Who Makes Cents?: A History of Capitalism Podcast

In the summer of 2014, activists in Ferguson, Missouri helped catalyze a cycle of struggle against racist policing, extractive fines and fees, and myriad other injustices that are rooted in racial capitalism and the state. Decades before this in nearby St. Louis Black women activists propelled another vibrant movement for justice and equity.

On today’s show, however, we speak with Keona Ervin about St Louis’s actually existing working class and the role of Black women activists played in shaping the struggle for economic dignity in the city.

Keona K. Ervin is assistant professor of History at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She received her PhD in History from Washington University in St. Louis in 2009. Professor Ervin’s main research and teaching areas are black freedom movement studies, urban history, black women’s history, and US labor and working-class history. She is the author of the forthcoming Gateway to Equality: Black Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky).

Direct download: Keona_Ervin_on_Black_Womens_Activism_in_St._Louis.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 6:39pm EST

We often think of neoliberalism as operating at odds with the traditional family. Our guest, Melinda Cooper, shows why neoliberals and social conservatives have enjoyed an alliance over the past forty years, and how neoliberalism has long had anxiety about family and morality at its core.

Direct download: MelindaCooper_-_2618_5.38_PM.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 5:44pm EST

Consider the chicken nugget. Many of us can see its round shape in our minds, and recall its salty taste. But what is its history? And what does this history have to tell us about food and capitalism, and about one of the most devastating industrial accidents in recent U.S. history?


On today’s show, we speak with Bryant Simon about the 1991 fire at a chicken processing factory in Hamlet, North Carolina. For Bryant, this tragic accident has political and economic causes. And it reveals a tremendous amount the last few decades of U.S. and global history.


Bryant Simon is a professor of history at Temple University. He is the author of The Hamlet Fire:

A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives.

Direct download: Bryant_Simon_on_the_Hamlet_Fire_and_the_Politics_of_Chicken.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 6:20pm EST

Popular discussions of U.S. politics often distinguish "social" issues from "economic" issues. Laura Briggs shows us how looking at recent U.S. history through the lens of reproductive politics challenges this division.

Direct download: LauraBriggs.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 12:09am EST

Since the most recent election, we’ve heard a lot of news about the so-called working class. But all too often, this term seems to refer to white men instead of the diverse group of people who actually comprise the working class. Similarly, in the years since the 2008 recession, more and more attention has been given economic inequality that has grown ever larger over the past few decades. On today’s show, we speak with Lane Windham about union organizing in the 1970s and how these efforts reveal necessary context to understanding the many struggles of the actual working class, and what this history can reveal about the growth of economic inequality since the 1970s.


Lane Windham is Associate Director of Georgetown University's Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and co-director of WILL Empower (Women Innovating Labor Leadership). She is the author of Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide.

Direct download: Lane_Windham__on_Union_Organizing_in_the_1970s.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 3:09pm EST

Before Amazon bought Whole Foods, the shopping chain got its start as an activist business more focused on politics than profits. Join us to discuss the rise and fall of activist small business in last third of the twentieth century.

Direct download: JoshDavis.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 2:32pm EST

It has become well known that none of those most responsible for the 2008 recession have faced significant prosecutions or gone to prison for their actions. But one bank did face a severe prosecution in the wake of the recession. On today’s show, we speak to Steve James, the director of a new film about Abacus bank—a small bank that serves New York’s Chinatown community, and how they found themselves facing a harsh prosecution, and how they fought back.  

Direct download: Steve_James_on_Abacus_Bank.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 5:10pm EST

We often talk about "economic conservatism" and "social conservatism," as if they're entirely divorced topics. Emily Hobson tells us about gay and lesbian activists from the 1960s through the 1990s who understood sexuality and anti-capitalism to be inextricably linked.

Direct download: Hobson.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 11:30pm EST

In Nancy MacLean’s new book—Democracy in Chainsshe unveils a long history of efforts by right-wing officials and intellectuals to undermine democracy. She foregrounds the importance of the economist James Buchanan to this story. She shows us the historical context of how Buchanan came to be a key intellectual for those opposing school desegregation, unionization of workers, and much more.


Nancy MacLean is the William Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University and the award-winning author of Behind the Mask of Chivalry and Freedom is Not Enough.

Direct download: Nancy_MacLean_on_the_Radical_Right_and_James_Buchanan.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 4:47pm EST

Why do budgetary crises tend to lead to politicians and business leaders calling for governments to tighten their purse strings? How can we understand austerity as politics, not just common business sense? This week, we welcome back Kim Phillips-Fein to discuss her new book, Fear City, on the fiscal crisis in New York City in the 1970s. 

Direct download: PhillipsFeinFINAL.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 7:21am EST