Ask Prof. Wolff

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Venezuela - shortages of food & medicine

Please discuss the situation in Venezuela. I have heard it referred to as a failure of socialism. I wish I were knowledgeable enough to respond appropriately. Thank you.

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Dear Drs. Wolff and Hudson

Considering the enormity of households in America, and in the general population, paying rental stipends to the landlord. If a general relief law paying a guaranteed income were in effect now, the entirety of it naturally is vacuumed into the landlords' pockets?

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Are you aware of the chronic diseases caused by the corporate food industry?

Robert H. Lustig, M.D., MSL, is professor of pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology and a member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at University of California, San Francisco. He is the former chairman of the Obesity Task Force of the Pediatric Endocrine Society. He is the president of the nonprofit Institute for Responsible Nutrition, dedicated to reversing childhood obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmC4Rm5cpOI http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/310422/fat-chance-by-robert-h-lustig/9780142180433/

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What do you think of this story coming from a privately owned factory in Egypt?

http://www.madamasr.com/en/2017/05/23/news/u/police-disperse-sit-in-at-tourah-cement-company-arrest-22-workers/?platform=hootsuite

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Philanthro-capitalism rearing (one of it's many heads) towards democratic workplaces?

The question is Kellogg Foundation (W.K.K.F) in partnership with NCEO / Employee Ownership & Economic Well-Being - just published a study in May 2017 about "Employee Ownership" . Is this one of many efforts for large funders and money holders to 'coop' the worker owner and democratic workplace movement? With the "Ownership Economy"? To do one of many things such as grab the attention of potential business owners (large and small) to perpetuate their idea or mental model of what transitioning into a worker owner/democratic workplace looks like, how it's done, why it's done? A way to use 'worker ownership' to promote economic growth? Please elaborate if you all at D@W have time. I don't sense any democracy in their article, philosophy or study - nor any mention of some of the more social and health factors of worker owner businesses.  I sent the pdf. to the info@daw email. please find it more directly it at this link https://www.ownershipeconomy.org

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Democracy at work in academia

Dear Professor Wolff, I very much enjoy your regular economic update and other work. As you open your broadcast, you have worked in academia most of your life. Given the recent hunger strike at the Yale University, could you address in one of the following Economic updates the question of democratic running of academic affairs (departments, schools)? The current model, promoted worldwide, is at best meritocratic, but more commonly managerial and business-derived. It produces the results you described for Yale. How should an academic department or an institution conduct itself in a democratic manner, without compromising quality of teaching and research? I am aware that the Mondragon Cooperation has founded its own university. If you are familiar with it, could you perhaps talk about how it is organized and run, and if it is different from other institutions at all?

posted an official response

Thanks for the suggestion. I shall do that in a forthcoming Economic Update program.

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Update on Australia's new banks tax

Hi Professor, and greetings from a listener in Australia.

Several episodes ago you spoke about a new tax being levied by our Government on big banks.

It may interest you to know that Australia's unique (and terrible) tax arrangements mean the taxpayer will likely pick up the entirety of this new levy, rather than the banks themselves.

(Ref: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/financial-services/tax-deduction-rules-mean-bank-levy-wont-raise-62bn/news-story/20d484723266cf0db48fe7d382404808)

Many wealthy Australians take advantage of a system called 'negative gearing', which allows property owners to lose money on their property and then claim the loss on their taxes, vastly slashing their taxable income.

(Ref: http://theconversation.com/why-we-should-topple-the-sacred-cow-of-negative-gearing-1565).

This system is one of the (many) reasons why property ownership for the lower classes in Australia, particularly young people, has become an unattainable dream that the majority have given up on.

Our Governing Liberal Party (who are actually conservative, despite the name!) are staunchly in favour of negative gearing as a policy because their supporters benefit from it (and indeed the electorates with the most negatively geared properties are those of major Liberal politicians and ministers!).

Thanks again for your show. I'm a trade union officer here in Australia, but when America sneezes Australia catches a cold as they say, so I'm always keen to hear sharp, accurate analysis of what's happening over there.

Tim

posted an official response

Dear Tim,

Much obliged for your enlightening clarification of Australia's bank tax incidence. I will more carefully check such implications of reports in the future. Sadly, the tax structure of Australia as you explain it replicates closely the comparable class structures in most capitalist economies. And the logic is clear: as wealth and income inequality deepen, so too do the incentives of the rich to protect themselves from the people and from governments subject to universal suffrage by buying politicians, political parties, and government agencies so as to nullify what little democracy might be left. We live in a capitalist system spinning out of control in the supreme confidence that it needs to observe no limits. This has often been the recipe for system self-destruction. POssibly this time too.

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Warren Buffet

Hi Richard, You had an economic update on youtube recently whereby you poked at Warren Buffet for his over-forgiving attitude toward one of the big banks, I think it was Wells-Fargo. He gives a good interview on how he thinks the super rich are actually under taxed here- his opinion is evident within the first few minutes. Could you comment? You're doing great work by the way! Thank you, Stephen (Ireland) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQc0KiAXynY Youtube- Warren Buffet- How to get Wealthy in 2017

posted an official response

Warren Buffett has indeed repeatedly made clear that he believes wealth individuals like himself are undertaxed and that the growing US income and wealth inequalities are dangerous for social stability - inequalities worsened by the existing tax structure. Buffett's stance has endeared him to US liberals, etc. That is fine as far as it goes. There have always been members of elites who call upon their fellow elites to slow down their rapacious self-aggrandizements lest they provoke social revolution and thereby kill the proverbial golden goose. The question is always whether Buffett-type elites do or do not win support from their fellow elite members. In the case of the US these days, the answer is a fully unambiguous NO from fellow elites who keep rushing headlong toward ever greater economic, political and cultural inequalities. Trump (see his new budget proposals) has the enthusiasm of the military, big banks, major corporations and their top ranks - the 1% - because he promises them what they want and expect...no matter mass dissaffection for his regime....at least so far. I poked at Buffett only because I wanted my audiences to see how much solidarity he has always felt with the very fellow elite members whose capital accumulation he wants to slow down so as to keep their elite status in tact.

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Books on Dialectics?

Dr. Wolff, I have read several of Resnick's books such as "New Departures in Marxian Theory" as well as attended his (recorded) class in Marxian Economics at Umass-Amherst but, I feel that the concept of dialectics is a potential weakness in my knowledge. Specifically, one of the difficulties I have in "New Departures in Marxian Theory" is the concept of negation when applying overdetermination for practical use. I follow that an overdetermined totality's negation is to find a set of essentialist causes then relate this back to the overdetermined totality and repeat the sequence in order to find contradictions or insights for the development of the relative truth/thought-concrete/theory. What would you recommend as books for understanding dialectical concepts as negation? Considering the radical nature of Marxian epistemology, would I find any use in taking an undergraduate philosophy course over Hegel and Marx?

posted an official response

On the matter of the course, everything depends (as is often the case) on the teacher and his/her background and approach. The literature on dialectics is vast. Some key works are Marx's own musings especially in his Grundrisse, but also see Theodor Adorno's Negative Dialectics, Richard Norman's work on Hegel, David Guest's on dialectics, Kojeve and Hyppolite and Althusser have all done crucial work on Hegel's dialectics; in the US Fred Jameson had done so although in ways different from how Resnick and I worked on the topic in our 1987 Knowledge and Class, especially Chapters 1 and 2. For us, overdetermination worked better as a way to see the relatedness between thoughts and other (epistemological dialectics) realities and among all realities (ontological dialectics). Besides, the term dialectics had become devalued and abused awfully so we wanted to use new language that could get passed all that.

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Protugal vs Spain/ no-austerity vs austerity

What do you think about the situation of Portugal right now? A left government, no austerity, growth through the last 13 quarters, low unemployment rate and yet their bonds are being rated as being garbage by the big rating companies. http://www.economist.com/news/21719753-socialists-say-their-keynesian-policies-are-working-others-fret-about-portugals

posted an official response

Partly the progressive (Keynesian) tilt of fiscal policy by the left coalition government (socialists, communists and greens), partly good luck enables the Portuguese to avoid the downward spiral of, say, Greece, or even the ongoing difficulties of Spain and Italy. The bg rating companies' judgements should always be taken with an extra-large grain of salt since they need to curry favor with the big governments whose debt they rate, and those governments (especially Germany and France) have worked extra hard for years to demonize Greece and any other govt leaning left much as the major private banks have.

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Here is my RD Wolff-inspired Blog post about worker exploitation

Here is the link to my blog post about the relevance of the song, "Sixteen Tons" to exploited workers, both in the past, and in today's world: http://thesuspicionist.blogspot.com/2017/05/is-this-classic-song-real-national.html

posted an official response

First of all, I am flattered by your inclusion of my explanation of the theory of surplus to Abby Martin in your fine work on Merle Travis's "Sixteen Toms." Second, it might interest you to know that I was enormously taken by the Tennessee Ernie Ford rendition that I heard on the radio as a teenager years ago. I was not yet politically interested so perhaps that son played a role in my own development.

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Are there any studies of the average 'rate of exploitation' of the American worker?

You've pointed out that employees always produce more value for their employer than they receive in wages for that labor; that's how capitalism works. But has there ever been a systematic attempt to gauge exactly how much these numbers differ? I'm sure the rate must vary a great deal from industry to industry, business to business, job to job, but I'd be very interested to know if there are any examples of studies where researchers have attempted to put a numerical value on average exploitation of labor.

posted an official response

The short answer is yes, there have been many such empirical studies wherever Marxist economists have decided to "apply" the theory of surplus value to a set of concrete conditions. Such work continues to be produced.

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Why do you hold your monthly economic updates at a church?

Even Upton Sinclair in The Jungle did not go easy on the church, the church has always been an accomplice to the few in bringing malice upon the masses. It is a conflict of interest, the people are evolving as they pursue new ideas to gain more equality, and those new ideas have led them to you as you provide alternative economic systems. The church will always be on the side of the elites and it will always be that way. Even Pope Frances attempts to separate himself from his predecessors, but when it comes to humane issues like gay rights, he won't cross that bridge and support their case. The masses want equality in all facets of life, and its time you step away from the institution that has a long history of oppression. Doug Eaker

posted an official response

Churches, like all other institutions, reflect, embody and affect the larger societies in which they exist. That means they include the contradictions, disagreements, differences of opinion and political perspectives of those larger societies. Churches, clerics, etc thus display the whole range of all those differences. All churches are not the same, not even close. In most cases, church members share some but not all the values of their particular institution, their particular cleric, etc. Church members likewise have all sorts of disagreements among themselves. Basically because of some basic shared values, our arrangement with the Judson Memorial Church has been very successful in reaching out to (by now) thousands of attendees at our monthly evening presentations and sharing with them our economic analyses. I believe that this has been mutually beneficial to the church, to us, and to our shared values.

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Guardian article links rise of right-wing extremism with farm debt & home foreclosures

Article that might interest Professor Wolff: Guardian UK, J Oliver Conroy, MAY 15 2017, "They hate the US government and they're multiplying: the terrifying rise of 'sovereign citizens' " -- makes direct links between the increase in right-wing extremism and the economic conditions in the farm belt (debt, foreclosures).

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