Ask Prof. Wolff

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Can California show our country the way to a functional healthcare system?

Here's a link to a study by a team of economists at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst that shows how the state-wide single-payer healthcare system now under consideration in California could be implemented and financed. Where the federal government has been failing us for decades, California just might have the size and clout to show us how it can be done. https://www.peri.umass.edu/publication/item/996-economic-analysis-of-the-healthy-california-single-payer-health-care-proposal-sb-562

posted an official response

Thanks. as myself a long-time member of the economics department at Umass-Amherst, I will be especially attentive to their report.

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Co-operatives moving production overseas.

As a man who has worked as a factory supervisor, I have seen men at work first hand and managed them and their environment to keep the factory running smoothly. I tend to agree with you that a co-operative way of organising and running a factory could produce some benefits both to the company and the workers, but I disagree that the workers would not agree to moving production off shore if they had the chance. It is my experience that men come to work to have the easiest and most pleasant eight hours possible, and will shove the work onto someone else if the opportunity arises and they think they can get away with it. Consequently, if a factory staffed and run as a co-operative decides that the product they make can be made cheaper overseas, what would then stop the co-operative from doing this? Nothing seems to stop the capitalists from doing it, and I can’t see anything that would stop the co-operatives from doing it either. Itis mu opinion that they would have few qualms about doing it, if none of them lost their jobs as a consequence and their profit levels remained at least the same. They would then come to the workplace merely to distribute the imported goods, and to collect the money. If it is profitable for a commercial enterprise to do this, then it would be profitable for the co-operative to do this as well. Am I missing something here or is there something in the model you are using to set up the co-operative in such a way as to prevent this from happening?

posted an official response

Capitalists can and do move production overseas if and when profit opportunities can thereby be exploited (due to lower wages overseas usually). But notice that the capitalists stay at home and usually bring the profits back home too. In the case of a worker coop, that would not likely happen. When production moves overseas, so do the jobs involved and thus too the individuals in those jobs. Their lives would be disrupted and changed in ways utterly different from a group of capitalists making the comparable decision. Moving production is moving jobs. A worker coop move abroad would displace the worker and his/her family, etc., disrupting the lives of children, relatives, etc. And all that would be taken into account when the workers in a worker coop are making the decision as to whether to move production overseas or not. Capitalists making that decision are under no such constraints.

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I thought you might find this interesting!

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/18/cope-capitalism-failed-factory-workers-greek-workplace-control?CMP=share_btn_fb

posted an official response

I did and this week's radio/TV show "Economic Update" includes a segment I prepared on the Viome factory in Thessaloniki.

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Enjoy your show. I wrote a short story about our health care system when W was president pages

https://db.tt/loR8bzm30n

posted an official response

Great story, and the interchange with the insurance lady at the end captures all the horror of such scenes perfectly. Hope you share this story with others. Thanks for sending it in.

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Liberals and leftists discount demand-side by focusing on production

The left, it seems, should be focused on depriving malignant forces of their lifeblood, which is money. Even though demand in the USA is losing power, due to decades of stagnant wages, USAmericans are still a consumption-directed people. Boycotts should be the biggest tool, given strikes are basically illegal, in many cases, and lack effectiveness due to their parochial, secular nature. (Strikes should ripple throughout the system through mass participation, but are too local now.) Why don't we have online access to support employee-owned cooperatives? Shouldn’t we be buying from co-ops rather than Amazon? Most liberals and even lefties will say that they don’t focus on production, but I think it's clear, even from reading your website, that they do. This could be the result of reacting to reactionaries, whose ridiculous belief in Ayn-Randism pumps up the value of “producer”/capitalists while devaluing the consumer/worker. Will Galt go on strike? Who cares? Consumers can strike first by being somewhat discriminating for a change. As a group, they have much more power.

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What do you think of healthy relationships between people as being central to healthy economies?

This short film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3G72LRqMn9M (trailer) describes the central role of work as being a service to others, and as a consequence, people are valued. These two things are vital for an economy to function healthily, but these two things are mostly missing from our current system, and in their place is a lust for money. What are your thoughts on this faith-based world view to economic health that is based on relationships between people? And how do you think this approach could help fuel a shift in thinking regarding our consumeristic economic system? Also, can I send you the full short film, because the trailer doesn’t do it justice?

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Can you explain the difference between labour and labour-power

I've recently been troubled by this concept of labour and labour-power. As I've come to understand, labour-power is one's capacity to work, quantitatively measured by time. Labour is, on the other hand, is the physical act of working itself. However, I wonder if you could explain how labour and labour-power are exchanged as commodities and the significance of the differentiation of such concept.

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Can you explain the difference between labour and labour-power

I've recently been troubled by this concept of labour and labour-power. As I've come to understand, labour-power is one's capacity to work, quantitatively measured by time. Labour is, on the other hand, is the physical act of working itself. However, I wonder if you could explain how labour and labour-power are exchanged as commodities and the significance of the differentiation of such concept.

posted an official response

Labor is not a commodity in the Marxian theoretical system, while labor power is. Labor is something humans have always done to produce the goods and services upon which life depends. Labor power is something very historically specific, is often absent in long periods of human history, and reaches its fullest presence in capitalism. Labor power is what a worker sells to an employer. The employer "consumes" the purchased labor power by setting its owner - the worker - to perform the laboring activity (to do labor) alongside/with tools, equipment, and raw materials. The worker is paid a wage in exchange for providing to the employer what he/she owns, namely his/her labor power for a set period of time. The goal of the employer in consuming the labor power he/she has purchased is the commodity emerging at the end of the process of production, a commodity whose value (socially neccesary labor time) exceeds the combined value of (1) the used up tools, equipment and raw materials, plus (2) the value of the wage paid for the purchased labor power. That excess, surplus value, is the driving objective of a capitalist employer.

I hope this answers your question.

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Can you talk about the California housing crisis and possible solutions?

This week's NYTimes has an article about the CA housing crisis and many commenters blame prop 13 or excessive immigration, or restrictive zoning regulations or lack of transit, etc. They think the way to solve it is to build higher density, but I'm not sure that will solve the problem; the demand is just too great. This problem is particularly acute in coastal cities, with NYC having its own version of this housing shortage. What is really behind this, and what can be done to resolve it? Is rent stabilization the answer? Here's the article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/us/california-housing-crisis.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

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Would you investigate the oligarchs' "fossil fuel caused, catastrophic global warming" agenda?

I am convinced the ruling class has been pushing this idea MAINLY to transition their control of the world's electricity supply from petroleum and coal to Uranium-based nuclear power, something they can control because of it's connection to nuclear weapons. A very informative video of Allan Savory giving a talk on TedTalks ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI ) has recently come to my attention and now I am convinced, since his thesis of the true cause of climate change being desertification has been proven and known for decades now, that the reason the ruling class ignores his prescription for a solution that would not only solve the climate change problem, but would also solve many other problems such as feeding a growing population with what many people like the most, meat, that they don't want his solution now because a changing climate can help them rehabilitate the public image of nuclear power. The silence from the media and their lords of capitalism on desertification is deafening given the supposed crisis they cry like banshees over. I am convinced this means their agenda MUST be not about money per se, but about power: the real means of controlling society, to paraphrase Frank Herbert's Baron Harkonnen, "Who controls the electricity, controls the world." Thank you

posted an official response

Whether or not private capitalists "caused" the environmental problems confronting us all - alone or together with other social forces - the issue you raised stands: those corporations cannot and do not address the problem as something urgent to be solved. Instead, for them the priority problem is howe to avoid financial losses and/or obtain profits from such problems whether or not they are "solved." That is how capitalism stands exposed as an inadequate economic system.

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Show Topic: How to Start a Union

Could you provide a show segment devoted to how one might start a union, for example, at a non-profit university currently not represented? Such topics might include, which organizations to turn to for support, which types of employees to organize, what to be careful of, how to discuss the topic to fellow employees, etc.

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Topic Suggestion... Cryptocurrency backed by acts of kindness!

How great would it be if there was a currency that was back by moral human behavior, promoting acts of kindness! Well, some really brilliant individuals have created this very thing, I think that this would be something that would interest a lot of your viewers/readers! A new cryptocurrency utilizing minting process, backed by acts of kindness... https://ohmwallet.com/ https://youtu.be/DDvT4jHbuco?t=32m3s

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A doctor's thoughts on your use of the term "medical-industrial complex."

Hi Professor Wolff. I enjoy your lectures and have recommended you to several friends and colleagues. While I agree with you on many of the points regarding our inefficient and overpriced healthcare system, I feel that your lumping in of physicians along with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and medical insurance companies into the evil "medical-industrial complex" is misguided. First, we must acknowledge the current transition towards a system where thousands of doctors (including myself and dozens of colleagues) are now employed by a hospital or a large organization (Kaiser, Sutter, etc). We have ZERO role in setting the prices of our services, procedures or tests. The majority of us have gone through several years of extensive training (myself 11 years including medical school), have enormous medical school debt and are focused primarily on the well being of our patients. Of course, we expect to be well compensated for our expertise and services but most of us didn't choose this field to become millionaires. To compare us to or put us in the same entity as hospital CEOs, pharm CEOs and medical insurance CEOs (all of whom are obsessed with the bottom line and have extremely wealthy CEOs and administrators), is simply incorrect and misleading to your audience. Of course, there are still many doctors in private practice who set the prices for their visits and services. Remember that in addition to med school bills that they have to pay for office rent, an office manager, a biller, a medical assistant, etc. Are there bad apples? Of course there are in every field but I would venture to say only a small minority of these private practice doctors are crooks who purposefully create unfair prices or perform unnecessary procedures to become wealthy. It addition, unless it's a rare cash only practice, the final compensation tends to be dictated by what the insurance company decides to pay. In conclusion, I agree with the majority of your criticisms with our inefficient and expensive healthcare system. I agree that hospitals, medical insurance companies, and pharm/medical device companies operate in a capitalistic and monopolistic way that can adversely affect patients. But, the majority of doctors are not a part of this evil medical-industrial complex that you describe.

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What is "Right Wing Socialism"?

Spanish economist Jesus Huerta de Soto wrote a book titled "SOCIALISM, ECONOMIC CALCULATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP" in which he examines many types of socialism. On page 98 he discusses something called "Conservative Socialism or Right Wing Socialism". The description can remind one of plutocracy, corporate welfare or even Nazism. In my view this would be a good topic not just for your great show but also for progressives the world over to discuss. Thank you- Justin Beck

posted an official response

Agreed; I plan to devote a segment soon to presenting a history of socialism that includes how, when and why it split into a variety of interpretations.

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Dear Professor Wolff, I have a topic to suggest for you...

...if you have not covered it already? It is the special circumstances of the exploitation of the elderly. They are often in poor health, defenseless and vulnerable; some of them are dying as a result. I myself was evicted by a corporation at the age of 70, and lived in my car for ten months. That experience led me to wonder how such things could happen, and I have learned SO much from the work of both you and Chris Hedges. Thank you, VirginiaL

posted an official response

In capitalist societies, especially when they are under pressure, the worth of human beings tends to be calculated in terms of whether and how they are useful to capitalism (as workers, as investors, as buyers, etc.) Once workers age beyond a certain point most of them are "less valuable" and so get treated less well than when they were younger. Whatever wisdom their lives acquired is deemed less valuable (if recognized at all, unlike many human societies of the past) than their reduced usefulness as workers. Likewise, if age brings a shrinkage of disposable income (which, for majorities in most capitalist countries, it does), the value of people as consumers/buyers likewise shrinks and again they become discarded. In non-capitalist societies, older persons were often revered as wise, experienced, leaders, etc in economic systems not driven to calculate human beings' worth in the way capitalism trains people to "evaluate" others.

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