Economic Update: Economics: Where Theories Clash



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On this week's Economic Update, Prof. Wolff provides updates on the exploitation of adjuncts that weakens US higher education and on US's extreme wealth inequality. Major discussion of the three main economic theories (neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian) clashing in today's world.

Showing 36 comments

  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-09 03:33:11 -0500
    I agree Joe. It’s always good to find a new comrade at some corner of the world. I hope ther would be other chances to continue discussing on these issues. Cheers.
  • Joe Barnwell
    commented 2017-03-08 09:18:40 -0500
    Seyedsepehr Samiei, It appears only we two commie ideologue buffoons remain on this thread, so I’m going to leave it for more recent Wolff posts. I have taken note of your extensive left knowledge, and hope we can reconnect in discussions that address ORGANIZING an anti-capitalist response. I, too, have found many glitches on this site. I have a 2400-word deep red-green mini-manifesto, Getting Organized: Your Red-Green How-To Guide, but have been unable to access any posting authority. Coop Talk has ignored three requests for posting info. All this talk, talk, talk, goes nowhere, especially when “Charlies” interfere. I want to discuss walking all this talk, and believe I know how. I employ the new science(s) of organizational relations in a synthesis with the essentials of Marx/Engels. As Engels declared at Marx’s graveside, “Science was for Marx an inherently dynamic, revolutionary force,” but the science of organization has been completely ignored by modern “Marxists” and the left. So we are currently completely screwed. Nothing is getting organized, and the capitalist juggernaut rolls on and on. My red-green best, Joe B.
  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-08 05:38:26 -0500
    Marx was initially very enthusiastic about a proletarian revolution and spend a lot of time trying with revolutionary parties in the First International and other places. But after mid 19th century revolutions were crushed and faded, he decided to dedicate most of his time in studying political economy and had his ideas come to a much higher level of maturity. Only during his last 10 years of life, he produced more than 30,000 pages of manuscripts, most of which is yet to be published in any language.

    One of the major things that Marx did realize before he died was that revolution cannot come about over the night. It involves a long process, as Samir Amin calls it, the long road toward Socialism.

    A worker cooperative is one step along that long road. Its most essential progressive element, in my opinion, is its ability to let workers intellectual capacity grow beyond the narrow repetitive and tedious work they carry out in a traditional hierarchical system. A worker cooperative requires all workers to collectively participate in the decision making process of their organization as a whole. This feature necessitates organizational programs to ensure everyone is enlightened enough to make informed decisions. It also allows workers to take responsibility of the activities carried out by their organization. Those people will also be much more responsible toward communities among which they live.

    What does that mean?

    Going back to the age of enlightenment, there were thinkers such as Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Diderot, etc. who theorized the modern idea of democracy and freedom. But their idea of freedom and democracy excluded the economic dimension. Marx did not dismiss their ideas, but argued that theirs is a formal democracy and cannot be sustained unless it is extended into the economic dimension. A substantive democracy is only possible if the “essence of man” returns back to him. The essence of man is nothing but his labor, which is alienated from him under capitalism. The way to bring it back to him is through a democratic formation of society and I believe worker coops are an essential and effective step toward that end.
  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-08 05:38:01 -0500
    I don’t remember the exact source, but in one of Jahrbuch magazines to which Marx contributed, there is a discussion between Marx and one of the French revolutionary leaders. The French guy says something like: “Either we will immediately organize for revolution and establish a working class state, or we can all go home and sleep rather than wasting our time here!”

    Marx responded with something like this: “I am very happy that our Proletarian party is unable to organize a revolution and seize the power. Because I am worried that we have a proletaria that is not yet ready for this transition…” and the something like “under current circumstances a proletarian revolution would be the most disastrous event ever…”

    Sorry, I’m currently at work and can’t go and find the exact source to give you the exact quotation. But more or less that is what he said.

    His worries turned into realities with the 1917 Russian revolution, followed by similar movements in China, Cuba, Vietnam and other corners of the world. As Wolff says, they all had achievements, but also had bitter failures as well. Ultimately almost all those proletarian revolutions were rolled back and ended up in yet another capitalist state.
  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-08 05:37:16 -0500
    Joe Barnwell,
    For some reason, my long response to your question gets stuck somewhere and does not reflect here.
  • Joe Barnwell
    commented 2017-03-07 10:49:19 -0500
    Seyedsepehr Samiei,
    Now that we “commie ideologue buffoons” are free of Charlie, perhaps we could get around get around to discussing ORGANIZING democratic workplaces, a topic you brought up a few days ago. Workers’ cooperatives as a means of organizing within-The-System revolutionary reforms that lead out of capitalism into a human future? Sure! So let’s take a look at actually GETTING ORGANIZED. Here’s an observation. Marx was initially enthusiastic about worker cooperatives, but soon saw they are degraded by their operation within capitalism and its values. They must adapt themselves to a capitalist ecosystem with its many inherent disadvantages, and even more problematic, their minds and labors are shaped by those capitalist institutions and values that envelop them. So how might workers’ cooperatives and the many other forms of workplace democracy get started?
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-03-07 08:00:26 -0500
    Btw I’ve been posting about education (or lack thereof) as the ROOT cause of the USA’s problems for weeks.

    Not one of you commie ideologue buffoons has been able to refute my point.

    You guys are just as wrong as libertarians when you amalyze causation and your answers are just as idiotic and unrealistic.

    Done here.
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-03-07 07:55:38 -0500
    What a stupid and insulting post.

    I’ve been studying history extensively for decades. I would have enjoyed furthering the debate but you are simply too
    And ignorant.

  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-07 05:33:35 -0500
    @charlie Chaplin, you sure need to study a lot about economics. Every perception of yours is flawed one way or another.

    1- When you say: "Woolff focuses almost exclusively on dysfunction and corruption in the USA but we are an outlier nation; unique among developed nations in that we mandate very few regulations on businesses as relates to worker protections and benefits. "

    You need to study about existing and ongoing economic recession in EU and Japan. The former is in process of disintegration and the latter has been in recession for more than three decades.

    2- When you say: “And even in the US we see regulation being effective at controlling the cycle of boom and bust. After the Great Depression the US didn’t suffer a MAJOR economic collapse for over 70 years; not until the depression era regulations were undone under Clinton in the 90’s.”
    2-1- First sentence is utterly erroneous. There was a severe recession during 1970s, not as severe as 2008 GFC, but severe enough to discredit Keynsianism and give rise to Reagonomics.
    2-2- Deregulation era started with President Ronald Reagan in the 80s and all succeeding Presidents only continued along the same path. (You need to study your history)
    2-3- Had Reagon not initiated the new economic order, that is deregulation, tax cuts, destruction of labour unions, financialization, etc. there would be a depression far more devastating than the Great Depression in the 80s and 90s. Reagonomics was a response to the problem of Surplus in capitalism. The external forces that had brought the system into equilibrium (that is the devastation after WWII) had already been exhausted and the system could not continue without a major shift in distribution of wealth in order to allow continuous accumulation, therefore investment, etc.

    3- When you say: “My contention, that well-educated people are the only ones equipped to regulate economic and political systems, doesn’t seem to be impacted by your abstract thoughts on foundation and superstructure.”

    I reckon you need to educate yourself at least to the level of comprehending my previous comments about superstructure and foudnation. You should also study the history of mdern education system and how it evolved under industrial capitalism as it was necessary for expansion and maintenance of industries. Only then you may begin to understand, in a “post-industrial” system, such as the current US, where industries are in a race to outsource their production to other countries where labor is cheap, there may no longer be an incentive from within the system to have a functional education system available to the entire population. In such circumstances, few private schools would suffice to serve the needs of wealthy and rich. For the rich would be much happier to pay for their own education, rather than paying taxes that could finance education of the entire population.
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-03-07 03:09:31 -0500
    I also don’t agree that capitalism naturally trends one way or another.

    Well-educated nations effectively regulate capitalism and poorly educated ones don’t!
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-03-07 03:07:03 -0500
    I think your entire first paragraph is simply incorrect. There are things citizens can do to insure a more stable, egalitarian form of capitalism and other nations have been far more consistent and successful at regulating capitalism with excellent long-term results.

    Woolff focuses almost exclusively on dysfunction and corruption in the USA but we are an outlier nation; unique among developed nations in that we mandate very few regulations on businesses as relates to worker protections and benefits.

    And even in the US we see regulation being effective at controlling the cycle of boom and bust. After the Great Depression the US didn’t suffer a MAJOR economic collapse for over 70 years; not until the depression era regulations were undone under Clinton in the 90’s.

    I don’t understand how your focus on superstructure and foundation relates to my concerns. Education is always bordering on indoctrination and of course people need to be able to
    Function in a given society.

    My contention, that well-educated people are the only ones equipped to regulate economic and political systems, doesn’t seem to be impacted by your abstract thoughts on foundation and superstructure.
  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-06 22:12:38 -0500
    @charlie Chaplin, Professor Wolff has discussed the history of European social democracy as well as the New Deal under FDR and the historical conditions around it. You should seek your answer in those discussions. If you really want to dig more, I recommend reading the famous work of Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff, entitled “Monopoly Capital”.

    In summary, conventional economists always assume that Capitalism naturally tends toward equilibrium and they try to investigate what external forces cause this equilibrium to break and crises to arise. But Sweezy and Magdoff argue that in reality it works the opposite way. I.e. the general tendency of Capitalism is toward recession and depression, but there are external factors that could temporarily bring it to equilibrium. Once those external factors are exhausted, the system goes back to its inherent and general tendency, that is, recession, depression and crises. Hence, why Capitalism seems to work at some periods and doesn’t seem to work at some other periods. If you want to learn more, I hope you know where to dig…

    As to the last question, to which you answered “a definitive no”, the best I can do is to give you another example, this time even more simplified. Bear in mind that I am abstracting lots of details to let you see the gist of it.

    Consider two people, one needs to take a bath everyday (let’s call him Donald) and the other one never takes a bath (let’s call him Barak). Suppose both are placed to live in a desert. What happens to each?
    Mr Donald will not be able to survive in that barren and dry desert and will die! But Mr Barak will happily live there. Donald’s culture (superstructure) is incompatible with the conditions of desert (foundation). But Barak’s culture is perfectly compatible with it.
    Now suppose we take both men and place them in a city. This time Donald will do quite well, but Barak will certainly perish (no one in the city will hire a man who stinks like a skunk). This time Donald’s culture (superstructure) is perfectly compatible with urban conditions (foundation), while Barak is having lots of difficulties to fit in.

    Of course, given their habits, Donald and Barak will do their best to keep living in city and desert respectively. That is how culture (superstructure) influences the underlying mode of production (foundation). But in the end if there is nothing to eat in the desert and no where to live, Barak might be forced to leave the desert and move to the city. Now he has to learn how to adapt in this new way of life. I guess you would remember your teachers in school days emphasizing the necessity of having regular baths. If you wondered why, now you should be able to tell. Had you, like me, been brought up in a region that is covered with deserts and wastelands, where water resources are scarce and hard to come by, you would have heard from your teachers that you should avoid taking baths everyday and try to minimize your consumption of water. This is how the education system is a function (superstructure) of the underlying mode of production (foundation).

    If you still don’t get what I tried to convey, I give up!
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-03-06 19:35:50 -0500
    If you can show me where Wolff explains why capitalism seems to work in some places and in some times and not in others I would love to engage. I’ve been listening to his shows, shows I find very educational btw, for many moons and haven’t heard my concerns addressed.

    As for your final question my answer is a definitive “no.” If you want to explain further I’ll be happy to read the response.
  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-06 17:28:56 -0500
    @charlie Chaplin, all the questions you’re posing are already addressed by Professor Wolff in his other presentations. You may wish to go through some of his most famous presentations in YouTube, for it does give you good hints on the answers you are seeking.
    As to the problem of “causation”, Professor Wolff has made his position clear. I find his explanation most convincing among all other interpretations of dialectical materialism. Although, what I kind of dislike about his method of presentation, is over-simplification to the point of tediousness!
    Capitalism, I perceive, and you may too, is the name of the entire system and structure of the existing state of affairs in human social life. It includes both education system and the production system. In Marxist language, the relations of production are known as “foundation” and education system, along with many other aspects of the system, as known to be part of the “superstructure”. The relation between this “foundation” and its “superstructure” is one of “super-dependence”. What it means is that both have profound impacts on how the other is moulden and sustained. Just like chicken and egg, none can be deemed as the “cause” of the other, but both are to be understood as a whole in superdependence to one-another. In fact, this relation is superdependence is not exclusive to only education system and the relations of production. Dialectical Materialism tells us that everything in the entire universe is superdependent to everything else. But…
    There is a reason that relations of production are named as “foundation” and other aspects such as, education system, culture, arts, literature, etc. are named as superstructural components of the system known as Capitalism. Instead of going into protracted and abstract discussions I’ll give you an example:

    Compare people who live in country and people who live in city. They have quite different cultures. The way they speak, the way they sleep and wake up, the way they eat, the way they have fun and so forth, are so visibly different. Those in the country have to wake up early and go back to bed early too, for they may have to work on farms and the only way to avoid burning hot sun of noon is to start early. Or they may have to graze cattle and that requires them to work during the light of the day. Those who work in city may have to start later to avoid traffic jams, or they may have to work for extended hours and would not have enough time to prepare their own food, thus surviving on fast-food. Now suppose a man migrates from country to an urban area, or from city to a village. First he might have difficulties with the new circumstances because of the cultural difference, but then, as he LEARNS and EXPERIENCES, he will adapt to the new conditions and adopts the prevailing culture. Of course an “education system” is always designed to let people fit into the existing system and relations of production. Do you see why relations of production are called “foundation” and e.g. education system is called “superstructural”?
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-03-06 13:50:29 -0500
    “The concentration of power and the subjection of individuals will increase among democratic nations…in direct proportion as their ignorance.”—Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-03-06 13:48:39 -0500
    Hey Joe (where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?),
    I didn’t care for Jacoby but I did like Hofstadter’s text “Anti-intellectualism in American life.” As for capitalism’s control of people’s minds I think Fromm’s “The Sane Society” discusses that brilliantly at great length.

    Finland’s education system pereniallly ranks as one of the best on the planet which makes sense because they have a rigorous six-year training program for teachers (and a waiting list to become a teacher because unlike the insane United States teaching is a respected profession there—as well as most other parts of the world).

    Here’s what it boils down to for me: the issue of causation.

    If you, and others on this site including Professor Woolf, want to say capitalism is the CAUSE of our nation’s problems you’ll have to address two related points: why was the US so much more egalitarian sixty years ago? And why are other capitalist nations avoiding the kind of dysfunction which massive concentrations of wealth have unleashed upon these divided states?

    Most of the complaints levied by Professor Woolf revolve around the injustice of concentrated wealth.

    Why have other capitalist nations been able to avoid many of those problems? Or suffer them to a significantly lesser degree?

    My contention is that it is the almost ubiquitous lack of education in the US that CAUSES our social and political problems.

    It’s good to be alive.
    Viva Montaigne!
  • Joe Barnwell
    commented 2017-03-06 11:28:53 -0500
    Charlie Chaplin,
    I’m not trying to pick a fight with you personally, but you really need to sharpen up in your understanding of capitalism—the nightmare system that has globally metastasized all forms of life on Earth. This capitalist metastasis includes the human mind and our educational systems.

    Well, we all need to sharpen up if the human species is to continue, don’t we? Capitalism is the Frankenstein monster of our creation that is about to cash us all in.

    You said I wrote in broad (therefore invalid) generalities. Well, that’s partially true, for my remarks may have centered on American institutions of higher indoctrination, but they applied to capitalist education everywhere.

    I have spent a bit of time in Finland, whose educational system you extolled in “broad generalities.” What’s so special about Finnish education? Aren’t the people of Finland trapped within The System, too?

    Here’s several books on this subject you and others might appreciate. Russell Jacoby’s LAST INTELLECTUALS, Lee Smolin’s TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS, and Nocella, Best, and McClaren eds ACADEMIC REPRESSION.
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-03-06 07:47:46 -0500
    Finland is a capitalist country. Why is their education system so different and so superior to the USA’s?

    You speak in broad generalizations about capitalism and education but the USA is unique among capitalist nations so using us as the end all of the argument simply doesn’t work.
  • Joseph A. Mungai
    commented 2017-03-05 23:39:12 -0500
    Crapitalism creates its own disasters at public expense that create cleanup jobs (9:35) https://vimeo.com/121466017
  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-05 16:59:35 -0500
    @joe Barnwell, I’m fully with you. Very well said. It is not at all difficult to notice people educated in this education system, with highly exalted degrees, who in reality turn out to be completely ignorant about many basic concepts.
  • Joe Barnwell
    commented 2017-03-05 13:44:02 -0500
    I cannot let Charlie Chaplin’s nonsense assertion, “Capitalism vs socialism is very much secondary in importance to education,” go unchallenged.

    Isn’t the socioeconomic system the major influence on a society’s general educational system? Consider the difference between a traditional hunting and gathering economy’s education and that of a modern capitalist state.

    A modern socialist/communist education would celebrate human nature and its relation to Mother Nature and promote a student’s development in many areas so they might live realized lives in “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” (MANIFESTO)

    Capitalism’s reductive, quantitative system produces an" educational" world of reductionist science, biology, philosophy, etc, that manufactures trapped, dumbed-down, isolated individuals. The modern capitalist university functions as a church with professor-priests acting as protectors of capitalist relations and dogma.

    As Helen Keller declared, “College is not the place to go for ideas.” This is because American “higher” “education” is a function of the capitalist system.
  • Robert Clark
    commented 2017-03-04 19:08:21 -0500
    Not the best anecdotal exanple , I’d say.. Unitarian-Universalists are pretty open to other ideas, at least the one I visited with for a few years..the Garrison Keillor Joke about unitarians having a Question Mark burned on their Lawn Comes to Mind..
  • Kazalzs Kram
    commented 2017-03-02 21:34:20 -0500
    Continued from my last post. If it is initially unclear or to difficult to set the value structure so profit is secondary then set up it’s function from an exponential growth curve to a logarithmic growth curve. I do not know how to do this but someone else may. This would give a period of transition to another system. It may not be enough for many because of climate change concerns but it would be a step forward.
  • Kazalzs Kram
    commented 2017-03-02 19:11:17 -0500
    In response to Seyedsepehr, ok so are saying that profit is not the primary virtue but a secondary one. How to implement that if it can be is the problem. The other approach might be to keep profit a primary virtue but change how profit works. Profit had an expontially increasing curve. Maybe another nolinear function is in order.
  • Seyedsepehr Samiei
    commented 2017-03-02 18:21:59 -0500
    @kazalzs Kram, I totally understand your doubts and concerns and I think it is a valid concern. But, I tried to present a point that is the key to address your concern…

    We do agree that a system of production based on profit motive is defective in many ways and leads to inequality as well as an unsustainable relation with nature. But how do we solve that issue? It may sound as an easy job, but in reality it is actually the greatest and biggest challenge human species are grappled with.

    Capitalism fosters greed and that corrupts individuals, people and society. Most people never get to the point to understand and see the underlying and foundation and root of their day to day problems. The system is designed in a way to keep people in the dark, divide them against one another and ultimately neutralize them. Those who live off an insecure and low paid job, have to live through one day at a time and cannot afford to even think about any radical movement. Those who are relatively better off, they may see themselves between two choices: do all they can to “progress” in their work place, or face the risk of descending into the ranks of the downtrodden and poor. And of course, many “successful” people care about nothing other than “progressing” in work and accumulate more wealth.

    How are you going to organize these people against the existing system and march them toward a zero-growth, use-value motivated and sustainable society? You certainly can’t do that with street rallies and speeches. Something much more fundamentally needs to change.

    In a worker coop system, although still profitability is a requirement, but the highest priority will be to keep people employed. And this employment is not passive, in the way subcidised industries usually are. Since all employees are directly involved in the decision making system of the enterprise as a whole, they all know the obligations and challenges and will work together to resolve those. Such a system will foster grown up people, with enough intellectual capacity to go beyond trivial and repetitive day to day works. As Professor Wolff always mentions, workers of an enterprise will not remain indifferent about their own environment. They will not make decisions that destroys their own environment but makes more profit for the enterprise… And so forth, and so on…

    This is a great shift in the underlying foundation of production system. As Istvan Meszaros aptly said, in order to build socialism, we need people with intellectual capacity to go beyond Capitalism. This transition cannot come about over night. As Samir Amin calls it, this is a long transition from Capitalism into Socialism. Along the way, we need to take several steps. With each step, we are not yet out of Capitalism and into Socialism, but we have to make sure we are going along the correct route and we are getting closer to it.

    Alas, the way I observe the world, we are indeed move in the opposite direction, toward a kind of neo-feudalism. But, as the Chinese economist, Minqi Li, mentions, the goal is to build socialism, but given the unsuitability of Capitalism and the environmental destruction and disasters it begets, even Feudalism is better than Capitalism.
  • Kazalzs Kram
    commented 2017-03-02 13:36:14 -0500
    Another thing I have not heard about is how a worker owned cooperative would start. Say I am an inventor/entrepreneur with resources to build a company. I bring these to start the business and spend say 80 hours a week getting it off the ground. What is that worth in a worker owned cooperative structure. Later on I may only work 40 hours a week or not work at all. How is my pay determined. Usually, when someone starts their business and even have some novel patented invention of theirs as the business. They think it is their baby so they give themselves a lot but I can see that this is bogus. Those that work with you also deserve a cut based on what they contribute but it usually is not as big as it should be. So how is all this valuation done in a worker owned cooperative structure?
  • Kazalzs Kram
    commented 2017-03-02 12:53:00 -0500
    In response to Charlie, I do not see education as being relevant to capitalism. Soviets were much better educated than Americans and many in the Western world. Good education of the masses is a requirement of a good democracy. Otherwise, democracy becomes something I would not want and I would rather have an epsitocracy. I do not want dummies voting or running for office. Both should pass some minimal requirements and have countinuing education certifications.
  • Kazalzs Kram
    commented 2017-03-02 12:42:07 -0500
    In response to Seyedsepehr, you did not real address my point. Whether it’s a worker owned cooperative or a standard top-down coorpration, both own private property, use the market and seek to make a profit. Capitalism is capital or value making more capital or value. Prof. Wolff has not provide anything different except a democratic work space. I believe that this is a key ingredient in a much better for of capitalism than we have today but it is not an alternative system.
  • Don Palmerino
    commented 2017-02-28 17:21:18 -0500
    I understand that the Koch Brothers (and maybe others) offer to colleges and universities large sums of money or endowments which are accepted by these schools. The ones that I have heard about seem to target business and economics departments. There seems to be a big catch to the generosity: the Koch Brothers demand that they can approve or disapprove of the curricula and professors.
  • Adam Jacobs
    commented 2017-02-28 06:28:00 -0500
    Finland and other nordic nations are capitalist. Their governments charge high tax rates and provide a strong safety net for all citizens, including healthcare and education.

    But ownership of most businesses is private. And that fact fundamentally undermines Woolf’s central premise that capitalism is the root cause of the world’s problems.

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