Capitalism, Explained | Crooked Media
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September 26, 2023
What A Day
Capitalism, Explained

In This Episode

  • Capitalism is having a moment in our current political discourse. And believe it or not, we haven’t always been so quick to openly bash – or defend – it. Noel King, co-host of Vox Media’s Today, Explained podcast, and her team have been exploring the forces behind American capitalism in a four-part series called Blame Capitalism. She joins us to unpack how differently both sides of the political aisle are talking about our economic system ahead of the second GOP presidential debate.
  • And in headlines: a New York judge found Donald Trump liable for fraud, the Federal Trade Commission and 17 states sued Amazon, and Airbnb will soon let people book a weekend stay at Shrek’s Swamp in Scotland.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, September 27. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What a Day, with a casual reminder that Season five of Love Is Blind dropped this week. And if you’re just starting keep the name Uche on your mind front and center. Don’t forget it. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Also on TV is the second GOP presidential debate. That is tonight. Take your pick. We don’t blame you either way. 


Juanita Tolliver: Choose Love is Blind. [laughing]


Priyanka Aribindi: I do blame you one way, but not if you’re picking Love is Blind.


Juanita Tolliver: That part. [music break] On today’s show, a New York judge found Donald Trump liable for fraud. Plus, if staying in a swamp sounds like a romantic weekend getaway, we just so happen to know a place opening next month. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, it may sound weird to say it, but capitalism is having a moment. And no, I’m definitely not ignoring hundreds of years of modern world history. What I mean is that as a concept, it has quietly creeped into our political discourse. You may have had some sad laughs at all the memes about life under late stage capitalism, or heard someone on the right rail about how protecting workers hurts the free market. But believe it or not, we haven’t always been so quick to openly bash or to defend capitalism like people do now. And even the Republican Party, as we saw during their last presidential debate, is having a tough time getting a handle on it. We recently sat down with Noel King, the co-host of Vox Media’s Today Explained podcast, to unpack some of this for us ahead of tonight’s debate. As a former economics reporter for Public Radio, Noel noticed just how differently both sides of the political aisle are talking about our economic system and dug in to figure out why in a four part series called Blame Capitalism. She and her team trace this back to the 2008 financial crisis and the simultaneous rise of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. 


Noel King: If you were to ask people what they were angry about, what they would tell you is we’re really mad about the government bailing out the losers and we are capitalists. And so around this time, what you see is President Obama starts being called a socialist. And the people who are not President Obama, who don’t quote unquote, “want what he wants,” they are the good guys, they are the capitalists. So that’s where it begins. And then two years later, really interesting development. You have Occupy Wall Street take off in Zuccotti Park in New York. And what you see there is this is a group of people who are talking about capitalism in really negative ways. They are anti-capitalist and they are suddenly and very vividly identifying as anti-capitalist. And I spoke to a lot of these people on both sides, and both of them told me, you know, prior to these movements, I was somebody who thought about the economy, but I did not necessarily think about capitalism or the role that it played in my life. And all of a sudden, people on both sides of what appears to be a really vast partisan divide are suddenly thinking about capitalism and using the word itself for the first time in their lives. And I thought that was really fascinating.


Priyanka Aribindi: Thinking of all of that. I want to tie this in to Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate. The “economy,” quote unquote, is going to be a big topic there. How do you expect the candidates to sort of frame their answers based on all the things you’ve just told us? 


Noel King: Okay. So my guess is and I would be willing to put money on this, my guess is the word capitalism will not come up at all. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mmm. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh. 


Noel King: Right now we are still at a point in history where Republican candidates, much like Democrats, don’t really like to talk about capitalism because it is indicting the entire system. And so what you’ll see is you have outliers, outliers who have managed to gain a following, like Vivek Ramaswamy, who is always talking about woke capitalism and the idea that companies that are involved in, you know, the project of Wokeness, are suddenly telling us what we can do with our money. And, you know, Target is putting Pride merchandise out and we should all be really upset about that because that’s woke capitalism. And then on the other end, on the Democrats end, you have Bernie Sanders, who’s a guy who this year wrote a book called It’s Okay to Be Mad About Capitalism, which great title. So what you’re seeing are the outliers will talk about capitalism. They will use the word, but the people in the mainstream, they do not want to indict the entire system. They want to talk about the economy. They want to talk about jobs. They want to talk like I did when I was on the radio, about energy prices and inflation and businesses and IPO’s and all of the things that, you know, we encompass as business. But nobody really wants to take on the system. And I think that’s because Republicans traditionally are a party of tradition and for the party of tradition to suddenly turn on the system that for many years it was deeply linked to. I mean, I don’t know what age y’all are, but there was a time when the Republican Party was the party of big business. And now Ron DeSantis is beating up on Mickey Mouse like this is a real shift [laughter] in the way this party thinks about business. But what you haven’t seen so much is a shift in the way this party openly talks about capitalism. And to me, that’s what makes Vivek Ramaswamy such an interesting person because I think he’s gone right to the heart of what a lot of Americans feel. And I think to his credit, and there is a lot wrong with Vivek, but to his credit, he is willing to use the word capitalism and American people are using the word capitalism. And to some degree, I think that is why he is accessible to people. He’s willing to criticize the things that they’re willing to criticize. But Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, people who remember the Soviet Union, people who have dealt a lot in international affairs, who still think democracy and capitalism are very linked, they’re never going to go after capitalism, in part because they remember the threat of communism, which was in fact a really bad time for a lot of people. Like, I don’t want to downplay that. I think there is real hesitancy within this party to turn on capitalism itself for some very, very, very good reasons. But I also think the outliers are appealing for exactly that reason. They kind of talk the way we talk. 


Juanita Tolliver: And I want to dig in to this tier of language we have, whether it’s capitalism dropping down to the economy, dropping all the way down to individual financial situations, because what we do know is that a lot of the country is actually okay with their current financial situation. An NBC poll showed that 55% of the country is satisfied or very satisfied with their current financial situation. And that doesn’t quite match the kind of picture that Republicans are trying to paint about the economy, you know, gloom and doom all around. So how do you expect Republicans to address a stat like that on the debate stage, or will they, you know, simply ignore reality yet again? 


Noel King: I wish somebody would present that stat to them. I think if you are a savvy Republican, there’s probably a million ways you can bat that stat down. And I think one of the problems that we’re having now is that we all work in the news business. And you guys know that when there’s bad news, that tends to be what we report on. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh, yes. 


Noel King: I think the Biden administration has at points expressed real frustration with the news media. Like you guys, there are some very good things happening in this country with respect to the economy and people really are feeling them. Why aren’t you guys reporting on that? It’s a fair critique of the news media. It really is. But I think when you’re running an election campaign and you’re trying to unseat someone, what you’re really going to want to do is make sure that everything is doom and gloom and negative. And, you know, I don’t think it matters what party you’re in. If the Democrats were trying to unseat a Republican, they would be pointing to things in the economy that Americans are deeply frustrated about. Right. And so this push and pull has gone on for many, many, many years. And I think it makes a lot of sense if you are the party that’s trying to unseat an incumbent, that you want to focus on things that people are really dissatisfied by. But I find that stat astonishing myself, and I’m glad to hear it. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier about Ron DeSantis specifically sort of duking it out with Disney World in the interest of anti wokeness per se. Is it fair to say with things like this happening that the Republican Party is at odds with itself over its pro-business image now? 


Noel King: Oh, yeah. And it’s not just me saying that. I mean, this is a thing that, you know, I covered CPAC last year for Today Explained. I went to Hungary and I remember vividly, I did not once hear Republicans talking about business. Everything was culture issues. It was family. It was by which we mean a family with a mom and a dad. It was, you know, identity. It was national identity. It was all of these things that are part of the Republican Party now in a lot of ways that were not 15 years ago. Right. They just weren’t. I think the Republican Party is really struggling to figure out where it stands on business. And I know I mean, I’m old enough to know older Republicans like people in their fifties and sixties who will say we were the party of business. What happened here? It is not our party’s position generally to attack Disney just because Disney wants to do things Disney’s way, like Republicans for a long time were very I mean, you could argue that they were linked to business. You could also say they were somewhat subservient to business. And what I’ve heard from Republicans is that, yes, this new class of Republican is very disconcerting to them because this is, quote unquote, “not how we act.”. 


Juanita Tolliver: And the UAW strike is another kind of pro-business moment that Republicans seem to be leaning into. I mean, Senator Tim Scott said that he would fire striking workers before walking back that comment. And while the UAW invited President Biden to join them on the picket line, Trump was told to keep away. I mean, of course, he’s still going to go to Michigan anyway for a non union event. Do you think the response to Trump reflects how union workers and blue collar workers perceive the GOP broadly? And why or why not? 


Noel King: I think once upon a time it was I think once upon a time you would expect the Democrats to be sympathetic to labor and you would expect the Republicans to be the party of big business. But everything has gotten scrambled. I don’t know how these striking UAW workers vote. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Noel King: But if you were to tell me some significant percentage of them supported Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016 and 2020 and do again, I would not be shocked. I would not be shocked at all. And I doubt you guys would be shocked either. I mean, this is the thing about party of business versus not party of business, the Democrats and the Republicans and the evolution that they’ve both had. There’s definitely friction. There will continue to be friction, and we’ll have to wait until November of 2024 before we really know how any of this stuff susses out. But it is a very exciting time to be watching all of this and to be reporting on all of this. 


Juanita Tolliver: That was our interview with Noel King, co-host of Vox Media’s Today Explained podcast. You can find a link to her series Blame Capitalism in today’s show notes. And we’ll wrap up all the highlights and plenty of the lowlights from the GOP debate on tomorrow’s show. We’ll have takeaways from some friends of WAD and explain how Crooked’s very own Tommy Vietor was able to sneak into the Reagan Library without getting hauled out by security. In the meantime, we’re going to take a short break, but that’s the latest for now. [music break]




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: President Biden walked with striking auto workers in Michigan on Tuesday, making him the first sitting U.S. president to join a picket line. His visit was brief, only lasting about 15 minutes. But he also picked up a bullhorn to encourage members of the UAW as they continue to negotiate with Detroit’s Big three automakers for a new labor agreement. Take a listen to what he had to say. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] The fact of the matter is that you guys, the UAW, you saved the automobile industry back in 2008 and 4, made a lot of sacrifices and gave up a lot. And the companies were in trouble. But now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well too. [?] [inaudible audience sound and applause] 


Juanita Tolliver: No lies detected. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: I like it. [laughing]


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. And he sounds right at home right there. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The president’s show of support for organized labor comes as he’s trying to shore up support for his reelection bid. It also comes after the UAW expanded its strike to 38 General Motors and Stellantis locations across 20 states over the weekend, this time targeting auto part distribution centers to escalate the impact of their work stoppage. In total, nearly 19,000 UAW workers are now on strike as the walkout enters its 13th day. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump is visiting Michigan as well today for his own bizarro attempt to win over union voters. He is doing this by speaking to a crowd of mostly retired auto workers at a nonunion shop. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, it’s not the same. It is not the same. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Our heads on our little video, both of them just cocked to the side [laughter] as as more details were revealed. It’s bizarre. For its part, the UAW has not yet endorsed a candidate, though its president has sharply criticized Trump in the past. 


Juanita Tolliver: Not that we want to keep talking about this dude, but a New York judge ruled yesterday that Trump, his two quasi adult sons and several of his business associates committed fraud. According to the 35 page ruling, Trump persistently lied to both banks and insurers by overvaluing his assets and inflating his net worth. He also fabricated his financial statements, which gave him better loan terms and lower insurance premiums. One glaring example cited in the decision, Trump exaggerated the size of his penthouse in Trump Tower, saying it was 30,000 square feet when it was actually a third of that size. Like homie is just straight up blatantly lying on legal documents. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And so easily disproved. Like, what is wrong with you? [laughing]


Juanita Tolliver: It’s a big win for New York Attorney General Letitia James, who argued that Trump inflated the value of his properties by as much as $2.2 billion dollars. She wants Trump to pay about $250 million dollars, and the trial to decide that could begin as early as Monday. This is the energy I like to see. This is the wins I love for Letitia James and for the country. Lets fucking go. Keep it going. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It is just absolutely delicious to watch these people just be sapped of all their money. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Because of all the dumb shit that they have done. It is what they deserve. And I love every moment of it. It’s great. And staying with the theme of throwing the hammer down on greed, in a landmark retail monopoly case, the Federal Trade Commission, along with 17 states, have sued Amazon. The lawsuit alleges that the online conglomerate illegally muscled out its competition, forcing consumers to use its platform while locking in artificially high prices. It also accuses the company of strong arming merchants to use Amazon’s own logistics and delivery service. That, according to FTC Chair Lina Khan, means that Amazon is taking roughly half of what sellers are earning, which is just bananas. Consumers are being hurt and so are these sellers. 


Juanita Tolliver: 100%. 


Priyanka Aribindi: No one is winning here. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: In a statement, Amazon’s legal counsel called the suit, quote, “misguided” and insisted that it would hurt consumers in the long run. To put this all into context, an estimated 40% of all online shopping transactions happen on Amazon. That is just an astronomical number. It is not clear if the FTC will eventually seek to break up the company. But here is a fun fact. Lina Kahn wrote a very long, scathing report about Amazon’s business practices when she was in law school. So believe us when we tell you that she has been holding on to some receipts for some time. 


Juanita Tolliver: This is what I love. This is the level of petty and I’m coming for you that is brewing for years. And I feel like we need a dramatic reading of this paper. I want to hear it. I want to see it. [laughing]


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. I mean, I’m pretty sure it will be a long, dramatic reading. But I feel like you and I could tackle that on an off day. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. [laughing] I will always be surprised when the Supreme Court does good. But for the second time in the last few months, the Supreme Court ruled against Alabama lawmakers in their proposed congressional district map. We told you about this earlier this summer when Alabama Republicans did the absolute least to comply with a court order to redraw its map to better empower Black voters. In the end, they only ended up sketching out one majority Black district, even though the order specified the creation of at least two. Under yesterday’s ruling, Alabama will get new maps, but they’ll be drawn up by court appointed experts. And I feel like it’s giving, you know, how horrible this is when the Supreme Court’s like, we can’t help you with your racism. So sorry. [laugh]


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s got to be pretty bad for even them to be like, uh uh sorry, not going to fly. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And finally, in news about things you didn’t know you needed. Airbnb will soon let people book a weekend stay at Shrek Swamp this October for free. The company announced on Tuesday that it’s renting out a treehouse deep within the Scottish Highlands inspired by the DreamWorks Animation Classic that we all know and love and are probably due for a rewatch of sometime soon. And it’s got all the hallmarks of the beloved Shrek’s humble abode. Wooden signs that say Beware the ogre, just like the ones in the movie and an outhouse 60 feet away from the house itself. So you can really immerse yourself in the life of an ogre. According to Airbnb, guests or, quote unquote, “brogres” can enjoy the ambiance of, quote, “earwax candle light during their stay, as well as stacks of freshly made waffles every morning courtesy of Donkey himself.”. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We love it. Booking for Shrek Swamp starts on October 13th, so start saving those gold coins now. Or maybe don’t because according to the official Airbnb website, it costs $0 to actually book this thing. The catch to this free stay at the magical site is that you will need to beat out everybody else trying to snag it, and whoever gets it will have to find their way to Scotland on their own dime. But here’s to hoping that whoever is lucky enough to book a stay will leave with the greatest fairy tale never told. 


Juanita Tolliver: I’m very into this, but I have two follow up questions. One Donkeys making waffles, but will there be parfaits because everybody loves a parfait? Like I’m into that. And two, you said there’s going to be an outhouse 60 feet away? For us people who are afraid of the dark and never going outside at night, please tell me there’s an indoor bathroom. [laughing] Because that’s unreasonable. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know Juanita. It feels like maybe the swamp is not the best place for you or I. 


Juanita Tolliver: At all. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s okay.


Juanita Tolliver: Nope. Opt out.


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s okay. It’s a good place for other people, for ogres and uh brogres. I’m not a brogre. I don’t identify that way. [laughing] But it’s okay. I think it’s good that we’re taking ourselves out of the running. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Because it seems like it’ll be absolutely crazy as it is. And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Dust off your copy of Das Kapital and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just law review articles written by Lina Khan like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter, check it out and subscribe at I’m Juanita Tolliver.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And let them eat cake. 


Juanita Tolliver: When I tell you that Noel dropped some bombs on us earlier, like fully educational, I fully appreciate everything she brought to this conversation. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Love Noel also, like, are we going to team up and do like the Ultimate Daily Show every now and then? Because that could be really fun. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, I definitely want her back just to shoot the shit casual. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. [laughter] [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.