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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How do you respond to Stephanie McMillan's criticism of Mondrogon?

Stephanie McMillan points out that Dr. Wolff is not giving up the full skinny on Mondrogon. The Fagor group went bankrupt and was sold in 2013 after it could not respond financially to the eurocrisis. In addition, parts of Mondrogon cooperative were accused of hiring low-wage foreign workers in order to compete. McMillan claims that the cooperative model cannot successfully function imbedded in the larger global capitalist context without the added addition of armed struggle. I would like to see a debate between Professor Wolff and author Stephanie McMillan on this issue, one that will welcome new, young voices into the movement so long championed by Dr. Wolff.

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Can Humanity actually live without the Ideology/Love of Currency?"

Hello, Professor Wolff. My name is Timothy Sams. I'm developing a new Marxist Communal system of government that is based around the elimination and absence of any and all Ideologies concerning the materialistic object of Currency and the love that comes with. "Project New Jerusalem" gets its name and main inspirations from the concepts described of it within The Bible's book of Revelations. It challenges and questions Humanity's Love and Ideologies behind the existence of Currencies and the justifications that support them. "Project New Jerusalem" will be a modernized/furutized Reformation of Marxist Communal way of life where Humanity no longer operates on the fundamentals of business and profit, but instead will be founded in Knowledge, Resources, Strength, Technology, Morals, Principles, Simplicity, Efficiency, and Common Sense. My question is, "Can Humanity actually live without the Ideology/Love of Currency?" "Project New Jerusalem will not just prove Humanity can live without it, but also show how and why we should.

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My question is regarding trade negotiations and brexit.

Why can't the United kingdom negotiate trade deals with the countries of Europe instead of negotiating trade deals with the European union? If they establish deals with individual countries, how will it effect the economy compared to having trade deals with the European union? Thank you.

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My question to you therefore is, will you talk to me about what i believe to be a viable solution?

Hi Richard Firstly, and I don't say this to be obsequious, I truly believe you to be sincere in your perspicuous presentations and therefore would like very much to discuss a solution with you. I am in the process of starting, structure to be decided, the ROC (revolution of conscience) with regards to ameliorating financial inequality in the UK, (and of course globally) caused by the nature of rapacious (crony) capitalism.

posted an official response

The current predictions of increasing inequality in the already very unequal UK must be terrifying. It is a picture of headlong descent into self-destruction. Not capitalism with an adjective but capitalism per se is the problem. That is what I discuss with all our work.

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Are WSDE's different from worker coops? if so how ?

Are WSDE's different from worker coops? your book, a cure for capitalism's, promotes WSDEs and D@W promotes Worker Coops?

posted an official response

You are quite right; we use the terms as synonyms. "Worker coops" have a longer and wider use in the US. We ourselves invented and use WSDEs chiefly in order to stress the need for workers collectively to function as their own board of directors within each enterprise (office, factory or store). Worker coops sometimes get confused with or mixed into other sorts of coops (buyers or owners or sellers coops) so we often use the WSDE to keep them separate in people's minds.

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Is China attempting to destroy capitalism by taking it to its logical extreme?

Is China using a long term economic strategy with the goal of undermining and eventually destroying capitalism by taking the system to its absolute and logical extremes in terms of economies of scale and extreme low cost pricing and production? In the book “Rare: A high States Race to Satisfy our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth” author and PhD of Chemistry Keith Veronese had this to say; “The government of China made a decision to play the “long” game in 1970- sell large quantities of rare earth metals at very low prices, prices low enough that the rest of the world would flock to this new and inexpensive supplier. Years of allowing outsiders to purchase at below-market value devastated the rare earth mining industry in other parts of the world, and by the turn of the millennium China’s mines were the only ones left standing.” “China beat the United States because its mines and processors could sell at a lower cost due to economies of scale and a government willing to set low prices to gain market share. This drove suppliers in other parts of the world out of business through a decreasing profit margin, much the same way the arrival of a large chain store closes the door of “mom and pop” specialty shops. When profits drop due to a changing market place, decreased demand, increased upkeep costs, or a number of other factors, it is often cost effective to cease mining operations at a location. It is not the place of these private corporations to mine any metal with the hopes of maintaining a healthy domestic supply and the best interests of the country if the monetary reward is not present”. -pages 40-41. “Rare: A high States Race to Satisfy our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth” by Keith Veronese While this is a general analysis of the rare earths market and how China has effectively cornered it….it seems you could replace the word “rare earths” in these snippets from his book with basically any product from electronics to chairs. What is the future outcome of the world economy if taken to its logical conclusion?

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Hi professor can you speach about "Special Drawing Right SDR"

what's behind issues Special Drawing Right SDR and china join last October.

posted an official response

SDR are simply an accounting mechanism to organize the use of currencies by countries when they need to dip into reserves to manage their short term fluctations in balances of payments.

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Earning vs. "Receiving"

I notice you sometimes talk about mega-millionaire CEOs with a description of "Mr. X earns so many million dollars per year" etc. I hear MANY people make comments like this. I feel we should say "Mr. X RECEIVES $$$" rather than EARNS. It is not at all clear to me that these individuals truly earn the obscene amounts of money they receive. I've been reading George Lakoff...and I think this word matters! You don't have to agree, but I feel that if more prominent commentators used "receives" or some other word rather than "earns" it would help to change the perception that the all-knowing market determines the "worth" of participants by their salary with razor-sharp accuracy. I think the accuracy of the market is more in the range of the meat-axe! And, of course, markets can be manipulated by the powerful. Especially those who can pick friends to sit on the Board of Directors that grants their salary increase.

posted an official response

Agreed. The word "earns" carries associations that the word "receives" need not, so it would be more accurate and precise to use receives than earns. I will try to do that more consistently from now on.

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I am recommending this book focused on Rojava to you.

http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/R/bo25051714.html I'll keep it short and sweet, Thank you Prof Wolff!

posted an official response

Thanks...will get a copy

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FOSS and Microsoft dominance.

In your recent Economic Update you've mentioned Bill Gates' contribution to computer industry. However it's interesting to mention broader industry - namely the fact that in every computing device (except for personal computers) industry is virtually dominated by Linux or Unix based systems - a part of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS). Software that they are making is free to use and modify in every way possible, mostly supported by donations or just a need to get something done, rather then for profit. Do you thing that the way FOSS is done might point to the way how the world would look like in the future? I personally would like to mention also "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" concept https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cathedral_and_the_Bazaar

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How should we redesign banking? Are social movements all we have?

What do you think is the potential of CDFI banks like Beneficial State Bank and New Resource Bank in the Bay Area of California to transform our economic system? Can they truly contribute significantly to redesigning the financial system to serve the many, or are the forces of our dominant economic system such that only mass movements that demand worker coops through political mobilization are our only option? I work in a bank like this, and see that it lends to great community organizations and is willing to spend more time being flexible with non-profits. The bank is a B-corp with all economic rights owned by a non-profit, so no profit maximization. However, because traditional credit analysis inherently favors rich investors and not multiple guarantors (coop), I worry that this type of operation is not very additional on it's own. Please provide some insight.

posted an official response

The existence of entities like CDFIs and B corps is an admission that leaving our society to the profit-driven mercies of the usual capitalist corporations is a recipe for very bad social outcomes. That directly contradicts the promise of capitalism's defenders that it is a system that guarantees, optimizes, maximizes etc.

The problem lies with how a society dominated by capitalist corporations shapes how most people see the world. To go directly to your topic here, what exactly is understood by the "community development" portion of CDFI? How are we to imagine and pursue strategies to get poor, low-income, etc communities out of the sufferings to which generations of capitalism have consigned them? Can CDFI's reasonably be expected to entertain, let alone pursue, strategies that challenge the reigning profit-driven orthodoxies? Your point about CDFI's being uneasy about lending to coops opens up a long list of such problems. What happens when a CDFI is asked to help an enterprise that competes directly with a profit-driven enterprise in its environment? Or when an enterprise that seeks to borrow from a CDFI proposes unorthodox wage, benefits out of a theory that they are better for the longer term development of the enterprise and of an alternative structured and motivated economic system? Had capitalism's profit motive been our only problem, then enterprises freed from that constraint might have been a solution. But the reality is that capitalism's profit-driven organization shapes, influences, etc everything in its surroundings. Let me offer a parallel: letting a few slaves buy their way out of slavery and become free did not suffice to basically change that society, just like having a subset of masters declare they would no longer whip slaves or sell their children etc. Whatever virtues these sorts of acts show, they rarely went beyond being "exceptions to the rule" and the rule was and is the problem.

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How did the national debt originate? Who said this was OK?

First, I'd like to thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us and for all you do for our country and the world. I listen to Economic Update with my 10 year old son Josh(by choice) every Friday after school. He asked me who started the idea of spending money we don't have as a nation. Like who was the president and what the argument looked like. Did anyone oppose it? I couldn't answer him very well and would love if you did a segment on it. Josh would be thrilled that you answered him too. I also would like to voice my agreement with Lionel of Lionel Media that you should be in office. I know alot of people who would enthusiastically support your effort. Thank you again. Chris Cull Michigan

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How can your salient alternative work in an economy like Liberia?

Liberia is a third world country with over 80percents of its approximated 4miilion citizens living on less than one dollar a day. The country's economy is dependent on the extractive industry. Industrialisation is lacking. Merchandise agriculture is an illusion. Extreme trade deficit is an economic culture. The service and commercialised sectors are dominated by foreigners. We only receive taxes and rent from the sale of state assets to private foreign investors, which makes it impossible to mobilize enough capital to independently fund the construction of roads, dams, schools, hospitals, and etc. Our budget accounts for 85percent recurrent expenditure. Investment in public goods is dependent on foreign aid, loans, and grants. So how can your alternative work in the case of Liberia?

posted an official response

Worker coops, if implanted in Liberia and built upon ancient traditions of work in Liberian culture, could be the basis for a political movement that could finally confront its neo-colonial status and chart an independent course of development from which it is, as you well put it, blocked. Part of that blockage is the lack of a strongly based social movement able to wage the necessary fights with the foreign powers and their local, domestic partners. And that lack needs an economic mass base which the development of viable worker coops in alliances amongst themselves might provide. The movement beyond capitalism that worker coops signal in the advanced industrial countries has its parallel in the opportunity for people in places like Liberia, to  move in similar ways. Then too, perhaps alliances, and mutual supports among worker coops globally could enable them to hep one another's growth.

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Is the global economy essentially a zero-sum game?

Hi Richard, I found this 2 minute clip on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auaZDyUvWZM) that argues that it isn't. However, my leaning is that it is a zero-sum game. Even if more "credits" are added periodically, it is still a zero-sum game surely. If there were 10 coins on a table, and I took 8 and you had 2. And every hour, 2 more coins were added onto the table. It would still be a zero-sum "game", just with more coins. Not only that, but in practice, those with more coins (me) would have more resources at my disposal to acquire the new ones that added every hour. Please watch the short video and let me know what you think. I'd be very interested to hear your response. Thanks.

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How would doctor's control their own means of production?

In a socialist society, the doctor would provide healthcare for individuals. But lets say he or she decides that the value of other labour is worth more. Wouldn't that break the idea of universal health care? How would it work?

posted an official response

That problem would exist (does exist) within capitalist societies too. A socialist society would presumably value and therefore protect each individual's right to change jobs. Indeed, a socialist society would make that easier because it would not link the particular work one does to the income one relies on. Income would in any case be shaped by the social circumstances for workers as a community and not on the individual circumstances of each person. Therefore, in a socialist society it would be necessary to construct medical care facilities to provide universal health care with enough personnel to enable no loss in public health service in the event some percentage of personnel decide to change jobs. And that would be true across the range of work tasks in the society.

The rigid linking of income to one's job is very much a creation of those economic systems (slavery, feudalism and capitalism) which pit a small group of directors (masters, lords, employers) against a large number of subordinated workers (slaves, serfs, employees). That linking has been presented as necessary, universal, etc., which is not true. The linking is a means of controlling the subordinated worker, making him/her work or else losing most or all of their income, the means to reproduce themselves. That kind of control has always been socially dangerous (since it invites and promotes control over the subordinates' minds and bodies in many other ways all too common for centuries) yet sustained because it is what capitalists believe they need to keep their system going.

In a socialist society - at least as I envision a 21st century socialism - that linkage would not be allowed precisely because of its unacceptable control function. No one person should be able to freely withdraw another's income and thus ability to live....that is as grievous an injury as many others (i.e. striking a person, slandering them, etc.) and, again, is just let go because it is needed by the economic system. If people change and wish to change jobs, if people cannot get along well working together, and so on, that can be handled in ways that do not require and should not allow one to deny income to the other. Mechanisms to facilitate job changes with income provided across the time, training, relocation, etc. associated with a job change.

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