Richard D. Wolff
Richard David Wolff (born April 1, 1942) is an American Marxian economist, known for his work on economic methodology and class analysis. He is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University in New York. Wolff has also taught economics at Yale University, City University of New York, University of Utah, University of Paris I (Sorbonne), and The Brecht Forum in New York City.
Not be confused with Richard Wolffe
Global Capitalism Monthly Update (12 March 2014)
- A corporation has a tiny minority of people at the top, executives and the board of directors, who make all the decisions. Workers are forced to live with their decisions, yet have no voice in such decisions. I say it is time to bring democracy to the workplace.
- Workers must control the workplace: If workers made the decisions, do you really think they would vote to outsource their own jobs to China? Of course not. Would workers vote to pollute their own air and water and poison their own kids just to make an extra nickel in profit? Of course not.
- The wealth gap between rich and poor is the result of a board of directors dividing up the profits and keeping the lion’s share for themselves.
- If you don’t want inequality, don’t unequally redistribute it in the first place: Workers must equitably distribute all profit equally to all workers. After all, profit is merely surplus value of labor, and that belongs to all workers.
- Now, do you think workers would vote to unequally redistribute profits? Of course not. They would vote for equitable distribution.
- So to change inequality in our nation, we must change the organization of the workplace. Until you do that, you’re not serious. You won’t solve any problems by redistributing: Even if you have progressive income tax, the rich will always figure out a way to hide their fortune in overseas tax shelters. So the solution is to equitably distribute profits in the first place.
- When workers make the decisions, you stop outsourcing jobs, you stop the wealth gap, you stop inequality.
- Workers must form worker-run cooperatives. Then we can buy goods and services only from worker-run cooperatives, and that would end global sweatshop slavery.
- College students are not happy with answers from professors. Students are challenging them. A tension is growing. Students are chained to student debt they cannot possibly pay back…. This system no longer works for them, and they know it.
We Need a More Humane Economic System—Not One That Only Benefits the Rich (December 26, 2018)
- Richard Wolff: We Need a More Humane Economic System—Not One That Only Benefits the Rich (December 26, 2018), Democracy Now!
- We’ve had an economy that never really escaped the crash of 2008. In a way, the last 10 years have been an economy on life support: vast amounts of money pumped into the economy; record drops in interest rates, inviting everybody—business, individuals, governments—to borrow money—a debt-sustained situation. And after a while, you can’t mount up the debt on the basis of an economy that hasn’t really gotten going. And we’re seeing the eventual break. You know, the capitalist system has a downturn every four to seven years. It’s had that for centuries. And the last big downturn was 2008 and '09. So, if you do four and seven, and you add it to nine, we're due for one. And every major stock market observer, bank and so on predicts that we’re having a downturn. So it’s really only a question of exactly when. And the stock market anticipates this. And so we’re having, in a way, economic chickens coming home to roost. And the notion that it’s just the Fed’s policy that explains this is really the kind of remark that would get a student a very low grade in any economics course.
- Well, you know, the irony is, it’s one of the bizarre ways an economy works. There was no incentive to take all that money and go in and produce things that might have driven up prices and so on, because the people in America can’t afford to buy it. Our wages have been stagnant. The debts have been so big that people are afraid to borrow the way they once did, even though they still do, but not at the growing scale as before. So, all that extra money kind of went into the stock market to make itself make quick money by buying shares, hoping that they would go up. And if all the rich people who get it into their hands do that kind of thing, you see the stock market go up, but the underlying economy doesn’t go anywhere. And again, after a while, that’s not a sustainable arrangement.
- On why hasn’t inflation increased dramatically in the U.S despite the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low.
- The underlying reality of most people, which is reflected in our politics, is one of bitterness and anger and resentment that they are not participating in this so-called recovery. And now the rich are also facing the falling apart of this house of cards as the market tumbles down. And poor Mr. Trump, having staked his reputation on a rising market, is now confronted with a declining one and is looking for a scapegoat, which Mr. Powell, his own appointee, is providing to him.
- Companies around the world cannot make plans, cannot make investments, cannot make assumptions about what’s going to happen, because we don’t know what he’s going to do, we don’t know what the Chinese are going to do. But, you know, there’s a more deep historical problem here. And it’s really American history. When we became an independent nation, it was partly because we were held back—tea party, remember?—by the British. They had a rule: They wanted the colony to be subordinate. We didn’t want to do that as Americans, and we ended up pushing back against the control, the effort to hold back American development. We went to two wars: the Revolutionary War and, again, the War of 1812. The history records are not good about trying to squelch an upcoming economic power. China is today’s upcoming economic power. The effort to squelch and stop it is both likely to fail and extremely dangerous, because these trade wars have a nasty habit of becoming military.
- We have a lot of employment, but the quality of the jobs has collapsed over the last 10 years. The people who work now used to be people who had a job with good income, good benefits and good security. The jobs, overwhelmingly, created have none of those things: low wages—that’s why our wages have gone nowhere; bad benefits—those are shrinking, pensions and so on; and the security is virtually gone. One of our biggest problems in America is people don’t know one week to the next what hours they’re working, what income they’ll get. You can’t have a life like this. So, what we’ve done is we’ve ratcheted down the quality of jobs. We’ve made people use up their savings since the great crash of 2008, so they’re in a bind. They have really no choice but to offer themselves at lower wages or at less benefit or at less security than before, which is why there’s the anger, which is why there was the vote for Mr. Trump in the first place, because this talk of recovery really is about that stock market with the funny money that the Fed Reserve pumped in, but is not about the real lives of people, which are in serious trouble, hence the numbers, like a average American family can’t get a $400 emergency cost because it doesn’t have that kind of money in the background. So, you’ve undone the underlying economy, you have this frothy stock market for the 1 percent, and this is an impossible tension tearing the country apart.
- A country that promises it is committed to democracy has never faced the fact that in the enterprise we don’t have democracy. We have a tiny group of people making all the decisions. And that’s not a good idea. And maybe now we can face that the decisions they’ve made, individually and collectively, have plunged us into a situation where we cannot afford the luxury of not facing basic questions about how our economy is organized. We should have done it for the last 50 years. Maybe this new generation of young people coming into the Congress will begin that conversation and, hopefully, bring us along into a national debate on these subjects, which is long overdue.
- Well, you know, easiest way to summarize it: We have been following—and, unfortunately, Democrats, too—something called trickle-down economics. We do economic policy where we help the folks at the top—we bail out the big banks, we give a tariff benefit—and we hope it trickles down, which it rarely does. First thing they can do, reverse it. Let’s do trickle-up economics. You help the people at the bottom, in all the different ways that we know how to do because the FDR regime back in the ’30s did a lot of that. So we know how to do it. [...] Do it—well, put people to work. Put people to work doing socially useful things at a decent income, not working in a fast-food restaurant under unbearable personal situations. Here’s another one: this greening of America. There’s a project that could help millions of people in a direct way. Let’s kind of do that.
- We did them before. The minimum wage should be raised, and dramatically. We should be helping all the kinds of people who have been denied help. We should be making sure that jobs are secure, that jobs have proper benefits, that we’re enhancing the benefits—all the things that could help the folks at the bottom have the money to spend, that will trickle up into the profits and revenues of business. That’s a more humane system. And, you know, even if it doesn’t work as much as we want it to, at least we will have helped the majority of people. What we have now is trickle-down, that helps those of the top, and then, when it doesn’t trickle down, what have we got? We’ve helped those at the top—again. The focus on trickle-up would be an alternation in our policy that’s long overdue.
Wolff responds to Trump's "State of the Union" address (6 February 2019)
- Wolff responds to Trump's "State of the Union" address, (6 February 2019)
- Let's be clear about some things: over the last 20 years the United States has had a hard time achieving economic growth. The last year or two are slightly better, parts of them than the previous ones, and there's no mystery for that: it's because the government gave an enormous boost to the economy. Let me say that again: not private enterprise, not private capitalist corporations, the government gave an enormous boost. What was the form of the boost? The 2017 tax cut in December of that year, which gave corporations a vast amount of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes they don't have to pay anymore, freeing up that money for them to do whatever they want with; and they mostly used it to increase salaries of executives, to buy back shares of stock in the stock market. All of which was very good for the top one percent, but not for the rest of the American people. All of that is hidden under the rug by Mr. Trump. But even the performance, getting our growth rate up to 3% for a part of that time, even though it's averaging out to two and a half to three percent, that that's the best in the world, that's just a lie!
- Let me give you an example: simply the People's Republic of China. They're having a bad year, they're only growing...ready? 6.5%. Which is lower than what they've been able to do for most of the last 15 or 20 years. The Chinese economy has become the second most important in the world because they systematically grow, you got it, faster than the United States. The real wages of Chinese workers, the average amount of money they get adjusted for inflation, has quadrupled in the last 12, 15 years. What happened to the average wage in America, adjusted for inflation? It hardly budged. It went up single digits, not 3-4 times. The experience of the economies in these two countries could not be more different. Excluding that from the conversation - prancing around as if the economy here is the envy of the world - that's not just nonsense. That's straight out lying; and it is meant to position himself as the special person.
- The second economic reality I would want to talk about, is the fact that he spent more time in this State of the Union message demonizing immigrants than on any other topic. Stories of immigrants being bad, stories of invasions coming, wild exaggerations that have no basis in fact. Let me give you the simplest economics with which to understand that: the United States is an economy of three hundred and twenty five million people; the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States is estimated between 10 and 12 million. Okay you don't need rocket science to understand that nothing that you can do to those poor 10 to 12 million of the lowest paid people in our economy is gonna change the economic conditions for 325 million Americans. Focusing on immigrants is pure scapegoating; it's focusing people on something that doesn't matter because you don't want them to focus on what does matter.
- And here's the third and most important point about this president's bizarre speech: not one word was uttered about inequality. It is the starkest feature of American economic life in the last 40 years. It has gotten worse literally every year, and with the tax cut of 2017, Mr. Trump added his extra to making the inequality even greater than it had been before. Corporations would give an enormous amount of money; back they used it to speculate in the stock market; buy back the shares of their own companies, boosting the amount of money that executives and shareholders get; widening the inequality.
- And then the final twist: he spent a few minutes prancing at the stage saying we will not have socialism, socialism has been recurring or coming back. Mr. Trump, the biggest single cause of Americans interest in socialism is because the economy, the capitalist economy you represent, hasn't worked real well for the majority of people. The inequality you inherited, and made worse, has increased the interest in socialism. You don't like socialism! You're the biggest booster of it in this country. You're the one! You're blind as to what is going on. Your fakery in order to promote yourself politically, is in a way the most dangerous misunderstanding and misleadership that this society cannot now afford, given what is happening to it.
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism (2020)
- The desperate policies of panic-driven governments involve throwing huge amounts of money at the economies collapsed in response to the coronavirus threat. Monetary authorities create money and lend it at extremely low interest rates to the major corporations and especially big banks "to get them through the crisis." Government treasuries borrow vast sums to get the collapsed economy back into what they imagine is "the normal, pre-virus economy." Capitalism's leaders are rushing into policy failures because of their ideological blinders.
- The problem of policies aimed to return the economy to what it was before the virus hit is this: Global capitalism, by 2019, was itself a major cause of the collapse in 2020. Capitalism's scars from the crashes of 2000 and 2008-2009 had not healed. Years of low interest rates had enabled corporations and governments to "solve" all their problems by borrowing limitlessly at almost zero interest rate cost. All the new money pumped into economies by central banks had indeed caused the feared inflation, but chiefly in stock markets whose prices consequently spiraled dangerously far away from underlying economic values and realities. Inequalities of income and wealth reached historic highs. In short, capitalism had built up vulnerabilities to another crash that any number of possible triggers could unleash. The trigger this time was not the dot.com meltdown of 2000 or the sub-prime meltdown of 2008/9; it was a virus. And of course, mainstream ideology requires focusing on the trigger, not the vulnerability. Thus mainstream policies aim to reestablish pre-virus capitalism. Even if they succeed, that will return us to a capitalist system whose accumulated vulnerabilities will soon again collapse from yet another trigger.
- In the light of the coronavirus pandemic, I focus criticism on capitalism and the vulnerabilities it has accumulated for several reasons. Viruses are part of nature. They have attacked human beings—sometimes dangerously—in both distant and recent history. In 1918, the Spanish Flu killed nearly 700,000 in the United States and millions elsewhere. Recent viruses include SARS, MERS and Ebola. What matters to public health is each society's preparedness: stockpiled tests, masks, ventilators, hospital beds, trained personnel, etc., to manage dangerous viruses. In the U.S., such objects are produced by private capitalist enterprises whose goal is profit. It was not profitable to produce and stockpile such products, that was not and still is not being done. Nor did the U.S. government produce or stockpile those medical products. Top U.S. government personnel privilege private capitalism; it is their primary objective to protect and strengthen. The result is that neither private capitalism nor the U.S. government performed the most basic duty of any economic system: to protect and maintain public health and safety. U.S. capitalism's response to the coronavirus pandemic continues to be what it has been since December 2019: too little, too late. It failed. It is the problem.
- The second reason I focus on capitalism is that the responses to today's economic collapse by Trump, the GOP and most Democrats carefully avoid any criticism of capitalism. They all debate the virus, China, foreigners, other politicians, but never the system they all serve. When Trump and others press people to return to churches and jobs—despite risking their and others' lives—they place reviving a collapsed capitalism ahead of public health.
- The third reason capitalism gets blame here is that alternative systems—those not driven by a profit-first logic—could manage viruses better. While not profitable to produce and stockpile everything needed for a viral pandemic, it is efficient. The wealth already lost in this pandemic far exceeds the cost to have produced and stockpiled the tests and ventilators, the lack of which is contributing so much to today's disaster. Capitalism often pursues profit at the expense of more urgent social needs and values. In this, capitalism is grossly inefficient. This pandemic is now bringing that truth home to people.
- A worker-coop based economy—where workers democratically run enterprises, deciding what, how and where to produce, and what to do with any profits—could, and likely would, put social needs and goals (like proper preparation for pandemics) ahead of profits. Workers are the majority in all capitalist societies; their interests are those of the majority. Employers are always a small minority; theirs are the "special interests" of that minority. Capitalism gives that minority the position, profits and power to determine how the society as a whole lives or dies. That's why all employees now wonder and worry about how long our jobs, incomes, homes and bank accounts will last—if we still have them. A minority (employers) decides all those questions and excludes the majority (employees) from making those decisions, even though that majority must live with their results. Of course, the top priority now is to put public health and safety first. To that end, employees across the country are now thinking about refusing to obey orders to work in unsafe job conditions. U.S. capitalism has thus placed a general strike on today's social agenda. A close second priority is to learn from capitalism's failure in the face of the pandemic. We must not suffer such a dangerous and unnecessary social breakdown again. Thus system change is now also moving onto today's social agenda.
- Richard D. Wolff's website
- Democracy@Work, a YouTube series hosted by Richard Wolff
- Richard D. Wolff's UMASS webpage (with Stephen A Resnick)
- Wolff's faculty profile at The New School
- Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture and Society
- Democracy at Work A social movement "for greater economic democracy" co-founded by Dr. Wolff
- Richard D. Wolff on IMDb
- Capitalism's Stunning Contradiction on YouTube
- Richard D. Wolff on Charlie Rose
- Capitalism in Crisis: Richard Wolff Urges End to Austerity, New Jobs Program, Democratizing Work. Democracy Now! March 25, 2013.
- The Empire Files: Understanding Marxism and Socialism with Richard Wolff. The Real News, March 21, 2016.
- Poverty Has Always Accompanied Capitalism. Truthout. July 3, 2016.