Ask Prof. Wolff

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Can you elaborate on the Marxist concept of society eventually becoming stateless?

As you know, Marx stated that society must go through a transitional socialist period of development before full communism can be accomplished. At this point he states that society would be stateless. I certainly can understand why much of the state would wither away, such as a simple algorithm for a guaranteed minimum income being implemented to replace much of the bureaucracy of individual welfare programs. Marxism seems very practical in its critique of capitalism and proposed solutions. But, I am struggling to envision the concept of a stateless society actually being accomplished. Won't institutions such as basic law-making bodies and police always be necessary in the form of a state, and perhaps we just take the approach of minimizing their ill effects with democratic safeguards? Or was Marx's definition of 'stateless' different from the modern common understanding of the word?

posted an official response

Marx did not write much on these topics, so a sense of his meaning needs to be constructed from his fragmentary comments. This adds to the variety of possible interpretations.

Mine is this: for Marx the state has usually been the instrument of the ruling class to operate, manage, consolidate the rule of one class over another: masters over slaves, feudal lords over serfs, and employers over employees in capitalism. Once class differences are genuinely overcome - that is, the people producing surpluses by their labor are likewise the same people who receive and decide what to do with those surpluses -  then a state apparatus to enforce class differences ceases to be needed socially and "withers away." However, other functions of states - for example, to adjudicate disputes, make laws and rules, etc. might well remain if and to the extent that what Marx called classless societies (communist) wanted them.

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NYC ethical banking?

Is there a list of reputable, ethical banks to open a checking account? So far Spring is the only one that comes close, but haven't yet investigated their investments, etc.Thank you!!

posted an official response

Ethical banks are those that are subject to the usual banking rules and oversight but open themselves to direct access to their activities (they stress transparency) and focus lending on environmental and social priorities, etc. Here is a wikipedia list for the US; other countries have a generally greater presence of ethical banking:

USA
  • Urban Partnership Bank, Based in Chicago. Successor to ShoreBank
  • RSF Social Finance, based in San Francisco, not a 'bank,' but offers social investment accounts with rates comparable to bank CDs
  • New Resource Bank, based in San Francisco. New Resource is a commercial bank that focuses on businesses that share their mission to progress sustainability within their community.
  • First Green Bank, Based in Mount Dora, FL is a commercial bank dedicated to ethical practices and environmentally friendly investments.
  • Beneficial State Bank, Headquartered in Oakland, with branches throughout California in Sacramento, East LA, North Hollywood, Fresno, Bakersfield, Santa Rosa, Porterville, and Visalia, as well as Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. Beneficial State Bank is a community development financial institution (CDFI), certified B Corporation, and a Global Alliance for Banking on Values member.
  • Spring Bank, Based in the Bronx, New York, with branches in the Bronx and Manhattan, New York. Spring Bank is an FDIC insured commercial lender and certified community development financial institution (CDFI) with a stated mission to expanding financial inclusion in low-income neighborhoods.
  • City First Bank, Based in Washington, DC, First City Bank is an FDIC insured, nationally chartered commercial bank with a mission to support and strengthen underserved communities in Washington DC and the surrounding suburbs.

Other value-based banks in the USA and around the world can be found with Global Alliance for Banking on Values.

 

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Can Professor Wolff respond with a socialist solution to Rana Foroohar's book, Makers and Takers?

Rana Foroohar describes in her book, Makers and Takers, how finance has gutted American manufacturing, innnovation, and the workplace. What is the socialist solution to the problem? A truly national banking system?

posted an official response

There is a very old tradition of commentators responding to a period of serious crisis in the capitalist system (such as the end of the 19th century or the 1930s, etc.) by focusing on criticism of one or another part of the system rather than the system itself. Thus it is the government or it is finance or its is big business or it is monopolies rather than the system that is the problem. By system I mean the basic way production of goods and services is organized - the employer-employee model, say, versus an alternative system such as the worker coop model. The system is the last thing to be criticized by such folks as prefer to find a part wanting rather than the basic system wanting. Foroohar is in that old tradition in her new book. Socialist solutions would precisesly change the basic system from capitalist to something else rather than change mere parts....and nowadays socialists would add about changing just parts: society has been there and done that and it does not suffice.

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Misses Institute article "If Sweden and Germany ..."

"If Sweden and Germany Became US States, They Would be Among the Poorest States" Can you respond to the article above? There seems to be something wrong with the methodology. However, I cannot put my finger on what it is.

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Birthday Softball: What is some of your favorite fiction literature?

And have you seen The Young Karl Marx yet? I know it's out in Germany, but I assume you don't go there very often.

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Profit motive in worker co-ops What is the system of how needs are met in a socialist society?

Good Evening Professor Wolff, I apologize for the bother but I had a question regarding worker co-ops. Judging from your recent videos, you've advocated for worker co-ops, but to what extent do they really work? The profit motive is still there, and now instead of competition between corporations you just have competition between worker co-ops. They aren't producing to meet needs, they're still producing to make money. My second question is in regards to how needs are met in a socialist society? Since you distanced yourself from the state capitalism of the Soviet Union, therefore there won't be planning then what will it be? The principle "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" or something else? Thank you very much for taking time to read this.

posted an official response

Worker coops by their very nature and design would not be governed by the profit motive as it works in capitalism. In capitalism, the well-being of a small minority (major shareholders and boards of directors) depends on the profits they extract from their employees. In a worker coop, where the workers themselves are their own board of directors, their interests are not limited to maximizing profits but are likewise interests in the quality of the life and work and the life at home for workers. Their goals are multiple and complex versus the "bottom-line" focus on profits of capitalists. Thus their decisions, behaviors, and the social consequences of them will vary a great deal from what happens in capitalism.

On socialist planning: my criticisms of the USSR, PRC etc are not that the planned their economy but rather focus on how that planning was done, by and for whom? The governments in socialist countries planned without the mass base of society - the working people - being able institutionally to control and shape the goals and operations of that planning. Worker coops enable working people to control and shape the government that plans and thus the planning that results. I would anticipate planning as a feature worker coops will choose to coordinate the interdependent decisions of the different worker coops, but it will be a new and different kind of planning.

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Response to criticisms of Marxian Economics

Could you respond in detail to common criticisms from economists/theories that object to Marxian economics regarding the labor theory of value and falling rate of profit (e.g. The "transformation problem", et al)?

posted an official response

Rather than repeat in detail (as you request) those arguments, let me instead point you to where you can find them spelled out: Richard D. Wolff and Stephen Resnick, Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2012, Chapter 4.

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How would you describe free market capitalism?

I have people argue that "free market capitalism has never been tried." That the idea has been sabotaged by the rich elite. Then there are billionaire anarchists who harp on about free market capitalism without government intervention. Which sounds even more grotesque.

posted an official response

"Free markets" are a utopian fantasy, a dream of people who want and need to imagine an economy functioning without any collective agent or agency to govern, regulate, etc. It is very anarchistic. It has been tried to various degrees and failed to come into existence. Its failure has not been for lack of ideological commitment or effort. "Laissez-faire" capitalism always oriented itself towards an utopian ideal of "free markets" as a distant goal of policy and hopes.

Many factors have precluded the achievement of the utopian dream of "free markets." Chalking it up to evil elites is too simple to be of use. Even if you believe that, you would need to explain how they achieved the power to do that, why no countervailing power overcame them, and so forth.

Every policy movement towards "free markets" over the centuries has been undone, stymied, frustrated, reversed, etc. That has to be explained in some serious analytical way, or else the conclusion that needs to be drawn is that it is an unworkable fantasy that human history has rejected. 

By the way, on the left, communism in its utopian formulations likewise defends itself as "never yet tried," leading to the same set of questions about why not etc that demand the same analytical response if the whole idea is not to sink into largely irrelevant fantasy.

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Should landlords be like bank creditors?

How do we address the problem of residential landlords behaving increasingly like consumer credit card companies?

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Do you have written transcripts of your many good videos?

I would love to have both the videos and the written transcripts. If you do not, may I transcribe your videos into written words (a labor of love) to post at OpEdNews.com?

posted an official response

Roger, we would love to have your support as a volunteer transcriber! Please await an email from a staffer at Democracy at Work who can help get you started.

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Anti-capitalist 'Impact Investing'?

Can you share an anticapitalist analysis of the field of impact investment & what an anticapitalist approach to financial literacy, financial planning, & investment might look like? Any resources you could share would be great; thanks!

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Worker coop/Democratic reality tv show?

What are your thoughts on, and if we could find connections for, creating a worker coop-style, democratically-based reality tv show competition? Our culture seems so attracted to this type of input, so I think it would be a great way to spread the word of what it looks like! If only it would get onto a major network (even online-only could reach millions)... Maybe you know some media people who you could pitch this to?

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The deficit

In one of your talks I thought you said not to worry about the deficit. I could have heard you wrong. It would be appreciated if you could speak about the deficit and what it means or doesn't mean to working class people like myself. Thank you for all that you do.

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How do we get enough finance ? Also squashing economic democracy

Was istening to a BBC piece on modern finance. Most wealth is still aggregated in the hands of a relative few. How do we get enough finance to establish many coops? Also what will prevent those dedicated to preserving capitalism from squashing economic democracy once it becomes a threat?

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