Ask Prof. Wolff

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Have a question for Professor Wolff? Want to suggest a topic or article? UPVOTE your favorite questions or submit your own. Top suggestions will be given a video answer on YouTube.
 
Professor Wolff receives hundreds of questions per week covering a wide array of topics, from economics and politics, to historical movements and current events. While Professor Wolff does his best to reply to some questions on Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff, he's received more questions than can be answered individually. Prof. Wolff will now provide video answers to his favorite questions on this page.
 
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Democracy and decentralization

I discovered you via your Chapo Trap House appearance, and have now listened to 30+ of your recent Economic Update episodes. Thank you for your extremely valuable contribution. You often talk about the evasion of taxation by the wealthiest members and corporations of our society, and I agree (of course) with your concern. But another theme of your analysis is the danger of overly centralized, "statist" governments. For example, Cuba, which one of your guests in late 2017 described as "out-Sovieting the Soviets" under Fidel Castro, has been unable (so far) to wholeheartedly support worker co-ops. My own exasperation with the USA leads me to feel that a more decentralized nation (one possibility is six or seven regional pieces) would bring democratic government much closer to the people. I would love to hear you discuss democracy and decentralization in general. As background... one of the smartest people I've found on the subject of building a world according to "human scale" is an original founder of SDS in the 1960s (and once a longtime resident of the West Village in NYC), Kirkpatrick Sale. He might even be available to speak with you (he now lives in South Carolina). Here's a link to a 2010 lecture he gave on the subject of secession and bioregionalism (this is part 1, with the other 4 parts in the sidebar): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2udAiIkG-g

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Is the heroin epidemic proper wording?

It should be called toxic epidemic shouldn't it. You have people sniffing any toxic they can get. I won't name the list because I don't have a complete one but I'll make a few like paint, pills, heroin and crystal meth. Now all have side effects of stupidity, sickness, reversal of healing and worse for kids which I think means a couple diseases. Crystal meth had the added side effects of damaging and changing your DNA and genes and about 8 more diseases. Man and animals can't smell toxic in the air. Now on Google in June of 2016 when I typed toxic detector it showed there was one used in chimneys of manufacturing plants. It hasn't been there previously and then it wasn't there when I looked again about 8 months later. I did find it again but you have to type in gas toxic detector. The information about it seems to get more and more silly however. These whole point is that the rich run science in America. We need a toxic detector in our hands to protect ourselves from our neighbors. I'm in Chicago and you knows it's a crowded city. Crowds are something I don't like because toxic comes out of a person's sweat and gets into their clothes. Thanks to having altered smell I can smell all toxic in the air. It's true I had to lose a portion of my brain to gain this never seen before ability but I've learned very much about this society in our lives and the need for a toxic detector. I've read that too get the toxic out of your clothes you have to add vinegar to your wash, people should know this. How I hope people will know this soon. I'm shocked still about this situation that makes people not who they could be as far as intelligence and health because of this toxic epidemic. I blame the rich I do because they run science. There's many things I know like flies hate the smell too. Thank you and thanks for your time on the Thom Hartman Program which was nice to see you're man vested in sharing the truth about our future in this broken government system.

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What is the advantage and disadvantage of derivatives?

There are over 600 trillion derivatives in the market. How can you make money and what is the disadvantage if the market goes down.

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Why would a Chinese Steel and Bridge Concern want to buy a music school in suburban New Jersey?

To quote the summation of the link below, "Rider University is unironically announcing that a company that produced steel bridges from 1999-2017 in and around Shanghai has developed a sudden passion for classical singing and sacred music, and is excited to run a higher education conservatory in Princeton, New Jersey and keep them afloat as an angel investor." https://www.reddit.com/r/ChapoTrapHouse/comments/7zhjlk/peak_neoliberalism_private_university_fires_all/

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Can Venezuela revive economically under Marxist economics?

The oil-funded social programs have been devestaed by the downward spiral of oil prices. What can the government do?

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what is your definition of "working class"?

If the majority of people work, and the "middle class" has mostly disappeared, doesn't that make most people "working class"? How do you look at this distinction?

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What becomes of "struggle"?

Unions organized and planned and took concerted, sustained action against the powers that be in the struggle for workers' rights. It seems obvious that it would be a good thing if as many enterprises as possible were organized as co-ops. But you can't organize and agitate and demonstrate and demand that people form worker co-ops. So what organizing, agitating, demonstrating agenda takes the place of the one that used to be directed against owners and the State? What should people be doing who are not working in or forming a worker-owned enterprise?

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Public vs Private Debate

On your most recent economic update, you said that it would cost less to have our utilities become public rather than private. However, how will workers and the now government controlled utilities be as productive if they are not driven by a profit? would this in turn cost more money?

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And we wonder why insurance premiums are so high...

Professor Wolff, I happen to own some CVS stock, so recently I received a half-inch thick (thin paper, small type, dense language) Merger Proposal outlining CVS's purchase of Aetna. Buried in the middle of this document is a section, "Quantification of Potential Payments to Aetna Executive Officers in Connection with the Merger". It lists the compensation to be received by five top Aetna executives as severance. Between the five of them, they will walk away with over 80 million dollars in cash, equity, and benefits. Not for performing anything, or adding any value, but for walking away. It was a sobering experience to read it right there in the actual document, as opposed to in a news report. That's a lot of money to just leak out of the system like that. All the best, David Baldwin Cranston, RI

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Why is Georgism, or geoism, not the correct alternative to modern capitalism?

Hello Professor, I listened to your interview on Chapo Trap House and related to your experiences with university-taught economics. I am an economics major myself, about to graduate, and also dissatisfied with the limited scope of questions modern economics courses try to answer. My personal search for answers did not bring me to Marx, however. They brought me to Henry George and what I consider a better alternative to the status quo, geoism. To me, geoism lacks what I consider the inherent authoritarianism in Marxism. Those things not created by people, location and natural resources/forces, obviously belong to society as a whole. But the things that take individual motivation and effort to exist, "Capital", should belong to those that create it. Without the profit/wage motive, why should anyone put in the extra effort it takes to do the necessary but more skilled work of organizing production? The only other realistic mechanism I can think of to achieve this is a threat of violence by those who have monopolized power through other means than capitalism. This is why I feel that the only "successful" revolutionary socialist experiments have devolved into dictatorships that suppress political and individual rights. There are no other motivations for an individual to put in the extra effort of skilled labor/effort other than a sense of love and duty to society, which seems like a flimsy thing to hang a whole economic system on. The socialization of natural resources, natural forces, land, and location avoid this issue of motivation. They exist outside the effort of individuals and therefore should not be owned privately. Their value comes from society, and should therefore be returned to it. The private theft of socially created wealth that Henry George describes is a much more compelling theory of inequality and poverty than anything I have read from a Marxist perspective. I will admit I have not dived as deep into Marxism as I have Georgism, but I found it hard to explore Marx thoroughly without that question of authoritarianism constantly in the background of my mind. Do you have an explanation that could prove me wrong? Thank you

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Socialist Entrepreneurship

Hello Professor. I thoroughly enjoyed your recent interview on Chapo. I am a democratic socialist and happen to own a small business. It feels very tough to reconcile my left views with running a business in a society with little safety nets for my employees. I try to do the best I can for my employees while still turning a profit in order to keep my enterprise afloat. One example of the challenges I face is that If I pay my staff too much money "on the books" they will be kicked off medicaid. Yet there is no way they could buy private health insurance with the wages I can afford (myself and business partners can not even afford to purchase insurance, I'm lucky enough to have a wife who can put me on her student plan). More than a specific question do you have any advice, resources or suggested reading for an small level entrepreneur who is fed up with capitalism but relies on his business for a living (and enjoys entrepreneurship).

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Your detailed analysis, please.

"Violence In America" Revisited: Back when I was in school there was book called "Violence in America". It provided some interesting insights, but it stopped short of providing a sufficiently full enough economic explanation, within the Capitalist ideology, that could explain why so much violence, as documented in the boo, and subsequently, is so tolerated and why so little is actually done to eliminate the real problems at a root cause level. Why so much that is done actually causes more violence, as a further catalyst, as in the case of the Florida school shooter, rather than being more effective, as it could in theory be made to be. There is a very fundamental problem in that and here is my take on the reasons for it....... it is not what the mass media are getting right, but maybe they are not allowed to get it right. That too can be a factor of how governments serve their purpose, but realizing that their purpose is not always or inevitably what is seems to be. Government cannot do anything to reduce the violence in America because that would harm the profits of the health care industry. It would also harm the profits of other industries, such as those that provide security and surveillance services. Etc. Billions are being made on the basis of government supported violence. You cannot expect that to be put to a stop. Violence is far more than the instances of shootings that make the mass media news. There are literally armies of security guards, surveillance companies, security consultants, psychologists, therapists, trauma teams, health care suppliers, rehabilitation workers, and much more, largely and in some cases entirely dependent on the profitable growth of violence in America. It is big business in America. Without violence you might eliminate a big part of American GDP growth. In fact you could, in theory, throw America into a recession simply on that one factor of its dependence on violence.

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How do coops strike a good d ballance between deliberate voting and quick executive decision making?

A ballance must be reached between being democratic on all important decisions, and being agile when necessary. Its seems a more executive system is naturally quicker to make decisions

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What would a labor debt bailout look like?

This question is related to the logic behind Britain's Labor Parties platform regarding the nationalization of water and rails. Post 9/11 the bush administration advocated reckless credit card use to stimulate the economy. In 2007 they downplayed the economic crisis, attempting to manipulate consumer confidence to keep the bottom from falling out of the economy. In 2008 both parties unilaterally spent public funds on bailing out the banks and corporations responsible for our economic collapse, but completely ignoring the relevance of the deficit spending of labor(and the predatory practices of lending) in salvaging what little there was to salvage of the collapse. Since then labors share of debt has continued to increase as seen in your many points about the net assets of individuals and young families. How would things be different if we had instead used that money to bail out the debtors instead of the lenders? By extension wouldn't the lenders have still been bailed out by proxy without having the assets seized? What about student loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc? It seems that one of the largest issues wage stagnation has created is that individuals deficits are so massive that a pay increase is unlikely to stimulate additional spending. Instead it would be spent on paying down the debt. Additionally the rising interest rates(due to this wonderful tax cut) and the deliberate suppression of inflation has created a usurers paradise. So labor is falling even farther behind.

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21% corporate tax rate and 22 Trillion dollar Capitalist Debt

I want to know if you could expand your economic analysis to include the 22 Trillion dollar capitalist debt with the decrease tax rate to 21% true and immediate effect on our barely recovered economy? If we institute austerity measures today and aggressive payback plan put in place? If we let it go into the People's Republic of China refuse to loan us anymore more as our payback no-return limit of 24 Trillion will officially reached in December 2018. Also, I know you are not a one trick pony, what else to have for the American voter/worker up you sleeve in addition to co-ops? I am quickly becoming a fan. I, too, ran for President in 2016.

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