Socialism vs Capitalism with Prof. Richard Wolff (Full Interview)



I am super excited about the conversation that I'm about to have with Professor Richard wolf Richard wolf is a professor of economics and he teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is currently a visiting professor in the graduate program of international affairs at the new school University in New York he has written several books including understanding Marxism this is gonna be a huge part of our conversation today and I just want to say thank you for joining us today professor wolf it's my pleasure glad to be here so I'm a huge fan of your podcast economic update it's easy listening and I think it should be mandatory listening because you do a great job debunking some of the myths out there when it comes to Karl Marx and what he advocated for what he actually wrote about and we're gonna do some of that in the interview today but before we do I just want to show everyone how wonderfully unapologetic you are for your ideology and that was definitely demonstrated in your interview with Stuart Varney let's take a look democracy at work founder and the new school visiting professor Richard wolf is with us now she doesn't go her marxist right I am happy to be so in twenty five can't believe it you actually changing it always does I love that interaction because we live in this country that really does fear monger quite a bit when it comes to Karl Marx and Marxism and you are very unapologetic so let's talk about it let's talk about the reason why you identify as a Marxist well you know it took a long time I started out I like to tell people my first political act I basically just barely remember it the New Rochelle New York subway train station New Rochelle is a commuter town outside of New York my father went in and out of the city to work and I stood there with a little sign this gonna give you my age that said I like Ike it was a little sign showing support for a Republican candidate for president Dwight Eisenhower I didn't understand what I was doing but it was a sign that I was interested in trying to understand what made the world tick and I've had that as an interest of mine ever since and I wanted to understand particularly living around New York City you would see rich and poor living close to one another and that attracted me right off the bat why did some people have all of this and other people have so little what what was that about why did that happen and when I went to became older went to college and studied I kept asking that question and I kept asking my professors explain this to me and basically they couldn't many of them were discomforted by the very question it wasn't so much they couldn't answer but they wanted to rule it out as somehow not part of what they were supposed to teach even though they were sociologists of political scientists and economists and all of that it'll make a long story short my dissatisfaction with the answers I got made me begin to have in my brain the beginning of the doubt maybe this problem isn't about this or that detail maybe there's something bigger going on what I would now call a systemic problem a problem of a whole way of organizing life and with that question I found my way pretty quickly to socialism and Marxism because that's where they start that's what they're interested in and that spoke to my question more effectively than my teachers and my courses in the fancy universities I attended were able to do and once launched in that direction the capitalist system I've lived in all my life I was born in Ohio as simply confirmed in me and developed in me the sense that our problems are systemic they're not going to be solved by this or that law or regulation the thing goes deeper than that which is why the laws and reforms haven't worked the way so many of the sincere pursuers of them had hoped for I think the problem is systemic so let's talk about the systemic issues one of the quotes that you like to say is if you were living with someone as unstable as capitalism is you would have moved out by now and I love that quote can you just elaborate on it and speak to the instability of capitalism yes it's always been remarkable for me that people would accept this you know capitalism is basically thought of as having been born in England in terms of its modern forms back in the 17th 18th century as spread from there to the rest of the Western Europe and then around the world to become the dominant system in the world today wherever capitalism settled in as the new system replacing the feudalism that had gone before or the slavery that had gone before wherever capitalism settled the following happen every four to seven years as if on cue the system crashes suddenly large numbers of people lose their their jobs small and medium-sized businesses and even sometimes big ones crash production is cut back and we go through a period can be a few months can be a few years of real Dena one time economically if it isn't too terrible we call it a recession if it's terrible we call it a depression every four to seven years it's absolutely astonishing and it is so bad and has been so scary for the people living through it that my profession the economics profession has literally spent the last hundred and fifty years trying if not longer trying to understand why it happens in order to stop because it is chaotically inefficient it ruins people's lives they lose their jobs they lose their homes all the things that we know very well because it happened again in 2008 globally this time so for me it is a standing criticism of capitalism that it has built into it such a level of instability than a hundred and fifty years of creative efforts by some of the best minds in the world to understand it and try to control it have been one big fat failure which is why we are still working our way out of the crash of 2008 while the economics press is telling us that either this year or next we're gonna have another one right absolutely and the boom and bust cycle is an inherent part of capitalism and we've seen it happen over and over again so you mentioned slavery and and I think it is important to talk a little bit about how Karl Marx compared the ramifications of capitalism to slavery which sounds hyperbolic but if you really look at the comparisons I think that there are some interesting and irrefutable points made there so can you elaborate on that a little bit sure Marx was very careful he did use the phrase wage slaves and that was an intentional device to get people to think about whether there was some sort of parallelism between a wage work worker today and slaves in the past where slavery was dominant and in the end when he did his full theoretical work he found that commonality and that I think might be an interest to folks watching this evening it is the slave is an interesting person he does a lot of work because he's the property or she's the property of the master everything the slave produces is given to the master because the master owns the product of the slave just as he owns the slave himself or herself but the master always or almost always gives some of what the slave has produced back to the slave so if this life can eat and sleep and clothe himself or herself in order to be able to continue to be a slave tomorrow in other words the way to understand slavery economically is the slave produces everything a portion of that of what he produces is given back to him and the remainder what Karl Marx called the surplus what the slaves produce over and above what they get back that's what the master gets with that in your mind now follow Marx's logic in capitalism it's basically the same thing the worker produces uses his or her brains and muscles to produce things to add value to whatever company hires this person and here's the relationship Marx focuses us on whatever the employer pays you let's say 20 dollars an hour that's only gonna be a job you're gonna get if the following is true during the hour that you work your labor has to add to whatever it is your employer sells more than 20 dollars worth of value why because otherwise there's nothing in it for the employer to hire you well when the dust settles when you understand what I just said look how similar it is to the slave the employee the worker the salaried wage worker whatever is producing more then they get back in a wage just like the slave produced more than what they get got back for their upkeep so the systems are very parallel the rules are different the names we give them more different but the notion of an system in which a minority masters relative to slaves employers relative to employees a minority pulls from the majority of value a quantity of output greater than what is given back to that majority for their own sustenance and therein lies what Marx called exploitation but a fundamental inequality that creates a minority at the top and all the rest of us looking up right I mean there's still a ruling class it's just that this has been rebranded and repackaged as something that leads to so-called economic freedom but how is this economic freedom when the system is specifically systemically flawed and created in a way that keeps you know the the economic inequities that we're seeing today I mean by systemic the system reproduces when you give the surplus to the employer he then uses it to hire more workers to get fancier machines to become even more successful in pulling the profits out of that surplus that his workers produced for him just the way slaves produced that standard of living we admire in certain southern plantations to this day so I want to ask you one more question about Marxism and and this is really setting the stage for what's happening in in current events and politics and I want to ask for your thoughts on a few presidential candidates but one final question about Marxism is the misconception of what Marx wanted or what Marx viewed as solutions to these systemic ills because there are some Marxists who have interpreted interpreted him and I think wrongly so as a supporter of state-sponsored capitalism right where the government controls the means of production but that's not really anything he's ever written about am I correct yes you are I hasten to add your Marxism spread Marx died in 1883 that's really only a hundred and forty years ago roughly and his ideas spread across the world to every country on earth to people in completely different stages of economic cultural political development of course there would be different interpretations of what his writings meant just like when Christianity spread across the world you got different churches with their different readings of the texts etc etc so there are different interpretations of Marx but mine for sure is one that says a Marx never wrote a book about or even an article about the state it wasn't interested in the state for him the state is a creature of this society underneath it and therefore the thing to understand even if you're interested in asking why a state does or doesn't do something the answer is found in the social conditions and in Marx's view in the economic conditions underneath holding up that state so for me what Marx is focused on above all is production the enterprises the farms the factories the stores the offices where the work gets done and there he says lies a relationship a structure that shapes everything else in society and that structure as we've already discussed is one in which a very small number of people the owners of the business the board of directors in the corporation they make all the basic decisions what to produce how to produce where to produce and what to do with the profits that everybody has to produce those decisions are made by a tiny group of people and Marx's argument was in that inequality and in that obviously undemocratic way of organizing production lie the seeds of an undemocratic politics and the seeds of the social problems that good people have been trying to solve for a long time so let's talk a little bit about proposals come from Democratic presidential candidates I was listening to your interview with Michael Brooks on the Michael Brooke show and you talked about universal basic income which I think a lot of progressives believe is a progressive policy proposal but you have objections to it so let's toss to the video and I want to get your reaction to you bi and why you have an issue with it take a look it's like how I feel when I see someone on the street with all the homeless we have in New York now reach into his or her pocket and take some change and give it to them it's a nice moment I like it right but as a way to deal with this problem I'm horrified I just I can't get over it so why are you horrified why is universal basic income a bad solution to the economic inequity that we're seeing today well let me be careful here I'm in favor of things that begin to produce less inequality in our society than we already have how could you not be that's what I meant well of course I'll give someone who's sitting on the street who need something I can give them money out of my pocket that I don't need anywhere near as badly as they do so I'm not against these things but what I do really mean is they don't solve the problem because when you're done giving somebody something they're still in need and you're still in the position of being able to give or not as most of our fellow citizens dude universal basic income is an attempt to deal with something very unfair in our society and for that I support it but as a solution no and let me explain in a couple of ways first if you're going to give income without work to a large number of people who are not structurally part of the economy you're not going to overcome the split between those who do the work and those who live off the labor of others and that's a very dangerous relationship which the whole history of the human race seems to me to have taught us whether it takes a slave form or a funeral form or a capitalist form I've always tried to teach my students that when technology makes it possible for less labor to get the same output that's what I would like to see I would like to see the new machines requiring less labor be handled as follows not in the capitalist way which is the fire heavy let's suppose you have a machines twice as effective for you fire half your work because you don't need them since the machine will remain we'll make the remaining half twice as productive as they were before and it's capitalism so you just fire them and it's their problem I would like to see a different solution bring in the machinery that makes us twice as effective and cut everybody's workday into half is same result but here's technology helping people have a freer life which is the majority of workers versus having a minority get more profit there it is there's the systemic problem I don't want to leave these decisions these allocations in the hands of the few people because as they have shown us for time immemorial if a small number of people control the economy they will make it work for them long before they make it work for everybody else if you want an economy that works for all the people you've got to put all the people in charge there's no shortcut to that but how do we accomplish that because this idea of using automation as a way of freeing up workers time you know not firing them not cutting their wages but just freeing up their time so they can live and actually enjoy their lives it sounds wonderful I love it but how do we accomplish that I mean certainly we can't do so under this system but how do we accomplish a system where that's even possible well there I think Marx is extraordinarily help to us because he pointed he didn't do more than point because you know he lived a life wasn't that long he did the best he could he published a lot but there were a lot of topics he never got to even made a lout lied earlier in his life so we can see what he got doing what he didn't well here is what you point to that and what I mean by systemic imagine if enterprises factories offices stores and so on were organized in a fundamentally different non capitalist way and here's what I mean it's you can think of it this way it's a democracy of the workplace all the people who work in an enterprise whatever it is one-person one-vote whatever they do they are part of the community that is engaged in production they democratically decide what to produce how to produce where to produce and what to do with the revenue the product they've all helped to produce here's what I can assure you no way would such an arrangement lead to the Jeffrey Bezos phenomenon it's not gonna make one or two or three executives billionaires while everybody else is worried about how they can get their kids through college that's not gonna happen they're not gonna allocate the work they're not going to allocate the fruits of the labor in in anything like the inequality we have now and that's a way of locating in the core of the economy the kind of human relationships in the daily job that will really make the democracy real we always wonder in America why people don't vote why they don't take the democratic process seriously in their political life in their communities well the answer is very clear from Marxism you're not going to get that kind of political behavior because in the daily life at the workplace where everybody who's an adult and able mentally and physically spends most of their life at work is a place where democracy has been exclude we're a tiny number of people make all of the decisions and where we all have to live with the results without participating that's the opposite of democracy and I think if we had a system that was built in this alternative way if as a nation we dared even to discuss and debate this rather than pretending there are no alternate is I think we would taken a giant step towards doing something about these problems much more fundamental than the adjustments here and there that people mostly talk about well professor Wolff unfortunately we're running out of time I have a billion other questions to ask you and I hope that you will return so we can have more conversations on this but I will ask you one final question for those who are persuaded they're convinced what can we do to push toward this type of system what kind of action items would you recommend well the first thing would be to make our politics diverse you know we've been struggling for years in this country to make ourselves religiously diverse ethnically diverse gender wise diverse and all the rest but we are not yet willing or daring enough to make ourselves conceptually diverse Nancy Pelosi answered a young man's question and a few years ago about capitalism and socialism by looking confused and saying we're all capitalists exactly the two parties are different interpretations of how to strengthen support and promote capitalism I have no problem with that what I do though think is a tremendous disservice to America is not to have a political party either one of them or a new one that begins to say there are alternatives here's what they look like here's how we might get there so that there could finally be a conversation in the United States that is broader how best do we manage capitalism and opens the question of the diverse systems that actually are out there that we ought to be able to discuss and decide among professor wolf thank you so much for joining us today it was an absolute pleasure and I encourage everyone to check out economic update it's a very great podcast and I love when you compare some of the industries here in the United States including the airline industry to how things have been done differently in other countries in other systems and it just I think debunks a lot of the misconceptions that people have because of the fear-mongering on socialism again thank you for joining us I really appreciate it thank you for the opportunity and I would be glad to continue it in the future thank you

23 thoughts on “Socialism vs Capitalism with Prof. Richard Wolff (Full Interview)

  • Been following every word of PhD Richard Wolff for over a decade… that dude knows his Economic systems! 🙂

  • If you think that America is an epitome of capitalism, then you really have to check your premises. The US has a central bank that does central planning, a massive multi-trillion dollar welfare state, countless corporate subsidies and bailouts, 76,000+ pages of regulations, a tax code that is riddled with special interest loopholes, and a warfare state that spends trillions of dollars on foreign entanglements that don't require US intervention. There is a CLEAR distinction between capitalism and corporatism.

  • Funny thing, Zhor'i don't have recessions or depressions in their economy, but they also don't have currency.

    Insert Unintelligible Dumbass: "MY BRAIN LOSS CELLS READING THAT! YOU SHOULDN'T SAY SUCH THINGS! HUMANS ARE WONDERFUL! WE ARE MADE FROM GOD'S IMAGE!" <- Out of all of the genocide humans have conducted, this right here being wiped off the face of the planet would be legitimate.

    Yet… Humans persist not acknowledging the existence of extraterrestrials. We are obviously baiting the aliens to conquer us at this point. They should treat it as such, use their telepathy to wipe out our minds of everything we know, then shape us as they see fit. Then let us develop our own competency and grant us independence as we earn that liberty.

    Doing things as they currently are is beyond stupid for a human. It is stupid for an advance life form that knows how to travel through a worm hole in space and time.

    Zhor'i, Galactic Society, all extraterrestrials and hyperterrestrials throughout the entire Omniverse, listen and heed my words, conquer this pitiful population, wipe out their minds, shape their behavior, culture and intelligence directly, and grant them independence as they meet your expectations. Do not allow them to proceed hence forth as they currently are. Take control and use PBIS to manipulate human behavior to be less of the induced mental headache it currently has become.

  • So Zuckerberg's, Gates', Bezo's and so on are just a bunch of thieves helped by our government to enslave and abuse people.

  • Well the kind of alternative vision for societal organization that he mentions is already here. Bernie the other day talked about legislation that would grant workers ownership in companies and give some of them positions on the Board of Directors.

  • A theory of why capitalism is cyclical might need to go deeper, into the monetary system itself. Remember 'capitol' is not just machines and tools, it's money. And money earns interest due to it's liquidity (which derives from society not the individual holder of money). Eliminate the return on money and capitol goods should follow, breaking the power dynamic which allows someone holding capitol to force workers into exploitative wage conditions.

  • this dumb ass doesn't understand I take it that the reason for the business cycle is the inefficiencies created mostly by various government interventions, government backing up of some people vs others, government laws, taxes. Of-course it is not only government that creates inefficiencies, the recession/depression CLEARS the inefficiencies, so these things are DESIRED*, they shouldn't be stopped. Nobody can stop inefficiencies from piling up, they can only prolong the period of time when the inefficiencies accumulate thus turning the recessions into really bad depressions when the system *inevitably crashes to clear out bad debts.

  • People finally are getting to find out what a socialism could look like. I rather have cooperatives and collective work environments over a boss structure. I prefer a socialism.

  • It is quite customary to liken the entrepreneurs and capitalists of the market economy to the aristocrats of a status society.  The basis  of the comparison is the relative riches of both groups as against the relatively straitened conditions of the rest of their fellowmen.  However, in resorting to this simile, one fails to realize the fundamental difference between aristocratic riches and “bourgeois” or  capitalistic riches.

    The wealth of an aristocrat is not a market phenomenon; it does not originate from supplying the consumers and cannot be withdrawn or even affected by any action on the part of the public.  It stems from conquest or from largess on the part of a conqueror. It may come to an  end through revocation on the part of the donor or through violent eviction on the part of another conqueror, or it may be dissipated by  extravagance.  The feudal lord does not serve consumers and is immune to the displeasure of the populace.

    The entrepreneurs and capitalists owe their wealth to the people who patronize their businesses.  They lose it inevitably as soon as other men supplant them in serving the consumers better or more cheaply.

    It is not the task of this essay to describe the historical conditions which brought about the institutions of caste and status, of the subdivision of peoples into hereditary groups with different ranks, rights, claims, and legally sanctified privileges or disabilities. What alone is of importance for us is the fact that the preservation of these feudal institutions was incompatible with the system of  capitalism. Their abolition and the establishment of the principle of equality under the law removed the barriers that prevented mankind from enjoying all those benefits which the system of private ownership of the means of production and private enterprise makes possible.

    Ludwig von Mises, The Anti-Capitlistic Mentality

  • So if robots in a factory continue to replace human labor, and Wolff is advocating this such change without wages lost; then does everyone get a raise to make up for the lost hours? Ex. 40 + hour week divided by 2 is 20 hours b/c of automation. The workers are still employed but the hours are cut in half. Neither Anna nor Richard explained how business would deal with such an infrastructure along this narrative.

  • Dr. Richard Wolff's comment about why people in the United States are, for the most part, apathetic towards political participation is very insightful. It really makes a lot of sense. If you have never seen democracy practiced in the most important aspects of your day to day life, how can you possibly be convinced as to its effectiveness in other areas? If the corporate culture that most of us work in inures us to the concept that a handful of elites makes all the decisions for us, then it stands to reason that this mindset will be carried over into other areas of life. It is truly the irony of ironies that we sing patriotic songs about our democracy, and sell citizens on the false notion that we send our troops overseas to kill and be killed because we want to spread democracy, but nearly every aspect of our day to day existence is the exact antithesis of democracy.

  • A little bit of Marxism and socialism could work but not in this world where everyone is just greedy, blood thirsty pricks..

  • i wanted to see cenk talk to mr wolf , that little book he wrote might clear up some things up for him. Then he can school his awkward commie lovin’ nephew when he gets smart!

  • What exactly are the mechanics of what Wolff is proposing? Are existing companies to be converted by gov't fiat into worker-owned cooperatives? What about publicly traded companies? Is all stock then worthless? If worker-owned coops are the only allowed governance, does that scale to all types of businesses across all sizes? Is there a precedent for any of this: a (non-poor) country that has an economy that closely resembles Wolff's suggestions?

  • He is talking about coop. They are great! 1 person 1 vote and they would nvr outsource their own jobs. They would give themselves living wages, healthcare, paid sick days, ect.

    As per UBI the govt already gives out money with weak oversight. I hv worked in SS bldgs. The skill it takes to master scam ss office could get them a job at the ss office. But getting ppl 1k helps the flow of money to buy basics. It only adds to those that work for under min wage. The bums that still choose not to work well they will always exist.

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