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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American standard of living

Hi Professor Wolff, In your most Economic Update, Housing Crisis US, you mention that the standard of living for the bottom half of Americans has stagnated or dropped over the past 40 years. Do you mind providing a few links that reflect this data? Thanks a ton.

posted an official response

Rather than provide the "few links" that you request, let me go one better and provide you with the link to which most researchers go to get the best facts and figures on income and wealth inequality. The economists Thomas Piketty, Emanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman operate a growing research team - much of it based at the University of California - Berkeley - that you can follow via this link: https://eml.berkeley.edu/~saez/ACPSZ2017AEAPP.pdf  All their work is available free to everyone interested.

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TX SB1750 & 1751: 401k style plan for Texas teachers/retirees?

If passed, will TX SB1750 & 1751 convert the currently defined benefit plan for Texas teachers/retirees into a risky 401(k) style plan?

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Do Kondratiev Waves point to an inherent flaw that cannot be solved?

Would a planned economy reduce or eliminate the effects of long-cycles in an economic system? I don't see how people can continue on accepting capitalism for long if such waves are inevitable.

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Automation replacing jobs?

My question is about the increased use of self-serve checkouts in grocery stores.  There are also self driving vehicles including the use of drones for deliveries. These are examples of technologies that will eliminate a significant fraction of jobs.  As consumers, employees and citizens, what can we do to stem the tide of job elimination by automation?

posted an official response

Let me suggest a different approach. People could welcome technologies that save on human labor if it did not also threaten jobs as you rightly are concerned about. The key point is that it is not technology that threatens jobs; it is capitalism that controls and uses technological change to increase profits for a few rather than reduce labor for the many. Take a simple example: if new machines can replace old ones within an enterprise such that workers produce twice as many units of an output as with the old machines, here are the two options for such an enterprise. In the typical capitalist enterprise, the owners/directors can and will likely fire half the workforce, keep the other half working and have the same revenue from selling total output at the existing price. Profits will have gone up by the amount saved for the capitalist by not having to pay the wages of the half of workers just fired. That is but one option. The workers in such an enterprise would much prefer a second, different option: reduce every worker's workday to half the time (say from 8 to 4 hours). The the same output as with the old machines would result; the same wages would be paid to the same workers; nobody would be fired; and output, revenue and profits would be the same as with the old machines. In short, option two brings the benefits of technological change to the workers - in the form of a vast increase in leisure time with no drop in wages. If workers were in charge - as in a workers coop - they would much prefer option #2 over option #1 and likely act accordingly. In conclusion, our task is not to stop automation but rather to grasp and follow the logic that if we changed the economic system - moved beyond capitalism - automation would benefit and thus be welcomed by workers rather tha being feared and opposed because of how capitalists have always used technical change.

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Alternate Investing

My meager savings draw no interest at the bank. My 401K is long gone with the small stock portfolio I held. My collectable pssessions; 1st editions, firearms ( wish I had kept one at times listening to you and Ralph Nader) etc are too along with the curation headaches and equally volatile market. IF I were to invest any funds what ETHICAL options are there? Do Co Ops seek 'Start Up' strategems? Should I just invest in freeze dried Lima beans for the next collapse?

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Your perspective on AirBnB?

Dear Dr Wolff, Since you have followed the workings of companies like Uber on your show, I was wondering if you were familiar with the business dealings and economic philosophy of AirBnB. I found the below site, AirBnB Watch, this last week. I have long been skeptical of the "gig economy" as a model, so I have always been curious about the realities and community ramifications of AirBnB rentals. Although I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about AirBnB Watch's background and rationale, I’d appreciate the viewpoint of a well-seasoned (particularly Marxist) economist on the subject. Thanks so much for your weekly programs! I listen every week and keep an ear out for when you visit my area and/or places where my friends live. Best regards, Sascha, Boston MA

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Dr. Wolff, how about this as a way to keep the Bernie Sanders momentum alive?

Dr. Wolff, as billionaires and corporations have largely neutered the impact of the mass of voters and made their concerns mostly irrelevant, raising the effective barriers to entry to the political process, what about establishing a "crowd sourcing" PAC of sorts in which people join by contributing $27.00, then as the 2020 presidential race nears those who belong to the PAC each get to vote for a progressive candidate using Jill Stein's ranked voting proposal, and the winner gets to use the crowd-sourcing funds to run for office?

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Non-Union. NYC artist looking 4 credit union.

Please point me to a link if there is one on this subject. Sick of banking w/one of the major ones which I have no reason to trust. Many thanks, Barbra

posted an official response

In New York City, one of the biggest and best organized federal credit unions - offering every possible banking service as well or better than commercial banks - is the following: https://www.mcgrawhillfcu.org/home/home

Take a look at their website provided for your convenience above.

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What is your position on a flat tax?

I am curious as to your position on an annual 10% flat tax on wealth for all households and businesses. Understanding that it would never happen in a capitalist environment, would it not generate enough revenue to equitably fund our government?

posted an official response

In the US today, only certain forms of wealth are subject to a property tax (chiefly land, homes, buildings etc..."real property"). Other forms (e.g. stocks, bonds) have no tax on their property value but only on the income they generate, if any. So if you mean that adding a 10% tax to those latter forms of property (often called "intangible" property) would generate a vast revenue for the federal government with which to solve all sorts of social problems, that is correct. Would the wealth owning businesses and individuals seek and likely find ways to evade and then overturn such a tax? Likely as that has been the history of so many tax initiatives over the history of capitalism. The problem, in short, is the system. Reforming capitalism has been a long running way to delay confrontation with the needs and possibilities to go beyond capitalism, to do better than capitalism.

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What book have you (co)authored on Capital Vol 2 and 3?

It's not your book "Contending Economic Theories" It seems I remember a book that focuses more on Capital Volumes 2 and 3 that would be a nice companion with the actual texts.. Am I crazy? If I'm not, what is it? Thank you, Professor Wolff.

posted an official response

You may be thinking of a book jointly co-authored by Stephen Resnick and myself entitled New Departures in Marxian Theory. It was published in New York and London by Routledge in 2006. Parts III, IV and V contain essays that make use of and build upon Marx's analyses in Volumes 2 and 3 of Capital. The ISBN of this book is 0-415-77026-2

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How do you feel about Goldmoney.com or gold in general.

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Is the Resource Based economy possible or not and why, whether on smaller or grander scale?

https://www.thevenusproject.com/

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Is there a place like Judson Memorial Church, with someone like Prof. Wolff in Los Angeles?

I live in Los Angeles and would like to attend similar lectures here. Are Prof. Wolff's ideas only availabe live in NYC?

posted an official response

Thank you for your question, Steven. While we can't point you to a regular live program currently available in Los Angeles, Prof. Wolff does travel to often. Please keep an eye out on our calendar for future events near you.

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Amazing paper from Oxfam, can you use this in Economic Update?

Oxfam, mostly known from the inequality reports like "Eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world", have published this paper with analysis of the causes of inequality. Very similar to your analysis. Also covering "The false assumptions driving the economy of the 1%" and "A human economy designed for the 99%". Unusual clear analysis pointing to the richest people/corporations and their anti-social ideology and use of power to maximizing their profits at the expense of the welfare for everybody else. Full text and summary available as pdf here: https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/economy-99 Perhaps you could also contact the author of the paper, Deputy Head of Research, Deborah Hardoon?

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Fixed pie vs expanding/variable pie economics

Hello Professor Wolff, I love your work & podcasts (although I am certainly not particularly educated in the area of economics). I often get into discussions with people during my daily life, and let them know that I’ve always felt that the "Master issue" (the issue controlling all of its sub-issues, representation of the populace in gov't, legislation, never-ending war, climate change, healthcare, unemployment, incarceration, immigration, civil rights, mental health issues / depression, etc, etc, etc... the list goes on forever) in this country is wealth/income inequality and distribution… generally letting others know that most of our populace are getting poorer, while only a very small percentage are getting fabulously wealthier. A couple people responded to me with this... "everyone is getting wealthier, but a small percentage are getting a lot wealthier, while most are getting only a little bit wealthier, or maintaining status quo". Well, I've researched that notion, and apparently it is part of the "fixed pie vs expanding/variable pie" debate (whether there is actually debate about this, I do not know). While researching this, I ran across an article, by Chelsea German, which seemed to me VERY UN-convincing, with respect to this supposed "debate", at this link: http://humanprogress.org/blog/senator-sanders-fixed-pie-fallacy So, two questions... one, what is your view of "fixed pie vs expanding/variable pie"?, and two, where can I find definitive research/documentation proving, what I’ve always figured MUST be true, that most people are getting poorer (some of the recent research of Gabriel Zucman seems to indicate this, of which I've read only tiny bits, and his work is so voluminous that finding specific data proving would be quite difficult, and time-consuming). I suspect that the answers to my questions are probably more difficult than I was hoping, as it probably involves some type of economic/financial comparison of different time periods, involving various ratios/multipliers/dividers/equations to try to account for inflation and other variables… but I’m hoping not, and that you can provide some definitive data/charts/etc (I also suspect that as one rises on the income/wealth scale, their ability to accept/believe that most people are getting poorer drops off precipitously… and it would not surprise me to find that there have been studies, psych research, etc on this.) Thanks very much for your time, and consideration. Bob

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