Beyond the blather
Richard Wolff is the pre-eminent Marxist economic theorist of our time.
He’s very sure he’s correct in his analysis. The article linked above is indicative of his sense that if it could just be explained well it would become obvious to discerning individuals that the capitalist system should be replaced by a socialist system.
I don’t think it’s so obvious.
First of all, I think you really don’t need to go through all the Marxist blather about “surplus value” (framed as exploitative) in order to understand the essence of the economy-related issue of our times, which is:
Production and distribution can be done under the auspices of private enterprises — or not.
Under capitalism, all of the enterprises at the “commanding heights of the economy” (like, the Fortune 500 more or less) are owned privately. Decision-making is done by private cliques of controlling-interest (large) shareholders plus the upper-level management teams that they hire.
It can seem a little strange or unfair or inadvisable to have a mega-corporation (which has a mega-social-influence on the economy as a whole, not to mention the many employees, many customers, many communities of operation, etc.) be owned and controlled by private interests as if the thing were a piece of property or a club. This concern has been raised many times since the socialist movement arose 200 years ago. People have said “that’s nuts, any socially impactful economic enterprise ought to be owned socially.” Which sounds good and seems simple, but it’s not.
Ownership by the state, instead, turned out to be bureaucratic. Ownership by the workers, instead, turned out to operate like a private-enterprise-facing-the-market-but-owned-by-employees.
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It’s something to see people stuck in a paradigm. I guess all of us are, to some extent. But Marxism is a big shared one on the left.
All that Richard Wolff says seems to be internally logical.
When you’re stuck, it’s hard to notice the macro premises that you’re operating under. Richard Wolff has a certain premise about human history: It progresses from one stage of development to another. During that progression, he says, “economic systems are born, they evolve, and they then cease to exist at some point.”
Marxism postulates higher and higher stages of development. Richard Wolff savors the transition from feudalism to capitalism and can’t wait to see the transition from capitalism to the “next higher stage” (socialism). But there is another way to view human history. Like: as one long misguided juggernaut (since the rise of the state) leading to the crisis of industrial modernity, the latter being a ruinous phase of over-development and not a “next higher stage.”
So the problems go deeper than Richard Wolff realizes. You have to question more than just “property relations” (who owns and controls) or “the simple arithmetic of capitalist production.” Two hundred years should’ve taught us that we have to question deeper aspects of the current reality, questions like scale, the nature of human “needs,” and the direction of history.