Ask Prof. Wolff

rdw_speaking.png
 
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.
 
Select "Most Recent" to view recently submitted questions. You must be logged in to submit your own.
Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

How can we avoid the pitfalls of past experiments in "industrial socialism"?

I was listening to a NPR Planet Money podcast all about the Oneida Commune in upstate New York. During the program, the NPR reporters comment on the Oneida Commune representing "responsible" or "conscious" capitalism. I believe the Oneida Commune's experience is a very telling one about the pitfalls of "communal / cooperative" capitalism. Given your understanding of the cultural / historical / political contexts Oneida found itself in over the course of its 150+ year run, what should the take away be for those of us interested in developing and enhancing communal / cooperative relations in the enterprise? What do you think we can learn from the Oneida Company's communal / cooperative experience (and others in this country, I'm sure)? What is the proper perspective to take on the demoralizing, dispiriting downfall that beset the Oneida Company? Thank you in advance for your time and attention to this post... http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/06/09/532303452/episode-777-free-love-free-market

1 comment Share

UK politics

I'm eager to hear your next Monthly Update.... I hope you can give mention to the phenomenon that has happened in the UK - Bernie Sanders comments about the Labour leader and the movement and the parallels he draws to his efforts in the US and the internal conflicts that attempt to hold back and vilify the labour leader.

1 comment Share

Will you please discuss the debt held by the public in the next economic update?

Its composition, its history, its plausibility of default and what the consequences would be... https://psagh.xyz/what-is-progressive/project-interest/

3 comments Share

Student Loan Repayment Schemes

Dr Wolff, In a recent Economic Update you discussed problems in the Student Loan market. You mentioned a scheme to realign student loan repayments so they’re valued against the ability of the borrower to pay (a percentage of eventual income, I believe) rather than the traditional practice of adding accrued interest to the repayment amount every month. You seem to be opposed to the idea behind this scheme, but I don’t quite understand your reasoning in this. In this ‘percentage of income’ approach, capitalist excesses can be minimised if 1) student loan rates are controlled through regulation, and 2) the students have a clear idea of how their repayment burden would affect them in different earnings scenarios. While lenders might seem to be making out like bandits in good economic times, isn’t it true that during tough times, there is an aspect of mercy in this approach by saying that your repayment amount this month is zero since you earned zero this month? Isn’t this ‘forgiveness mechanism’ a concept we need to be grappling with at both the personal and state level in public discourse? Or am I just missing the public discourse where these things are grappled with?

1 comment Share

Joe Rogan podcast

You should really consider trying to get on the Joe Rogan podcast, he really doesn't have a real understanding of Socialism and has guests on constantly that give him lies about Socialism. He gets around 10 million downloads a podcast on iTunes, it would be a great platform for you. Many thanks!

3 comments Share


not a question, a poem of mine to share with you

“As we fade" So the USA chooses to no longer be the world leader, as we pass that over to others now. Our research and invention relinquished to others to make from our inventive spark except that is for the art and tools of active war Our home infrastructure crumbles as we build infrastructure in the nations that we destroy while our lower classes are in growing despair and rapidly growing in numbers Our research is hobbled So our wealth classes taxes can be ever lower as we slide into a Spanish style 3rd world nation Our teachers are reviled , Our scientist's harassed Our public workers are demeaned Union workers rights infringed Those without work are blamed for their plight as their jobs are shifted to others willing to toil for vastly less OR turned over to machines and programs designed to remove them from their contribution and wage while what little wealth the truly poor have is siphoned off for other’s bottom lines then they blame them for their poverty and sympathy is found in their hearts only for friends, family and peers It seems self seeking in all they know we elect charlatans making empty promises forever unkept who manipulate the rules and laws for the benefit of their backers a decades long class war being overwhelmingly won by the moneyed class they've made Our Judgeships their political playground to serve their self centered desires if they leave so little for the rest of us to survive we may realize they are so unnecessary to our needs whereas if they leave enought for the rest to be comfortable we will tolerate their drain upon us enlightened self interest I believe it's called. they will still posses vastly more than any others ever have ©2016 R.Kane Richard Kane rkane3@hotmail.com [I love listening to your radio show]

1 comment Share

How to understand nature and drivers of modern-day income inequality?

What causes the recent sharp increases in income inequality? How are these causes and effects the same as, and different from, the race-to-the-bottom economic policies and dynamics of the 1980s, that famously drove the activities of corporate raiders like Carl Icahn, while sending Michael Milliken to jail (only temporarily, of course)? While recognizing that inequality is endemic to capitalism, it seems that there is intensified pressure on major corps. to slash services, employees, etc., in the interest of shareholder value/driving up stock price. These trends have serious consequences for public health, and I think motivated some voters to support Trump, who pretended that NAFTA was the key problem; Dems have virtually nothing to say about this ($15/hr. minimum wage did not send people to the barricades, or the voting booth). (I've read Les Leopold, Thos. Piketty, who describe the trends in income inequality, but don't explain its course/etiology; now reading Pasquale Tridico, who looks like he may come closer, in "Inequality in Financial Capitalism." Appreciate comments, illumination.

1 comment Share

Labor Unions

Dr. Wolff, One of the nuggets of wisdom I've heard you mention in your lectures on the evils of Capitalism, is that the Communists, and the Socialists were liquidated post FDR's New Deal, by the rich and the right-wing (due to FDR's taxing them to get our asses out of the Great Depression, and that they didn't want that to happen again), and that Labor Union memberships have been reduced steadily in the last 50 years, leaving Americans with little to no representation in the work-place. Granted. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "The union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions--was 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percentage point from 2015. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.6 million in 2016, declined by 240,000 from 2015. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers." OK, so, as Trump is already getting himself in trouble just being the poster-boy for the Russians, I wouldn't recommend a resurgence of anything that even sounds like Communism or Bolshevism, but, Socialism appears to be catching on again, and...the Labor Unions. Why can't we strengthen the Labor Unions again? I realize membership has reduced steadily, but what's the history behind that? Can't we reverse that trend, which would allow Americans to have representation again? You yourself have said that Socialism and Communism are dead in many American's *minds* due to the brainwashing against those ideas over the last 70 years. Again, granted. However, since it will obviously take time to get to "democratize the workplace" in this country, wouldn't it seem we could make head-ways, with Labor Unions, while we're working on the former?

1 comment Share


How could resources be allocated to support risky innovations in a socialist society?

Hi Professor Wolff, I am a tech entrepreneur who is really interested in socialist ideals. I am thinking about incorporating co-operative governance in some form within my company but there are a couple of issues I can see at a macro level. 1) Innovation requires the space to experiment and try new things. Research and Development can consume a lot of natural resources and a high degree of risk. At the moment, when starting a company an entrepreneur takes a risk to try to convince people of their idea in order to get the resources to attempt the enterprise. Usually most people are not convinced of the idea and a small minority believes in the entrepreneur and invests. This risk / gamble is what allows new ideas to be attempted. How do you see the starting of new enterprises working in a socialist economy? 2) Socialism relies on the workers deciding together on how the collective should be run. In theory this sounds great but I can see potential problems around having slower decision making, bureaucracy and at times populist decisions being made rather than the right decision when expert knowledge is needed. Do you know of any systems or ideas that can help mitigate these problems? I have been looking into liquid democracy, what are you thoughts on it? Thank you very much Hiren

4 comments Share


Introduction to Marxian Economics

Hello, Professor Wolff, I've been interested in getting "into" Marxian economics for awhile, but have struggled due to a couple of reasons, primarily issues of time and frustration over the seemingly intentionally confusing wording of books on the subject. I.I. Rubin's Essays seems to be okay so far, but I still find myself finding issues in its presentation. I am really looking and hoping for a structured, systematic introduction to the ideas of Marx, the developments of Kalecki, Sweezy, Cockshott, etc who followed in his intellectual tradition, rebuttals of the accusations levied against Marxian economics, etc. Essentially, I am looking for a textbook. The closest I can seem to find actually comes from you, your Contending Economic Theories from a few years back *seems* to be what I'm looking for, however, it also came out before Shaikh's Capitalism and would seem to have been written too early to take into account much in the way of the post-recession developments in Marxism. So, what would you recommend? I quite like your writing style, so I probably will buy Contending Economic Theories, so what would you recommend then to read in order to "catch up" to more recent theory? I want to seriously thank you for your willingness to accept questions and for taking the time to answer them

posted an official response

Thanks for your kind words. I would strongly recommend the Contending Economic Theories book from MIT Press because its chapter on Marxian economics (as well as its comparative analysis of the 3 major paradigms in the field) is a summary overview that does, I think, get you into most of the essentials. I have since written two other books that try to use and apply Marxian economics (as presented in Contending....) to the 2008 crash and what has happened since: Democracy at Work:  Cure for Capitalism and Capitalism's Deepening Crisis, both published by Haymarket in 2012 and 2016 respectively. These books were written to do pretty much what you request, so that is why I recommend them.

2 comments Share

IMF and World Bank

In an upcoming show, please discuss the IMF and World Bank - background, functions, powers they have, who runs them, etc. These two entities are in the news constantly, but many of us don't really know enough about either of them. Thank you very much.

2 comments Share

Work Councils and VW

Dr. you have stated multiple times in the past regarding vw that the emissions scandal wouldn't have, or at least would have been far more unlikely to happen, if it were a cooperative, but VW, like many german companies, has a work council where labor has a seat at the boardroom table. I'd like your thoughts on this as it reflects on cooperatives as more socially and economically aware enterprises. (if you've covered this I'm sorry, I'm only just working thru the archives)

posted an official response

The problem with workers councils is that they are a minority part of those Boards and thus allow for all sorts of things to be done without the labor council members agreeing or even knowing. Then too, there are boards who have provided favors for workers council members to side with them against their own fellow-workers, etc. It was an important step to get the corporate boards to be required to include workers, etc., but it was just a step and well short of the kinds of changes that a fully-formed workers coop would entail.

4 comments Share

connect

get updates