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Thoughts on the super rich doomsday preppers?

There's a recent piece on the New Yorker website about the super rich doomsday/collapse preppers. These people fear the break down of society and invest large sums of money into these plans with the hope of insulating themselves from the chaos. Some put more money into these plans than many people will earn in their lifetimes. I'm curious as to what your thoughts are about the super rich hatching escape plans vs creating solutions to avoid it. link to the article http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich

posted an official response

It is hard not to think that in these bizarre ways, even the richest, those who benefit from a capitalism in decline, a capitalism that undermines living standards and hopes for the future for most people, grasp somewhere that society is spinning our of control in dangerous ways. However unconsciously, they too sense the disintegration of social ties, social cohesion. Their reaction is not critical social analysis (they have no background, training or inclination to go that way). It is instead this sort of fantastical self-protection. Where poor and middle income folks sensing social collapse buy a gun; these folks do these things. It is another symptom of wild, angry, reactive behavior (like Brexit, or endless movies about tidal waves, earthquakes and other mega-disasters, like electing Trump, and so on). Social decay, when in advanced stages, displays all sorts of extreme symptoms.

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article

I would like to forward an article I came across on Union Co-operatives. The URL is: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-01-18/union-co-operatives-what-they-are-and-why-we-need-them/

posted an official response

Thank you for the article. Here ay Democracy@Work we have been following the Mondragon-USW alliance since its inception precisely to gain insights about collaborations, alliances, and cooperation between the worker coop movement and the labor movement (who, in the US, once worked together quite well a century ago).

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How are positions like a clerk paid good in a worker coop?

How are positions that are usually paid through the surplus labor of others paid a good salary in a worker coop? Do they and the workers just agree on a reward, etc?

posted an official response

In a capitalist enterprise, the surplus produced by "productive workers" (those engaged in directly producing the commodity sold by the enterprise) - the difference between what their labor adds to what the employer sells and what the employer pays to them as a wage - is appropriated by the employer. That employer then decides what other workers - those who provide the necessary conditions for the productive workers to perform their tasks (e.g. a clerk) - should be employed and uses the surplus from the productive workers to pay them. The employer then "negotiates" with such other workers over the conditions and payments for such work. On a worker coop, the capitalist "middleman" - namely the employer - is removed. In a worker coop, the productive workers themselves occupy both the position of productive worker but also, collectively, the position of employer. Thus the productive workers and the other workers together decide on/negotiate the conditions of and payments out of surplus for that other work. Since both productive and other workers need and depend on each other, a democratic process of making all enterprise decisions best reproduces the worker coop model of enterprise organization.

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Question:

Why wasnt TARP bailout routed through a proviso that: Every 1st-mortgage in America would be paid for? The money still would end up in the banks, total disposable income would've EQUALLED the total TARP (minus 'slippage'), job losses avoided, demand UP, etc.... Not the political impossibilities-- would the arithmetic have worked?

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Absolutely yes. The basic point here is that economic stimulus can be achieved via trickle down (pumping money and/or demand in at the top of the economic pyramid) or trickle up (pumping money and/or demand in at the bottom of the pyramid to the poor and working classes). The political power of rich versus poor, employers vs employees, capital vs labor usually determines the government's choice between trickle up or trickle down.

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Federal government jobs Hiring Freeze

Hi and thank you for your exceptionally wonderful program Economic Update. I am a federal employee, and as a female, non veteran, in a predominatly female role as an administrative support assistant, I have been struggling to get ahead financially for over two decades. The federal hiring freeze signed by Trump impacts my life profoundly, I may never retire with no promotional opportunities. How does this freeze affect American workers and their jobs, and how does this affect the American economy relating to the functionality of the Federal Government? Thank you, Susana E.

posted an official response

Most of the decrees and rulings of Trump's first days in power worsen rather than improve the living conditions of working people, the "middle class" and so on. The freeze does likewise. So indeed do the cabinet and advisor appointments. So we have actions and appointments that largely contradict Trump's repeated commitment to rebuild the economic conditions of what he believes to be "the good old days." Frankly, so far, its his talk versus his actions and the actions speak more strongly than the talk.

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I would like to suggest doing an interview with Jane Elliot for your weekly program Economic update.

Dear Professor Wolff, I would like to suggest doing an interview with Jane Elliot for your weekly program Economic update. She is a well known educator on the subject of racism because of her famous bleu eyes brown eyes expiriment. She has remarkeble insights on the topic and makes amazing connections between racism and our system's opression. I think it would be interesting to talk with her about the link between capitalism and racism. Her experiment: https://youtu.be/jPZEJHJPwIw?t=5s A recent interview with her: https://youtu.be/fF9s0as_d_4

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MMT Modern Money Theory, its pros and cons. Why and/or why not?

https://youtu.be/Xac2a6jNQJU https://youtu.be/YEyb5A7GNzg For when you can, these videos are lengthy but fortunately not visually artistically, so you can enjoy listening to them while doing something else, if needed. Am I being too skeptical of this concept? Why is the left (as in the real left) falling in love with this, and why is even Trump himself toying with this concept (or perhaps a version of his own)? I feel, though it sounds good to a certain extent even in practice,(I really would rather be living in an economy using this theory than the one we're in); I feel that it seems to me it'd be like a very large Band-Aid, but still a Band-Aid nonetheless to the economy as it stands. I feel that while we are still in a system where surpluses are still having to be generated for the efficiency of profits, MMT or no MMT, collapse after collapse we will see. Is it too utopian to imagine an MMT transition into a Time Banking/Service Exchange Cooperative Economy? Thank you!

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How do worker co-ops scale into larger non-capitalist systems?

Like you, I am very interested in worker owned and worker run co-ops as a growing movement, a somewhat more ethical approach to the inherently unethical capitalism. I would love to hear on your podcast how- looking out to the future, how co-op culture could pave the way to larger systems and structures like syndicalism and what the nuances of are of that and what it could look like. There are many alternative systems that co-ops could be the seeds of and what those systems are seems to be a huge pandroa's box to explore.

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How would a Universal Basic Income impact housing prices, wages, and general inflation?

Dear Professor Wolf, I was recently involved in a discussion comparing the benefits of Universal Basic income vs. Full Employment. I understand you are generally more in favor of a universal employment program, but I was wondering if you could address some concerns about the Idea of a Universal Basic Income that came up in the discussion. Would providing a Universal Basic Income for Americans create an increase in housing prices, a decrease in wages, or general inflation? Thank You, Scott from Brooklyn, NY

posted an official response

There are no simple one-to-one connections or cause/effect relationships between creating a UBI for Americans and any other specific economic event (such as those you listed). All economic events have many diverse contributing factor. If we had a UBI iot would add its effects to all the other influences on economic events, but there is no way to know in advance of each moment's specific set of other influences, what the outcome on any event will finally be. People who tell you how any A will definitely cause a B have not understood the multi-causality of all things, events, etc.

Yes, I am very opposed to isolating one portion of a healthy, adult population as somehow exempt from the work that is required ofd the rest of that population. It is profoundly socially divisive and I dont see why that is desirable or worth risking. If we have more people that jobs that need doing, then the way to manage that situation is to reduce the working time of all workers. That way all have work while all enjoy its reduction in favor of free time.

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Have you created any petitions to create federal jobs for the public? We'll back you up.

posted an official response

Had not thought of that as a way to add pressure on Trump.....let me talk to my associates. Thanks for the suggestion.

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Investment Advice

Given the current economic conditions, what investments does Dr. Wolf recommend for working people and the middle class?

posted an official response

It is generally unwise and unethical to offer investment advice without knowing the specific circumstances of an individual (and they are always different and unique), so I generally refrain from doing that. That said, let me nonetheless offer a kind of broad advice: the vast turmoil of contemporary capitalism, and especially since the crash of 2008, has now provoked major political upheavals and uncertainties (recent votes in the UK, Italy and the US; earlier political shifts across southern Europe, the rightward shifts in Latin America and chaos in the Middle East) and one of which could further destabilize world capitalism. The deepening inequalities within all capitalist economies - itself a major cause of the political turmoil - shows no sign of being stopped, let alone reversed. And that promises further upheaval. In such circumstances, the obvious advice has to be: be very, very careful and cautious in all your investments since the downside risks are huge and the upside possibilities much more limited and scarce.

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Most important books for those interested in radical economics/politics?

Thank you Dr. Wolff. You do great things.

posted an official response

The classics are called that for a reason: they keep teaching readers for decades because they are so richly packed. So, for example, on US history, read Howard Zinn, C. Wright Mills, C. Vann Woodward, David Montgomery, and those who have built upon that work. In economics, go to the source if you possibly can: read Karl Marx and the greatest Marxist writers since (including Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci, Georg Lukacs, Louis Althusser). In philosophy, Hegel if you have the time. More recent stuff: the American Richard Rorty (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature), writings by the French thinker Etienne Balibar. In literature, the American Fred Jameson. If you want an introduction to many of these writers and others, take a look at our first book, S. Resnick and R. Wolff, Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987) where we discuss their work and its significances.

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I thought this video was worth sharing...its topic resonates with democracy in the workplace.

http://video.wpt.org/video/2365886751/

posted an official response

Yes, I could not agree more. So let me add my strong recommendation to yours. Anyone reading this would be well advised to take a few moments to view this video of a talk given by a specialist in "organization theory" who explains clearly and persuasively why the kind of top-down organization typical in the world today is so undemocratic and thus does immense damage to both organizations and the individuals within them. Important work!

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Is war the usual affair of humanity that accompanies massive changes in the global economy?

the end of feudalism and massive shifts in the european economy corresponded to the 100 years war. WW1 and WW2 correlated with the end of colonialism, and were a massive re-organization of the global economy. Is there a risk that the decline of Capitalism is likely to precipitate something similar? Can we learn from history how such things occur for signs in today's world. I was listening on KPFA and think this might be a nice expansion on a theme you often mention - Ira Leifer, Santa Barbara

posted an official response

War, as others have noted, is politics by another name and set of mechanisms. Just as Obama was a slightly to the left attempt to contain radical responses - by making the president an African-American of slightly left leanings - to capitalism's production of gross inequality since 1980 and then its collapse in 2008, Trump is now a slightly (or perhaps not so slightly) tilt to the right to contain radical responses by deflecting them into economic nationalism. Obama could not or would not make the changes that the problem of US capitalism now poses, so he paved the way for a rightist version to try. Only wild luck will enable Trump to do any better. The economic odds are that he will do worse. Well, then, another way out - both economically and by deflecting popular anger into war hysteria - would be a war. Is that possible? Only someone unaware of capitalism's history (endless small wars punctuated by the worst world wars human history produced including use of nuclear weapons) could answer anything but "yes." And you can be sure that for future radio shows, I will be watching and pointing out signs, if and when they surface, of movement toward military solutions to US capitalism's deepening problems.

Later addition: many years ago, the American leftist writer, Harry Magdoff, published an article in his magazine, Monthly Review (co-edited with Paul M. Sweezy) in which Magdoff showed that for most of the history of the US, this country was at war somewhere with someone. War was not, in short, the occasional condition of the US; it was rather its normal condition. In short, massive upheavals internally in capitalist societies may enhance the probability of finding some sort of war as part of the solution to them, but even without massive upheavals, war is endemic to capitalism and always has been.

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Did the anarcho-syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War bring about cooperative enterprise?

I'm writing an essay on the workplace structure in the republican zone of Spain during the war and wanted to get your views on the organisation of collective farms and industrial syndicates in Spain as to whether they represented a genuine worker co-operative economy with high levels of economic democracy. Moreover do you think that changes in workplace organisation and the establishment of democratically operated enterprise in Spain during the war substantially effected the productivity and efficiency of the Spanish Republican economy. Finally do you think that the kind of experiments in worker self-management undertaken in Spain during the war can be considered representative of a socialist mode of production given the circumstances of being a war economy?

posted an official response

The short answer is yes, Republican Spain's experimentation with cooperatives contains all sorts of valuable lessons in how to begin to construct a genuine socialist alternative economy to capitalism. The Spanish efforts in the 1930s were constrained by (1) the official socialism of the time (which stressed state ownership of industry and state planning of the distribution of resources and products - and which correspondingly undervalued the transformation of the workplace into a cooperative versus a hierarchical organization) and (2) the urgencies of a vicious civil war. So lessons drawn need to always take those constraints into consideration. But Spain - like many other countries - has histories of experiments in cooperative workplace organization that can and eventually will be used in the new 21st century socialism that will be built around the revolution inside the workplace from capitalist to cooperative organization of production.

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