Capitalism vs. Socialism: A Soho Forum Debate

Capitalism vs. Socialism: A Soho Forum Debate

Capitalism is unstable, capitalism is unequal, and capitalism is fundamentally undemocratic. I want people to make their own choices about how they live their lives, the professions they lead, where they want to work, and what they do. And capitalism offers that potential. Slavery it did it with masters and slaves, feudalism did it with lords and serfs, capitalism does it with employers and employees. Capitalism, private property, is necessary although not sufficient to a free and open society. Please come up to the stage debaters two young men in the prime of their lives, Richard Wolff, who will be who will be defending the proposition socialism is preferable to capitalism as an economic system that promotes freedom equality and prosperity. Gene Epstein will be taking the negative on that. Each candidate, the way this will work is that each debater will have 17 and a half minutes, and that last thirty seconds when it comes you’ll understand why it’s there, but each of them will have 17 minutes and 30 seconds to lay out an initial case. They’ll do five minutes each of rebuttal. I’m gonna beat them up a little bit with a moderators prerogative on some questions, then we’re gonna open it up to 30 minutes or more of audience Q&A. Five minutes each of closing statements—seven and a half and again those 30 seconds, you know this is where the world changes in those 30 seconds, and then we will take another vote, and we’ll see who is the big winner. Gene could you please—and if you haven’t voted yet, you’ve got about five seconds to go. Please make a vote. Either vote for the proposition, against it, or undecided. You need to vote now in order to vote later. And without further ado let’s have Richard Wolff come up and explain to us why socialism is preferable to capitalism as an economic system that promotes freedom, equality, and prosperity. Richard Wolff you have the stage. Thank you all for coming I assume that socialism is the reason that you came either for it or against
it and I hope that the things I have to say will make some sense of it for you I
did want to comment on the notion that Reason magazine is free and that the
understanding Marxism book costs money and I want to urge you not to invert
from the price what the values of these things are that would be a mistake it
would be confusing the price with the value and for those of you that know
something about socialist theory that’s something you want to avoid okay socialism preferable to capitalism my
basic argument is that’s a very low bar that’s not asking much and I want to
make that case as strongly as I know how but I have a problem in the very
beginning as I always do traveling around this country talking about this
and that is we are like bears in this country coming out of a hibernation
about seventy years of it since 1945 when everything changed from in a
society in which socialists communists Marxists occupied all the normal
positions in society as teachers and workers and bureaucrats and unionists
when we had a new deal that celebrated many of the objectives socialists have
always supported it is across the United States had a big picture over the war
the clerk’s office where you bought stamps and there was Uncle Sam with his
hat arm and arm with Uncle Joe which stood for Joseph Stalin after that there was not so surprisingly
a terrible reaction the business community and the right-wing in America
was horrified that for the 1930s we had had a program of raising taxes on
corporations and the rich in order to fund the creation for the first time in
American history of Social Security unemployment compensation the first
minimum wage and a public employment project that hired fifteen million
people the rich had to pay and the mass of the Americans got the benefits this
was so horrific it freaked out the forerunners of the Koch brothers and
then an alliance with the Soviet Union finished off whoever wasn’t freaked out
already and so in 1945 everything had to be
undone New Deal coalition for those of you who remember your history socialists
communists the CIO unions representing tens of millions of American workers
they’re the ones that made all that happen they are the ones that made
Roosevelt do all those things and they had to be defeated and they were the way
you break up a coalition is you find the weakest link or what you can make out to
be the weakest link and suddenly communists and socialists who had been
the militants making the 1930s the greatest unionization period in American
history they never had anything like it before we’ve never had anything like it
since communists had to be transformed and likewise socialists from the great
allies in the war from the great Vanguard of social programs in the 30s
they became agents of a foreign power likely to be interested in strangling
your cat and they had to be driven out of a unions at nineteen forty-seven
taft-hartley driven out of their teaching jobs driven out of the
consciousness of the American people who were
terrorized about being interested in those things as they have mostly been in
the last 40 50 60 70 years a personal note when I went to college as a young
person I was interested in learning about Marxism and I asked my teachers in
the university what course can I take to learn about Marxism half my teachers
explained to me there isn’t any nobody here knows anything about it the other
half said oh we know about it but we’re way too scared we’re not going to teach
you anything about it in my undergraduate and my graduate years and
I majored in economics I’m an economics professor here’s a fact no one ever in
any economics course assigned me one word of Karl Marx is that because he had
nothing to teach us don’t be silly they were just afraid 75 years of fear
there’s nothing smart and nothing excusable in any of that oh and let me
mention since it might be of some interest to you
the three schools I attended were Harvard Stanford and Yale and if they
don’t have the courage what can you expect from Eastern Kentucky so I have a
problem to talk to you about socialism because unless you are a very unusual
American and there are some or a foreigner because the situation is
different abroad you don’t know much about socialism or what you do know is
75 years out of date because it’s changed a lot as I’m going to point out
to you as I go through the argument ok let’s do it
socialists disagree they always have from the beginning
socialism is a product of capitalism it always was there was no socialism before
capitalism came into being why because capitalism in the French and
American revolutions made a big fat promise when it asked people to leave
the feudalism that existed before and shift over to capitalism it made the
promise as in the French Revolution that capitalism would bring with it liberty
equality fraternity and let’s add democracy and prosperity socialism is
the movement that recognizes that what capitalism promised liberty equality
fraternity and democracy wasn’t delivered and never was and the
socialism is a movement which if it has anything in common among its different
tendencies is a notion that we can do better than capitalism it’s a yearning
to do better it’s the kind of yearning slaves had to go beyond slavery or serfs
to go beyond feudalism employees and the people who empathize with them figure we
can go better and do better than capitalism that’s what socialism is
beyond that socialists agree about three four floors failures of capitalism and
again briefly to go through them but they’re three capitalism is unstable
capitalism is unequal and capitalism is fundamentally undemocratic let me
briefly explain unstable every 47 years in every capitalist country on average
there’s an economic downturn not due to nature and not due to war just built
into the system it’s called the business cycle because it always comes back
millions of people lose work businesses go out of business a crazy crash you
know what it’s like if you pick up the financial press you know we’re waiting
for the next one to hit this year or next mr. Trump’s biggest worry about
being reelected is that it’ll happen too soon he worries as we all do
it’s an unstable system that’s crazy to live in a Sun stable system if you
live with a roommate as unstable as capitalism you would have moved out long
ago what an amazing thing to accept a system that every four to seven years
threatens millions of people with unemployment lost income interrupted
vacation interrupted education lost mortgage you name it then let’s do the
next one inequality Oxfam in England keeps track
of these things and the latest number from them summarizes it all the 80 or 90
richest people in the United States together excuse me in the world have
more wealth than the bottom half of the population three and a half billion
people that’s the achievement of capitalism that kind of distribution if
you took away half the wealth of those eighty to a hundred people guess what
they’d still be the richest people in the world only you’d now have a vast
amount of money to deal with the sickness the lack of education the
absence of water the insufficiency of food of the vast majority of people what
an achievement such inequality and now finally the lack of democracy the part
of it you probably know and thought about is the buying of our political
process on display every day everywhere you all see it you all know it but
here’s a part of the lack of democracy you might not have thought about long
ago we got rid of kings queens we decided we didn’t need somebody sitting
at the top of society telling us all what to do so that we would all be or
let’s call it subjects that’s what they called us so we got rid of the kings and
queens and we said no you know we can we run this in a different way this
political system we can all get together we can periodically vote and take steps
and collectively make the decisions that used to be in the hands of the kings and
the queens how interesting we democratized at least a little the
politics and what we didn’t do was to democratize the economics so what do we
have inside each enterprise a little king an owner a manager a Board of
Directors a king in his Court who run everything will make all the key
decisions what to produce how to produce where to produce and what to do with the
profits everybody in the enterprise helps to produce if it’s too difficult
for you to hear me out then it’s a sign that I’m getting to you thanks we’re
good please keep going please please hear a
professor wolf please respect professor wolf we don’t have democracy in our
workplaces we never did the commitment to democracy is verbal in this society
limited to that voting activity where we live but not where we work and as adults
that’s where we spend most of our time going to work being at work and
recuperating from work in the workplace no democracy at all we do what we’re
told what we produce belongs to somebody else and we have no say over what they
do with it how this is organized what the technology is and socialists
therefore have said my god we can do better than capitalism and that’s what
they want and that’s what they agree on but here’s where the disagreements how
do you go about it what do you do and we have a benefit socialists do today we
have some experiments that were made in the 20th century Russia China Cuba
and so on and we learned from those experiments what works and what doesn’t
what should be pursued and what should be set aside and so the new socialism
and if you’re not aware of it that has to go back to what I said at the
beginning you haven’t been keeping up which is hard to do in a society which
makes socialism a taboo what has happened to socialism is a refocusing of
itself it’s not interested so much in the state doing things that achieved
rapid rates of economic growth true enough but it also left too much power
in the hands of too few people and that has to be addressed and dealt with which
socialists have been doing and the new focus a new focus of socialism is to do
something at the workplace that was never done
to go beyond capitalism in the organization of the workplace to
democratize the workplace to make where we spend most of our adult lives at work
a place where democracy reigns where all the people who work in an enterprise
participate in making the decisions of what to produce how to produce where to
produce and what to do with the profits because if they all together made those
decisions we wouldn’t give some people a hundred and fifty billion dollars and
other people have to borrow money to get their kid through college we wouldn’t
have the inequality we certainly wouldn’t allow the irrationality of
every four to seven year instability everybody together would choose a
technology that isn’t dangerous to the health of all of us at the workplace we
could go beyond the capitalism but we have to have the courage to do what was
not yet done not in Roosevelt’s New Deal and not in Russia or China either the
transformation at the base of society into a Democrat eyes workplace that’s
the new direction of socialism that’s where socialism will be in
21st century that we are now entering it’s a new and a different socialism it
has learned from its own earlier experiences and experiments two little
footnotes capitalism did not emerge out of feudalism all finished in one swell
foop did it if you know the history you’ll know that capitalism started in
this town in that town in that village in that area often it didn’t last more
than a few weeks or a few months sometimes a few years and then it was
crushed by feudalism and they had to figure out how to survive and they had
to get together it took centuries socialism isn’t born all at once either
it makes its early experiments it had won in the Paris Commune in 1870 and
then it had some other experiments in the 20th century that I’ve mentioned and
just like with capitalism you learn from your experiments how to make it better
next time how to correct the mistakes you made in the project that has
animated socialists from the beginning we can do better than capitalism and
there is no reason that the human progress that took us beyond ancient
villages and tribes and slavery and feudalism should imagine itself to have
stopped at this point every other system was born evolved and died capitalism we
know was born and evolved I’ll leave it to your inference as to what it is doing
now thank you right thank you Richard Wolffe follow
him follow him on Twitter at at Richard D wolf with two EPs and now taking the
opposite side is Jean Epstein follow him at Gina at Jean Soho for him
Jean Upstate what is he by the way there are seats up front for
people who are in the back and I want to apologize to professor Wolff for that
outburst that was very brewed we don’t run the Scylla forum that way and and
thank you for professor Wolff for being gracious about that well let me start it
is a pleasure to share a stage with Richard Wolff who I consider my alter
ego in a parallel universe we both came of age as socialists in my case from age
1 since my mother was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party and I have
our FBI file to prove it you could always tell who the FBI agents
were in the party because they were the only ones who paid their dues on time
Richard Richard paid his dues by getting an economics PhD at Yale followed by a
career advocating socialism I paid my dues by evolving into a different kind
of radical a bleeding-heart freedom-loving advocate of capitalism I
believe that even the deeply flawed capitalism we have now heavily distorted
by a government interference on behalf of the powerful is preferable by far to
Richard’s socialism in promoting freedom prosperity and equality
Richard bears a very heavy burden of proof because his socialism has never
existed he repudiates my mother’s Soviet Union
my mother’s favorite Cuba he has indeed called these systems state capitalist
I’m glad he’s learned from their mistakes since their mistakes has in
fact of course cost the blood of tens of millions of innocent people he wants the
economy as he explains in his book democracy at work a cure for capitalism
he wants the economy reorganized around workers self-directed enterprises in
which employees owned and democratically run companies and keep the broadly
defined profits or surplus that normally go to the employers I fully support
what Richard calls employees becoming their own employers so long as people
freely choose that arrangement Richard thinks such firms are a substitute for
capitalism but there are actually just another option that capitalism offers
nothing about the system of practicing of protecting property rights of firms
in a free market dictates how these firms must be structured Richard himself
has written about the quote varying kinds and degrees of democracy in the
workplace which already exist based on these cases he observes quote workplace
democracy responds to deep needs and desires
unquote but these deep needs and desires seem to run only skin-deep Richard has
written that in today’s worker owned enterprises quote it might be legally
possible for worker owners to transform the enterprise so that they become not
only owners but also collectively directors
however he concedes that has very rarely happened well no doubt it very rarely
happens because workers very rarely want it to happen but the move to workers
self-directed enterprises can happen in the capitalist system if workers do want
it to happen start with the fact that the bottom half of the population
accounts for one third of all consumer spending the bottom four fifths for
nearly two-thirds give adding up to trillions of dollars per year on the
investment side there’s over a trillion dollars in labor union pension funds
domestically and an estimated forty 40 trillion a worldwide held by living in
pension funds all this financial firepower could be marshaled to make
workers self-directed enterprises the dominant mode of production and it would
be true to the 1960s view that radical change
must be implemented by the same people who seek to be the embodiment of that
radical change but being willing of workers to follow the Marxist
playbook is as old as Marxism itself around 1980 democratic socialists like
Michael Harrington and Tom Hayden advocated a bottom-up socialism similar
to Richards but they acknowledged that without the coercive power of government
worker owned enterprises quote are almost impossible to get off the ground
as two of them wrote Richard might argue that it’s okay to use government power
to try to jumpstart workers self-directed firms since government
often rigs the game anyway but a Marxist like Richard should be deeply troubled
by the old contradiction of radical change from below being being
implemented by the force of government from above and beyond that he would use
government to socialize finance and the allocation of labor that’s why he and I
are taking opposite sides in this debate he advocates a full-blown form of
socialism that will put freedom prosperity and equality under siege just
like the old socialism’s did but let’s go all the way with Richard and assume
that a socialist political party wins at the ballot box with two-thirds of the
electorate voting for its candidates since two-thirds is normally interpreted
in politics as a mandate the government makes Richards socialism a reality but
voting for a radical idea in a voting booth is very different from a full and
active commitment to that idea so let’s not assume that the 2/3 have anticipated
the real consequences of what they voted for Richard writes that apart from doing
our assigned jobs workers would each be quote democratically and collectively
given fully equal participation in decision-making over their own
enterprise and over the broad economy unquote he adds somewhat ominously quote
no one could work without engaging in both roles
there will be a need for financing under Richard socialism both to create new
worker owned companies and to provide funds for enterprises that want to
expand they quote obvious alternative writes Richard to the existing sources
of finance is quote socialized banking consisting of quote workers self workers
self-directed enterprises where workers and communities affected by bank
policies together direct and operate banks so Richard would shut down the
nearly fifty billion raised annually through crowdfunding and the several
hundred billion raised through various forms of venture capital and Finance is
not the only function he would relegate to the power of politics he also
proposes a quote specialized agency that would quote always know from constant
monitoring monitoring which existing enterprises need more laborers which
have registered the wish to commence new production all the relevant skill and
experience requirements and where effective laborers and enterprises are
located unquote he adds that the agencies reports would be submitted to
all workers to aid them in making their decisions notice that he’s talking about
knowledge of the relevant skill and experience of 160 million workers in the
US across hundreds of thousands of firms that’s information the specialized
agency will quote always know from constant monitoring from my work
experience I can tell Richard that those constant monitors who keep coming around
will be the butt of jokes and the information they come away with will be
superficial when it isn’t totally misleading so in Richards world will be
recorded to our assigned jobs attend meetings about company matters and vote
on the outcomes will also have to pour over the reports of the labor allocation
financial agencies and then discuss their recommendations with many others
and vote on those outcomes I submit that only in a dystopian
nightmare can most of us imagine ourselves spending our waking hours in
this way is since the vote of any of us any one of
us can hardly determine the outcome anyway Richard approvingly uses the
1960s term participatory democracy in which we each get to participate
actively in democratic decision-making in a 1970 book called after the
revolution sociologist Robert Dowell explained the arithmetic –all
unworkability of this idea if each attendee at a meeting were given just
ten minutes to address the issue of being voted on it would take ten hours
to move on to the next issue provided there were only 60 people at the meeting
but let’s take this leap and assume the participatory democracy would be
functional many firms seeking to expand their operations will have to borrow
funds from their democratically run financial agencies while also applying
to the democratically run run labor allocation agency for more workers and
these democratically run agencies will be ruled by the vote of the majority but
to pick up on an objection raised by Atlantic magazine journalist Conor
freeters Dorf we might ask how easy will it be to get the democratically run
finance and labor allocation agencies to support the expansion plans of firms
that produce muslim prayer rugs and quran’s and the building of new mosques
freeters Dorf goes on to ask would you prefer a socialist society in which
birth control is available if and only if a majority of workers exercising
their democratic control a sense or would you prefer a society in which
private businesses can produce birth control in part because individuals
possess economic rights as producers and consumers the preferences of a majority
of people around them be damned unquote freedom self question applies to
the related issue of freedom of speech and press would you prefer a socialist
society in which dissenting journalism is available if and only if a majority
of workers exercising their democratic agrees or would you prefer a society in
which private enterprises can produce dissenting journalism the preferences of
a majority of people around them be damned so at best our freedoms would be
circumscribed by the tyranny of the majority but we don’t have to press this
decisive objection since the overwhelming likelihood is
that elected representatives and their appointees will have most of the real
power there won’t be enough hours in the day for us to even be aware of the
thousands of decisions being made each day on our behalf
special interests will form around these centres of power and as Friedrich I act
accurately predicted about conventional socialism the worst will get on top
because power-hungry people are mainly the ones who end up on top our most
beloved living ex President Barack Obama was called by the New York Times
journalist James risen quote the greatest enemy of press freedom in a
generation unquote as left-wing journalist Glenn
Greenwald has pointed out Obama used the archaic 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute
more journalists including James risen than all previous presidents combined so
freedom of speech and press is a fragile thing constantly being Assent assaulted
on all sides and especially by government if you magnify the reach and
power of government under Richards plan politicians in power can stifle dissent
by stealthily denying funds and labor to enterprises that put out information
that government doesn’t want published now take the issue of prosperity take
the force that brings prosperity innovation or what economist Joseph
Schumpeter called creative destruction Richard thinks that as long as people
can be offered another job they’ll agree to giving up their current job to allow
creative destruction to happen but since people naturally resist change
efforts at major or even minor change would likely be thwarted by special
interests reluctant reluctant to give up their established positions
imagine the response if Steve Jobs sought funding for a smartphone that
would also replace a flashlight a watch a camera a compass a calculator a
recorder CD player and GPS navigator threatening the industries that turn out
those products the pattern of obstruction will be emboldened by the
malla by the knowledge that most new ideas fail and few succeed in a big way
anyway policies toward imports could make
Donald Trump look like a free trader Wednesday when consumers voted with
their dollars to buy Japanese cars because the cars were better made and
lasted longer there was a market in place that made it hard to stop the
imports but in a politicized environment the threatened industries would find it
easy to prevent the foreigners from selling us the cars the planners will
have a perfect excuse for rejecting any project or proposals they don’t like the
economic reality of scarcity by yesterday I mean the fact that what
everybody wants always adds up to more than there is so they can reject
proposals they don’t like on the reasonable grounds that the resources
are simply not available so freedom and prosperity would both be under siege in
Richards system of socialism on inequality as Noam Chomsky has pointed
out you can find income equality in a prison where power is quite unequal and
political power will be more unequal than even under a
flawed system of capitalism the floor system we have is preferable by far to
what Richard proposes in terms of freedom prosperity and equality because
we have so many avenues of private funding dis dissident publications like
the intercept Jacobin magazine Reason magazine books like by Richard Wolff and
a debate series like the solo forum can persist because we have private funding
and reasonably functionally consumer in capital markets innovation that brings
prosperity can persist and even flourish and on income inequality the turned
toward capitalism in countries like China and India has lifted hundreds of
millions out of grinding poverty and is therefore meant a narrowing of income
inequality globally but I began by saying this is a flawed system riddled
with with crony capitalism Richard mentioned the instability of the US
economy indeed it is unstable I read Richards analysis and as far as I
can understand he believes that the Great Recession was triggered by the
fact that the consumer was tapped out the consumers could no longer afford
what they were buying well if he looks at the data he’ll find that just before
the recession happened consumer spending continued to rise that was in the fourth
quarter of 2007 what he ignores what he ignores was the crony capitalist policy
of government through the Federal Reserve that brought that awful event so
I I’m Jean Epstein and I’m here to recruit you yes we have yes we had a
flaw at capitalism but in order to make it a better capitalism we have to do a
lot of radical things including including reining in the power of the
Federal Reserve that does indeed cause a bank banking cart cartel and brings
instability in this economy maybe we can talk more about those things later on
thank you very much all right Thank You Jean I’ve seen the debate is
joined now we’re going to have five minutes of rebuttal
each gentleman I’ll suggest that you say seated and use hand microphones you want
to go to the podium okay we can we cannot keep these guys down so we won’t
try Richard you have your option I just want to remind people of a couple things
one is remember that the proposition the resolution under debate is socialism is
preferable to capitalism as an economic system that promotes freedom equality
and prosperity follow Richard Wolff at Richard d Wolfe with two F’s follow Jean
Epstein Jean sohe form follow me at Nick Gillespie follow the sohe form at the so
a forum follow Reason magazine at reason Richard Wolff please you have five
minutes to rebut listening to gene makes me realize that
a book that you write is a little bit like a child that you have you think
it’s yours and then you watch as it becomes its own thing and is understood
by other people in ways you never imagined I cannot recognize 3/4 of what
he said it sounded to me like quotes of somebody I didn’t even want to meet I’m
not proposing a kind of socialism I don’t believe in looking into the future
and telling you what the society ought to be
people who tell you the future are usually found in carnivals you pay them
a little bit of money they tell you who you’ll be sleeping with in two weeks and
you giggle if you actually take seriously what they’ve proposed you need
help I’m not proposing what a socialism would look like
number one I’m talking about how you get beyond what we have because like in all
societies you are either satisfied with the way things are or you’re looking for
how to make them better if there’s a genius in the United States it’s been
that we’ve been willing in many areas to do better but there’s a taboo when it
comes to economics represented by what gene said that you really shouldn’t look
at that because it’s only going to get worse those nasty politicians will do
all the terrible things that should make you stay with what you have oh yes
tinker with the Federal Reserve or here but don’t change the fundamentals where
did that come from where did the economic system get a pass
we debate about family life we debate education we debate our transportation
system but debate the fundamental structure of capitalism which is not
about markets and not about the government but how you organize the
production and distribution of the goods and services without which you cannot
live slavery did it with masters and slaves feudalism did it with lords and
serfs capitalism does it with employers and employees
and the whole purpose of my book and the work that we do and the New Directions
of socialism is to question and transform that no more group of
employers telling us all what to do and employees living in that undemocratic
workplace and the whole notion of controlling the government so it doesn’t
oppress you in all the ways that Jean likes to enumerate is to create a social
force at the base of society that could possibly prevent that and making the
mass of people in the workplace have the final say and power over what that
workplace does means you don’t have a small group of people in a government
cutting a deal with a small group of people called employers at the expense
of a large group of people called employees that’s the transformation at
the base of society that will mark the 21st century’s socialism so that all the
old arguments against the social isms of the passed arguments predicated on
what’s wrong with the government and the overwhelming power of the government
they’re not relevant anymore because the thrust of socialism is at the base of
society not at the level of government there’s a reason Karl Marx wrote no
books about the state and endlessly studied the production and distribution
of goods and services because that’s the core of the economy he wanted to take us
beyond and that’s the problem we have we have let that go as if there’s something
necessary or holy or sacrosanct about that way of organizing production so we
all take it for granted we shouldn’t we never should have the impulse to
democracy ought to have been applied in the workplace and as for the arguments
gee you wouldn’t want to go to all those meetings those were the arguments of the
Kings we don’t need democracy the mass of
people haven’t the time or the interest or the intellect or the educate
or the training or the come on we ought to recognize those kinds of arguments
against change for what they are they’re fearful so we’re going to stay with what
we have the capitalism that we have producing the very humorous takes on mr.
Trump or mr. Johnson in England as the expressions of a system spinning out of
control in part because we don’t face that the basic organization of
production has been given a free pass and is what’s holding us back thank you
thank you Richard gene please you’ve got five minutes well Richard wrote a book called
democracy at work a cure for capitalism it was published seven years ago I read
it quite recently Richard probably hasn’t read it very recently
that’s where at least commendably commendably he’s written a whole book a
book by the way that Karl Marx never did write about the socialism that he wants
and I quoted copiously from that book in my initial talk if Richard is now going
to say oh well you know that book it’s a chun-yan forget that book just you know
try to recognize that socialism is preferable to some of the crap that goes
on now then we’d have to say Richard we’ve been hearing that for over a
century you know from socialists then we had the
Soviet Union this Stalin and we had in mouth we had we’ve had a lot of mess
from your socialism you got to be a little bit more specific before we get
the least bit interested in something that has been so disastrous for
humankind so I want to get Richard back on the straight and narrow and take him
seriously that he’s proposing something with a nuts and bolts definition workers
self-directed into and the embarrassing thing for Richard
as it was for Marxist right back to the time of Marx is that they’re selling
something that workers don’t seem to want we we had socialism in Israel we
had 5% of the other the other country who really was socialist I trust that
Richard would agree that the kibbutzim of Israel were five percent of them live
really worst socialist in a true sense the bottom up cents and that’s what I’m
proposing now of course what also happened to Israel as Richard probably
knows as you probably know is that those kid would seem just fell apart they
don’t exist anymore people lose interest in it but again what we are saying we
libertarians are saying go for it workers self-directed enterprises you do
have coops Richard Richard in another mood say hey look you’ve got coops it
speaks to to were to needs and desires and indeed maybe it does then go for it
but then let’s build it from the ground up just like I’m proposing and then we
have a system of capitalism do I want to keep the flawed system of capitalism the
system that fights that the political system that protects the powerful no
capitalism is a system of profit and loss profits encourage risk-taking
losses encourage proves that prudence that’s the system now we abrogate that
for the counter crony capitalist system that’s what brought about the housing
bubble that caused the Great Recession the week I’m quoting Noam Chomsky a guy
I also like by the way even though he’s a socialist we we to to a to great
extent we privatize profits and we socialized losses that’s what the
Federal Reserve does that’s what it’s all about do I want to sit back and like
in a system by God no we have a crony capitalist system by the way that shafts
people of limited means most of all that defends the rich and powerful and there
have been victories against it we we used to have an airline cartel prepped
protected by the Civil Aeronautics Board then somebody noticed that where the CA
B didn’t dominate a flight between LA and San Francisco
in the same state cost half what it cost to fly from Washington to Boston or
Washington DC rather to Boston same distance twice as expensive because of
government so then they abolished the CA via the CA B and they and and there was
competition in the airlines and that was a huge victory for middle-income people
so victories can be one of Richard I want to recruit you to change this
system of capitalism if you’ll excuse the expression that my socialist uncle
Abe used to use as a but I use it as a contraction for crony capitalism we need
more capital some yet not less we need to change things
Richard could join us or he could focus on building his workers self-directed
enterprises from the ground up building on top of the co-op movement the
employee ownership movement which by the way already gets tax breaks that I don’t
necessarily object to that already gets those breaks go for it turn everybody
onto worker self-directed enterprises and they’re perfectly compatible it’s
just like being in business for yourself that’s all it is it’s a great idea
it hasn’t really caught on but maybe it has potential I welcome it thanks very
much right
Thank You Jean Epson and Richard Wolffe we’re now ready to do the audience Q&A
we have a couple of microphones set up please walk up to them I am going to be
I realize that each of you probably on some level view the other as a Nazi I am
going to be which is wrong on both counts but I’m gonna be a Nazi I’m gonna
ask you to state a question we don’t want to hear a lot of speeches we want
to hear questions direct them to either or both people debaters so let’s go and
we’re gonna start right now go first question hello my name is I’m from
Germany native German and it took me 35 years and winning the green card Audrey
for learning what libertarianism is I studied social science and okay thank you
what’s it I would like to know from mr. wolf why he thinks that it was not
possible for me to learn about libertarianism and to many of the
majority even though I studied social science and taught it for several years
at high school yeah I’m not 38 years old and it took me
moving here but you learn it obviously before you you learned about Marxism
before you even left high school because if you if you know about the term when
you start studying I would say it was much easier for you to find out about
the other side than me okay that studied social science and thank you hearted
okay thank you Richard please use a microphone hold one up and I I guess the
it should be on could you can you hear me yes okay so the question was
basically all in BS on the idea that you couldn’t learn about Marxism and the
question was that I really could or that you want to know why okay so he took a long time he said you
took a very short time libertarianism is harder to learn about that Marxism and I
never indicated the number of years it took me to learn Marxism okay Richard
can I uh can I uh I’m sorry it took you a long time if that helps do you do you
feel like there is not a free flow of information in in contemporary America I
think that it blows my mind that you could even say that okay all right
thanks okay let me explain economics departments which is what I know around
the United States is where you might learn Marxian economics you have to go
first of all the vast majority of economics departments in the United
States have no person in them who knows of or teaches a course in Marxian
economics number one they don’t have them at all
number two the vast majority subscribe to a basic kind of mainstream economics
that’s called neoclassical economics which is the dominant tradition there is
a small dissenting group that are called Keynesian economics because of something
that happened in the Great Depression and the new development of a critical
perspective that has nothing to do with socialism the there’s tremendous fights
between the neoclassical who are the majority and the Keynesian who are
minority one of the very few things the two groups can get together on is
excluding Marxists that’s the way the American economic system works and since
it’s the economic economics departments of our universities that train the
politicians who deal with economics the journalists who do economics and and the
people in the top of reaches of business you have a solid kind of mask if you
like of uniformity in which the kinds of things that a Marxist economist talks
about or bizarre for them not because of their complexity or their newness but
because they have no experience whatsoever
in dealing with these things and that has been true for the entirety of my
experience in the American academic environment where I’ve been a professor
all my life it is a it is a systematic exclusion of the kinds of ideas that I
represent that makes students to this day not encounter it or if they have a
lot of fortitude to have little study groups on the side at their own expense
to learn this kind of material because this country remains afraid of dealing
with that kind of thinking and that kind of tradition even though the literature
for it is massive okay thank you Richard and and wait Jean I’m sorry hold on can
i Richard can I ask does it complicate that scenario at all that we have at
least one major candidate for president Bernie Sanders who identifies as
socialist and has a large turnout I mean the idea that socialism is somehow
suppressed seems like a reach to be quite honest Bernie Sanders is the first
candidate in 75 years not to disown that title as part of the requirement not to
commit political suicide and you want me in the first time in 2016 that he dared
do it breaking that blue I’m supposed to pretend that the one person so far done
it in 75 years undoes what I just said you got to be kidding okay and Richard I
look forward to the first time a major party candidate actually explicitly as
libertarian Jean do you have a comment I agree with Richard yes yes it’s on yeah
I agree with Richard that that there’s a lot of mind rot in in in the academic
departments on economics most of them most of these economists basically want
to run the world they want to pretend that economics is a branch of
mathematics it’s it’s a waste of time for the most
part in the age of the Internet don’t let school get in the way of your
education there’s no excuse not to inform yourself about a whole range of
things including Austrian economics with which I identify or Marxist economics
with which Richard identifies the Internet offers just an incredible
amount lectures from Richard Wolff himself on the Internet
I appear regularly on part of the problem Dave Smith’s show so you want to
catch that to learn economics the the intelligent way that whatever you really
learn you teach yourself anyway don’t write school get in the way thank you
and there’s it might uh it might be interesting we’re gonna go to the next
question to think there’s by my count I think there’s two Marxist economics
departments in the country there’s one at Notre Dame and one at UMass Amherst
there’s about two Austrian programs of now maybe three so we’re as Dave Smith
pointed out we’re all losers in this room we have that in common
we’re in the same club okay question let me just briefly correct it there was at
Notre Dame a department that program was destroyed about eight or nine years ago
and doesn’t exist and the program at University of
Massachusetts where I taught has ejected most of the Marxist that were there
there were half a dozen and so it is now really better described as a Keynesian
or left-wing Keynesian program thank you there is no Marxist department in the
United States there are only scattered old one you’re in there get those
workers building up from the ground let’s go ok question sir no preamble no
we don’t care where you’re from for all strangers here it’s the French Foreign
Legion just ask the question this question is for Richard in there 100%
capitalist society laissez-faire capitalist arty burners there’s no
federal reserve you would be well within your rights to be a socialist all you
need to do is band together with other socialists and form your own community
whereas if I want to be a capitalist in a social society I would be forbidden
from doing so why why do you want to force everyone to be a socialist why not
let the capitalist be capitalist let the socialist be socialist everyone’s
happening thank you which first of all in whatever socialist
societies you’re referring to and the major one in the world today is the
People’s Republic of China that uses that name
they are busily encouraging people to form and develop capitalist enterprises
so the premise of your question is is wrong number one number two I never said
and would not argue that in a society that is in transition as I believe
capitalism is there are all kinds of spaces for them to be enterprises
organized in the old traditional capitalist way and enterprises organized
as worker cooperatives in the new direction I would expect that kind of
coexistence to continue to be filled with tensions and difficulties much as
capitalist enterprises began in feudalism and existed in a tense
relationship until the transition happened further so my presumption is
there will be coexisting different structures in whatever name you give to
these societies in transition look in in line with the Jones question again under
capitalism property rights of firms are protected so if there’s a worker co-op
owned democratically by the workers and they’re all directing it their property
rights will be protected if it catches on and the entire economy is worker
coops I say that’s great that sounds terrific I’ll run your own enterprise
some of the other things richard proposes which would be the iron fist to
the state having to do with finance that I object to however it was an article in
the National Review well under William F Buckley the right-winger welcoming
worker ownership I know that article well because I wrote it and so again
we’re not arguing about that what Richard doesn’t really want to do I know
for example he likes jeremy corbyn’s idea another kind of top-down plan where
you can sneaked up this kind of thing through the back door go for it there
are co-ops they’ll already exist so in line with whether gentlemen said we
already have what you’re talking about we have worker coops we have a huge
blend and if it tilts toward more worker ship wonderful okay next question please
sir hi my question is for Richard as well one of the core tenants of
libertarianism and capitalism or true capitalism is the non-aggression
principle so my question for you is do you think that socialism intrinsically
violates the non-aggression principle and if so how can you explain how
committing aggression leads to greater freedom and equality do you want to do a
quick description of the definition of the non-aggression okay all right you
want me to yeah sure so the non-aggression principle is the
principle that you’re essentially allowed to do whatever you want as long
as you do not commit violent you do not initiate violence against another person
okay I believe Jean Richard okay oh gosh me too answering please thank you Nick
this is Jean Epstein of one-man show look what’s Richards answer Richards
answer is well you know you’re free to starve you know under capitalism you
know if you don’t work you don’t get a job you’re gonna starve you know I mean
that’s so that’s aggression you know so what
again you know forgive me but you know you’re coming out at Richard left from
left field because he’s gonna say that that clearly the capital system commits
aggression because you’re gonna starve unless you get a job and and then of
course we have a lot of answers to that somehow rather well the starvation tends
to happen in socialist countries not in this country but I think I got Richard
fired up he’s gonna answer you now you’re famous stop I just jumped yes
the this remarkable tendency in a frightened society to assign starvation
or deaths I it’s the only place in American culture we’re counting dead
people seems to be way to make an argument Jean mentioned
it before now it’s starving people before he mentioned the disasters of
socialism where millions died what an interesting argument we’re going to
count millions dead well what is it that capitalism’s history shows us the worst
two wars in human history world war 1 & 2 these were products of competition
among capitalist economies weren’t they 400 years of colonialism destroying
two-thirds of the world were products of capitalist accumulation and competition
what kind of jerk what what kind of money finish what kind of mentality
picks a few examples of admittedly horrible things that deserve to be
criticized but a comparison of death counts the first book I ever wrote and
published Yale University Press was called the economics of colonialism it
studied what Britain did in Kenya Britain arrived in Kenya in night in
1895 and set up the East Africa Protectorate and 30 years later 1931 the
Depression hit I studied what happened in Kenya at that time when the British
arrived they did a census 4 million people in 1930 they did another census
two and a half million people British colonialism killed millions of people in
one small country multiply that if you want to do the death count analysis
which I find bizarre you’re in very shaky ground attacking socialism on the
basis of capitalism and the same kind of cherry-picking of your examples came
with Gene and kibbutzim in in Israel to work a co-op sometimes fail of course
they do do capitalist enterprises sometimes fail you bet they do all the
time this what is this strange remote kind of choosing your example let me
give you a counter example in 1956 a group of workers we
a Catholic priests in the north of Spain in a little town called Mondragon made a
worker co-op the priest led them six workers 1956 today something called the
Mondragon cooperative corporation has over a hundred thousand workers
it’s the biggest worker co-op on the planet it is a great success at the
seventh largest corporation in Spain it is a successful worker co-op
two American corporations pay the Mondragon Corporation to have their
scientists working alongside the scientists in this worker co-op and the
name of the two American corporations is General Motors and Microsoft they
understand what those worker coops can do even if people here have to pick an
example where it didn’t work out it’s as if I said well capitalism just look at
the Ford Edsel make two quick comments to be discounted again again I like what
Richard just said again go for it I only mentioned the kibbutz scene because
obviously the kibbutzim were a well-known socialist phenomenon it
didn’t work out Mondragon did I was a part I was very
interested in the worker ownership movement in the 1980s ironically by the
way when I was senior economist in the New York Stock Exchange I was going to
all the meetings we were hearing they loved Mondragon all the time in the
1980s thirty years have passed and we don’t have a mondo con in the US so I
encouraged Richard to go for it build it capitalism will love it why not
so again I’m not trying to discourage Richard about going for it I’m just
saying that he has the means to do it he can start that revolution right away
within the context of capitalism with respect to the body-count point the only
point that’s being made in this case and again I honestly apologize to Richard
for backing him in the core in a sense that he seems to be now defending the
state capitalism the objective he wrote a whole book collaborated in a whole
book in which he condemned the Soviet Union as state capitalist so he doesn’t
really want Fenne those old line social and social
isms but the difference in terms of body count is that this was what governments
did to their own citizens these famines because they couldn’t run
the agriculture right the the worst getting on top lunatics sociopaths like
Joe Stalin and Mao Zedong and Pol Pot taking over and murdering their own
people either through the sin of commission or omission that’s the
difference oh god of course the body count with respect to war two million
people you know killed in Iraq and Vietnam yeah of course our body can’t
with respect to wars abroad horrible Richard and I completely agree about
that we’re talking about the body count of governments against their own people
under socialism ok that’s the bad record we’re talking about question sir and by
the way if if there are in fact any women in the room it would be nice to
hear from you ok scoot up to the front of line sir you’ve
got you’ve got a man bond that’s close enough we’re transitioning here yeah I
do identify as male and I suspect I will continue to do so I hope that doesn’t
discipline thank you very much to both of you this
has been very thought-provoking I have two short questions primarily Nick what
this is Sophie’s Choice time pick one of those questions because the other one is
not gonna make it is economic growth ever undesirable ie does it ever lead to
increase suffering either domestically or abroad and what are we gonna do with
AI when it happens in about 20 or 30 years and nobody has jobs very good very
good sir okay either of you Richard absolutely we do not prioritize or we
ought not if that’s your question to prioritize economic growth as if it’s a
uni-dimensional plus it can be as we learned from ecological sensitivities
built up over the last thirty years that it can be a very dangerous and negative
phenomena but in a society that allows the decision of what to produce and what
to invest in to be done on the basis of a private profit calculation you are
hardly in a position to bring in all of those other issues
that have to be dealt with I remember in my education I was taught of bizarre
language which gives it away that there are we should remember our teachers told
us externalities what a wonderful term something that isn’t central to what
we’re dealing with it’s an externality only slowly to
discover that the externality can be more negative than what’s internal is
positive capitalism sanctifies the profit motive that socialism alternative
has always said profit is one among a whole range of objectives and no
decisions should be made based on any one when all the others are equally
important to the quality of life I guess then I won’t answer the question about
artificial intelligence since that was the second question be again obviously
to me well it was we’ll talk later sir okay it’d be fun to talk about AI but
with it look with respect to economic growth again I first of all know this
obviously I am an individual I’m a libertarian I don’t believe there’s
anything the least bit sacred about economic growth if people do if people
are basically by the way if we all decided that would prefer to work 20
hours a week then that labor leisure choice would begin to prevail
capitalists would only get us to work for them we’d be willing to only work
part-time and we’d say well it will work for a little bit less so that it’s
advantageous to deploy to employ two of us for 20 hours a week rather than one
person for 40 so then we would have a diminution of resources we would have a
shrinkage of the economy wonderful why not if people only want to work 20 hours
a week then we don’t have we can compete we can compete I’d perhaps and want to
explain to Richard because the simple math is that if if full-time workers get
to $20 an hour then then we’ll just work for $18
part-time look at two of us for less so therefore we can opt for living less we
make those choices all the time I you know what what’s a what’s a Jewish
lawyer kiddo couldn’t get into Medical School
well I’m Jewish I didn’t become a lawyer or a doctor I chose to be a sloppy-ass
journalist I dropped that so therefore we make those choices all the time it’s
an individual choice there is nothing sacred about economic growth with
respect to diseconomy externalities we are individuals we have individual
freedom you can’t throw garbage on your neighbor’s lawn however my right to move
my fist stops at your chin and if a capitalist is polluting your backyard
and causing that harm you should sue them so therefore we do need a tort
system in order to protect against any individual a choice anything that a firm
does or indeed that an individual to us in order to make sure that they don’t
harm us in the in the process of pursuing their own goals that’s the best
view answer okay thank you Richard quick quick rebuttal robot I really find it
extraordinary this sort of commentary if we would like to work only shorter hours
the history of capitalism is the history of the struggle of the mass of working
people to reduce the length of the working-day
from the 16 hours it was in early capitalism in england to 14 to 12 to 10
to 8 it’s been a struggle at every point capital is driving people children as
well as adults to work incredible hours workers having to mobilize and fight
this is not a matter of the libertarian notion let’s just choose that’s not the
way the world worked it hasn’t worked that way in the past and it doesn’t work
now that’s a system that imposed those struggles and all the suffering that
went into it until people said no more we won’t work that many hours we won’t
let you have our children when they’re six that’s the history of capitalism and
we’re not even counting all the injuries and all the deaths in that game of
counting human suffering from a system I suggested Richard read a book
by Stanley a leprechaun which is a whole history of the labor markets of the of
the capitalist markets and it’s got a lot of good facts in it now I believe
that one of the things that that Richard should try to answer is and how was
there a whole lot of progress why was there so much immense progress by
Labor’s from them from 1870 to 1925 or indeed he says that wages were rising
for decades and the unions are statistically were negligible government
was under when that wasn’t honest no I want to win with one fact there was a 49
hour work week capitalists have 49 hour work week as of the 1920s as labor as
labor got shows the work week fell the work week fell because in order to get
workers to work for you to bid for workers their labor law at leisure
choice was such that they wanted there is a Marxist myth that there is an
inequality no equality between bargaining between laborers and workers
well that’s relied by about a hundred years
of history okay for unions became the least bit of a presence in this economy
thank you okay ma’am please question we’re currently in
an opioid crisis and the World Health Organization ranks our health care
system 37th in the world do you think it’s still possible for our current
system to fix this and how would you using socialism fix us okay Richard I
guess take the first whack at that picture one of the charming features of
the capitalist system has been the endless effort on the part of virtually
all capitalists to try to get more than the normal surplus out of their workers
the difference between the value added by a worker and what the employer pays
the worker that normal surplus if you like they’ve always tried to do better
by controlling the market or what we used to call monopolization becoming
strong enough to jack the price even higher to make more profits and one of
the ways you do that is to control a market in this country one
the most successful examples is the medical industrial complex for
industries that work together the insurers the drug companies the doctors
and the hospitals and the producers of medical devices are with it the drugs
they’ve gotten together and they’ve produced this situation a where we pay
more for medical care than any other advanced industrial country and the
quality of our healthcare is at best mediocre as the young woman pointed out
in our ranking number 37 the solution to the problem in our medical care is not
another law another special federal program another stop it is a problem in
which you have taken something as important as human health
a subjected it to the capitalist profit motive and be allowed that monopoly to
function to coordinate its behavior and to rip this society off from A to Z and
laugh all the way to the bank first of all we this the solo form in a few
months is going to have a debate so forum debate on the opioid crisis I
invite Richard to come free ticket for you Richard and a free ticket for the
young lady who asked question to that debate
basically Richard and I agree about 90% of the way about the medical care system
it’s a crony capitalist system it has to be unraveled you say your your solution
though is not to make it fully socialized but rather to put more market
forces in yeah through workers self directed enterprises if indeed that’s
the way they want to construct it because I’m all for those WS des which
is by the way what Richard calls okay very quickly Richard 10 seconds yeah one
one theoretical confusion when I talk about mark capitalism I’m talking about
arranging production with employers and employees as different people in an
endless struggle I’m not talking about markets the confusion between a
capitalist organization and a market is something we ought to get beyond slavery
had markets remember we bought and sold slaves
feudalism had markets the market isn’t what’s unique about us capitalism is
what’s unique and that has to do with the organization of production which is
why that’s what we go after and that’s the focus of socialism not some dead old
stale debate about whether the government should have more or less
influence on the market that’s a different subject okay we have a couple
of minutes left I want to enforce brutally quick question quick answers
let’s get to through two or three more of these things sir go ahead Richard can
you be more specific about what you’re advocating and can you equivocally say
that your vision of socialism will or will not be mandated by the state absolutely socialism always understood
whatever its moments whatever its aberrations if you really want to
understand where that the notion of the state being powerful came in a brief
summary of the history in the 19th century socialism basically was born it
was the shadow of capitalism it’s capitalism self criticism whenever
there’s capitalism it produces socialism the notion that you’re going to get out
of capitalism by somehow eliminating socialism reminds me of what Mark Twain
said when he read his obituary in the newspaper the reports of my death are
greatly exaggerated he wrote the reports of the death of
socialism are absurd because capitalism reproduces it so here’s my idea we don’t
need the state because the whole role is to transform the base of society but
just like ever every other emerging system like capitalism and feudalism the
state it was thought can help the process so the focus of socialists
became capture the state either with parliamentary or revolution and then use
it to make the transformation what happened in the Soviet Union
understandably and in China too was you focused on grabbing the state you
managed it you took the state but then that next
step that got delayed and posts onde and therein lies the problem whose
solution is to transform the base of society which is why there is the focus
on the workers becoming their own bosses in the workplace okay thank you quick
let’s do one maybe two more questions sir hi this is a question for mr.
Epstein I was just wondering on our federal
domestic tax is the only major way to fund federal spending repeat the
questions on our federal domestic tax is the only major way to fund federal
spending our federal domestic tax is the only way to tax a way to fund well well
empirically no I mean a lot of federal spending is comes from printing money
from the Federal Reserve and obviously a lot of federal spending comes from
borrowing money okay we have time for one final question we got a couple of
kibitzers over here okay ask a quick question no you’re not paying for this
microphone okay no I don’t well you know Reagan Reagan take a hike here to ask a
question now yeah please thank you my question is if we’re talking about
economics how can we have a debate about which system is better and I’ve been
listening and I new gentlemen once the word computers and how that impacts on
everything I felt like I was listening to a debate about the mechanical age and
I was the bait really was which platitudes are better socialist
platitudes or capitalist platitudes could you discuss and incorporate a
little bit about how the computers and the electronic age work on the feelings
that you have about socialism and the feelings that you have about capitalism
okay let’s and that thank you very much sir and we’re going to boot into the
computer age right before we go to the rebuttal we are done with questions so
thank you all for standing up you may now sit down
Richard why don’t you begin with that right this is not the answer you
probably want but you’re gonna get it anyway
you know that’s one of the like both capitalism and social what one of one of
the remarkable things in this debate between capitalism and socialism is the
easy way folks who are rendered uncomfortable by it find another way a
tangential argument to focus on as if they can somehow thereby escape these
basic system questions you can’t every major technological change has led to
people doing something which if I were mean-spirited I would call a platitude
it’s everything is going to be changed by the jet engine everything is gonna be
changed by electricity everything is gonna be changed by temas tree
everything’s gonna be you’ve finished the technological determinism it used to
be called each new invention is going to radically try no it doesn’t it changes
things for sure but it doesn’t alter the basic systemic questions that we’re
talking about they’re not platitudes they’re not evasions the focus on the
new technology as if it is magically going to lift us out of these problems
it’s a mirage it has been that through the last 200 years of technical
breakthroughs and AI and computers don’t change that story thank you may I
comment that fat I don’t know if there’s a syllable of what Richard said that I
do not fully agree with us now in fact indeed look we’ve had a computer
age for three decades we have ATMs we have automatic tellers once are infinite
and as Richard is indeed is absolutely correct in saying the way we run our
economy is the way we run our economy Richard and I we agree we have no
debating you know what we’re going to let we’re gonna stop this phase this was
the audience Q&A we now have the people the two debaters Richard Wolffe and Jean
Epstein going into their final statements they each have seven and a
half minutes and again remember that the proposition the
resolution before us is socialism is preferable to capitalism as an economic
system that promotes freedom equality and prosperity Richard Wolffe you have
seven and a half minutes to seal the deal the first sign that socialism is on
its way is that we’re having this debate that we have Bernie Sanders running and
he has the name socialist and he doesn’t give it up he doesn’t turn away
Elizabeth Warren who has very similar programs she still feels the need to
reassure everybody she likes capitalism Bernie doesn’t the
reality is up until six years ago my presence on American media scene was so
tiny none of you whatever have heard of me I’ve done more public speaking at the
invitation of American audiences in the last four years that I did in the
previous 50 yeah the public awareness is to the right because of the last years
of neoliberalism and the orange clown I understand that but beneath that is a
shift to the left in the United States nothing illustrates it in my mind any
better than the remarkable number of times Jean Epstein told you how he
agreed with me I don’t run away from the label
socialist and I don’t want to away from the label Marxist either
I’m proud of what I’ve learned from those traditions but I’m also very clear
and I really hope I’ve gotten that across that the way the question for
this evening was posed is a problem there is no singular socialism there
never was socialism is a large complex tradition of multiple different notions
that are often at great odds with one another
and have had long and bitter disputes what in the world do you mean by
socialism is it that social democracy of Scandinavia and German and Western
European countries is it a socialism that China or Russia or Cuba talk about
is it the focus on transforming workplaces into worker coops instead of
undemocratic hierarchical workplace kingdoms what do you mean when you talk
about socialism the very idea of using the singular reflects what I tried to
say at the beginning we have to understand we are emerging from a 75
year period in which we didn’t learn about it think about it or discuss it or
if we did it was in dismissive cursory manner that didn’t teach Miko anything
it’s always been an awkward moment when American tourists go to Europe and
discover that in every single European country socialist parties are big
important political institutions I won’t embarrass you by asking you how many of
you know that the government in Portugal today is a coalition of the Portuguese
Socialist Party the Portuguese Communist Party and the Portuguese Green Party and
that they’ve been the government for quite a few years now I won’t embarrass
you the last thing I would say is because of this peculiar fetish
Americans about the government as either being
something that’s gonna save us all which is crazy or which is gonna crush us all
which is equally crazy governments do what they do in large part because of
the pressure from those who have the position to shape them one of the
problems with the liberal in the old British sense or the libertarian if you
like is that the argument always starts with the government as if it were a deus
ex machina that just has some qualities of things it does without asking the
obvious question why does the government do this or that or the next thing we’re
supposed to believe it’s built into the genes of the government that it does
certain things the government does what the press
pressure of the society and the way it’s organized make it do every bit as much
as what the government does influences the rest of this society let me conclude
by correcting Jean about Jeremy Corbyn because he’s the future in terms of what
we’re talking about the British Labour Party the second party in England by the
way a party most of whose members identify as socialists in the British
Labour Party there’s a commitment they’ve made and the commitment goes
like this when we’re elected one of the first laws we’ll pass is the following
any company organised in Great Britain can continue the way it is as a
capitalist enterprise but if it comes to the following decision either shut down
or to move out of Great Britain or to sell itself to another company or to go
public with a with an IPO issuing shares before it can do that it must give its
own workers the right of first refusal that’s the law that the workers can buy
the company and convert it into a democratically run worker cooperative
and when everyone says well where in the world will the
workers get the money to do that mr. McDonald the closest advisor mr. Corbyn
has smiles and says the government will lend it to them why because for the
British people to have freedom of choice between a capitalist undemocratic
enterprise on the one hand and a worker co-op democratic enterprise on the other
they have to have some experience of what they’re like both to buy from and
to work in and the only way they can have that experience so they can choose
freely between them or what mix they want of them is if there’s a sector that
they can buy from and work at so we as the leaders of Britain have to create
the sector so that the free choice of our people between systems can finally
happen that’s the role of the government expanding free choice rather than being
represented is imposing something in that fearful imagery that we all have as
if the government is like those nasty people at the post office who make us
wait before they sell us the stamps thank you well I agree with Richard that he and I
agree with a about a great deal and I think that’s wonderful
why do we agree about a great deal because we’re both radicals and radical
people do see a lot of evil in our current society even though I think
Richard basically wants to march in the wrong direction
and tonight I’ve been a little bit troubled that he often times abandons
his own book written seven years ago and occasionally lapses into defending the
old-style socialism’s and into falling back into the mode of saying you know
well social does a lot of things let’s just do it and again ignoring the fact
that we need to focus focus I guess again
on the old socialism’s well take a controlled experiment Society who the
world in history gives us very few East Germany versus West Germany West Germany
mainly capitalist East Germany socialist impoverished in East Germany under the
font foot of the oven of the stassi’s in West Germany capitalist much more
affluent much more comfortable in the democratic society North Korea versus
South Korea I need an elaborate on the differences there Taiwan and Hong Kong
versus most of China until China began to go capitalist so we have the record
staring us in the face of the awful failures of these societies so we want
to say goodbye to all that they were disastrous then we have the social
democracies of Europe maybe that’s a waste of time to talk about because they
are for most for the most part capitalist anyway but then we side-scan
the Scandinavian countries even though Norway is there is a country of 5
million people sitting on a huge oil well basically selling oil to the rest
of the world and by the way apparently worsening global warming and the
but we wanted to offend Norway in Denmark well let’s not cherry pick let’s
look at the whole range of of economies and the experience in Europe and let’s
include Portugal Spain Italy Greece where it’s gone
very badly the average is very very unimpressive
they used to talk about euro slicker sclerosis very troubled economies by and
large so we want to say goodbye to all that so now again I want to take Richard
literally and talk about his workers self-directed enterprises well I imagine
when you hear him saying employees becoming their own bosses well you know
there are millions of people who are their own bosses I know I didn’t make
that up Richard didn’t make that up form a co-op a family-run business all of
those things are possible under socialism and the problem that Richard
faces is that by enlarge it hasn’t caught on
maybe it has hope so now Richard is resorting to cheering on out of
desperation out of unfortunately not taking seriously the fact that you want
to work there are people by the way who still are fostering a worker democracy
oh god I know I met a lot of those people they want to start these firms
they want to run it that way they think it’s better people are happier doing it
wonderful let’s do it so now he’s now Richard is championing the plan of
Jeremy Corbyn where where where the government is going to start lending
money on advantageous terms to companies that want to go that wanna go workers
self-directed enterprise how advantageous is that going to be Jeremy
Corbyn a very ambitious politician who by the way is on record as admiring a
lot of hard fisted a strong men like you go shabbos in his and a successor
nicolas maduro he might just start giving it away capitalists
might start selling these firms to people again Richard is looking for the
top-down solution to a bottom-up revolution and I implore him to abandon
all that and go to capitalist route with his plans now then finally I tried to
take seriously what he wrote book he wants to socialize finance he
wants to put it on under a political thumb he wants to he wants to socialize
labor allocation he wants to tighten the the government’s control over those two
sources of enterprise expansion so that dissident publications would suffer but
innovation would suffer all of those things would set us back in terms of
prosperity and freedom and and again I guess you know I mentioned equality I
might ask you the old you know 1020 question would you prefer a society in
which the top 1% gets 20% richer and the other 99% the rest of us get 10% richer
or would you prefer that’s more inequality or would you prefer a society
in which the top 20% get poorer and the bottom I know suits me yeah yeah the top
20% get poor and the 99% get 10% poorer we all get poorer but then since the top
1% is getting 20% poor that narrows equality well we want actually because
extremes touch and Richard and I believe in individual rights I want people to
make their own choices about how they live their lives the professions they
lead where they want to work and what they do and capitalism offers that
potential but it can indeed evolve we do need to free up the housing markets that
which are under the thumb of the crony capitalist we do indeed and that is
hurting poor people preventing them from moving into high wage cities like New
York and Los and Los Angeles and San Francisco we need to free up the guild
systems that make it hard for poor people to get other kinds of jobs the
licensing system that protects people that that prevents poor people from
moving into better jobs there are a whole lot of radical things we need to
do to change our economy but we need to keep keep the fundamental freedoms under
capitalism capitalism private property is necessary although not sufficient to
a free and open society it’s not sufficient because government can always
come in and jail you the day after you publish something you don’t like just
like Obama tried but but it’s necessary it’s
necessary because if you give somebody like Obama some political leader control
over your property over the means of production then you make it hard even to
function in the first place you make it hard for Richard to sell those books you
make it hard for the sole form to operate you make it hard for Jacobin
magazine to operate and that’s why you have to vote against Richards resolution
but Richard does 7 out workers self directed enterprises capitalist and
offers it to you Richard I say go for it thanks very much

100 thoughts on “Capitalism vs. Socialism: A Soho Forum Debate

  1. People are really stating that Gene dominated this debate? He certainly said more shit, but his arguments can be categorized into 1. Saying “we don’t need government to bring about socialism” which Richard Wolff stated is irrelevant to the question of whether or not we should have socialism as socialism isn’t defined as government doing stuff, and 2. Critiquing the contents of Richard’s book democracy at work, which Richard has since stated he no longer stands by ideologically. So basically all of Gene Epstein’s arguments were strawmen, and besides the point.

  2. Africa have complete socialism, Venezuela, I grew up in Israel and we had almost complete socialism, we were all very very poor! How is this even a debate, do you know who was the first Democratic socialist? Adolf Hitler!

  3. 5 minutes into this insufferable person's presentation, and he already started throwing out buzz words like the Koch brothers.

  4. There seems to be something deeply deceptive about Wolf’s presentation in that he puts the weight of his argument behind the idea that workers should become part owners of their own companies in a process of democratization. There is no contradiction between that and free market capitalism when it is a voluntary process. Wolf is hesitant to describe how his vision differs from the existing system, seemingly because he supports involving state power, thus making it an involuntary process.

  5. To sumarize the whole debate, Richard's message is to tell the slaves they don't need masters, so that masters won't have power over the government. Gene's message is to tell the slaves they have the choice to be a slave and to not allow the government to take the choice away, implying that some slaves prefer to be slaves. The rest, they agreed with each other. 😉

  6. Complaining that Marxist economics isn’t more popular among economists sounds a bit like saying it’s surprising how few astrologists there are in astrophysics departments.

  7. I think that socialism or capitalism could work if it were devoid of unethical people. But forgive my pessimism about that….

  8. 37:22
    Richard Wolff argues for Socialism based on it's early successes up until the 1940s and then it was suppressed. I found that interesting. He objects to capitalism because of its
    Instability : (My response) It is unstable but life is full of instability
    Inequality : (My response) The majority of the wealth that the top own is not something they can use to pay their taxes with. Try giving the government bitcoin or 1 Amazon share instead of USD and tell me what happens
    Undemocratic : (My response) It us thoroughly debunked in Gene's response. To add to that "Democracy is mob rule." What if one of these three mobs, AntiFa or BLM or ProudBoys, ran this country simply because they had more supporters.

    I say Gene won this round of the debate. He provided a stronger argument and acknowledged the current issues. "The majority be damned." Also Epstein didn't kill himself.

  9. "We got rid of kings. We didnt need somebody sitting at the top of society telling us all what to do"

    Thats the definition of a socialist goverment. A single entity, Daddy State, dictating everything for everybody for the "good of everybody".

    Socialism is a disease.

  10. Wew. That Wolff sure is a demagogue and fearmonger. Doesnt even adress his opponents points. No wonder they need to silence opposition to get anywhere. And also the obligatory "Not real socialism".

  11. The very idea that you can compare employers and employees to masters and slaves is absolutely an absurdity as it is incendiary to any decedent of slavery. Stealing someone from their land, crossing a continent and dying in the process, to be whipped bloody and worked for life and sentencing your children to the same fate is NOT the same as negotiating a paycheck and working 40 hours a week. You are selling your labor to your employer, he needs you. The less valuable your labor is to sell, the less you'll get for it; this is not the same as working for no benefit under the condition of your owners punishment. If you dont like your work situation you can get a different job, no slaves ever had a choice to pick a different plantation, slave master, or even simply not to "slave"

  12. People on this channel are so brainwashed into that paradigm of capitalism that makes me want to vomit. Bunch of sheep dreaming of becoming rich and reproduce the inequality. Pure status quo and no real reasoning.

  13. 40:46 no more division of labor? lol has this person ever worked outside of academia? i find these types have never held real employment before

  14. Unstable, unequal, and undemocratic. Every socialist regime has ended in starvation and death, That sounds pretty unstable to me. Unequal, under socialism everyone, except those in power, starve and are forced into labor equally. And democratic, that’s just wrong. We as the people choose who to support with our money and work you don’t get a say when you’re being forced into labor camps.

  15. But you can learn economics without studying it at a college. You are acting as though you have to go to college to learn about socialism.

  16. Wolf sounds like a shifty one. Apparently his ancient mind forgot how labor day started and the huge movement to gain workers rights, and I find it vexing this bile spewing lech was award time to lie and use economic uncertainty as leverage to push what ultimately leads to dictatorship. He is a polluted mind. He confuses workers rights with socialism.

  17. Socialist always blame the boom bust cycle on capitalism, and yet ignore the destructive force of central banks and the current monetary system. Smdh.

  18. Gene Epstein inadvertently made a case against political democracy. He was destroyed in this debate. Never once argued the point.

  19. Trouble with capitalism is there's not enough capitalists. I prefer distributism. Where the worker is the owner and the owner is the worker.

  20. Amazing video and great debate. Thanks Nick and Reason for hosting and posting this. You definitely aren't my style of "Libertarian" but I have to hand it to you on this one; good job.

  21. I love when socialists try to copy the "millions death counted" argument and turn it around, misconstruing the acts of Govts for that of capitalists. A voluntary exchange for goods and services does not include the corporations and govt teaming up to commit aggression on foreign countries, that is only possible by the state.

  22. Dude is insane. It is ok to kill tribes and expand into other humans territory? Capitalists kill all the time and he is trying to say socialists would imprison them? The only reason you could not practice capitalism in a socialist society is people would not choose to be exploited while already having their needs met.

  23. If capitalism is bad due to evil rich people, why is concentrating all power and money into the hands of central planners better?
    The USA could do better at equal protection under the law, though, rather than giving corporations and rich donors special treatment, preferred treatment (crony capitalism and corporatism). That's not because capitalism is bad, but because all politicians are corruptible.

    In a free country, you can band together and enjoy all the commune lifestyle you want. It's been tried many times, including those Jesus folks and other religious types that tout equal poverty as a good. In this free country, you can start a co-op.

    To suggest that socialism can do better than how it's done in practice, but capitalism cannot, is odd. Both suffer once politicians are involved, as they have human nature and thus are corrupted by those who give them an advantage.

    You can dumb down the USA with socialism instead of capitalism, but that won't stop capitalism from winning in other places (oddly in China initially). Competition and human nature will exist even if you force centrally planned "utopia." Whenever capitalism and socialism are put side by side, capitalism wins. We'd just be having US citizens wanting to flee to other places where life is better and free.

    If the employer is a king and the workers are serfs, then it's a world where we have untold numbers of kings, you can be your own king, and you can choose your king so long as you are at least useful to the new king.

  24. If socialism is such a good idea, then why do we need to use police violence to convince people to participate in that system? Allow people to engage however they want economically. Some will form communes. Some will form hierarchical, capitalist companies. Some will be economic individualists.

    It should NOT be a debate of socialism vs capitalism. It should be a debate of statism vs voluntarism.

  25. Gene Epstein on a podcast where they reflect on this debate. Very good watch. Supplements a lot of what Gene says.

  26. "even if you take half of the richest money, they will continue to be the richest"- is he saying we need to steal?

  27. The problem with socialist nimrods like the guy in this video is he attributes to "capitalism" (FYI: the word capitalism is a word popularized by socialists to denigrate free markets.) things occur in any economic system.

  28. what kind of a system requires the deaths of 10s of millions before it finally "refocuses" itself and realizes how not to do it again?

  29. I'm 30 minutes in and just waiting to hear about my option to "opt out". Doesn't sound like that is an option under socialism…

  30. Wolf is more of a preacher than an objective economist. The left usually is…. also wolf seems very angry, again the left usually is when debating with the other side

  31. "Capitalism is undemocratic"
    Capitalism = the system which allows each individual to choose what matters to them and put their money there
    Socialism = the system where authorities must dictate to everyone where money goes

  32. Only 12 minutes in and I already have a problem with the premise. "Socialism was a response to capitalism" how so? "The french revolution" what? "Also because capitalism causes economic turmoil" 🤦‍♀️. Besides socialism itself being a very old idea, along with certain capitalistic ideals also being shown in ancient times. Even today we see capitalism/communism/fascism as responses to failing socialism, denmark is a prime example, or sweden where everytime they try switching back to socialism there is an economic downturn quicker than the great depression. To be fair though, if you considere the rich being fine while everyone else eating bugs to survive the same as employment under capitalism, then technically socialism is an answer of sorts.

  33. The thing is, theft is theft. It doesn’t matter if the money is given to the poor, it’s still theft.
    Capitalism does not condone theft. It’s an agreement between a buyer and seller, otherwise there is no sale.

  34. If socialism could actually deliver on their promises most societies would be socialist today. Regarding socialism: what's in it for me? What incentive does socialism offer to me? Will socialism make it possible for me to buy a nice house and a nice boat, a good car, and maybe a summer cabin at Lake Tahoe? Will socialism make it possible for me expand my art collection? My collection of heirloom clocks? Can I have a gun collection? Can I quit my job and start a competing business? …………… why isn't socialism the common system today?

  35. Give Wolff a break, he has never EVER held an actual job or started his own company. This is quite hilarious and cringy at the same time.

  36. And the military industrial complex is socialism, destructive and counterproductive. It gets a pass with capitalist morons!!

  37. Q: How much did they get paid for this debate?
    A: Enough I’d bet to say they’re both actually capitalist.

    Sadly, Marxism is a nice theory which is why people keep supporting it. But will never work.
    Capitalism isn’t perfect, but gets motivated/talented people out of poverty better than any other system.

    What has Marx invented?

  38. Wolff doesn't help his argument when he says that Socialism didn't exist before Capitalism. Not only is the argument wrong, the concept has been a utopian ideal since the dawn of the common man, but it only supports the phrase, "Capitalism makes; Socialism/Communism takes."

  39. Hundreds of millions of human beings killed as a direct cause of socialism and communism is an experiment to this guy. That's psycho. When one agrees to be employed, one is agreeing to particular wages and to carry out duties hired for. Don't want to be told what to do? Be your own boss or don't work. The idea that capitalism creates "little kings" but socialism doesn't is ridiculous. His alternative to private ownership and "little kings" is the government. Because what other entity has the power to tell businesses how to run, what to produce, and how to distribute the profits? Voting on how other people use their talents and abilities isn't democratic and certainly doesn't promote equality. That's tyrannical. My body and subsequent talents and abilities do not and will not belong to the collective society. He's terrible at making socialism sound appealing.

  40. Environmentalism is improved by capitalism, which tries to use fewer resources to save money. Once you remove a profit motive, there would be no need for such improvements, like how we've reduced CO2 emissions due to natural gas taking over coal. Without a motive, innovation will keep us on older, dirtier, more polluting, more wasteful things.

    India is a democratic nation, yet it's done both socialism and capitalism, and the latter improved more Indian lives than the former. Are there examples of this going the other way?

  41. Hold up, we work a third of the year to pay the government and employers are the "slave owners" what a delusional mindset. Employment is voluntary taxes are not

  42. Socialism is a perfectly acceptable system for small, homogeneous groups who seek maximum stability. Capitalism is preferable for large groups with heterogeneous desires who want large-scale change – lower social stability, but maximum efficiency and output. It seems this is more a question of scale than ideas – for both. When you scale socialism you get totalitarianism. When you scale capitalism you get crony capitalism, monopolies, and bailouts, etc. The question should be how to scale a new system for competing groups (nations in a global economy with competing culture, religion, etc.). If capitalism is all we have, then scale it back some. If you want socialism, scale it back A LOT – become a communitarian.

  43. The argument employee VS employer is a stupid argument because it implies that the employee cannot leave. We are employees, not slaves.

  44. Epstien's entire arguement was "Be scared!!!!! Be afraid you'll starve! Be afraid that bad people will rise up and control us all!" Which is neither things that are non existent in capitalism, nor the position Dr. Wolff was arguing.

  45. The fatal flaw of Richard D. Wolff's "Employer and Employee" analogy to Kings and Subjects is that: Employees can quit and go to a better place in Capitalism; whereas, in Socialism, employees do not have that option and the State that manages such workplaces will not allow for competition. With that point made, the rest of what Wolff talks about in Democratizing the workplace sounds immature and childish. It could not be put into place without economic stagnation or contraction.

  46. If Richard D Wolf stood to his loftier convictions he wouldn't be supporting a system that glorifies bureaucrats above normal working people. Me not wanting to pay for your extremely expensive, possibly pointless education isn't "oppression". You're using populist anger to rob people and pay them off with their own money. This is just organized crime. If you cared at all for the people you think you're "Uplifting" with this genius socialist stratagem that nobody has ever thought of before, then maybe you'd start a business and prove how you could changes peoples lives. But you're not, and that's why you're here, telling other people THEY need to do something or else support the party and the only party because the party knows what's best. Marching goons. They don't know what they're talking about.

  47. Capitalism causes "interrupted vacations" every 47 years because of economic downturn…. Lol… My grandpas grain harvest was 15 sacks of grain, he got to keep half a sack (welcome to communism)

  48. World war two was fought against the National Socialist German Workers Party and its communist and totalitarian allies, World war three will be fought against the Global Socialist workers Party. Its not that your ideas shouldn't be heard. Free speech and ideas are important. It is the fact that socialists must destroy every current economic system including the good ones to achieve their unattainable utopia.

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