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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Stock Market in a Socialist society

Hey Dr. Wolff, I'm curious about whether or not a stock market would exist in a socialist society, and if it did, how would it work? Obviously private individuals will no longer be able to own or control a certain percentage of a business if he/she does not work there, so does this mean that external investments would, in a sense, operate like borrowed money?

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Connecticut Debt Crisis

Hello Dr. Wolff, Would you please address the Connecticut debt crisis? For a state with numerous insurance and other Fortune 500 companies and a state that is supposedly one of the wealthiest in the nation, it just doesn’t make sense. I have read numerous articles on the issue and it still does not make sense. Thanks!

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If I sell an AT&T sock what does AT&T get from that sale?

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http://paulgrignon.netfirms.com/MoneyasDebt/MAD2016/ThirstySwans.htm

http://paulgrignon.netfirms.com/MoneyasDebt/MAD2016/ThirstySwans.htm

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Cryptocurrency/block chain decentralizing our economies.

This isn't a question, but pointing out something. As I listened to this interview, I realized that this new crypto/block chain method of interacting is going to take the ruthless part of capitalism, and remove it. I hope this talk is of some value- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBBPAz7I2xY&feature=em-uploademail

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An article on the scope to which amazon controls Seattle.

http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-hq-photo-tour-seattle-make-any-city-wary-of-amazon-hq2-2017-12/

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Are there any sources of value that a capitalist can exploit that don't rely on labor to function?

If I'm correct, Marx asserts that labor is the ONLY source of value. Would you say that is correct? Is reliance on human labor a defining feature of all capitalist enterprise?

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Who still believes in Bolshevik Marxism, and how do they explain its 20th Century failures?

I heard you mention in a video there are still socialists clinging to Marxist revolutionary theory and the need for a centralized socialist government to protect the transformation.

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Regarding Bitcoin: What is the difference in your between speculation and investment?

Hi, I heard your Bitcoin segment on your radio show this morning on WBAI. I’m writing because while I sympathize with your political economic views in general, and share most of your opinions, I think you’re jumping to conclusions on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. I believe you are too quick to dismiss their revolutionary, anti-capitalist potential. You appear to be making the same mistakes as the hedge fund guys in dismissing the Bitcoin phenomena as pure speculative activity that will eventually go bad, just like tulips did. But to truly grasp Bitcoin and other exciting cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, one needs to grasp the technology underlying them. An exposition about the economics of Bitcoin that does not touch on blockchain technology is not very worthwhile, and most Wall Street guys and economists do not understand this underlying technology, so it all looks valueless and all about speculation. But this is missing the point. Blockchain technology, which is decentralized, and in its public (“nonpermissioned”) form not able to be controlled by any person or group or institution, eliminates middlemen like banks that we currently require for our economy. Blockchain technology’s potential for fostering democratization makes it something all lefties should seek to understand, because it’s coming. Large corporations are trying to co-opt it and privatize it in their own interests, but the most exciting uses are public and open source, like Bitcoin. We must understand blockchain to understand Bitcoin, which is ultimately only one application of blockchain—like email is only one application of the Internet. When blockchain technology is developed as public and open source (i.e. the idea behind Bitcoin and Ethereum), it could foster radical redistribution of power and wealth. Take Ethereum, which does what Bitcoin does in terms of act as a store of value, but more: it is also a tech platform that allows people to create DECENTRALIZED ORGANIZATIONS, including companies along the lines of your ideas. These technologies are not going anywhere, it is often described as the Internet 3.0, and they could end up being our greatest tool for democratizing the workplace. Related question: Where do you place the crypto heads (often millenials with a deep distrust of Wall Street and traditional institutions) who never intend to exchange their digital value for fiat currency like the dollar? Is this still speculation? There are many people in this position, I understand.

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How do worker coops interact with each other?

Let's say we have a country with a network of cooperatives. How do they interact? Is it through a capitalist system?

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Likeliness of worker-directed enterprise making selfish decisions?

I absolutely agree that the most efficient and ethical way to structure an organization with the well being of the many, rather than the few, in mind would be worker-owned and directed. However, this does not necessarily exclude them from making decisions that would benefit themselves contrary to the well being of society. One obvious example would be a company in the oil and gas industry making decisions that further the effects of climate change. This, then, would seem to be a political question left to a participatory democracy (a real one!). I think that is perfectly reasonable, but I am curious if you believe this scenario is one of any real concern. Are most decisions made by capitalist owners of such a nature which would never happen under a worker-directed structure? Or, would it be reasonable to assume some of those decisions will still be made, but could be addressed (maybe solely) legislatively.

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Debate with Robert Reich on the merits of capitalism vs Marxian-based economy

I recently read Robert Reich's book "Saving Capitalism" and am currently reading "Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian" (Wolff and Resnick). Reich explains that all economic systems are based in definitions and rules and enforcement mechanisms. He notes that there is no such thing as the "free market" that the libertarians and free-market capitalists like to believe. Reich believes that the key issue with neoliberal capitalism that we see dominating the economy of the world today is not fundamental to the theories underlying capitalism, but in the outsized influence of moneyed interests tilting the stage towards those with capital. According to Reich, the key element in saving capitalism is to re-instate (create) democracy, where each individual has an equal voice in deciding on the rules governing society and the economy. With the rules bending to the desires of the masses instead of the wealthy, the market benefits of capitalism can be realized for the majority and a more egalitarian society would result. He is also a proponent of a Keynesian-style approach to guarantee full employment, healthcare for all, etc. which a majority of the population does or would support. I think he has a lot of good ideas, but he overlooks the fundamental issue that capitalism is based on maximizing growth and profit. There is nothing in the equation that takes into account fundamental resource limitations and impacts on the macro-systems or a way to identify a sustainable level of production and distribution. This is clear today as we see the global environmental destruction, anthropogenic climate change, and the inhumane exploitation of the vulnerable and impoverished in pursuit of profit. I think the debate could center around how Reich's version of capitalism, which is well-regulated and embedded in a democratic society (equal voice for each person) would address the current issues of liberty, equality, and fraternity (and justice), versus how a Marxian approach would deal with these fundamental issues of society.

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Important further information on Valve Corp

Hi Professor, I listened with interest to your segment on Valve Corporation in a recent episode, "Revolt Against Sexual Abuse". I'm a trade union officer and video game journalist who has dealt with Valve on a number of occasions and was hoping to provide you with some further information on this company, particularly with how they apply the co-operative self-determination aspect to themselves, but apply a brutal extractive capitalist free-market methodology to their customers and clients. Valve operates the Steam storefront for digital goods, taking a 30% cut of any games or software sold through it, as well as entering into a highly predatory relationship with artists who essentially provide spec work content for their own titles. I covered a lot of this in an article for the games website Polygon (https://www.polygon.com/2017/5/16/15622366/valve-gabe-newell-sales-origin-destructive) which I would urge you to read, as well as more in-depth in a podcast with the marxist Discourse Collective group (https://soundcloud.com/discoursecollective/episode-38). I'd be happy to talk to you at length about this but I feel it's very important to address that while Valve may seem like an innocent worker co-op in many ways, they are the most profitable company on a per-employee basis in the USA because they engage in horrific Uber-esque practices and their CEO is now valued at more than $5 billion. Thanks again for your time and your great work, I love listening to your podcast each week.

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Do you think we will need a UBI?

With the news of Tesla Motors’ self driving semi trucks and PepsiCo and Walmart preordering fleets to replace both their trucks and drivers. Also Walmart will be replacing all of their cashiers with self checkouts by the end of 2018 or 2019. Their warehouses will follow (only Walmart jobs will be shelf stockers and customer service). So the largest private employer and the biggest job in 49 states—truck driving—will lose millions of jobs in the US alone. Further, Uber and Lyft are experimenting with self driving cars. McDonalds is also building employee-less stores including kiosks and machines to prepare food. Lawyers are being replaced with AI and surgeons with much more precise robotic arms powered by AI. With the two biggest sectors of private jobs being lost and even high skilled jobs at risk—including accountants and CPAs, what kind of new jobs would our magnificently efficient capitalist system create for tens of millions of Americans? (sarcasm) Doing a quick run of some numbers, I found that the Social Security Admin could pay all ~280 million adult US citizens $1,200 a month and $300 per child without substantially raising taxes. Simply scrap the cap on social security payroll tax and increase it 10%. Since everyone will be getting tax free UBI, save another trillion by eliminating the standard deduction and another trillion by reducing safety net programs 80%, and eliminating others completely like SSI, and reducing military spending by 50%. Fully financed and poverty would be virtually eliminated. Only a 10% tax increase, and we could make it progressive to lessen the burden on the working and middle class.

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Two-episode BBC Radio Series: Art for the Millions.

Hi Professor Wolff, I would highly recommend you listen to the two BBC Radio programs (particularly the episode titled "Staging the New Deal") in the Series: Art for the Millions. Go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/topics/New_Deal_projects_of_the_arts

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