Ask Prof. Wolff

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Have a question for Professor Wolff? Want to suggest a topic or article? Post it here! Professor Wolff receives hundreds of questions per week covering a wide array of topics, from economics and socialism, to historical movements and current events. While Professor Wolff does his best to reply to some questions on Economic Updatewe receive more questions than we can handle! Ask Prof. Wolff allows his fans to ask questions publicly and also vote and respond to others questions.
 
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I would like to suggest doing an interview with Jane Elliot for your weekly program Economic update.

Dear Professor Wolff, I would like to suggest doing an interview with Jane Elliot for your weekly program Economic update. She is a well known educator on the subject of racism because of her famous bleu eyes brown eyes expiriment. She has remarkeble insights on the topic and makes amazing connections between racism and our system's opression. I think it would be interesting to talk with her about the link between capitalism and racism. Her experiment: https://youtu.be/jPZEJHJPwIw?t=5s A recent interview with her: https://youtu.be/fF9s0as_d_4

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MMT Modern Money Theory, its pros and cons. Why and/or why not?

https://youtu.be/Xac2a6jNQJU https://youtu.be/YEyb5A7GNzg For when you can, these videos are lengthy but fortunately not visually artistically, so you can enjoy listening to them while doing something else, if needed. Am I being too skeptical of this concept? Why is the left (as in the real left) falling in love with this, and why is even Trump himself toying with this concept (or perhaps a version of his own)? I feel, though it sounds good to a certain extent even in practice,(I really would rather be living in an economy using this theory than the one we're in); I feel that it seems to me it'd be like a very large Band-Aid, but still a Band-Aid nonetheless to the economy as it stands. I feel that while we are still in a system where surpluses are still having to be generated for the efficiency of profits, MMT or no MMT, collapse after collapse we will see. Is it too utopian to imagine an MMT transition into a Time Banking/Service Exchange Cooperative Economy? Thank you!

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How do worker co-ops scale into larger non-capitalist systems?

Like you, I am very interested in worker owned and worker run co-ops as a growing movement, a somewhat more ethical approach to the inherently unethical capitalism. I would love to hear on your podcast how- looking out to the future, how co-op culture could pave the way to larger systems and structures like syndicalism and what the nuances of are of that and what it could look like. There are many alternative systems that co-ops could be the seeds of and what those systems are seems to be a huge pandroa's box to explore.

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How would a Universal Basic Income impact housing prices, wages, and general inflation?

Dear Professor Wolf, I was recently involved in a discussion comparing the benefits of Universal Basic income vs. Full Employment. I understand you are generally more in favor of a universal employment program, but I was wondering if you could address some concerns about the Idea of a Universal Basic Income that came up in the discussion. Would providing a Universal Basic Income for Americans create an increase in housing prices, a decrease in wages, or general inflation? Thank You, Scott from Brooklyn, NY

posted an official response

There are no simple one-to-one connections or cause/effect relationships between creating a UBI for Americans and any other specific economic event (such as those you listed). All economic events have many diverse contributing factor. If we had a UBI iot would add its effects to all the other influences on economic events, but there is no way to know in advance of each moment's specific set of other influences, what the outcome on any event will finally be. People who tell you how any A will definitely cause a B have not understood the multi-causality of all things, events, etc.

Yes, I am very opposed to isolating one portion of a healthy, adult population as somehow exempt from the work that is required ofd the rest of that population. It is profoundly socially divisive and I dont see why that is desirable or worth risking. If we have more people that jobs that need doing, then the way to manage that situation is to reduce the working time of all workers. That way all have work while all enjoy its reduction in favor of free time.

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Have you created any petitions to create federal jobs for the public? We'll back you up.

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Had not thought of that as a way to add pressure on Trump.....let me talk to my associates. Thanks for the suggestion.

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Investment Advice

Given the current economic conditions, what investments does Dr. Wolf recommend for working people and the middle class?

posted an official response

It is generally unwise and unethical to offer investment advice without knowing the specific circumstances of an individual (and they are always different and unique), so I generally refrain from doing that. That said, let me nonetheless offer a kind of broad advice: the vast turmoil of contemporary capitalism, and especially since the crash of 2008, has now provoked major political upheavals and uncertainties (recent votes in the UK, Italy and the US; earlier political shifts across southern Europe, the rightward shifts in Latin America and chaos in the Middle East) and one of which could further destabilize world capitalism. The deepening inequalities within all capitalist economies - itself a major cause of the political turmoil - shows no sign of being stopped, let alone reversed. And that promises further upheaval. In such circumstances, the obvious advice has to be: be very, very careful and cautious in all your investments since the downside risks are huge and the upside possibilities much more limited and scarce.

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Most important books for those interested in radical economics/politics?

Thank you Dr. Wolff. You do great things.

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The classics are called that for a reason: they keep teaching readers for decades because they are so richly packed. So, for example, on US history, read Howard Zinn, C. Wright Mills, C. Vann Woodward, David Montgomery, and those who have built upon that work. In economics, go to the source if you possibly can: read Karl Marx and the greatest Marxist writers since (including Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci, Georg Lukacs, Louis Althusser). In philosophy, Hegel if you have the time. More recent stuff: the American Richard Rorty (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature), writings by the French thinker Etienne Balibar. In literature, the American Fred Jameson. If you want an introduction to many of these writers and others, take a look at our first book, S. Resnick and R. Wolff, Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987) where we discuss their work and its significances.

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I thought this video was worth sharing...its topic resonates with democracy in the workplace.

http://video.wpt.org/video/2365886751/

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Yes, I could not agree more. So let me add my strong recommendation to yours. Anyone reading this would be well advised to take a few moments to view this video of a talk given by a specialist in "organization theory" who explains clearly and persuasively why the kind of top-down organization typical in the world today is so undemocratic and thus does immense damage to both organizations and the individuals within them. Important work!

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Is war the usual affair of humanity that accompanies massive changes in the global economy?

the end of feudalism and massive shifts in the european economy corresponded to the 100 years war. WW1 and WW2 correlated with the end of colonialism, and were a massive re-organization of the global economy. Is there a risk that the decline of Capitalism is likely to precipitate something similar? Can we learn from history how such things occur for signs in today's world. I was listening on KPFA and think this might be a nice expansion on a theme you often mention - Ira Leifer, Santa Barbara

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War, as others have noted, is politics by another name and set of mechanisms. Just as Obama was a slightly to the left attempt to contain radical responses - by making the president an African-American of slightly left leanings - to capitalism's production of gross inequality since 1980 and then its collapse in 2008, Trump is now a slightly (or perhaps not so slightly) tilt to the right to contain radical responses by deflecting them into economic nationalism. Obama could not or would not make the changes that the problem of US capitalism now poses, so he paved the way for a rightist version to try. Only wild luck will enable Trump to do any better. The economic odds are that he will do worse. Well, then, another way out - both economically and by deflecting popular anger into war hysteria - would be a war. Is that possible? Only someone unaware of capitalism's history (endless small wars punctuated by the worst world wars human history produced including use of nuclear weapons) could answer anything but "yes." And you can be sure that for future radio shows, I will be watching and pointing out signs, if and when they surface, of movement toward military solutions to US capitalism's deepening problems.

Later addition: many years ago, the American leftist writer, Harry Magdoff, published an article in his magazine, Monthly Review (co-edited with Paul M. Sweezy) in which Magdoff showed that for most of the history of the US, this country was at war somewhere with someone. War was not, in short, the occasional condition of the US; it was rather its normal condition. In short, massive upheavals internally in capitalist societies may enhance the probability of finding some sort of war as part of the solution to them, but even without massive upheavals, war is endemic to capitalism and always has been.

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Did the anarcho-syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War bring about cooperative enterprise?

I'm writing an essay on the workplace structure in the republican zone of Spain during the war and wanted to get your views on the organisation of collective farms and industrial syndicates in Spain as to whether they represented a genuine worker co-operative economy with high levels of economic democracy. Moreover do you think that changes in workplace organisation and the establishment of democratically operated enterprise in Spain during the war substantially effected the productivity and efficiency of the Spanish Republican economy. Finally do you think that the kind of experiments in worker self-management undertaken in Spain during the war can be considered representative of a socialist mode of production given the circumstances of being a war economy?

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The short answer is yes, Republican Spain's experimentation with cooperatives contains all sorts of valuable lessons in how to begin to construct a genuine socialist alternative economy to capitalism. The Spanish efforts in the 1930s were constrained by (1) the official socialism of the time (which stressed state ownership of industry and state planning of the distribution of resources and products - and which correspondingly undervalued the transformation of the workplace into a cooperative versus a hierarchical organization) and (2) the urgencies of a vicious civil war. So lessons drawn need to always take those constraints into consideration. But Spain - like many other countries - has histories of experiments in cooperative workplace organization that can and eventually will be used in the new 21st century socialism that will be built around the revolution inside the workplace from capitalist to cooperative organization of production.

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Do you think china's economic system is travelling towards the capitalism?

Dear Professor Wolff, please explain me why communist china has free markets and free trading in their economic system.

posted an official response

The nature and meaning of "free" in the phrase "free markets" remains an issue of contention and debate among those who study the institution. Let me assume that you mean markets with minimal government interventions. In that meaning, there were free markets throughout most of the histories of most 20th century "communist" countries such as the USSR and the PRC. The USSR, for example, differentiated between major grain production and distribution (markets and trade but heavily shaped by government planning and interventions) and the production and distribution of meat, dairy, vegetables, fruits where the markets were enabled to function much more "freely." Modern Chinese economists tend to believe that markets - if limited and controlled and regulated - can be useful deployed in the service of economies such as theirs with heavy government involvement in the ownership and control of undustries. They also believe that case by case decisions can and should be made as to how free markets should be as mechanisms of distribution consistent with the government's plans and ownership/control projects and goals.

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co-op creation

How can I start a co-op from the ground up, with limited resources in the restaurant business?

posted an official response

Find the coop societies/organizations in your country that already serve as representatives for existing coops (including restaurants). They will have literature and contacts you can use to make a business plan on the basis of what others have already learned about the problems and solutions of building new coops.

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Is what you described in Detroit basically a time currency?

In your last Economic Update. Thank you!

posted an official response

It is one form of such currencies.

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It's Time for the Time-as-Currency Movement

Dear Professor Wolff, I have been trying to submit a repeatedly revised letter about the time-as-currency movement to the New York Times Op-Ed section for consideration for publication for months. I need support getting them to consider it. Most people don't know a thing about Time-Banks, Time-Exchanges, Time-Networks, etc., even though they exist across the United States and elsewhere. I wanted to ask if you had heard about the movement when I heard your great presentation in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, but my question was the only one of its kind from the audience, and only the questions that were in the majority were considered. (I spoke about it afterward with Alan Minski.) At the very least, I hope you will please consider Dr. Edgar S. Cahn's contributions on the subject to learn more, or advocate to have him as a guest speaker on yours or a related radio show. We all need to know about this viable, economic, grassroots alternative. As I have suffered with a disability that has resulted in chronic homelessness, the local Time-Bank came through as a support system many times, while social services did not. I have my own personal experience to offer on the subject too. Yours in service, Alicia Sterling Beach

posted an official response

The way I get into the subject of time-based currencies (or exchange systems) is to see them as interesting attempts to move away from the capitalist system and the currency arrangements it has favored. In capitalism, money involves two basic sorts of transactions. The first is simple exchange where a certain value of one commodity is exchanged for an equivalent value of another commodity. The second is a very different sort of exchange, one in which a certain value is extended by person A to person B who then responds by extending to person A more value than person B received from A. By such an exchange A appropriates a surplus value. The profit drive in capitalism is this second sort of exchange that involves inequalities. Critics of capitalism, of its profit drive, and of their social effects have always sought some way to negate the second sort of exchange.....and time-based currencies have been one result of that search. What we can say is that a time-based exchange of equivalents - as the rule governing such an exchange system - would at least expose the inequality at the base of profit in a way that capitalism, in contrast, hides and disguises.

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Worker Co-ops Then and Now

Dear Prof. Wolff, I'm very interested in your presentations about worker co-ops and agree that being a worker in a co-op is much preferable to working for a capitalist enterprise. Can you address why you think there is an opportunity now for worker co-ops to thrive and proliferate and become a true alternative to the mainstream, or even the new mainstream, as opposed to the 1960s and 70s which also saw a wave of worker co-ops spring up all over the USA? Most of these worker co-ops all too quickly faded away as their members burned out, moved on and, probably most important, capitalist enterprises took over producing the coops' products at lower prices, thereby putting the co-ops out of business.

posted an official response

The opportunity is far greater now chiefly because, since the 2008 crash and the failure of recovery since then (except for the richest 3-5%), millions are disillusioned and disappointed by the capitalist system. That is, they increasingly grasp that particular problems (student debts, grotesque inequalities of income and wealth, corruption of politics by money, poverty, ecological decay, etc.) are better understood as symptoms of a general disease, namely capitalism's profit-driven subordination of other social values and needs to private profit maximization. Seeing capitalism as the problem provokes thought and action toward identifying and then pursuing systemic alternatives. Right now, worker coops are the systemic alternative to capitalistically organized workplaces and work processes, so they get the attention and support of the increasing number disaffected from capitalism.

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