Ask Prof. Wolff

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Islamic Finance

Dr, Wolff, Thanks for speaking out about our current economic realities and especially for proposing rational, intelligent alternatives. For several years in the 00s, I represented my company (financial services company, FIS) at a bank in Riyadh. While attending an Islamic Banking conference in Istanbul, on behalf of the Saudi bank, I got to know one of the speakers, David Vicary, who introduced me to Islamic finance. David now runs an Islamic finance university program in Malaysia. What I’ve learned about its guiding principles leads me to wonder whether such a financial system with a seeming inbuilt morality might serve as a model for a ‘reformed’ banking system in the west. How do you view Islamic finance, and do you think it has a place as a template for banking reform? Thanks again, Steve

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What do you think about the Zappos' experiment with holacracy?

https://hbr.org/ideacast/2016/07/the-zappos-holacracy-experiment.html http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/13/zappos-ceo-tony-hsieh-the-thing-i-regret-about-getting-rid-of-managers.html

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Could you speak a little bit about the following linked article?

Publix Market fighting $15 minimum wage. http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/publix-and-disney-backed-coalition-sues-to-stop-miami-beach-from-raising-minimum-wage-9002559

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Is there an error in my thinking regarding wage-slavery and wealth inequality?

If there exists 1,000,000 gold coins and a guy earns 10 coins per day by paying 2 coins for labor and spending 3 coins for supplies (food, entertainment, etc), then he saves 5 coins in a pile. How long before he owns all the coins? It seems there is an inherent problem in working for someone else because there is a transfer of value uphill. The guy who earns the 2 coins is transferring 8 coins of value to his employer. The uphill transfer of wealth necessitates that money be constantly printed or else the money would run out. Redistributive tax policies can alleviate the need for printed money to some degree. In the example above, take 2 coins from the guy's pile in taxes means that it takes him longer to own all the coins, but he'll still own them all eventually as long as he continues to make a profit that he saves. In a world where everyone is a fur-trapper, cooper, smith, or someone who works exclusively for themselves, it seems printed money wouldn't be necessary because no one man could own all the money. It's the act of employing others that transfers value that requires money be printed in order to maintain the ever-growing inequality of wealth possession. Can you find an error in this thinking? If not, then that means redistributive tax policies can only slow the need for money printing and consequent inflation. And it means the money supply can never go down. And it means the system will eventually run out of money when inflation is too high, which means it's destined to collapse. It seems there can't exist a system of money where one works to enrich another without inevitable collapse. The tax rates would be so high that employers would refuse to work. If the tax rates are low, then the system runs out of money quicker. This is what we've seen since Reagan. Tax rates are low, so money printing has to increase to maintain the increasing division of wealth. In the 50s and 60s, tax rates were high, so money didn't need to be created as fast. Is my reasoning correct? I don't know who else to ask for a qualified opinion that is not politically biased. I appreciate your time.

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Biz adⅵce for entrepreneurs whose imag㏌ation for ㏌terventions is limited to neoliberal capitalism

Sir if a person's context for identifying the issues of society and his process of ideation and evaluation of his ideas itself is shaped by the values of neoliberal capitalism, due to his lifestyle & education what would you suggest for such a person to become aware of the follies of his version of reality? and to imagine a business idea, or a model that doesn't conform to neoliberal capitalism. What would he have to do in his daily life to get the ability to envision such ideas and even plan how to do it? Is there a certain framework for solving and identifying issues of the society through an alternative perspective? Let me provide some context for you: 20 year olds middle class salarymen from Mumbai, India who derive inspiration for entrepreneurship through the likes of unsustainable, consumer driven businesses like apple and uber.

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Sir my question to you is how cities became a point of attraction in capitalism?

so sir i came many economics books and journals especial re fence to Marxist writings but one thing is still unclear that How cities emerged from the ashes of villages ,all i know is that when the self-sufficiency of Village came to an end and the rise of transactions in town fairs during the late European medieval period and the effects of crusades and black death resulted to the disruption of feudalism ,thus cities gained importance ,further trading resulted to the commercial achievements as well as the discoveries of countries and so on fetched the rise of Mercantilism which further synthesis resulted the rise of capitalist and so on. so sir previously the rise of capitalism were cities got no importance? on general sir how cities in earlier society rose? as well as village being the primary sector (the base of the production) is poorer the the cities where the manufacturing g process takes place ? Please sir elucidate me i really need to know........

posted an official response

Dear Sir, let me refer you to a great French historian, Henri Pirenne, who wrote the classic work on the role of cities in the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe. He seminal works provoked a long, rich literature since his work. All of that (works of George Duby, John Somerville, etc.) work will provide the answers and insights you seek.

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What steps can a person do to join a national or international coop?

Hi Professor Wolff, Thank-you very much for your excellent and insightful GCM's and weekly economic updates and for taking the time to read my question. I am a 35 year old, caucasian male with a communication degree and an information systems degree - a sucker for learning. I agree with a lot of your world views. I have an interest in creating and/or participating in worker cooperatives but I have limited capital, resources and influence. I also agree with Noam Chomsky's perspectives, and, perhaps more surprising or interestingly, Nassim Taleb's views on risk. Ideally, I'd love to work/cooperate with people with a reasonable understanding of these views to create a genuine, cooperative consultancy. What general steps could I take to create or join this type of national or international coop? I should mention I am not a U.S. citizen. Cheers.

posted an official response

There are some cooperative consultancies, but I am not familiar with their rules for adding member etc. What is more needed is for interested, committed people like yourself to start them. For a few years, I and my associates have been pondering how to organize a website that would serve as a kind of clearing house where individuals with your interests could register for others to find you as you would find them to build the cooperative sectors of economies all over the world. The point would be to institutionalize a fuller response to the questions you pose than I can do ad hoc here and now. Thanks for your kind words about out work.

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Question about research

Rick, In one of your articles you point out that worker coops have been found to have better outcomes and better survival than other firms. I know the research about outcomes (I did one piece about majority-owned ESOPs ten years ago), but not about survival. Would you mind sending me the source for that? Thanks, Brent Kramer

posted an official response

There are many sources, but here are two that strike me as useful for your inquiry:

V. Perotin, JournalofComparativeEconomics34 (2 (2006) 295–316, and Gabriel Burdin in recent ILRR: hp://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/ilrreview/vol67/iss1/8

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Do you have any thoughts on decentralized currencies like Bitcoin?

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My general sense is that "private" money systems/currencies are even more prone to abuse and corruption with negative economic effects than public money systems. That is why the transitions occurred from private to public over the centuries.

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Is Adam Smith misrepresented in modern economics? Is his use of the term "invisible hand" misused?

Chomsky has said that Adam Smith would despise what we nowadays call capitalism. You can read what he thinks here: https://chomsky.info/warfare02/ and https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/12/noam-chomsky-interview-donald-trump-democracy/ .

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Basically, yes. Adam Smith was a moral and religious philosopher all his life, someone who came to economic thoughts from that basis. He thus had breadth and subtlety and philosophical awareness: qualities lacking in the contemporary mainstream of professional economics. The latter has reduced his comments on that "invisible hand" to a crude formula to rationalize laissez-faire capitalism (capitalism with minimal government intervention into the economy). That crude formula runs as follows: if each person pursues his/her own immediate self-interest, the end result will be the best possible outcome for everyone. If this strikes you as justification for disregarding the impact of your decisions on everyone else, then you have grasped why economists who serve the capitalist status quo - who value private capitalism unregulated by the state above all else - celebrate an Adam Smith to whom they attribute their crude simplification. If you actually read Smith's The Wealth of Nations you will quickly see how nuanced Smith actually was, how critical of many aspects of private capitalism he was, and so on. For example, Karl Marx credited Adam Smith with major insights crucial to a basic critique of capitalism (see Marx's Theories of Surplus Value), dimensions of Smith's work which the crude mainstream economists ignore or simply dont know.

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To what extend do stock buy-backs drive deindustrialization?

Les Leopold recently published a piece on Alternet (http://tiny.cc/kgqthy) entitled "CNN Host's Attempt to Explain the U.S. Economy Was So Bad I Started Yelling at the TV" in which he characterized stock buy-backs as a luciferous addiction afflicting CEOs of major US corporations that has undermined the country's manufacturing base while driving the growth in inequality. Do you agree?

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Stock buybacks reflect (1) a decline in mass purchasing power consequent upon growing US income and wealth inequalities, (2) thus a decline in real investment opportunities, (3) corporate governance rules that reward top executives with stock options etc as major parts of their payments, (4) historically low interest rates making it profitable to shareholders and top executives to borrow for stock buybacks as % rise in stock prices larger than % rise in interest costs....among the other factors helping to cause stock buybacks. Buybacks are effects of inequality as well as among its many causes. The search for "the" cause or chief cause is a hopeless and illogical enterprise. Stock buybacks are part of how contemporary capitalist system works. Its the system that is the problem here, not one detail of its workings.

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Any comments on "demonetization" in India and Venezuala? Bitcoin?

And the prospect of the US Government taking the $1,000 note out of circulation? https://cointelegraph.com/news/copycat-currency-venezuela-follows-india-into-national-demonetization Copycat Currency: Venezuela Follows India into National Demonetization 2016 has become an all-out war against cash. Last month, India almost instantly demonetized their most used paper currency notes, the 500 and 1000 Rs. This has caused massive problems throughout the country, resulting in the deaths of people as they wait in line to exchange money, and a soaring market for Bitcoin. Now, embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced on Sunday that the 100-bolivar bill will be decommissioned. Haven’t we heard this before? In India, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi announced on Nov. 8 that the government would remove India’s most used currency notes to fight “black money,” or money that is undeclared and untaxed in the underground economy. On Sunday, President Maduro seems to have taken a page out of Modi’s book, referring to “mafias” smuggling the currency ..... Bitcoin trading volume all-time high Demand for Bitcoin has risen dramatically in Venezuela, as it has in India, with the amount of Bitcoin purchased on LocalBitcoins.com growing 1000 percent within the last six months, according to Coin Dance. With the bolivar losing so much value, it may be hard for Bitcoin to be purchased effectively in the region, as its price continues to move in the opposite direction. Venezuela is on a growing list of nations with national currency devaluations. The list includes China, which has seen six national devaluations in the last twelve months, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Great Britain and Ukraine. Every weakening of a nation currency, or a cash ban by a national banking system, seems to strengthen the global demand and value for Bitcoin.

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A taxi coop is for sale. Uber and Lyft might be a factor?

I wonder if the cab drivers are freelancing for one of them now. Yellow Cab, SF’s largest taxi company, is for sale By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez on November 21, 2016 San Francisco’s largest cab company is officially for sale. Perhaps the first major casualty in the war with ride-hail industry heavyweights Uber and Lyft, Yellow Cab Cooperative was announced as a “BUSINESS FOR SALE – Largest San Francisco Taxi Cab Company” in an email circulating Monday. “Yellow Cab Co-Op is basically over,” said Carl Macmurdo, president of the Medallion Holders Association. Yellow Cab owns roughly 500 taxis, according to the sale letter, and has 10 years remaining on a lease of commercial property that has a 350 stall parking lot and 26,000 sq. ft. office facility. Revenue for the fiscal year 2015 was about $24 million, according to the letter, which was sent by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association. Court documents from Yellow Cab’s bankruptcy filings show on Nov. 15 Thomas Carlson, a Northern District Court bankruptcy judge, took control of the sale of Yellow Cab from the cooperative and gave it to a trustee, instead. In a subpeona of Yellow Cab communications and files, it was revealed the cooperative ceased paying its members in 2015 as it was “not generating enough revenue to give checks to the members,” according to court documents. Jim Gillespie, Yellow Cab’s former president, made the decision to stop the payments, and discussion of their financial woes extended several years leading up to 2015. In her deposition, Yellow Cab Co-Op President Pamela Martinez said, “Too much money was being allocated to owners, then there wasn’t any money.” Yellow Cab filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, which was first reported by the San Francisco Examiner. At the time, Yellow Cab said much of its business woes were due to millions of dollars in lawsuits stemming from accidents, with one settlement reaching as high as $8 million, which bled the company. But a letter obtained by the Examiner from Yellow Cab top brass also said the company had a difficult time filling shifts in the business climate created by Uber and Lyft.

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Jeremy Corbyn and co-ops

I have read and listen to many of your videos. You mention his plan often about getting more co-ops by giving the workers the choice to buy the company. Could you share a link to an article about this or a video? I am having a hard time finding it. Also I wanted to thank you for the information you giving out. It is tremendous and would be great for America. Getting Americans to understand the advantages and accept them will be a huge hurdle. The second huge hurdle is getting worker co-ops implemented because the capitalist are not just going to say OK.

posted an official response

The easiest way to proceed is to check the work of Jeremy Corbyn's "Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer), John McDonnell who is the key spokesman for this innovative and daring plan for developing a worker coop sector of the UK economy. An earlier article this year would be a place for you to start: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/20/labour-backs-employees-right-own-shares-workplace. Workers owning their enterprise is one thing; workers running it, making all the key decisions democratically and collectively, is something else. They can but need not go together. All this was thought unthinkable a short time ago in the UK, but now the second major party there is endorsing it. What happens fast in UK can do likewise in USA and, I think will do so soon.

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