with his then-wife, Barbara Ehrenreich), and The Cultural Crisis of Modern Medicine (1976); his work with Barbara Ehrenreich on the “professional managerial class;” and his study of the history of American social policy, The Altruistic Imagination (1985). He is a 2016-2017 Visiting Research Scholar at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics. His most recent book, Third Wave Capitalism: How Money, Power, and the Pursuit of Self Interest have Imperiled the American Dream, was published by Cornell University Press in 2016.

Mimi Abramovitz is Bertha Capen Reynolds Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. She has written extensively about the issues of women, work, poverty, social welfare policy, and the history of activism among low income women. Her books include the award-winning Under Attack, Fighting Back: Women and Welfare in the U.S. (2000); Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy From Colonial Times to the Present, (1999); and, with Joel Blau, The Dynamics of Social Welfare Policy ( 2010). Dr. Abramovitz has been inducted into the Columbia University School of Social Work Hall of Fame and received the 2013 Humanitarian and Leadership Award from the Association for International Conferences.

David Harvey is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York (CUNY) and author of various books, articles, and lectures. His books include Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (2014) and The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010), A Companion to Marx’s Capital (2010), and A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism (2005). Professor Harvey was director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics from 2008-2014, and is currently Research Director at the Center.

Frances Fox Piven is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York (CUNY). Piven is known equally for her contributions to social theory and for her social activism. A veteran of the war on poverty and subsequent welfare-rights protests both in New York City and on the national stage, she has been instrumental in formulating the theoretical underpinnings of those movements. Among her many books are the best selling Poor People’s Movements (1977), and Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (1972), both coauthored with Richard CA. Cloward, and Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2008). Professor Piven was president of the American Sociological Association in 2007.

Peter Hitchcock is Professor of English at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of five books, including The Long Space: Transnationalism and Post Colonial Form (2009). He is Associate Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics.

This event is sponsored by the Center for Place, Culture and Politics, Graduate Center, CUNY. It is free and open to the public.

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