Economic Update: What Capitalism is


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On this week's episode Prof. Wolff provides updates on Obamacare scandal, bank errors threaten depositors, public pension looting, subsidizing religion. Major discussion of old vs new meanings of capitalism as an economic system.


Showing 12 comments

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  • Will Cooper
    commented 2016-04-30 15:43:08 -0400
    Perhaps the state could fund and nurture inventors, enabling them to pursue innovations within each industrial sector, or to create new industries altogether. Such activities could be monitored and controlled democratically, but powerful groups with vested economic interests would not be able to interfere and suppress ideas that could possibly superannuate or replace their standards and production methods. There would have to be some autonomy given to talented individuals who have a vision for improving the status quo. It seems to me that the state would be the only entity capable of managing that without subjecting innovators to push-back from biassed elements of society.
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  • Richard Vineski
    commented 2016-01-27 14:12:43 -0500
    Replying to Will Cooper, I think part of our misunderstanding is that I don’t know what you mean by “protecting the quality” of your invention, or that other individuals “might appropriate or abuse it”. Can you give me some specific examples? I don’t know what specific patent and copyright laws a socialist society will have, but inventions, etc. will be the property of the people as a whole (the state). Inventors should be compensated in some wat for useful inventions, but not in ways that harm society (e.g. making them obscenely rich.) If you are afraid of someone getting hold of your work prematurely, your remedy is to keep it secret (the same as in a capitalist society). You cannot copyright or patent an idea, even in our capitalist society. (You can patent an invention, but not the idea behind it.) In a socialist system, the workers will COLLECTIVELY, not any individual, decide what is to be done with any invention. As he inventor, you should know a lot about your invention, so I presume your opinions about that would carry a lot more weigh than that the average person when it comes to deciding how it is going to be used. As for the inventor having the power to control their invention’s use, how about the mad scientist who invents something he wants to use for evil purposes?
    When I talk about “moral prestige and power”, I mean the sort of influence a leader like Martin Luther King, or Karl Marx may have, even if they do not have the police or state power to back them up. With an inventor, this may mean s/he gets a position where they have a lot of influence over what gets invented, and how inventions are to be used. Like becoming the head of a scientific research institute, or even something much less, such as getting a job in such an institute, or being able to influence the news media or other people in power.
    The rise of elites in a society is inevitable, and can cause serious problems. It is inevitable because, as you say, people are different in their capabilities. And people will take advantage of such superiorities to get something extra for themselves. A socialist society has to be set up in such a way that people realize that they have more to gain by working for the common good than they would just pursuing their own selfish interests. We have to design and build that kind of society. This complex problem has no easy solutions, but solving it has to be our biggest ideal and goal.
    Democracy. There are basically two kinds of democracy: direct and indirect. Direct democracy is where people get together and they all discuss and vote on issues. Their decisions are the law. In indirect democracy, people elect leaders who are then responsible for making the laws, either by voting on them or by decree (if they have been given that power). In a democracy it is presumed that every person or group of people have limits on what kinds of laws they are allowed to establish. These limits are frequently laid out in a Constitution. It is vitally necessary that people have easy access to the facts and knowledge they need to make good decisions. Freedom of speech and press are a big part of that, but they too can be manipulated.
    Many people, myself included, believe that direct democracy will work only in small organizations. This is because, in a modern society, there are so many different decisions to be made that specific individuals or groups with special expertise have to be given the responsibility for specific kinds of decisions. Most people do not have the time or knowledge and experience to make intelligent decisions about everything that comes up. An expert in one area may know very little about other things. Each person has their own area of responsibility, and they are accountable to the society as a whole. It is understood that, in making decisions, people will consult with each other to pool their knowledge, experience and skills. One big problem with democracy is that people are easily manipulated. Look at what happened after 9/11. The only answer to that that I know of is to educate people and make sure that the facts/knowledge they need is easily available.
    As for the rise of elites, this is inevitable since people are NOT equal in their knowledge, experience, interests, or even their native abilities. Plus, our society is so complex that a person cannot become knowledgeable in most areas. Experts are an essential part of our lives, whether they are doctors, car mechanics, or someone who has a reputation for giving good advice in solving personal problems.. The important thing is that experts/elites should serve the society, and not become a separate group that exploits everyone else. Experts can have some privileges, to encourage people to become experts (becoming an expert takes a lot of work!), to enable them to do their work better (e.g. providing the technical means to do their jobs, including education and professional organizations), and to show our appreciation for their contributions to society.
    Thanx for your comments and questions, and I hope we can continue and expand discussions like these. I raised hell with Prof. Wolff to get a comment system going on the internet, and he finally did. There is still far too little discussion activity, though. I recently checked the comments on one article by Prof. Wolff, which got two comments on his website, but hot 55 comments when it was published on truthout.org. I consider comments to be a good measure of how much interest there is in an article.
  • Chris Parkes
    commented 2016-01-25 12:16:39 -0500
    The 2nd half of this episode is fantastic. Thank you for explaining the differences clearly regarding the relationships inside capitalism and the differences to a basic market economy. This is a good way explain the issues to people that need….more clarity on this subject.
  • Will Cooper
    commented 2016-01-21 23:23:16 -0500
    Responding to Richard Vineski: No, no. I would not want to benefit personally from any supposed invention or discovery of my own. I am not a capitalist, nor am I an inventor, and I would hope that any such person who lived under socialism would exhibit the selfless attitude you envision. My concern is how an inventor working in an economic system where no private property (material or intellectual) existed would be able to protect the quality of her creations. If her intellectual property left her control in an early stage of its development, other less capable individuals might appropriate and abuse it. You further mentioned that such an innovator may “be rewarded for his/her work and may get a lot of moral and social prestige and power….” Wouldn’t such rewards in and of themselves stimulate envy and competition? Moreover, what kind of “power” are you referring to? How would it be exercised within a governing protocol of direct democracy? You also said that " nobody is going to get a lot richer than everybody else." That would certainly be true, and rightly so, but inequalities would still arise. Class differences such as undergird capitalism would disappear—workers would not longer be exploited or subjugated—but it seems to me that elites would still form. I am concerned that the drive for innovation might be weakened under a system that denied inventors and originators control over the progress and use of their creations. This issue is something that I would like Dr. Wolff to address.
  • Richard Vineski
    commented 2016-01-21 19:31:32 -0500
    There seems to be a lot of confusion about “socialism”. To me, socialism refers to a society where people work together for the common good, not just for their own benefit. Will Cooper talks about how he would want to have control of something he developed, so he could control how and who gets to use it, and so he could reap the profits from it. This describes perfectly how capitalists think. Under socialism, all new ideas and inventions are the property of the society, to be used or not as society decides. The inventor will of course be rewarded for his/her work and may get a lot of moral and social prestige and power, but nobody is going to get a lot richer than everybody else.
  • Will Cooper
    commented 2016-01-16 20:38:23 -0500
    Another wonderful podcast. I am familiar with the ideas presented in it from Dr. Wolff’s writings and other talks. I would like to pose a question to him that has bothered me for some time. That is the seeming conflict between innovation and socialism. Let me lay this out by example. Take an inventor who devises a new product or commercial idea by virtue of her brilliance and hard work wants to bring it to market. This fledgling entrepreneur wants to maintain strict control over the production of her product to ensure that it fulfills her vision and ambitions for its distribution. An enterprise that functioned democratically, spreading the decision-making authority to all its workers equally, would strip her of her ability to control the production and distribution in her desired fashion. Secondly, having invested the mental and physical labor that made the product possible, she wants to benefit from it–and feels strongly that she deserves to benefit from it—more than the individuals who contribute their labor to produce it in the factory where it’s made. She has dreams of enjoying the fruits of her creation and feels that what she deserves from the surplus it derives in the marketplace is far greater than what the workers she has gathered to help her deserve. I believe that this example describes what happens frequently in the economy. Would Apple Computer, Inc. have become what it is today if all the factory workers who made is original computers had an equal vote in what to produce, where to produce, and how to distribute the surplus created through the sale of each unit sold? I believe fervently in the rightness of socialism, but I am perplexed about how inventors, originators, and visionaries will feel enabled to fulfill their indispensable work without guarantees of exclusive rights to control and the determination of rewards for the work they make possible through their unique contributions.
  • Richard Vineski
    commented 2016-01-14 21:29:31 -0500
    To me, capitalism is an economic system that is dedicated to producing capital. Capital is anything that can be combined with labor to produce wealth, which is then used to produce more wealth (some of which becomes more capital). It does not require an employer-employee relationship. A lone trader who “makes” money by buying and selling products is a capitalist. That is how capitalism got started, and it is the most important sector of capitalism today, with the big banks and investment houses. They don’t have to have employees; they can be run by individual bankers or by a cooperative group of bankers using their own computers. Even if they do have employees, they are non-productive employees, who are not directly engaged in the wealth-producing activies of the enterprise.
  • Martin Screeton
    commented 2016-01-13 00:03:27 -0500
    Thank you Professor Wolff for another great update! :)

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