Welcome Richard D. Wolff (RDWolff.com)(TheNewSchool) and Host SouthernDragon (FDL, Lakeside Diner)

Occupy The Economy: Challenging Capitalism

One of the long standing taboos in the US is an open discussion of our capitalist economic system. Mainstream economists talk of business cycles, recessions, depressions, upturns, downturns, etc, in an effort to avoid discussing just how unstable capitalism is. In 2009 that changed. Professor Richard D Wolff, a PhD who taught economics at UMass for many years, published a book entitled Capitalism Hits The Fan, a compilation of articles and essays written between 2005 and 2008. Since that time he has been on a whirlwind of personal appearances and radio/TV talk shows discussing just how capitalism has worked, or not worked, for people over the last 50 years.

In September 2011 Occupy Wall Street, soon followed by thousands of other Occupy actions, sought to shine a light on the inequities of the capitalist system in the very heart of the US financial industry. Almost as if from a script the corporate media and authorities acted out Gandhi’s famous quote, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” In my opinion we’re still in the fight stage. In the latter part of 2011 Rick Wolff and David Barsamian sat down and had 3 conversations. David is well known as the founder and host of Alternative Radio, an excellent radio program distributed free to community radio stations across the country. In April of this year City Lights published those conversations as Occupy the Economy Challenging Capitalism.

This is a small volume but Prof Wolff’s discussion of the capitalist economic system of the last 50 years is expansive and succinct, no degree in economics required. Prof Wolff describes how, since the end of WWII, the capitalists have worked to undo the New Deal, using the wealth accumulated since the 1970s to essentially buy the US government and enact laws benefiting the rich at the expense of everybody else. He shows us how the end of the labor shortage and introduction of the computer into manufacturing in the 70s helped open the door to wage stagnation and personal debt at a level never seen before. He discusses how these actions contributed to the economic crisis we find ourselves in today. Class warfare? Absolutely, and we’ve been holding the short end of the stick for far too long.

This is a discussion of just how unstable and unjust our economic system is with some ideas on what we can do about it. Occupy Wall Street has played a major role in bringing the inherent injustices of capitalism to the awareness of the people, the 99%, and Prof Wolff sees the movement as a harbinger of meaningful change. There is a realization that politics is not going to fix our economy, it’s the economic system itself, capitalism, that is in need of overhaul. A starting point for Prof Wolff is democratizing the workplace, replacing the boards of directors and major shareholders with the workers, acting as their own boards of directors and shareholders, making the decisions that affect them, their families, and their communities on a daily basis. Collective ownership. As an old Wobbly I couldn’t agree more.

This is a beginning, an educational process. As more of the 99% become aware of these simple truths the more powerful we become.

Richard Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, Univ of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at New School University in New York.

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

240 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Richard D. Wolff, Occupy The Economy: Challenging Capitalism”

BevW July 22nd, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Richard, Welcome back to the Lake.

SouthernDragon, Thank you for Hosting today.

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yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Welcome to the Lake, Professor Wolf. I’m really exicted that you’re here to talk to us.

otchmoson July 22nd, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Thank you, Professor Wolff, for all you do. And thanks to Southern Dragon for the ‘turn on.’ Since SD hosted an educational forum, which was particularly informative for this econ neophyte, your weekly Economic Update (and other informative contributions) are ‘can’t miss’ events for me.

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Welcome Professor Wolff, you are one of my heroes!
I regularly listen to your podcasts, and I’m nearly finished with “Occupy the Economy”

I like your idea of ‘democracy in the workplace’ to replace the plutocracy of 1% control of production.
A very different alternative to ‘wage slavery’.

Mondragon has worked this out pretty thoroughly. Gar Alperovitz works with the ‘The Cleveland Model’ of cooperatives (Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, Ohio Cooperative Solar, Green City Growers). These are examples of systems of cooperatives.

Are these programs examples what you are talking about?

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Welcome to firedoglake, Prof Wolff. It’s an honour to have you here. Let me start off by asking you to describe the concept of a “mature economy” and how it affects Americans.

Thunderstorm knocked my cable out about 20 minutes ago and I just got it back. Close.

dakine01 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon Richard and welcome back to FDL this afternoon.

Good afternoon SoDrag…

Richard, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you do address this in there but how do folks overcome the ingrained bias towards capitalism and the built in megaphones of the Traditional Media who will do all in their power to denigrate the Occupy movement AND fight like hell to maintain their power?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hello to everyone….very glad to be back

sadlyyes July 22nd, 2012 at 2:02 pm

what role has the highly paid media done to kill the info average Americans need,100 million man Les Moonves etc?

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Many American ideals like freedom, liberty and democracy are ideas that interested Marx, yet discussions of Marxian theory rarely include those principles. Why?

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Professor Wolff,

It is a great honor to be here at the Salon with you. You have a great many fans here at Firedoglake. We see and understand, and Southern Dragon has done the most to make people aware of your work.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:03 pm
In response to hpschd @ 4

Absolutely, projects like Mondragon and the Cleveland Model are very important examples of the many, many ways people have already tried – and with remarkable success – to go beyond capitalist ways of orgabizing entgerprises and economies.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Ready for a wild ride, comrades.

mzchief July 22nd, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Namaskār all! Looking forward to a lively discussion. :-)

sadlyyes July 22nd, 2012 at 2:04 pm

i will email my questions to the guest

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:05 pm
In response to SouthernDragon @ 5

Mature economy is usually a euphemism that refers to an economy no longer growing quickly and thus f decreasing interest to competitive capitalist enterprises who always seek trhe fast growing markets. The US, as such a “mature economy” is thus decreasingly interesting to US corporations who therefore seek to grow aborad which means jobs, investment and foci abroad as well.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:06 pm

For someone not tuned into this sort of thing can youy breifly explain the benfits of worker controlled corps?

greenwarrior July 22nd, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Wow! What a refreshing book to read about economics. Well written and engaging and didn’t speak over the head of an economic ignorant like myself. Thank you so much.

Have you written a book I could consider Economics 101 or Economics for Dummies? Or is there one already out there by another author you could recommend that is readable and understandable for an absolute beginner?

You’ve inspired me to think I could learn!

cassiodorus July 22nd, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Richard, what do you think of the model of capitalism proposed by Jason W. Moore?

http://www.jasonwmoore.com/Essays.html

Moore argues that in past eras technosocial transformation allowed capitalism to continue because it lowered the organic component of capital and created new eras of cheap resources — but that that’s not happening today, and that today capitalism is heedlessly using up society and the planet. Capitalism is, then, likely to experience its terminal crisis at some foreseeable point.

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Professor Wolff, can you explain the problems of the Eurozone through a Marxian perspective?

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Thank you, Richard, for joining us and, SD, for hosting what promises to be a fantastic Book Salon.

DW

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Professor Wolff,

I was particularly struck by your words on pages 93 thru 96. I understood the great number of temporary jobs so that corporations could escape the usual employee costs of hiring. However, you opened my eyes to the fact that this is also being used to do away with Union Shops. If you are a Temp employee, not really employed by the company you are working at, then you have no way to organize.

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 2:08 pm

A question about the ‘Shadow banking’ system and the Federal Reserve Bank
On p.148, you mention the Bloomberg suit for FOIA docs. re. Fed loans.
The 2008 crash caused the ‘Commercial Paper’ market to fail, i.e. – the ‘Shadow Banking’ system.
The Fed becomes lender of *first* resort, not the traditional lender of *last* resort, to replace the lack of commercial paper. (from Joseph Stiglitz in “Freefall”) This apparently included servicing foreign banks.
You mention that reports of the amount that went out varied from 1.7 Trillion to 7.7 Trillion to 25 Trillion!?!
Fed is now part of ‘Shadow Banking’?
The Fed attempted to keep it secret!
What effect does this have?
Where did the authorization for this come from?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:08 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 6

One way to start is by focusing people’s attention on the fact that we have had a taboo on seriously questioning or debating capitalism for over half a century. We debate our education, transportation, medical etc systems, but when it comes to our economic system, Republicans and Democrats have spent 50 years being cheerleaders. Criticism was considered based on ignorance or disloyalty and thereby silenced. Like anything else that evades criticism, its flaws and failures pass unnoted; it rots behind the taboo on open debate. We are now living the results of an uncriticized system. And thats why we need to catch up and begin a serious debate by hearing the critics alongside the cheerleaders.

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:09 pm

In that regard, as more and more people become unemployed, regardless of what the official stats are, the decrease in aggregate demand would necessarily eventually mean fewer products that we rely upon, eg, clothing, being imported, exacerbating the situation. Do I read that right?

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Welcome Prof Wolff and thanks, SD, for hosting. As some one who’s watched the economy deteriorating since the 60′s I wonder if you, Prof Wolff, see any prospect for retrieving our justice system to perform its role as the means for consumer/workers to achieve the rights they have left under our laws, even though so many have been vitiated by the moguls who have so much power with legislators?

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Mature economy….in the software biz we call “Mature Software” that which is no longer going to be supported by the developers and there for has out lived it’s usefulness.

Wonder if the same use of “mature” applies ?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to sadlyyes @ 8

We have a private enterprise media system. We allow profit to control the mass media. Profit-makers never like critics of the profit system. Their freedom to silence those critics contradicts society’s freedom to hear and consider what those critics have to say. In our system, this contradiction has been resolved to favor profit-driven mass media companies. The result is the one-sided news and analysis that so predominates and shapes our culture.

cassiodorus July 22nd, 2012 at 2:12 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 26

in the software biz we call “Mature Software” that which is no longer going to be supported by the developers and there for has out lived it’s usefulness.

That must be the stuff you have to have the city haul off…

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 2:12 pm

it rots behind the taboo on open debate.

Yes, very interesting analogy to genetics. However, capitalism in inimical to “debate”. Comments?

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:13 pm

It’s kind of amazing that there is such a bias against Marx since he suggests that capitalism is an obstacle to liberty, equality, democracy, etc. Things that we talk a lot about here in America.

otchmoson July 22nd, 2012 at 2:14 pm

A recent interview with your wife, wherein you discussed precarity, as it pertains to individuals, intersects with this corporate search for greater/faster profits. I recognize that one of the early arguments in bailing out banks was THEIR need for certainty. But now, four years later we–the middle class–still lead lives of quiet desperation; no certainty for us, only precarious existence, as you described.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 29

Would that be in the same “fashion” in which “free enterprise” is inimical to democracy, I wonder?

DW

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Discussing weakness in capitalism itself does seem to be equated with rejecting the founding fathers and democracy, while our corporate media is headlined. I do see alternative media (e.g., Up! on msnbc, and several others) going there, though, now. Are you seeing this as a reality, and are you encouraged by it?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 16

Forgive me, but some of that is in the book. Briefly, if workers are the majority inside 99% of enterprises, then a serious commitment to democracy would require that they (and not a tiny minority of boards of directors and major shareholders) have all the power to decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the enterprise’s profits. If workers collectively and democratically controlled enterprises, they would not pay a few top executives many millions while most workers have trouble getting by; they would not move factories and offices to foreign countries; they would not use technologies that destroy the environment for themselves and their families. We would have a different economic system. The point is to face that, debate tat, and let an informed public decide what system or mix of systems it prefers.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:15 pm

yes, to question profit making would make one a communist in most places.

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:16 pm

In reply to that I’d like to add/remind people that your state governments have offices/office holders whose main jobs are to see about economic activity and fairness. If people have no jobs, and no future is seen in the nearest terms, then those office holders are leeches on the system.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 32

A deliberate contradiction, perhaps.

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 36

Give that man a cigar !

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 17

Yes, I try in all my writings to make the basic ideas and arguments of economics – that are all basically quite simple and perfectly accessible to most people – easily understandable. I have always been offended by economists’ language that is deliberately and unnecessarily opaque and specialized. I say this as a professional economist all my adult life. My website – rdwolff.com – is full of efforts to clarify and simplify so that we can really have an open, democratic conversation around the question: can we do better than capitalism?

sadlyyes July 22nd, 2012 at 2:18 pm

it much behooves all these players,to keep the status quo,information one could use is absent,i will listen with intent

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 36

Superb, comment PP.

DW

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Right. Can we really be a democracy if our daily lives are controlled plutocratically by our bosses, their bosses, owners, CEO’s and ultimately boards of directors?

cassiodorus July 22nd, 2012 at 2:19 pm

You’d think that at some point even the elites, when faced with the real prospect of global warming, would tentatively endorse the idea that we could do something other than capital accumulation, so they could save civilization and maybe keep a few of their privileges, rather than face six degrees of global warming…

TarheelDem July 22nd, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Welcome to FDL, Professor Wolff. Thanks SD for hosting.

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 35

Yeah, socialism is bad for the little people, but perfect for corporations. I can’t wait for the list that tells us how much of our tax dollars went out for subsidies, research and development, and the costs of wars for the oil and gas corps.

sadlyyes July 22nd, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 31

sadly yes

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Professor Wolff, could you simplify for me what Ben Bernanke learned in his study of the Great Depression?

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Cutting out the high executive pay would certainly be an improvement. But maybe some businesses should be moved to other countries. Maybe some of them have become outdated “software” like buggy whips? (don’t take that as a pictch for Bain, it is not.)One thing capitalism does pretty well is decide when old business must go by allocating capital?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:22 pm
In response to cassiodorus @ 18

Capitalism is a system based on profit-driven competition among private enterprises. Its results reflect that system. It has historically sacrificed the health and welfare of workers (men, women and children) until stopped or at least limited by massive opposition; it has likewise provoked capitalists to draw governments into conflict and war to protect or advance their profits (until stopped by political opposition before, during, or after wars); and now we are part of a generation that sees that profit-driven capitalism endangers nature itself in countless ways *unless mass organization stops that). Eventually the real question seems to me to be: can we not alter a system rather than react to all the problems it produces one after the other only to find that regulations and rules just lead the enterprises to evasions and avoidance that keeps us coming back?

greenwarrior July 22nd, 2012 at 2:22 pm

You provided some absolutely stunning figures on who paid taxes to the federal government in the 1940′s and who paid in 2012.

1940′s: for every $1.00 from individuals, corporations paid $1.50
2010 : for every $1.00 from individuals, corporations paid $0.25

That’s an amazing statistic. Especially when you consider that many wealthy corporations get subsidies from the government.

Do you have some ideas on how we can get this turned right side up again?

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:23 pm

The “… ideas and arguments of economics … are all basically quite simple and perfectly accessible by most people …”

Exactly.

And thank you for so saying, Richard.

DW

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 50

That *is* a stunning statistic.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 21

Indeed, but lets not go too far. Unions could try to organize the temporary workers in relation to the temporary companies that employ them. That might require unorthodox organizing techniques. However, now that the AFL-CIO has been declining for 50 years and lost most of the social influence and bargaining power it once had, one would think unorthodox organizing techniques would be long overdue – as would be the whole labor union strategy that has not been successful (to say it politely). In the depths of the Great Depression, labor rose in a mighty burst of militancy around the CIO that organized millions of workers suffering the effects of depression. That changed the government, produced the Social security system, the unemployment compensation system and the FDR federal jobs program that created and filled 12.5 million jobs from 1934 to 1941. They used unorthodox methods, militant method, and they made the greatest labor gains ever in US history before or since. Is there not a lesson for us here and now in that piece of US history?

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm

On your latest Economic Update you discussed the nationalization of banks. Have you gotten any responses to that segment?

sadlyyes July 22nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm

i once saw a great documentary,on for Profits Only…why is profit,the ONLY determinatin.If a meteor was`about to explode Earth,would profit,be the ONLY consideration in stopping it?

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 51

Yes! The basics of economic activity are to provide a worker the way to purchase food, clothing, and shelter. Our current Economic system has completely disregarded that and favors more and more profit on the corporate side instead of what the people actually working get from their labors.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Welcome, Professor Wolff, and thank you Southern Dragon for your ‘Marx in the Morning’ and for hosting.

The point is to face that, debate tat, and let an informed public decide what system or mix of systems it prefers.

The 99% have nothing to gain and everything to lose by allowing that debate to take place.

If we can achieve workplace democracy and community democracy on a small, local scale, i.e. something like an Evergreen or Cleveland model, can we parlay that into something bigger? Is this the way to approach it, from the bottom, up?

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Absolutely! There are many lessons regarding those years. Which brings me to ask you this question:

Why do you think Bernanke, Geithner, and our Government refuse to call our current situation a Depression?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to hpschd @ 22

The FED tried to keep secret how much public money it lent to which banks and when. That secret was finally broken by news agencies. We have recently learned of how the secret LIBOR interest-rate setting occurs. All sorts of crucial financial parts of our economy are produced by cozy relationships between top bankers and the governments that “regulate” them, relationships that operate largely in secret. The costs to all of us are huge beyond measure as is the economic system from which this sort of behavior stems. The only question now – as deep crisis makes the thieves fall out and the cat escape from the bag – is how long it will take for the mass of people to do what they have periodically done in history when systems had become unbearable – as in what happened to slavery or feudalism as major systems before capitalism.

greenwarrior July 22nd, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I so appreciate your having that attitude and making this accessible.

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Professor Wolff could you explain how much the so called “Military Industrial Complex” played into the economics of WWII and beyond. Doing a some research I was amazed at how many corporations relied on government contracts – particularly military – for their bottom line.

cassiodorus July 22nd, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I don’t think Moore or anyone in his milieu believes in regulated capitalism. Rather the opposite — they believe that capitalism will use up the planet because progress will not save it this time around. That’s what I was asking you about.

July 22nd, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Welcome Prof. Wolf.
As someone who has had to occasionally, and from time to time work in a temporary job, and I will say it was always clerical, I did that “in between” jobs and, besides taking care of the family and look for Real Work, my self esteem wasn’t actually in a place for me to take on an organizing project. Just to share a personal experience on this.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 56

The reality is that this nation can no longer produce what it needs, PP.

Neither is the government concerned that “the people” do not have worthwhile endeavor, rather, the primary concern of the government is the “comfort” of the .001%, who “hold” approximately 9.8 TRILLION dollars …

At some point, the fundamental legitimacy of the government … MUST come into question, especially if the conversation which Richard is advocating is not permitted to take place …

DW

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to OmAli @ 57

That’s an interesting question, IMO. Direct democracy becomes much more difficult on a large scale. Must there be a system of democratically controlled communities interacting with each other for a common good. That makes globalization a totally different animal.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Just a comment. to me the worst or one of the worst things about for profit companies is the way people are treated. And that is reflected in the decline in unions and the nonsense that is now going on in places like Wisconsin. I saw a stat the other day that said the median real income for men has not risen since the mid seventies. I don’t know if true, but it is in the right direction. That is also reflected in twenty five million unemployed. Sorry but that is my thing.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 2:36 pm

We don’t have an FDR with labor and the left to pressure the 1% to come up the money to pay for the crisis that finance and corporations and the small gubminters have inflicted upon us. That narrows our avenues of escape from something like I think you are referring to….

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:37 pm

The fed, it seems is little more than he private bank for the banks.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 2:37 pm
In response to cassiodorus @ 62

And, as it has extracted and altered so much, the mass of people doing what they have periodically done in history, is a monstrous challenge.

Not to mention that the system is clearly preparing for that response.

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 68

I do not think it was meant to be anything other than that.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to cassiodorus @ 43

You might think that, but my guess is that you would be wrong. Let me illustrate from US history. In the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s, capitalists in the main wanted to “let the economic downturn [lay itself out.” They did not want the government to intervene massively to help the millions without work, in poverty, etc. Above all they did not want to pay for such government help to the masses they had recently thrown out of work. Roosevelt initially agreed. He won the presidency in 1932 on a balanced budget platform. However the CIO plus the socialist and communist parties of the 1930s were a real power, acting together to organize and mobilize millions of US workers. They told FDR that her had to either help the mass of people or else face real revolutionary possibilities. FDR agreed, went to the corporations and the rich and told them: give me money to help millions or the capitalism that makes you rich will vanish. He convinced enough of them that he could and did help the masses of Americans by huge government outlays payed for by corporations and the rich. Just what our leaders tell us today cannot be done was done then. And the results were these: FDR became the most popular president even in US history, re-elected 4 times, and the mass of people were helped, and the depression was made far less terrible that it would otherwise have been. Revolution was avoided. And the irony of it all? It was a powerful left that saved capitalism from its own crisis. That was then, but having destroyed the unions and the left in the 50 years after 1945, in the capitalist crisis of the US today, there is no social force that can save capitalism. Meanwhile the capitalists themselves keep pushing for more inequality, more austerity, more deregulation.

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Is there anything about Capitalism that you believe is useful?

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:39 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 64

Truth x 2. In his book, he suggests as I do that we work vigorously on our states. At the state level we can bring change quicker politically than on a national level. We the people must fight the establishment selections on the ballot box, and nominate the leaders in our communities that get it and understand.

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 66

The wage stagnation stat is one Prof Wolff uses in almost of his presentations. Due in part for the need for less workers and increased productivity by those left with a job. Why pay workers more when you don’t have to. Cheaper to hire somebody at a lower wage. Now we have, what, 100 people in line for 1 job.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:40 pm

As I suggested I think unemployment is the scourge of our time. I understand some MMT economist suggest a guaranteed job for everyone. Are you familiar with that and if so, what do you think of it?

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 73

Guess I should move to Vermont.

otchmoson July 22nd, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 69

Ludwig,
This is something I, too, have considered. By the time we (the masses) are ready to revolt, will the only course be human sacrifice? As local police have become more militarized, and ‘sense of community’ has atrophied, how will a couple of shot guns and a pellet pistol stand up to law enforcement assault with AK-47, body armor, tanks and media/communications control?

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 73

Yes, and we must “harness” local and regional economies to local and regional resources … which resources include the free minds of human beings, PP.

DW

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 73

I would argue that it starts at the city/county level. Here in FL the city councils and county commissions are controlled by developer interests. We need people to organize and replace the corrupt local governments we’re faced with.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 77

Not only that, those who have adopted a more self sufficient, sustainable lifestyle will be at the mercy of the armed to the teeth civilian population who will be able to take and destroy anything they want.

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm

I was recently appalled by a form of derivative that has wreaked havoc with many municipalities, Baltimore being the example I saw. It took me quite a while to figure out ‘Interest Rate Swaps’, which are a kind of insurance taken out to cover variable-rate bonds issued by cities.

Based on a notional amount (pick a number), two parties bet on interest rates that they pay to each other (fixed rate or variable) depending on which is larger, over the period of the bond. But the bond is imaginary! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interest_rate_swap)

This strikes me as the height of insanity. Why would anyone make such a bet?

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to OmAli @ 80

And they will surely try.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 70

I thought they were supposed to be concerned with inflation and unemployment. Now it seems they keep banks afloat and in the money.

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 69

…and conveniently making nice profits in the process of preparing for a revolt.

greenwarrior July 22nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Another statement of yours that really startled me was about market exchanges.
To paraphrase, when we go to buy something, we’re looking to get the most for our money and the seller is looking to give the least, so that we wind up in an adversarial relationship whenever we’re dealing in market exchanges (whenever we’re buying and selling).

I instantly recognized this as true much of the time and started to imagine what it might be like for the exchange of goods and services to be determined by a more pleasant and equitable method.

Have you developed any larger systems that could potentially be implemented? I can just picture how much more relaxed we could all be.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 77

Not to mention … drones, otchmoson.

DW

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to SouthernDragon @ 74

And that works to the advantage of the wealthy corporatists and financiers, as Prof Wolff has also pointed out – they can lend money to those who are un- or under employed.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Before answering, let me thank you for the flood of questions. It is what an author yearns and writes for – an audience that engages. But it makes responding exceedingly difficult. My apologies to those of your questions I do not get to.

That aside, What Bernanke learned in his studies of the Great Depression was more or less the “great wisdom” shared by the economics profession since the 1930s. This wisdom consisted of the idea that (1) “automatic” stabilizing rules, regulations, laws and systems had been established that made another great depression extremely unlikely, and (2) in addition there were “discretionary” stabilizers – in the forms of monetary policies and fiscal policies – that could easily manage any fluctuations in economic activity not managed by the automatic stabilizers.
In short, capitalism’s cycles were thought to have been brought under control by what folks like Bernanke gleaned from the Great depression.
To be blunt, it was wrong, insufficient, misguided, incomplete, etc. Capitalism’s cycles have never in fact been overcome. Indeed, the current generation of top economic policy makers – my generation – never really studied depressions in detail, nor the policies to manage them in terms of their failures, weaknesses, etc. Redcall what I wrote above about cheerleading rather than criticism being the preferred mode of assessing capitalism. That is one reason why policies to prevent, end, or mitigate the current “Great Recession” have been so stunningly ineffective as we enter now the second half of the 5th year of this crisis.

sadlyyes July 22nd, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to OmAli @ 80

“There are none so blind as those who will not see”………sadly

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 78

Definitely.

cassiodorus July 22nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Capitalism is what it is — a system based on capital accumulation that arose historically in the era of dominant monarchies in early modern Europe. It created the consumer society, which had its golden age in the 1950s and 1960s and to some extent in the 1970s. Its decline since then is a product of the profit motivations that were its engine throughout.

Sorry for interrupting — I’m going to be quiet now and let Richard D. Wolff answer.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm

We understand and thank you for your efforts! I wish you would write a regular diary or blog post for us here at the Lake!

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to hpschd @ 81

An economic “system”, based not on the actual production of wealth, but upon sleight of mind, perhaps, hpschd?

DW

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 85

This seems to be the relationship that our capitalist moguls want to weight in their favor by insisting that the free market will make everything work best, so they fight too successfully against regulation in the interest of the consumer.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 77

Exactly, even a bevy of shotguns as means to revolution is more of the propertarians lunacy. The revolution will be intellectually and spiritually and physically demanding.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to OmAli @ 92

I’ll happily second that, OmAli!!!!

DW

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:50 pm

We’re patient, work at your pace. We’re here to learn.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 95

It would be bloody and destructive on every level imaginable. And completely avoidable, which is the horrible irony.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Given the propensity to recession/depression in capitalist societies one could presume an extreme tendency to instability. That suggests more,not less, regulation.But heavens, don’t interfere with the bonuses.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 95

“…blood, sweat, and tears” … you say, Ludwig?

DW

otchmoson July 22nd, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to hpschd @ 81

It appears the un-punished who caused the crash in mortgage-back securities (and derivatives of same) have already come up with a new scheme. In places like Oakland, developers have bought up foreclosed properties (it seems as though it’s pennies-on-the-dollar) and plan to rent the properties out. Not content to make money as rentiers, they are planning a new scheme: securitizing rental income, creating rent-back securities to sell to investors, create derivatives, gamble some more and then act surprised (is another bail-out coming) when gambling again proves to be a not-so-hot capitalistic enterprise.

sadlyyes July 22nd, 2012 at 2:52 pm

as all parasites,the organism is slowly killing the host (us)

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to cassiodorus @ 91

Ok, but how does it compare to feudalism or slavery in terms of producing more or less surplus to distribute? Will a worker controlled model of production produce as much or more, regardless of the means of distribution?

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to OmAli @ 92

Indeed!!

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Capitalism has useful things about it. It was and still is technologically dynamic; it helps to connect and integrate the world’s diverse cultures and social systems. It generates massive wealth. However, it has also been very destructive of our natural environment along the way; it has generated obscene inequalities of wealth, income, and qualities of life; it has provoked warfare on a scale beyond anything that happened before to the point of threatening the planet with self-destruction. I could go on. The point is that capitalism, like every system before it, has its positive and negative qualities. Likewise, like every system before it, it changes over the course of its lifetime – from its birth through its evolution to its passing into yet another system. As it changes, the balance between its positive and negative dimensions alters. To be brief – so I can address more questions – I think capitalism’s chiefly positive history is in its past. Ut is now generating more negative than positive dimensions which suggests – to use the example of past systems – that it too is approaching the end of its days. Indeed, perhaps a sense of that deep down is what motivates popular toying with images of zombies, natural catacysms, notions of imminent catastrophe, religious fundamentalisms and so on.

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Professor Wolff,

I’ve often thought that the tax system for the elites should expand to us little people. In basic economics the first thing one learns is the food, shelter, and clothing issue. Since my home is my business to maintain, like any other capitalists venture should I not be able to use tax deductions for depreciation and upgrades? I think that as individuals in this capitalist society that we are all our own CEO’s and therefore should treat our homes as the business it is in these times. What say you, Sir?

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to OmAli @ 92

Me too. Professor Wolff, you have a lot of fans around here.

CTuttle July 22nd, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to SouthernDragon @ 79

That’s precisely what Occupy Hilo is doing, SD…! Mahalo for hosting this excellent Book Salon, too…!

Aloha, Prof. Wolff, mahalo for being here and all your efforts…!

How can one begin to organize local businesses to adopt Collective ownership, when much of it has already been supplanted by all the ‘Big Boxes’, etc…!

sadlyyes July 22nd, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 101

ya need a pretty good/stable salary to rent also…best to give appropriate wages,no?

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 2:56 pm

It seems to me we also have a political problem as well as an economic one. The 2010 election ushered in a whole congress full of firebrand anti debt critics. That lead to a fight over deficit and debt that likely caused great harm. Now we have a government in a death grip of ideology. Any commemt?

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 2:56 pm

I’ll never think of a zombie the same way again. That made me laugh.

mzchief July 22nd, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I find Charles Eisenstein‘s enunciation of what the present Feudalism-Warmed-Over-Permanent-Debtor-System is and what it does is quite comprehensive and lucid. Multiple, local currencies under no central control, each with an in-built demurrage to force a mapping to reality, and serving small, overlapping groups (up to 70 people) looks like a decent transition while humanity rapidly adjusts its priorities to survive and thrive beyond the consequence of the problems it has created with this suicidal Cold War infrastructure (e.g. the thing passed off as “nuclear power generation”).

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to hpschd @ 81

This is an important question and issue. The reason is that since the 1970s, bankers persuaded (I try to be polite) many city and state governments to invest in such derivatives to cope with the financial pressures they faced. They promised that these would spread or even remove risk, etc. They believed – like the business leaders, politicians, and academics who fell over one another cheerleading for capitalism – that no crisis of the sort we are in was any longer conceivable. Thus the crisis now finds cities and states in even deeper trouble during the crisis than they would otherwise have been. Hence the drastic cuts in public employment and public services that reflect not only reduced tax revenues but also the costs of derivative investments gone bad.

Leaving huge banks to control the debt system we have erected is a bit like leaving diplomacy in the hands of private companies. We dont do the latter partly because their profit-making interests would get in the way of what the nation needs internationally. And does the same logic not apply to finance, national and international?

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 93

“sleight of mind” – slight of mind. Yes.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:00 pm

In its death throes, capitalism is creating a perverse ennui … most clearly manifest in the young, who subconsciously, and properly, perceive that there is no “place” for them that is either tenable or viable, and certainly not fulfilling. Civil society, when the Rule of Law, is deliberately perverted, into “peculiar institutions”, must either dare to seek a changed political economy … or collapse.

DW

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 100

Do you hear the clarion call, DW?

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 108

I think part of it is location. Remember when stores used to be close to the neighborhood? The big box stores ruined them. If a coop of some type of store were to form up and serve smaller areas than the big box stores, some of which can be 10 or more miles away in time of unstable gas prices. They also wouldn’t be competing for the same customers. Lot of details to be worked out but that’s my basic concept.

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to OmAli @ 92

The “Economic Update” podcasts on http://rdwolff.com/ are awesome!

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 114

Yes.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 115

A guest on the Real News said recently that the 10 fastest growing jobs in the US require no college degree….

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to hpschd @ 118

Agreed!

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to Ruth Calvo @ 94

Your reference to “the market” inspires this in me. Here let me be kind to my economic profession. I was not taught to be critical of capitalism as a system despite the abundant and powerful literature that explores that. However, I was taught (disclosure: I went to Harvard – BA – then Stanford -MA -and then Yale – PhD in economics) the critical literature about markets, which began in ancient times! Plato and Aristotle were sharp, uncompromising critics of markets as have been major thinkers ever since. The last 30 years of neoliberal celebration of markets as some sort of magic bullet leading us to prosperity and growth simply ignores a vast literature we were taught. Historians will need to explain how and why capitalism in the century before the 1970s was able to consider criticisms of markets as inefficient, inadequate, socially disruptive and so on, whereas since the 1970s it has largely needed to pretend that markets were somehow perfect. Strange and irrational.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to hpschd @ 118

Agreed. I selfishly want us to be able to interact quickly on the comment part of the thread :) Not like Professor Wolff is busy or anything…. *g*

Professor Wolff, are you still being asked to speak about Marxism often?

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 116

It is to be hoped that those who embrace THIS revolution will dare to be non-violent, however, “they”, the sociopathic elite, have no qualms about resorting to violence, indeed, it is all they have “left” … as well as the “advantage” of the still immense, if not profound, ignorance, imposed as it is, of too many of the “many” …

Aside from environmental collapse, time and the numbers are on the “side” of reason and humanity, however, Ludwig.

DW

greenwarrior July 22nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm

is a bit like leaving diplomacy in the hands of private companies. We dont do the latter partly because their profit-making interests would get in the way of what the nation needs internationally.

However, much of our foreign policy is formulated in the interests our private profit-making companies, including, but not limited to, our wars. For instance, in Latin America re agricultural crops and everywhere re oil.

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I have to agree with that. Small local markets are much better for folks like myself. I am rural and absolutely hate to waste three hours walking around a big box for a few items.

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm

That our country’s banks are numerous and compete for returns with each other has a great deal to do with the need for them to divert client/depositor funds into less profitable vehicles, no doubt. Wouldn’t a national banking system take a great deal of the motivation for profit making at the expense of those using their services away from what are actually necessary institutions?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 106

Good point. And there are many comparable examples. Oil companies won “oil depletion allowances” to take account of the fact that as they take oil out of the ground there is less left for them in the future. Wow. Why not then allow individuals “mental capacity depletion allowances?” As we age, we use up our brain cells’ capacities and should therefore be allowed a parallel tax advantage. Or, more bluntly, our munipalities rely on what they call “property taxes.” Thus they tax the value of land, houses, businesses, cars, etc. However, virtually none of them in the US tax the property owned in the form of stocks, bonds, cash, etc. How interesting. The property mostly owned by the richest among us escapes the property tax while the property owned by average folks (cars, homes, etc) is subject to the property tax.
Taxes reflect the economic and social power of social subgroups….and in the US we should not be surprised to see that in every corner of the tax system.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Your basic concepts are superb, SD, and the only way forward.

I’ve been keeping “account”.

DW

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Ruth Calvo @ 127

Oh heck, lets just break up the big money center banks and stop them from trading.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to hpschd @ 118

Agreed!

( Had to switch to iPad, couldn’t reply on laptop for some reason)

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to Ruth Calvo @ 127

As Prof Wolff has pointed out the French did it after WWII and privatized them years later. I see that as one way to break up the TBTF banks.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I love the carried interest tax that Romney uses. 15%. We all need that. then there’s the estate tax. lets you pass it on to your sons and daughters.

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Any thoughts on Citizens United?

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 3:14 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 133

Tax free, and don’t forget all those different types of trust funds. Trust me, the funds are not trust worthy to American society!

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:14 pm

An example of Marx’s class analysis? Those who produce vice those who collect and distribute the surplus?

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 124

time and the numbers are on the “side” of reason and humanity

And even then, an immense challenge.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 110

The course of capitalist development in the US generated extreme inequality of wealth and income. The folks with the big bucks long ago realized the problem of a society whose politics gave people the vote. That problem is this: if and when you drive the mass of people into unbearable economic difficulties while you luxuriate in wealth, the mass of people will turn to the political system to try there to offset, reverse, or compensate for what the economy has done to them. In a one-person-one-vote system, the masses outvote the corporate and wealthy elites. The latter have therefore seen the need to use a part of their wealth to buy the political system (or at least to neutralize the chances of it being used against them). Hence they support favored politicians (and punish those in their way), they finance major political parties, they hire armies of skilled lobbyists, and they fund think tanks to flood the media with pro-system, pro-status-quo ideologies. Capitalism thus generates the political dysfunctionality that its economic consequences require. That is another sign of a system exhausting its resources for survival, since we all now see this more clearly every day around us.

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Those who produce vice those who collect and distribute the surplus?

Surplus vice ???

(sorry…just could not resist)

greenwarrior July 22nd, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Professor Wolff, what is fiscal policy and what is monetary policy? I’d love to hear an explanation that makes sense to me. Thanks.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:19 pm

But what avenues do you have left when the wealthy own the media, the legislative branch, the president for all intents and purposes, and the courts….well, the courts….

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Historically we know what the inevitable consequences of this are.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I like that analysis. Sort of like we eat our young. Do you see a chance for Occupy to overcome this and if so, should it attach itself to a plitical party much as the Tea Party is. Or should we move to third parties or try to reform the party from within?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to Ruth Calvo @ 127

In economics as a discipline, the economic task of banks is explained as follows: they are intermediaries who take idle money (as deposits) from persons and businesses that dont want to spend them (ie. prefer to save them) and pass these sums as loans to persons and businesses who wish to spend more than they have. This is een to improve the efficiency of money and of the economy. When, however, the institutions charged with this socially useful function abuse their position and deform or even destroy the financial and non-financial systems, it seems appropriate to inquire whether we cant do better than privat profit-driven banks to accomplish a useful economic and social function. Of course alternatives will have their problems and we will struggle to solve them. However, that is no reason not to say clearly and loudly that private banking has failed us terribly. If we criticize public enterprise when it does not perform appropriately, what bin the world exempts a failed private system from being subject to the same?

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:23 pm
In response to hpschd @ 118

Agreed!

Lost my ability to reply and comment for a bit.

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Excellent.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I will say it clearly and loudly: banks have failed us and some of those folks should be in jail for the financialization crimes they have foisted on us.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 3:25 pm

we all now see this more clearly every day around us.

So, the winning class has made their break. How has the student/citizen revolt in Montreal informed your designs on occupation of the economy?

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:25 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 143

…Or should we move somehow directly into economic democracy? That’s where the real power is. Occupy the economy.

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Encouragingly, the consuming public appears to have realized this, and a lot of us are moving over to credit unions where we have more contol, and better information.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:28 pm

The failures of huge private banks – to prevent the financial crisis in the first place, to use the bailout funds given them for an economic recovery, to stop manipulating interest rates (LIBOR scandal), to stop abusing the mortgage system (e.g. Bank of American and Wells Fargo recently made settlements for overcharging African-American and Hispanic-American families), to stop money-laundering for Mexican drug cartels (HSBC) and on and on – ought long ago have produced a serious debate on the following solutions: (1) break up monster into smaller banks, (2) nationalize the banking system to make it more transparent and socially accountable, (3) transform banks into cooperatively run institutions where their workers decide their activities together with the communities (local, regional and national) that interdepend with them. Some combination of these might work much better and be far more open than the secretive, immense banks (who threaten us as “too big to fail”) we now suffer under. Yes, other countries have done that for similar reasons and with excellent results. But here in the US, one of the two Dakota’s has a state-owned and operated bank that has done far better in this crisis than its private counterparts.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I would say that except I don’t know how it works. I am brain washed here and often think economics and democracy are not compatible.

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to Ruth Calvo @ 150

Credit Unions are the best step forward to turn a back on the too big to fail banking system.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:30 pm

But but how would Jamie Dimon get his big bonus and be able to grin in front of congress??

msmolly July 22nd, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 154

And flash those Presidential seal cufflinks.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 152

Comrade, I have new economy for you.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Thoughts on the upcoming fiscal crisis? taxes and spending cuts?

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to OmAli @ 123

Yes, I am asked often to discuss Marxism. Indeed, more so than in the past. There is still the hesitation, the fear of opening that topic up but clearly less so than in previous decades. With the Cold War over 20 years behind us, Marxism – as the world’s most developed tradition of criticism of capitalism as a system – is drawing the interest especially of the younger generation whose educations and careers are being threatened by a dysfunctional capitalist system. This has happened before in history as successive generations have found their way back to the Marxist tradition. By the way, it kept going even when out of favor so that Marxian theories today are quite different from what they were in our parents’ days. Those who wished Marxism dead or gone never kept up. It creates a bizarre situation now: the critics of Marxism mostly attack ideas and propositions that most current-day Marxists have long ago left behind. But I guess that is as it must be as the rest of the world catches up – by virtue of this crisis – with the ideas of a tradition that should never have been ignored in the first place.

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 153

Agreed. The community banks, too, that depend on a prospering local clientele for their own business base are also unlikely to defraud those they expect to return to them to handle their own funds.

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 152

Am I correct, Prof. Wolff, in saying that economic democracy hasn’t happened yet in human history on a large scale?

That brings me to another question. Are you familiar with the work of David Graeber? Thoughts?

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:34 pm

In the end you cannot kill an idea. Talk all you like about it. We won’t melt.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:35 pm

You are exactly right, Richard.

How though, might “the people” bring about what you suggest?

Other than the slow process of “trickle upward”, from local political “control” as you and others, SD, in particular, have long suggested, when sufficient “understanding” of the need of so doing, which is usually, let us be frank, the result, for most people, of actual pain, economic dislocation, joblessness or poverty, is not yet widespread?

It seems, to me, that it will take more than political involvement, that it will require community rebuilding and actually improving the lot and lives of real people.

Those are the “methods” which the discussion among the people must include, primarily, beyond an intellectual discussion.

DW

Valley Girl July 22nd, 2012 at 3:35 pm

~In a one-person-one-vote system~

Alas, that is not the case when we go to elect a President. To some extent, everything else trickles down from there. So to speak. imho

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Yes! That’s it in a nutshell!

At one point in it’s development, Mondragon workers were denied Spanish government social security pension benefits because they were all ‘self-employed’. “Fine”, said Mondragon, and set up their own pension plan, banks, and health care plans. Really good ones too.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell the government and the corporations to go f–k themselves, and do it better for ourselves, by ourselves.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Ah. Professor Wolff, where does one find the most trenchant ideas and propositions of current-day Marxists?

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm

The knee jerk rejection of Marxism appears to be an outgrowth of right wing mantras that equate foreign attacks with sociological labels of the sort, and depend on mindless followers who will never do the factual analysis that would destroy such pure hysteria.

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Professor Wolff,

In the last chapter of your book you have a Manifesto with 5 sections. I am extremely interested in all of them, but #5 is at the top for me. We have all been looking forward to a green system in all sectors. I have read news that tells how lobbyists work against us all in preventing the green industries to raise their heads. Not only that, most of the sustainable energy project money was sent to China. Wouldn’t it benefit us if we called attention to the few green industries we have in America?

If I had the money to replace all the windows in my home, I would. I would immediately order from the Co-Op Window company that is fighting for it’s life due to industry black listing.

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 3:38 pm
In response to Ruth Calvo @ 166

As well as those who are still doing very nicely under the current system thankyouverymuch.

Phoenix Woman July 22nd, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Richard, I just wanted you to know that the host for this discussion, SD, has a nifty series of posts on MyFDL called “Marx in the Morning” that feature your Intensive Intro to Marxism videos, complete with discussion afterwards. Here’s Session 3: http://my.firedoglake.com/southerndragon/2012/03/06/marx-in-the-morning-3/

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 167

This is a problem that a lot of cooperatives are going to face if they are deemed to be a threat to the corporate sector.

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I think through your efforts there are more people looking at Marx today than in a loooong time. They’re not necessarily thinking of socialism or communism, they’re thinking about the flaws in capitalism.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 148

As capitalism keeps hitting the fan (with the predictably unwelcome results), it provokes the criticism and questioning and challenges mushrooming around us. There are several possibilities and it is not yet clear which of these will eventually prevail. One possibililty is a resurgence of the older organizations that expressed anti-capitalism in the past (parts of the labor movement, socialist, communist and other anti-capitalist parties). Another possibility is the emergence of altogether new organizations (the indignatos in Spain, the Syriza coalition in Greece, the Die Linke party in Germany, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US and other countries). We are still at an early stage. Most Americans, in my experience, are only now coming out of the “shock and awe” they have felt that the capitalist system has stopped “delivering the goods” and instead keeps dumping “the bads.” This was not supposed to happen, let alone persist. Yet it did and does. Slowly this realization is dawning as a long-term economic decline sets in and shows itself ever more clearly. Slowly the idea arises that old political forms will not accommodate the changes needed. Forming new organizations always takes time. We are in the midst of that time. The Occupy movement was a major milestone, a breaking out of lethargy, a powerful stimulant of new energies and commitments. Something big is moving and will no doubt surplrise us in the months and years ahead.

Phoenix Woman July 22nd, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Speaking of this, isn’t it interesting that Canada, for one place, has been comparatively untouched by the latest crisis? Is that because it still has most of its government safety net intact despite the worst Stephen Harper can do?

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 167

Yes, I love the #4, also the Green Public Works Project.

It does echo the New Deal, in that the CCC was instrumental in reversing problems with soil erosion by employing methods such as terracing and reforestation. There is a rich environmental protection history that the Green Public Works could embrace.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:45 pm

The National Nurses United union are a force to be reckoned with, too. Their Financial Transaction Tax and Medicare For All actions have been awesome.

Wish they wouldn’t call it a Robin Hood Tax, though.

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to hpschd @ 164

Our esteemed Jane Hamsher said something going after corporations because that’s where the power really is. To take that one step further, perhaps we should be going at the economy democratically instead of looking to politics to solve economic problems. Which (I think) is what Prof. Wolff have been tryin’ to tell us all along. Heh.

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to OmAli @ 174

It would be grand if we could convince our leaders in DC to spend those dollars on a Green Works Project instead of Corporate Welfare to the likes of Exxon, GE, AT&T, Northrup Grummon, etc.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Economic democracy is a powerful idea that deserves attention. First of all it signals that there is a question whether our economy is or is not democratic. What everyone knows – although attention is systematically diverted from this simple fact – is that our jobs in stores, offices or factories are hardly ever organized in a democratic way. The majorities at worksites do not participate in the decisions that shape their lives. Quite the contrary. They are excluded from them. Tiny boards of directors make the basic decisions of what, how and where to produce; the vast majority, the workers, have to live with the results of those decisions but are excluded from participating in them. Clearly and stunningly undemocratic! And yet, how strange for a society that declares itself endlessly to be committed to democracy. Yet in the one place – the worksite – where adults spend most of their waking lives that democracy is precluded. At work is where democracy belongs. Moreover, its absence at work serves to undermine the appetite and skills for participating politically where we reside. Democracy absent from our work organization undermines its possibility anywhere else in society. That is why, I submit, our poliltical democracy is more formal than real.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 169

Thank you. I am flattered and honored.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 169

Thank you for bringing up SD’s stellar efforts, PW.

Richard should know how SD has been laying the ground-work for this Book Salon and the larger discussion, as well.

DW

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm

But I question whether we have actually had a capitalist economy – in the true sense of the word – since at least WWII.

That we have had massive government spending for numerous wars as well as the cold war and the space program. As well as subsidies.

The economies of the rest of the world were in rubble, so if you wanted something you had no choice but buy American.

That anyone who was not a White Judeo Christian was effectively excluded.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm

When I was in the army they told us the army was not a democratic organization. then a boss I had for many years told me the same thing abut the company.

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 3:51 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 170

Cooperatives can cooperate. A Mondragon company (or two) voted themselves pay cuts of 5% to 7% to support other Mondragon Companys that are in trouble.

I believe that, in Spain in the current recession, *no* Mondragon worker has been un-employed or laid off.
25% to 50% for the rest of the country, and crushing austerity.

Phoenix Woman July 22nd, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Speaking of economic democracy: Professor Wolff, you have often pointed out, including in this very book, something that few people know, which is this:

What the USSR and the PRC tried was not Communism, but state capitalism — they didn’t let the workers actually have control, they just swapped out the boyars and mandarins for commissars. The mere fact that they then took the money wrapped up and sitting stagnant in the huge estates of the boyars and mandarins and sent it coursing through their respective economies was enough to vault both nations from backwater to superpower status within three decades, but without actually switching from capitalism to economic democracy they soon found themselves facing the same crises as other capitalist nations.

BevW July 22nd, 2012 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this outstanding Book Salon discussion,

Professor, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and Economics.

SouthernDragon, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Professor Wolff’s website (RDWolff.com) and book (Occupy The Economy)

SouthernDragon’s website (FDL, LakesideDiner)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 180

LOL, I’ve been working to bring Marx into the discussion since I first came to the Lake lo those many years ago. Had to take he leap one day. Worked out pretty well.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to hpschd @ 183

How is that even possible in a country with over twenty five percent unemployed, That questions credulity unless it is government funded, which I doubt in spain.

juliania July 22nd, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Thank you for coming, Professor Wolff. Time is short so I will just observe that you are obviously one of the stars in our firmament and I look forward to reading your book. If it happens you have time to consider it, I wonder what you think of the eminent domain suggestion Matt Taibbi brought up that I think San Bernadino is considering in solving the housing mess? We have had some difficulties with that project here, since it involves some ‘profit motive’ players. Is there an alternative solution? My thought was it was daring, but perhaps too daring?

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm

That is something that most everyone can understand, even if they cannot quite imagine what workplace democracy, and what grows from it, would “feel” like.

Very well said, Richard, thank you.

It might be the “KEY” that opens the door to the debate and discussion we all must have.

DW

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Thank you so much, Professor Wolff. It has been an honour having you here.

Thank you, SD, for hosting and Bev and FDL for making this possible.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 167

Let me build on your comment and questions, if I may. If capitalist enterprises were half as confident as they claim about their system’s superiority, they would permit the following. Let the US government provide seed money and technical support to workers’ self-directed enterprises (where workers are their own board of directors) to show the American people how they work and what they can produce. The model here can be the Small Business Administration or the Minority Business Programs that we already have. The Marcora Law on the books in Italy for over 25 years can show one way to do this. Let us go to unemployed people and say that instead of unemployment insurance over 2 years we will give you all of that in a lump sum to start a business together with at least 9 other unemployed persons doing the same. You thereby forfeit any further help from the unemployment office. You are committing yourself to make a go of your collective/cooperative business – your workers’ self-directed business. Lets further say, the business must, to qualify for more government help, engage in green production. Then lets give all Americans two new choices they never had before: (1) everyone can choose whether to work in a democratic workers self-directed enterprise or in a typical top-down hierarchical capitalist enterprise, and (2) buy a product made in a capitalist or in a cooperative enterprise to show which of these you wish to support with your spending. No such choices exist today, but they should. All citizens should be able now to show preferences between a declining capitalism and the most likely new alternative way to ogranize business now emerging globally.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 184

I think Hitler did some of that too.

TarheelDem July 22nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thanks Professor Wolff for this excellent book salon. Thanks to Southern Dragon for hosting and Bev for working the usual magic.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I’d say so, SD.

And I cannot possibly find the words to thank you appropriately.

So I’ll settle for …

Namaste

DW

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 184

Excellent! I had meant to comment on that myself. So glad you did. Communism did not use a Marxian model. People must be made aware of that.

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 173

There is so much construction going on here in Toronto that is is nearly impossible to get across town in less than an hour.

Except on my bike ;)

BTW, it was Jean Cretien who stopped the banks from having their way.
He kept Canada out of the Iraq war too.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to juliania @ 188

Using Eminent Domain is a creative idea….but it needs to be coordinated and integrated with big thinking about reorganizing the enterprises that produce the goods and services we all depend on. That root basic change is crucial to realize all the reforms and good ideas that will founder without a new productive foundation to sustain and move them forward.

cmaukonen July 22nd, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 192

So did we during WWII.

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thank you Richard.

Thank you, SD.

Thank you Bev, as always …

And, thank all you firedogs.

This has been absolutely one of the very best Book Salons it has been my pleasure to attend.

I’d say the very best … and there have been many that were truly excellent.

DW

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to BevW @ 185

Whoa, already? Damn.

Thank you, Prof Wolff. This discussion has been a distinct pleasures. I’m looking forward to your new book, Democracy at Work, which I assume is going to flesh out your ideas about demooratic workplaces.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 3:59 pm

As our time winds down, let me thank all of you for caring and sharing….that is the best possible response for my work that I might have hoped for and the strongest encouragement to continue. As I travel the country, the audiences grow larger and more active every week. Something very profound is shifting underground and creating my fellow citizens in a collective project to change social direction. About time too!

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Well you turned me into a wild-eyed, Marx-believing anti-capitalist!

Thanks SouthernDragon for prepping us for this discussion and hosting it.

Thank you very, very much for coming to talk to us, Professor Wolff. Please come back.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Democratic workplaces?? no bosses??

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Why, yes! That is excellent, Professor. That is another issue that we must force conversation about. The politicos always scream “free-Market, baby!” It’s time to put that to the test.

mzchief July 22nd, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Like recalibrating to the equivalent of the organization of micro steel operations but with enterprise specificity (ideally in a truly green fashion) and doing it across the industrial infrastructure?

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much for your gentle guidance and clear explanations.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Yes, Democracy at Work, due out Sept 1 from Haymarket Books will present the best argument I can for workers’ self-directed enterprises as the new centerpiece of an alternative to capitalism for the 21st century.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 4:01 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 182

Ha. Similar experience. It’s their necessary conclusion. The place which found it necessary to explicate this to me also liked to talk about how important “stories” were.

Rotten through and through.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Don’t forget the Shift Change film coming out, about Mondragon

Shift Change

hope the link works

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 4:02 pm

You are “knocking ‘em” out of the park, Richard, thank you.

It is the foundation of true civil society and a new economic reality which we are in the “process” of building.

DW

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 4:02 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 184

Which is ironic, isn’t it? “Communist” is used pejoritively by capitalists, but Communist is just state controlled capitalism.

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Dear All,

Nothing would please me more than to return and pick up all the threads of conversation that we did not have the time to treat or develop as no doubt we all wanted.

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 184

Would you call that a capitalist coup?

Phoenix Woman July 22nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Oh, exactly. Food stores in particular would be useful when so many urban and rural areas are ‘food deserts’ because there are no grocery stores. The town of Lanesboro, Minnesota lost its only grocery store three years ago and a local-food-oriented cooperative, Lanesboro Local, has sprung up to take its place.

As we found out reading Tracie McMillan’s book The American Way of Eating, produce is one area where small stores compete on an equal footing with the big-box boys — because produce doesn’t keep well and can’t be stockpiled, and stockpiling long-lived goods is the big-boxers’ key to success.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm

We will be here, waiting :)

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Thanks, everyone, for good thoughts. I guess I will forego asking Prof. Wolff what kind of tree he would choose to be if he were a tree then. Sorry, all who eagerly anticipated it.

PeasantParty July 22nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Thank you so much, Professor Wolff. You have given us all some hope, and a glimpse of what can be.

SD, you are the Marxian Economic Theory Hero of FDL.

bluedot12 July 22nd, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Thank you Professor. Stop by again.

greenwarrior July 22nd, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Give us a minute to read it an then come back and discuss it with us all.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 4:05 pm
In response to Ruth Calvo @ 216

Lol!

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Dear Friends,

Communism is one of those words that 50 years of effort made untouchable in the US. That did nothing to make a better capitalism; quite the contrary. It stifled expression and questions; it killed debate. It allowed a capitalism above question or debate to evolve into the horrific crisis-prone inequality machine it has now become. We would have been better served by a capitalism that had to face and respond to its critics. We now pay the price for not having insisted on that. At least we can and should now demand that the taboo be consigned to history on the grounds that we cannot afford it and dont want to.

Phoenix Woman July 22nd, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Thank you so much for being here, Professor!

Richard D. Wolff July 22nd, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Good bye and thanks to every one. I appreciate the disagreements too in the spirit of the debate over capitalism whose lack has proven so terribly costly.

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Well said.

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 4:09 pm

It’ll be a must read!

Ludwig July 22nd, 2012 at 4:10 pm

And likewise, comrade.

mzchief July 22nd, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Thank you everyone!

juliania July 22nd, 2012 at 4:12 pm

It’s an honor to have your response, sir. Thank you very much.

Ruth Calvo July 22nd, 2012 at 4:13 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 168

Those who are doing well but object to the inability of most of our working people to do the same are much to be respected, imho.

CTuttle July 22nd, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Mahalo Nui Loa, Prof. Wolff, please post some periodic myFDL dairies, anytime you have some free time…! I’m sure they’ll all be well received here at the Lake…!

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 4:16 pm
In response to Ruth Calvo @ 216

Hahaha!

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 4:16 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 187

Mondragon is not government funded as far as I know.

karenjj2 July 22nd, 2012 at 4:17 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 203

Watch the end of the movie “9 to 5″ to see a democratic office in action.

hpschd July 22nd, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Same here, thanks SD

SouthernDragon July 22nd, 2012 at 4:40 pm
In response to hpschd @ 232

In no way, shape or form, Prof Wolff’s Monthly Economic Update for June has an extended discussion of his visit to Mondragon and part of is concerns how they handled a downturn.

http://www.rdwolff.com/content/global-capitalism-june-2012-monthly-update

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Don’t go knocking at any doors dressed up like that at Halloween! No candy for you, at the very least!

yellowsnapdragon July 22nd, 2012 at 4:53 pm
In response to OmAli @ 236

Whyever not? I’m sure I’d get lots of treats, apples and such.

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Hell, we’d find you at the bottom of someone’s fish pond, fresh off the ducking chair, or whatever that thing was… :)

DWBartoo July 22nd, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Has anyone else noticed the very strange con-ver-sa-tions that occur at the tail-end (tale-end?) of certain Book Salons?

Witch makes sense of … if you’ve got ‘em, Salem … or something wild-eyed like that. Marx my words, a change is acomin’ … and it’s gonna be a treat.

((yellowsnapdragon and OmAli!!!!))

;~DW

OmAli July 22nd, 2012 at 5:48 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 239

You are the treat :)

(((DWB)))

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