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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Worker co-op airline

As we head into holiday season, it would be interesting to hear how you envision a worker co-operative airline would be structured.

posted an official response

Much like other businesses. One difference would be the training and experience of, for example, pilots. In a worker coop airline, the kind of rotation of function among coop members would be reduced by the lack of training and experience of non-pilots, etc. But no principle is at stake: pilots and mechanics and clerks all do their part to make airlines work and therefore deserve an equal democratic control over the airline enterprise's decisions.

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Economics of Universal Basic Income

I'd like your professional analysis of a real-world Universal Basic Income, which is based on the co-op models in your democracy at work platform. I met the developers of the Resilience platform and they have hit the nail on the head but I'd like to get a second opinion, namely yours, on if it will work as designed, any weaknesses, pitfalls, etc. Here's the whitepaper: http://emailsareobsolete4.wixsite.com/resilience/whitepaper FYI, this will be shared with a much wider audience which includes the posthuman groups, transhumans, zero state, etc. Roughly 20,000 people

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Automation

You mentioned in your podcasts that enterprises should invest in more efficient equipment to keep productivity high yet you have spoken negatively on increased automation because it takes away jobs. Isn't that contradictory and isn't automation a good thing because it improves the overall quality of the workplace? Doesn't automation give opportunity for the people to shift to more meaningful ventures than the jobs the automation replaced?

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$15 Minimum Wage

How would a minimum wage of $15 impact New York's economy? Would this deliver a fatal blow to mom & pop shops that are already struggling to keep pace with corporate America? Are there better ways of minimizing economic inequality?

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I am unclear

So what event will cause the govt to raise rates to at a minimum 1 percent from .5 and while they are at it why not set it at 0. Who cares? What is this mickey mouse monopoly money created and lent and consumer borrowing and spending joke economy and society we got here in north am....

posted an official response

FED fears that all the new money it pumped into the economy to offset the massive 2008 crisis and its aftermath (that the bottom 90% have still not recovered from) might start running after hard assets (land, real estate, gold, commodities, etc.) and so drive up prices (i.e. a massive inflation). FED fears it might be hard to stop that once it got going. So best policy is to raise rates now to slow economy and thus hopefully dissuade people from borrowing to bid-up prices still more. Its a long shot policy, but the FED's record in predicting or solving the 2008 crisis is awful so why imagine it can see and act well now? System is careening from one crisis and "policy" to another as it spirals downward. Hence the votes for Brexit and Trump as people seek to escape a declining system or magically put it into reverse. Neither will happen. The only real solution is system change and that still scares folks.

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Capital and Retail

Dear Professor Wolff, Thank you for everything you've done to advance the socialist cause. I was hoping you could cover how retailers fit within the capitalist mode of production. I know in the past you've discussed how companies like Wal-Mart survive off the surplus product of the labor that takes place within their manufacturers. What does this mean for retail workers within places like Wal-Mart, Macy's, and Target? Are they not "creating value" in the same way that a manufacturer is? I am currently reading Capital and trying to understand productive and "unproductive" labor. Could you talk about this distinction and the importance of "unproductive labor" in the capitalist system? Would this labor be necessary within a socialist system? Thank you Tony

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Science and Capital

Dear Prof. Wolff Despite my socialist worldview, I can't help but think that it is extraction of surplus labour and consequent accumulation that made investment in science possible. While I see that state investment does the job of gathering the resources for this task, I do not envision a mechanism for scientists to organise in a more libertarian, horizontal fashion as is the case of co-ops. Are there any authors on the subject? Is this something you'd think that would always require top-down government control? Would you imagine some sort of middle ground between cooperative labour and state control for situations such as this one?

posted an official response

To the extent that science entails investments of surplus, there is no problem whatsoever if the surplus to be invested is (1) produced by the collective labor of workers, (2) appropriated and distributed by that same collective, and (3) distributed in part to investments in scientific endeavors. In short, a socialization of the production, appropriation and distribution of the surplus is no barrier to the investment of a portion of that surplus into scientific investigation, etc. The quantity and quality of such investment would of course be different if determined democratically by all the surplus producers rather than by a small number of surplus appropriators as in capitalism.

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The Earth is Round

Hi, I love your show, and play it on my local LPFM station, KLDK in Dixon, NM. I appreciate your careful and lucid economic analysis. However, there's something I don't hear you talk about. We live on the surface of a sphere. All economic activity is hence a subset of this ecosphere that supports us and everything we do. Other than energy from the sun, everything we consume comes from this, and all of our waste goes into it. Indications are that we are currently in a state of overshoot in various ways, meaning that the Earth cannot continue to sustain our current level of economic activity, much less growing activity. Would you be willing to include this extra dimension in your show? Best, Chuck Wright Dixon, NM

posted an official response

I agree that the show does too little of this and will try to improve on that. Thanks for your interest and your communication.

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Wage/Salaries

Professor Wolff. Thank you for your work. You wrote in 2011: 1. "Meanwhile, the capitalist downturn negates itself. Rising unemployment, bankruptcies, and production cutbacks drive down wages and production costs to the point where potential profits lure capitalists back into productive investments and thereby recommence an upturn." 2. Then in an online lecture at the New School, you asserted that the business cycle results lower real wages/salaries until the recovery is realized in the same time period. 3. Conversely, you wrote in 2012 that what distinguishes the United States from almost every other capitalist experiment is that from 1820 to 1970, as best we can tell from the statistics we have, the amount of money an average worker earned kept rising decade after decade. This is measured in “real wages,” which means the money you earn compared to the prices you have to pay. That’s remarkable. There’s probably no other capitalist system that has delivered to its working class that kind of 150-year history." 3. How can we reconcile downturns including 11 in the post WW Ii period with declining wages with the assertion that wages increased in the time period of 1820-1970?

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Health Insurance Coverage Costs and the Trump Presidency

Professor Wolff, Can you please speak as to how you expect the cost of health care insurance may be impacted by the Trump presidency, both for those currently covered by employer subsidized plans and for those purchasing coverage independently? A friend of mine is currently shopping in Colorado for 2017 and states that the cheapest plan she can find for her family of four is $1,000 per month for a high deductible HSA. Can you provide sources for information that may shed more light on this topic? Thank you, Cathaerine

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Political Organizing

Professor Wolff, I wanted to ask your opinion on an article that Jacobin just put out. The most relevant part is at the bottom, although it is all very interesting. Essentially, it outlines a model for an organization that could push for progressive politics, hold politicians accountable, and field candidates, all while not playing the role of spoiler. As someone involved in the Democracy at Work action group network (D@W William and Mary) I was wondering if this was something that could be applied to our project. I was very excited to see we had developed something of a platform as our group had been lobbying the local government for change. The legal hurdles for third parties and the threat of people throwing their vote away has always stunted any attempt to work outside of the two party system. Perhaps Ackerman's proposed model could be a way for the left to organize in a way that get's around those issues going forward for groups like D@W or even the Green Party.

posted an official response

Thanks for recommending the Jacobin piece by Ackerman. In my view, we need to both (1) build independent left political formations within the current political rules of the game, and (2) challenge and change those rules. For example, opposing the electoral college, demanding proportional representation, and open primaries are demands about the rules. Ackerman's is among alternative strategies within the rules. I think Ackerman's piece is exactly the kind of creative thinking that a new, emerging left needs. I also suspect that we - including d@w action groups - will experiment with a variety of political strategies to build our formations around (1) and (2) above...and then we will learn which ones have the greatest potential.

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What if the banks close?

Has the probability ever arisen that the federal reserve or to a much greater consequence non-central banks would simply stop giving out loans if a new economic system were implemented that made it so for them to continue giving loans did not benefit them in a way that was satisfactory? With so much talk of democratization of the workplace, shouldn't this and must this also apply to the money creation process? (If workplace democratization occurs on a large scale)

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The Trump Tariff

I just heard a podcast of an interview with you by Mitch Jeserich in which he asked you about Trump's proposal (serious or not) to slap a tariff on any company that takes its operations overseas. You answered by saying that tariffs lead to trade wars. But I don't think that answers the question. He's not saying to put tariffs on every company in an industry in a particular country - the usual "tariff on Chinese steel" kind of thing - but on a Particular Company. Do you see the distinction? The tariff would only apply to the one company, not to its competitors, for example. Nor would it apply to a country, per se. Nor to the industry as a whole. Only to that particular company. If this is what he's proposing, would that lead to a trade war? What effects would a tariff on individual companies have?

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Podcast with Sam Harris

Prof. Wolff, I kindly urge you to reach out to Sam Harris to appear on his podcast. As much as I, generally, enjoy his ideas and outlook, I believe he's sorely lacking in the ways of economics, broadly, and socialist economics, more specifically. I've also asked him to reach out to you, but he's so inundated with communications that I thought this conversation more likely to happen if I requested it with both participants. Thanks, Nick

posted an official response

I am basically open to doing interviews/discussions with anyone interested in engaging with the kinds of issues we work on. Can you let Sam Harris know or suggest how I let him know?

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Applying the Cooperative Model to Higher Education

Dear Professor Wolff, I have enjoyed your radio broadcasts immensely, especially the ones concerning worker co-ops and, as an adjunct professor myself, the perils facing our system of higher education. Combining these two issues, I wonder if any significant work has been done on the possibility of applying the democratic, cooperative model of industry to the enterprise of college and university education. Would a college that is run entirely by educators who are not managed and ultimately exploited by overpaid administrators, shareholders, trustees, etc. be viable? Thanks, Justin Harmon

posted an official response

Not only viable but already existing in various degrees with more efforts forming all the time. Universities began centuries ago as collectives of teachers. They work best when handled that way now, when small enough to enable the kind of relationships to develop among students and teachers that make education all it can be. Even today, ruins of once collective university departments punctuate the shift to a more capitalist employer-employee model with adjuncts positioned as employees more than regular professors. A self-conscious movement for higher education reform would/should/could include demands for cooperative structures of teaching, governance of the university, and student cooperatives for learning would be integral as well.

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