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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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What are the reasons, apart from oil, for Venezuela's economy?

Hello Richard, I'm a huge fan! I was recently watching your interview on Fox Business where you were talking about Venezuela. I must say I thought the interviewers were extremely rude and you did a great job handling them. If it wasn't too much time, may I ask you why the Venezuelan economy has collapsed in addition to plummeting oil prices? I'm very curious what your answer would have been if you were only allowed to finish.

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What are the reasons, apart from oil, for Venezuela's economy?

Hello Richard, I'm a huge fan! I was recently watching your interview on Fox Business where you were talking about Venezuela. I must say I thought the interviewers were extremely rude and you did a great job handling them. If it wasn't too much time, may I ask you why the Venezuelan government has collapsed in addition to plummeting oil prices? I'm very curious what your answer would have been if you were only allowed to finish.

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Could you talk about the Worker's Self managed model implemented in Socialist Yugoslavia?

Enshrined even in its constitution was the movement to Worker's Self management in the Yugoslav economy. Yugoslavia was the pioneer in implementing a worker cooperative model at a state level. It was seen as heresy by the Warsaw pact countries at the time, however it created the greatest standard of living in all of eastern Europe, even comparable to many Western nations. It resulted in an enormous developmental transformation for a war-torn country whose populace was comprised of ~80% illiterate rural peasantry prior to Marshal Tito's leadership. It was successful about half the time where statism did not influence the economy and misallocate resources. Is this an example that can be used by Marxists to study how a worker coop model can be implemented at a national level? But also, how to avoid the State and the Party impacting the economy negatively due to their own self interests? Regardless, Marshal Tito is revered by the majority of people today in the former Yugoslavia and testament to his greatness was the fact that his funeral was the most widely attended in history, bringing leaders at the time from both east and west together to pay their respects. His policies may have been too far ahead of their time but also the key was execution on the ground and implementing it without the risk of corrupt practices by company directors. How can this be avoided at a state level, especially if it has proven to have worked where implemented correctly?

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Is rent control actually a "bad idea"?

A lot of people say that rent control is one of the few economic policies we can confidently say is objectively bad. They say this because 99% of economists agree that its a bad policy. This hasn't really phased me, because from my layman's POV, 99% of economists are wrong about most things. I have read a couple of studies criticizing rent control and then I read a study criticizing those criticisms. The latter seemed much more convincing as it pointed out sever methodological flaws with with the former. Mainly, it appears as though most rent control critiques attribute 100% of the rise in rents to the enactment of rent control, and ignore the fact that rent in big cities would increase without rent control as well. I want to hear what an economist without brain worms has to say about this. I did a quick google search beforehand and it doesn't look like you've addressed this before.

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What would happen if Saudi Arabia stopped selling their oil in US dollars?

Would the value of the US dollar collapse, if the Saudi's stopped selling their oil in US dollars? And wouldn't that be the end of American financial and military hegemony over the world? If so, then that explains why America always leaps to the Kingdom's defense, doesn't it? Sincerely, Stephan Schmidt (Denmark)

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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):

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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."

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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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