Ask Prof. Wolff

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Have a question for Professor Wolff? Want to suggest a topic or article? UPVOTE your favorite questions or submit your own. Top suggestions will be given a video answer on YouTube.
 
Professor Wolff receives hundreds of questions per week covering a wide array of topics, from economics and politics, to historical movements and current events. While Professor Wolff does his best to reply to some questions on Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff, he's received more questions than can be answered individually. Prof. Wolff will now provide video answers to his favorite questions on this page.
 
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Self-employment style capitalism?

Could this work on a large scale? I know people who favour this over a worker ran enterprise, advantages/disadvantages & most importantly feasibility?

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"Everyone's free to do what they want, as long as they don't hurt anybody else"?

Dear Mr. Wolff. I heard you say, in a presentation on Youtube that everyone should have grown out of the mentallity of "Everyone's free to do what they want, as long as they don't hurt anybody else" by the age of ten, or something to that effect. Can you please elaborate on why this mode of thought is a bad thing? Best regards, Anders, Denmark.

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Worker coop for freelance translators?

Dear Dr Wolff, I currently work as a freelance translator in the current gig.com economy, which is similar to UBER etc. Companies who need translation work done go to agencies who pass on projects to us. There is no job security, payment in relatively low and we tend to work long hours to keep our clients happy and coming back to us. Currently I am in a situation in which I have to turn down quite a lot of work because I physically can't cope with it. Do you have any idea how I could create a coop out of it? I feel like it would be a good idea but I do not know where to start. Silvia

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Union Support for Worker Co-operatives?

Dr. Wolff: With all due respect—and I mean that—I must disagree with your suggestion in this week's EU that the leadership of the major U.S. labor unions would go to bat for worker co-operatives. The unions today guard the interests of capitalists more than they do those of their rank and file members. Union officials make large salaries relative to those earned by workers. They're cosseted by the bosses, wined and dined, taken on luxury vacations, and who knows what goes on underneath the bargaining table? What would be their incentive to seek to promote co-operatives that, if successful, would likely undermine their power and take away their privileges? The evidence for this kind of corruption is plentiful. The UAW recent contract negotiations make a case in point. The leadership out-maneuvered the widespread opposition expressed by the rank and file by using dirty tricks to guarantee that the contract desired by the employers got  passed. Perhaps you have more information on this topic that gives you reason to believe that unions would champion co-ops. If so, I hope you will comment on it.

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Could a basic income displace the damage to the labor force anticipated by automation and robotics?

Hi Professor Wolff, On your program a few weeks ago, you were pointing to the perilous road ahead for labor, specifically as the rapid growth of automation and robotics threaten to create a jobless economy within the next decade or so. It occurred to me that along with worker cooperatives, (which you have so marvelously explained and championed on a number of shows) another strategy to explore might be the implementation of a basic income. Two potential guests come to mind. Steve Shafarman (Basic Income Action) who has written several books on the subject, and has been a proponent of the idea for decades. His plan is fixed amount for every person in the country, with no means test for income, as a way to completely eradicate dire poverty and provide an economic base for every person in the country. He outlines how it is economically possible, and given your expertise, you would be able to further amplify his concepts and lend support to its feasibility. The other potential guest is Robert Ashford, who has a plan that does not give money to people in the form of a monthly check, but instead provides every citizen with a capital investment. His plan is a little less direct, but here again, your command of economics and ability to teach, could really help educate us as to how this idea works and how it might look in practice. The idea of a basic income is virtually unknown in our society, but would have majority support were people to know and understand the concept, making it politically possible. The time is now for this discussion, as a way to offer people a strategy to displace some of the damage that is anticipated with the further evaporation of the labor force. It’s a potential left/right issue too, as the right might embrace it as a way to reduce social services. After all, Nixon supported the idea (at the urging of Milton Freidman) in the early 70’s for this reason. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to let me share my thoughts and for considering using your show as a way to explore this idea and potentially move it forward. Lee Metcalf

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The feasibility of worker co-ops, nation to nation.

My question is simple. Worker co-ops require all the people who work to keep a corporation going, to work...cooperatively, and to decide on what to do to keep that company going (profit distribution, work organization, production methods, etc), and in so doing they function as both owner and employee. Every, single, time, that humans gather and clump into a large group to organize *anything* they organize into hierarchies based on following the alpha male, which in our theoretical worker co-op would be the original founder. Now, can someone tell me, please, how do we get past the DNA driven, tribal behavior, that can cause people to essentially step on the next guy, to get to the top of the worker co-op heap? So to speak. I've lived in a small community that functioned as a farming co-op, and people still formed cliques, and whether by intention or not, socially *excluded* those who came along after them. So, it didn't feel like a successful social experiment at all. The only thing I can think of to rectify this, is rules. Staunch, in place, bold in legal contract language, which keeps people in check. I watched the entire PBS special on Mondragon, and not ONCE did anyone mention this as a problem, and I suspect that's because Spain is heavily influenced by the church, so people there are/were just used to following direction and staying in line - and only have to worry about conflicting messaging when they go home and turn on the TV.

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What is the purpose of university endowment funds?

One of the things emerging out of the Paradise Papers is that a number of universities are sheltering profits in off shore accounts from investing endowment funds. First, do not most universities have non-profit status? If I am correct, then why is it necessary to shelter "profits" off shore? Second, why are universities hoarding billions in endowment funds in the first place? On one of your Economic Update shows you mentioned that Harvard has the largest endowment. At the time I believe you said it was around 47 billion.dollars. The obvious question is, with this much money in reserve, why do students have to pay tuition at Harvard? Surely they could afford to enable students to attend tuition free. What is the purpose of endowment funds if it is not to support the student learning experience? It seems like many are managed much like venture capital funds.

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Difference between Marxist Leninist & Maoist

Through your work & others in particular David Harvey I've came to understand the difference of communism socialism and anarchism could you explain the difference between Marx Lenin and Mao ideals & if you'd favour a particular style or a combination?

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Is free market and capitalism are same?

Dear Sir I am from India. Currently pursuing masters in Economics after graduating in Computer Science. This is my first year of Economics studies. I am completely convinced with your points on the free market yet I am convinced with this guy[Video Link at the bottom]. I have no standpoint what is right and wrong. Will you please clarify duality. Thankful Your follower Nimit Video Link: https://www.facebook.com/PierrePoilievreMP/videos/10155129268787379/?hc_ref=ARR99w_m5RyHI9W486tg_KeriREqYi_FTTsQG5NQMLsmgAYCoJDBglJctWRfY3WrlnQ

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Race to the bottom?

As multinational corporate headquarters are moved to Ireland, the Cayman Islands, wherever, why should a nation think holding corporate taxes firm, won't result in the largest business simply moving abroad? The only answer I can imagine, is (God help us), a global government of some kind. Please, tell me how I'm wrong. Please!

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A Beautiful Example of the Psychological Result of Equality at Work

The positive psychology of equality presented in this short video is explained by a famous college basketball coach concerning his working encounter with a world famous athlete: https://youtu.be/bCpJBdIlAzo

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Is there a way to invest in worker-owned cooperatives?

Professor Wolff, For years I have sought ways ro pursue green investing but have achieved only limited success, Green investing is still dubious at best. Can you suggest ways to invest in worker-owned cooperatives? I am self-employed and mostly retired anyway so starting a cooperative is not really part of my future but I would invest in them if I knew how. Regards, Tim Reed Healdsburg, CA

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Capitalism vs. Socialism in Israel

In Israel, there were cooperative living organizations, namely the Kibutz and the Moshav, where people shared resources and profits, and participated equally in decision making. Today, most of them privatized, and are considered by the right-wing government as socialist failures. How would you counter this argument in an atmosphere where leftists/socialists are considered traitors?

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Have you debated Robert Reich?

Robert Reich has been a very vocal advocate for reforming capitalism. As both of you are very talented speakers and very passionate about your views; I would love to see a direct conversation between you and him and see what shakes out of that debate.

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