Ask Prof. Wolff

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Worker Cooperatives

I believe that your interpretation of worker cooperatives as the starting point towards a transition towards socialism draws heavily from Capital. Particularly, there is a chapter in Volume III where Marx states that worker ownership is a starting point. "The co-operative factories of the laborers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organization all the shortcomings of the prevailing system"(Marx, Capital Volume 3, Chapter 27) If the aforementioned interpretation is correct, wouldn't cooperatives still suffer from the same cycles that plague a capitalist economic system? Wouldn't the law of value still dominate in the sphere of circulation? Even if co-ops completely resolved the contradictory nature of capital in the production function, one could still be a landlord/usurer/capitalist if private property still exists. I could buy up land or property and rent it out to exploit workers. If you do not agree with this interpretation, do you think Marx was wrong?

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Corporate rules and rulers

This week we saw the forced and rather brutal removal of a doctor from a United Airlines flight, as one of four people mandated to leave so UAL employees could take his seat. If corporations like UAL truly believed in capitalism, shouldn't they be required to have a "reverse auction", with their offer to vacate starting very high ($5000 would get a lot of takers), lowering until there were only four people willing to accept that price? Or are the rules different for them?

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While Trump was bolowing stuff up

Does the passage of; H.R. 1219 Supporting America's Innovators Act of 2017... the morning before blowing up the filibuster rule and blowing up a Syrian Air Base, by a nearly unanimous, bi-partisan vote, signify business as usual for Congress and the 1 % who own them? https://www.c-span.org/congress/bills/bill/?115/hr1219#bill-cosponsor-list https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr1219/summary http://capuano.house.gov/news/recentvotes/rv040617.shtml if I understand correctly, this will enable small vulture capital funds to grow larger without SEC over-sight, under the guise of assistance to small business...

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Undocumented workers

Dr. Wolff, thank you for your efforts to prevent the demonization of immigrants. However, I don't follow the logic in your latest Economic Update. I understand that undocumented immigrants contribute to the economy through rent, and purchases of food, clothes, ... etc.; but isn't this contribution something that would exist without them as well? If an undocumented worker wasn't there to take a job as a dishwasher, for instance, wouldn't it mean that the job would still be performed, a salary still paid, and this money recycled back into the economy as rent and other purchases? In fact, if this dishwasher wasn't undocumented wouldn't we expect his salary and subsequent contribution to the economy to be larger? While I believe undocumented workers currently in the US deserve a pathway to citizenship from a moral standpoint, I don't see an economic argument that further undocumented workers are beneficial given the current difficulty Americans are having finding work. Even admitting that the damage they do through job displacement is mitigated by their economic contribution, don't you think the resentment building among poor Americans and manipulated by politicians is a danger that needs to be addressed by preventing further immigration of undocumented workers?

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Should there be billionaires?

Professor Wolff, I am a tremendous fan and major supporter of your message. I never miss an episode of “Economic Update.” Thank you so much for lending an articulate and well-reasoned voice of sanity to these issues of economic injustice kept so long in the dark. Keep up the excellent and vital work! Now… My liberal/progressive framework tells me that there are evil, scheming billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers, and there are nice, philanthropic billionaires like Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. Personally, I can’t understand why we don’t view ALL billionaires with the same level of concern for mental health that we might reserve for someone who hoards a large quantity of anything else, say old newspapers or cats. However, from a purely economic standpoint, what are the ramifications of having a society and economic system that allows individuals to become billionaires? Is it “ok” to have billionaires? Is compensation at this level ever justified? Can the existence of billionaires ever be healthy and indicative of a robust economy? Or, as I suspect, are people of such disproportionate wealth suggestive of a certain sickness/malignancy of the system? In addressing this question, perhaps you can give us a sort of “economics of billionaires 101”—commenting on how and why the number of billionaires worldwide has gone from a few dozen in the early eighties to more than 2,000 today—and sharing your own thoughts on these men and women of lofty esteem and influence in our society. Thanks!

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can you explain how Mondragon works in Spain ?

suggest new ways of company organization

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What if the American Revolution never happened

Would the U.S.A. have evolved today to be more like say Canada? Would the elite been less able to buy the politicians and even Supreme Court judges, like the newly installed Gorsuch?

posted an official response

Tough counterfactual question. So many variables would have shaped the eventual outcomes if no revolution occurred. US might have ended up like Australia within a Commonwealth. Or a revolution from Britain delayed into the 19th century might have become far more radical and turned against capitalism as well as Britain. Had Jefferson's image of a nation of small farmers and craftspersons won out as the future US, a very different social experiment might have emerged. The value of such huge, open-ended questions has always been to help people - as they think about the many answers - to realize that social development can always go in multiple possible directions. Things could indeed be very different today had earlier events worked out otherwise.

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Universal Basic Income?

Professor Wolff, In addition to the concept of Wage Subsidies, which are notable in that even Republicans like Marco Rubio have shown favor to them as policy solutions to modern capitalism's economic woes and inequalities, I was hoping you could discuss your views on a Universal Basic Income- once again in one of your videos such as Economic Update if possible- although an answer here would also still be appreciated. The idea of a Universal Basic Income seems most appealing in combination with a cut to the Minimum Wage- in that if appropriately balanced it would increase workers' standard of living (by raising incomes and depressing prices) while SIMULTANEOUSLY reducing the incentive for employers to automate or outsource jobs- thus generating increased employment and partially alleviating modern capitalism's income inequality crisis while also increasing economic efficiency by making the "true" cost of labor for an employer more similar to the market-based of labor, ultimately leading to better solutions for problems like manufacturing needed goods (for instance not making good in overseas factories when there are unemployed workers with the necessary skills right here in the United States- who would work for less than the Minimum Wage if their income were supplemented with a Universal Basic Income...) Please discuss this if possible- inclyding, ideally, the best way to pay for it. I would think that ideally a UBI would be best paid for with an increase to the Capital Gains Tax (stock prices and dividends would increase due to increased corporate profits if the Minimum Wage were eliminated, providing the larger tax-base to accommodate this), although I could always be mistaken...

posted an official response

Wage subsidies appeal to capitalists in so far as they enable them to pay lower wages. In capitalist societies, there would be endless political struggles (largely won by capitalists whose wealth buys parties, candidates etc.) over who pays the taxes to support wage subsidies. In the end, employed and thus non-subsidized wage workers would shoulder the taxes used to provide subsidized wage workers with those subsidies. This would set up the same social tensions that unemployment insurance and all other forms of welfare for the poor and/or unemployed....social tensions eventuating usually in a minimization of such subsidies etc.

Much the same set of problems beset UBI and for the same reasons.

UBI is now getting attention chiefly because a few savvy economists have pointed out that capitalism's endless production of the unemployed (its failure to provide jobs for the people in its societies) has rendered the irrational system vulnerable to the accumulating rage, anger, and anti-social potential of those it fails to employ etc. Thus for the last 150 years capitalism has provided palliative welfare payments to mitigate the antagonism of those disserved by capitalism. The savvy economists point out that the mass of confused welfare schemes and the mass of public employees administering them cost tax-payers more than what a UBI would entail. That is, UBI could be a cheaper way to solve capitalism's problem of an endless failure to employ.

This strikes me as an irrational "solution" to the system's irrational performance. A transition to a full-employment economy based on enterprises structured as democratic worker cooperatives could simultaneously solve these problems by providing meaningful work to all together with much less unequal incomes (determined and distributed democratically) and thus much less in the way of divisive social struggles over who pays what in taxes and all the other divisive social struggles over "redistributive welfare policies."

Its better to not distribute income and wealth unequally in the first place than to do so and then tear society apart fighting over redistribution.

 

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Why didn't Stalin (around 1930) just achieved socialism?

I have watched your lecturer on youtube about Socialism. I don't understand why Stalin didn't just made the transition to reorganize enterprises. Instead he substituted the wish for the society and told the them that they have "achieved" socialism. But why didn't he use his power to reorganize the factories, the offices, the stores, ... so they would work in the interest of the community and the whole community would be making the decision. Because then he actually would have achieved socialism, or?

posted an official response

People are mostly prisoners of the ruling ideas of their time. Stalin was too. Socialism then was conceived as government taking over production (state enterprises) and govt planning the distribution of goods and services. Stalin focused on that as did most socialists and communists until the last years of the 20th century. However, the weaknesses, shortcomings and eventual failure of the USSR has provoked socialists everywhere to rethink their most basic ideas including how to define socialism. They increasingly move to a definition that includes or even foregrounds transforming enterprises' structures from hierarchical capitalist to worker cooperative non-capitalist.

 

This argument is developed in great detail and systematically in S. Resnick and R. Wolff, Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR, New York and London: Routledge Publishers, 2002.

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Where to put my money?

I've been putting money into a ROTH account for the last 6 years (I'm 25). After listening to you and your talks about capitalism instabilities, do you think it is likely by the year 2050 the market will crash making my retirement funding disappear as well? If so, should I just invest my money in a house instead or something along those lines?

posted an official response

Providing anything like or close to "investment advice" is something I do not do because it requires knowing a great deal about the person being advised. Moreover, it is also an activity that is governed by laws and regulations intended to provide some protection for those seeking advice. So nothing I say here should be construed as a suggestion to buy or sell or hold any form of property etc.

That said, all investments carry risks and especially in a capitalist economy those risks include business cycles of the sort that have plagued capitalist economies since they became the chief economic system in the modern world. Thus many people believe that the safest thing to do is to make sure you do not keep all your eggs in one basket....i.e. diversify as the safest strategy.

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Publicly ran consumer group to expedite worker co-ops.

Consumer groups in our history have made demands of businesses by the use of boycotts. I feel if there was a forum where everyone could collaborate and discuss businesses ethics and make demands the market would more quickly transition to worker co-ops. These sites would have recalls, law suits, and hopefully financial paperwork showing profit margins and employees pay for every business. A market cannot function properly without informed consumers making rational decisions.

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Is there is a connection between Arab States' Cooperative Movements + Wars in Middle East?

it just so happens that countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Palestine are part of the Arab Cooperative Federation with Iraq its elected president...all under military attack by Imperialist powers. It's obvious that worker cooperatives are a threat to capitalism. Is it more than just oil interests? I wonder if capitalist powers are attempting to destroy Cooperatives starting with the Middle East. The International Labour Organization Regional Office for Arab States, background paper on cooperative development in Arab states: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---arabstates/---ro-beirut/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_210753.pdf

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A hospital in Pinole CA that serves mostly low income patients, has closed its doors.

Here is more info: http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2015/04/21/san-pablo-doctors-medical-center-closes-doors-to-patients/ I think it would be interesting to compare this hospital with places like UCSF that receive a lot of grants from big pharma, etc. I also wonder if the tax base in West Contra Costa County (poorer area) is insufficient to keep a hospital going. Apparently not. Thanks.

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Mark Blyth

Hi Professor Wolff. I'm wondering if you're familiar with Mark Blyth (my guess is that you are). I think he would be a great guest for your podcast.

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Non-profits?

Professor Wolff, I have been following your lectures for a few months now and have learned quite a bit. However, I have never seen you touch upon the topic of non-profits in a capitalistic economy. I am curious what your general thoughts are on how non-profits fit within this system and how they are affected by capitalism. Thank you.

posted an official response

The first problem is the very term non-profit. Mostly it is a bit of a misnomer for what is better described as "tax-exempt." The US laws designate that religious institutions, charities, and educational institutions - broadly defined - are exempt from taxes. Because of the often questionable nature of the legal exemptions they enjoy, they have preferred the less troubling term "non-profit." So it is often an open question as to whether various "non-profits" do not, in fact, make profits (which are not subject to taxation). Whether an entity makes a profit or not depends on how it accounts for its incomes and expenses. Elite universities in the US often count the portion of their incomes that they add to their endowments as an "expense" in a way that most individuals would not and in a way that the IRS would not allow individuals to do. There are, of course, enterprises that fail to earn a profit and so are "non-profit" just as there are firms who do not seek profits and aim instead to break even and thereby function as "non-profits." The latter's capitalist nature - in the definition I use that focuses on the employer-employee relationship and the surplus-appropriator vs surplus-producer identities it entails - is not much affected by whether it does or does not achieve a profit. Non-profits usually replicate the capitalist nature of profit-making enterprises....and that for a whole host of reasons.

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