Professor Wolff is ensconced in an academic bubble, and he has admitted that in each of the podcasts I've heard him on. I agree with many other commenters here about certain critiques. Most importantly, comparing economic growth rates in the Soviet Union or modern China to the American economic growth rate is like comparing apples to oranges, because poor countries with new industrial means to harvest natural resources and produce consumer goods often have spectacular economic growth as they go from poor economies to middling or good economies, often with the help of central planning. So his comparison is unfair. Also, Wolff is not clear about exactly how very large companies could either start or continue with ownership and decision-making ability spread across a presumably large number of employees, without such an enterprise descending into financial and operational chaos.

That being said, must we accept the tired dialectic informing much of the debate here? By that I mean the free-market capitalist business model on the one hand, in which supposedly brilliant and necessary creators (such as the founders of WeWork or Theranos), stimulated by the incentives of owning the profits that result from their ideas, build great companies that employ workers- versus the concept of worker-owned, democratically governed enterprises, which apparently are such an anathema in our "democratic" country that they must surely be possible only under the mandate of central planning imposed by a totalitarian and murderous regime? Is there not the space for actual businesses, actual companies, somewhere in the middle- a synthesis, as it were? Imagine, for example, small or mid-sized companies founded by groups of people in which founders and workers own some of the enterprise and have some say in how the company runs, how it expands, and what it spends profits on. We have this companies already- but they are small, local outfits like cooperative grocery stores, breweries, and bookstores. I'm no economist or business owner, but I can't help but think there must be a way for large corporations and companies to embrace SOME of what these local small businesses do, and get a BIT closer to the worker dignity professor Wolff advocates for, without the need for existing business behemoths to be taken over by state central planners.

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I've read through tons of comments (mostly criticisms) which I tend to agree with.

My comments:

1) I am very glad you have people with other viewpoints on the show and that you are gracious and welcoming of their contributions and thoughts.

2) I found Mr. Wolff's comments to be simplistic and very much like 'magical-thinking'. I am convinced he's not a simple thinker, but this felt like an advertisement for socialism in an issue of some publication targeting young people. Something like 'Coffee Fancy' or something. A place generally privileged people would read about their niche hobby and nod their heads at the wisdom of Marx without seeing through the sparkles or lifting the curtain. I felt spoken down to a bit I guess... like an itinerate preacher was trying to sell me something to solve imagined problems.

3) I do wish there was more pushback. I get that this isn't the way you structured the talk, but I felt like excessive time was given to ideas which seemed like a fair number of pins placed for bowling (with bumpers) and that the bowl was declined.

Anyway, love the show and I'm glad for the diversity of thought and the rationality and tone. Great stuff!

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Congrats on welcoming a range of viewpoints on the show, but good lord that man was hard to listen to 🤬. I think Glenn was softer on many points than was necessary, I suspect he disagrees very strongly but was remaining a gracious host. Couple of questions for Prof. Wolff:

1. Imagine a world with completely free immigration (both legally and financially). Anyone can relocate to any country they desired with a snap of the fingers? Where do you imagine most people would live? Is there any doubt that countries that are primarily free market economies would be the destination for the overwhelming majority?

2. Given your theory of how the employees should have the ability to be included in all decision making of the company they work for, how would you treat home ownership and people who provide services to a homeowner? Should a guy who cuts my grass be able to what trees I choose to plant? Seems to me that both of us are impacted by the decision. Does the person delivering Instacart get to have a say in what I eat for dinner?

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Wow incredible an actual adult conversation.

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I'd actually like to commend Dr. Wolff for coming on the show. While I find his work increasingly less convincing, I've noticed that he's never really shied away from coming on shows that might be hostile. However, knowing what he surely knows about Glenn (conservative economist) may have played a role in him only granting a 1 hour (originally 30 minute) interview. He did 3+ hours on Lex Friedman. having also seen that interview I have a sense he was giving a shorthand interview here and a lot of the topics mentioned in the comments weren't adequately discussed due to time (though also possibly because he has bad answers). Lecturing is this guy's life and I'm sure he has the 30 min, 60 min and 120 min versions of his well-rehearsed spiel.

I actually think Dr. Wolff has some interesting things to say and a view of Marxism that may represent a much needed upgrade. I think he's aware of the context that has brought him to the forefront of public debate and I think he is reasonably open to an understanding that these are difficult topics that have almost as much to do with the preferences and decision-making apparatus of societies as it does any kind of mechanistic view of economics. Having listened to him a handful of times since around 2014 or so, I would guess that he could spend his whole career answering the same questions about GDP numbers, entrepreneurs, Theory of Labor etc. into perpetuity and never get to say the one or two interesting things he has to say, largely because any discussion of Marxism inevitably goes back to all the fundamental ways Marx misunderstood economics and all of the ways Communists have gotten it wrong.

But, these are real problems with 21st century Marxism. It raises a LOT of questions and concerns and there's not a ton of good news to point to. But it doesn't leave Capitalism without its set of concerns either. There's a fundamental rift between the two ideologies, something I'm not equipped to answer, but it's almost like Capitalism is focused on the question of what we should do with money and Marxism is focused on how can we protect the vulnerable; one looks forward and the other backward and there seems to be such a gulf between the two that they cannot be reconciled. Perhaps this is revealing and the two ideologies are things that can (and often do) exist in the same fruit bowl.

Being concerned with the plight of the labor force is a worthy topic and not a thing that can simply be waved away with statistics like, "highest living standard in 2k years," or whatever, and these issues can have major political and social ramifications, particularly if they are left to fester. The big problem for Marxists, as I see it is not merely taking an overly-mechanistic approach to economics, but failing to account for the extremely important aspects of reality like demographics, resources, transportation, strategy, etc. and so on. I think it's why so many here find Thomas Sowell a more compelling economist: his story makes more sense.

The last thing I'll say is the one thing about Wollf's description of labor that really bugged me was his notion that the employees have to make all kinds of sacrifices like taking the risk of moving their family to some new place for a job that might evaporate. I simply can't buy this. I doubt most people are moving anywhere for jobs, except, perhaps highly trained and experienced people who take higher roles in a company. While I can admit a mill worker might move to the mill town to have a shorter commute or better schools for his children, the idea that he's going to pick up and move 4 states over when the mill closes seems wrong...he'll just fight over a job at Home Depot like everyone else in his community. The risks taken by entrepreneurs are real even if they have a mountain of silks to fall upon if they fail. At the end of the day, the oversimplifications Dr. Wollf used to describe his views got in the way of what he may have been trying to communicate and with economics, there's no real way to punch through without getting deep into data.

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I wonder whether this guest thought he was convincing to Glen and John. It seemed like they just let him talk without really trying to refute his points similar to how a teacher will let a "not the brightest bulb" student go blue in the face sharing their views.

This guy reminds me of Robert Reich. High IQ with zero wisdom. I would love to create a reality show where all of these guys are responsible for opening and running a franchise for five years where they actually follow the absurd suggestions they make for business owners.

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My apologies if somewhere in the first 83 comments someone has already mentioned this. The answer to Prof. Wolff’s question on democratizing the workplace is about who carries the risk. As Frank Knight noted many years ago, “ With human nature as we know it it would be impracticable or very unusual for one man to guarantee to another a definite result of the latter's actions without being given power to direct his work.” (Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, (III, IX, 11).) It struck me that Prof. Wolff was conceiving of workers cooperatives, which allows for a collective entrepreneur rather than someone with specialized skill in the task. Perhaps the best question Prof. Loury could have asked there is, are there some individuals who are better at being entrepreneurs than others?

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Wolff does a lot of hand-waving, gentle credential reminders etc. I’ve heard him on a couple podcasts recently.

China grew 6-9% a year because it started as a peasant society and steadily hoovered up trillions in FDI. $173B in 2021.

The idea that workers get a vote on how a business should run because they put their kids in a different school is totally unserious. His workplace democracy kick has no persuasive power at all and he’s silent on how this would actually work at scale (hint: it would crumble into factions as unions insert themselves into decision-making and rapidly destroy firms by protecting mediocre people, product and processes).

He still loves this binary: capitalism bad and has failed, Marx was right, something else is coming.

What if Capitalism is perfectible iterative, evolving? Its marriage with democracy our best bet for stability and prosperity? (Viz: capitalist democracies trend to slowing population growth and improving environmental records; totalitarian and authoritarian small-penis-complex egotists don’t give a shit what and who they despoil).

What if our prior isn’t that capitalism “has failed”

—as if it’s a vinyl record that was cut in the 20th century that’s fallen out of style and can’t be edited—but that the price mechanism and the market is as much an evolutionary innovation for the species as aphid farming is for ants? That with the destabilizing effects of technology and social media, we need iterative improvements to policy-making, governance, and the very incentive structure of media? It seems to me that we have a values crisis. It is not time to return to the ecological and human disaster of socialism.

We need to consider valuing deep thought, learning, dialogue, failure, humility, conservation, and so on. Think about how we might evolve our society to whatever consensus we arrive at on what matters in a world in which our lizard brains are increasingly manipulated. Certainly our children aren’t taught how to be critical, independent thinkers; my sense is that a kindergartener today is walking into an device-centric adolescence characterized by feeds that hijack their brains and porn.

And we might not have time to perfect capitalism if we spend our time navel-gazing while China preps for a regional or world war in the next ten years. The world’s prosperity still revolves around the whims of vain male tyrants, which is truly sad and demoralizing.

Old Marxist warhorses like Wolff may have some empirical insights to share but they don’t do us any favours by pretending to have a scholar’s yearning for truth when the truth is they haven’t materially changed their base assumptions since grad school.

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Aug 7, 2022·edited Aug 7, 2022

And I noticed again that I am trying to explain in good faith why Wolff is talking nonsense. The question should be - would you entertain giving a proponent on Nazi Germany economy in 1930s the benevolent hearing that Wolff received? It is clear why the murderous ideology - or shall we say religion - of Nazism - is denounced, but equally if not more murderous communism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, are getting a benevolent hearing, with a hint of, "I don't know enough, therefore you may have some points if you are so confident"? Now this Marxist religion metastasized into John's woke and intersectional religion, and is trying to destroy society in a seemingly different way - and still basically the same. But this is a different story, Glenn, I think this is the high time for you to invite James Lindsay.

Regarding Wolff - why don't you place a responsibility of atrocities on him and his ideological comrades? Apparently, that evil just didn't go far enough, otherwise it would succeed, isn't this his main premise? Particularly when they try to convince everyone to give another go at it, in the US of all places. This makes them morally culpable for the past atrocities. Reread the Communist Manifesto by Marx, and then Lenin or Stalin or Mao, your choice, you will find it in all of their delusional writing. Dictatorship of the proletariat, and bourgeoisie = middle class blood washing the sins of oppression? This is you, Glenn and John.

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I am sorry that Glenn and John didn't have the background to contradict the communist comrade. This highlights the reason why people like this can spout nonsense, with most people just wondering: if this guy is saying it so confidently, there must be some truth to it.

Just as a side - his technique of attacking the camera with his face is so well practiced! Good acting.

Now to the point: I grew up in old Soviet Union. And this incredible success he is claiming never existed. In early 60s my grandfather was taking me with him to wait in the line for bread. By coupon allotment. Yes, there was shortage of bread - I can barely remember the time, of course.

Later, in 1970s and early 1980s there was shortage of all kind of things and allotment rationing, the most basic: soap and sugar. You may ask how about toilet paper? There wasn't toilet paper, and finally when it showed up in ~1980, the only government brand wouldn't rip through the perforated holes.

At the university I had to learn Marxism and Leninism, and everyone wondered, why that promised communism looks further and further? Regarding our 'proffesor' studying the economic growth of the USSR for 10 years? Studying what, 5 year plans? The propagandized successes of these plans were so faked, they were a fabrication after the first 5 years, and becoming more and more detached from reality every 5 years, and it was obvious to everyone with any sense in the country. Except for the Lenin's useful idiots in the West. Perhaps they were the primary target of that charade, I don't know.

Don't even start me on describing people's fear to say a word in critique of anything. Every major city had large KGB buildings, and informers were everywhere. Because you could never tell who they were, typically you would suspect anyone saying something ideologically incorrect as an informer; after all, they had to fill the quota of catching wrong thought. You knew well what happens to people in these buildings.

And then the whole place collapsed.

Glenn, would you wonder that I have no respect for immoral characters like Wolff here? He wishes all of us to end up there, certainly? And no one can even rebut him well? Perhaps, I am expressing myself impolitely?

Regarding China - I could list calamities that cost tens of millions lives, and untold suffering. And then they adopted capitalism as a decentralized way of incentivization of economic progress, and majority of population was lifted out of poverty. But let other more knowledgeable on China people correct Wolff.

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Marxists start in the middle... after the successes of free(r) enterprise and seek to address how to divide the pie. There is no clear mechanism in the system of marxism that incentivizes the first person to act on an invention when they will be rewarded just as well for not doing so. Even his opening story about the destruction of Youngstown starts with 'after decades of opulence provided by free enterprise, there were consequences when it stopped'.

Let's look for lists of accomplishments by socialist/marxist/communist (smc) countries:

* longevity - has any country sustained this beyond 70 years?

* greatest inventions

* quantity of people who travel to smc countries to get health care vs those who travel to free(r) to get health care

* since smc are obviously nobler, they must lead the world in disaster responses by helping other countries. Evidence?

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

Leading-edge growth vs Catching-up growth, in the words of Alex Tabarrok. Catching-up growth is an affair of a few decades ... not sustainable. Trying to sustain it leads to exhaustion, then collapse. If the PRC leadership is smart, they will begin a transition to leading-edge growth before nature forces it upon them. More generally, the authoritarian Communist model has only worked (briefly) in a few places and utterly failed elsewhere. Since WWII, what we may have been witnessing are certain particular strengths of specific cultures rather than government-systemic features. Finally, growth beyond a sustainable level is, overall, undesirable and should not be a goal. I find Wolff's arguments unpersuasive.

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Just an innocent insight....Professor Wolff lauds the economic success/growth of the PRC but fails to mention the role played by outside --western, indeed American-- capital.

Be well, and Good Luck at the MI...

A. Maile

Lakeland, Florida

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I thought it was a great conversation, and I’d love to see society get back to being able to disagree respectfully and still like each other as people.

My only complaint was there were too many placeholders like one of you two intellectual giants mention an author and that immediately meant a whole line of argumentation was understood by the other, like a shorthand, but it left me out in the cold at times because I haven’t read these books you mentioned.

I’d love to have heard you get more into the weeds on the details, and it would have been nice to hear you ask questions about the mass murder.

One good thing, since listening I have found myself watching a lot of his content on YouTube. He’s an excellent debater, but I just can’t get on board with his ideas.

I applaud you for having him on!

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"Richard argues that, all other issues aside, the Soviet Union and China both achieved levels of economic growth not seen anywhere else in the world over the last century."

To consider this argument, one must somehow get past the "other issues aside." How, precisely, is that done when those issues include mass murder, secret police, a lack of individual liberty, etc.? If those are the trade-offs for making the spurious argument that central planning outperformed a free market economy, then Wolff's only rational conclusion can be that no one should ever consider imitating China or Russia.

That's the problem with test tube theories; they often fail in real-world applications. We have the luxury of treating first-world problems as existential threats, but sadly lack the self-awareness to realize what we're doing. The Chinese worker's wage increase has come at a cost. Are Americans willing to pay such a cost? The comparison also weighs what amounts to an authoritarian ethno-state vs. a country that is struggling to define what "American" means of late.

Wolff's agreement with Obama's "you didn't build that" nonsense is a brand of silliness that defies understanding. Maybe "you didn't built that all by yourself" makes some sense, but that's not what Obama said. He intimated that credit and ownership rests largely those with bore no risk in starting the enterprise and who stand, at worst, to lose a job if it goes under. Perhaps instead of vilifying the guy who launched the business, society should support and venerate him or her, for without the enterprise, there are different levels of shared pain to individuals who now have to find work, communities that have a tax revenue hole to confront, others players in the supply chain who must alternative arrangements, and consumers who have lost a choice in the marketplace.

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Dr. Wolff’s views and claims about the economic growth in the USSR and China seem to set aside the sense in which both could benefit from developments that took place earlier and elsewhere. It seems to me, and Glenn alluded to this, both countries were so far behind Western Europe and the US in 1917 and 1949 respectively as to make the comparison questionable. They didn’t need to develop key technologies from the ground up. It isn’t clear to me how much of the growth is attributable to their economic systems in contrast to benefiting from the wider global context.

Some of Dr. Wolff’s comments about capitalism and the problems of Youngstown and those places left behind as the result of major shifts in the market reflect the problem of what Schumpeter referred to as the ‘creative destruction’ of capitalism. Dr. Wolff recommended planning as a solution. I appreciate his point that planning need not be too centralized, but I am reminded of the quip from the film the Patriot that there is little difference between one tyrant 3000 miles away and 3000 tyrants one mile way. I find appeals to democracy exasperating in the sense that some basic human rights ought not be put up to a vote. Those kinds of rights were ignored in the creative destruction of communism.

I have recently finished reading the Bourgeois Trilogy by Dr. Deirdre McCloskey. A short version, coauthored with Art Carden, ‘Leave Me Alone, and I Will Make You Rich,’ gives a sense of her case. She makes the case that there is a good deal of confusion about forces of the ‘great enrichment’ or the enormous numbers of people who have moved out of poverty since about 1800. Her argument is that this change was largely the result, not of capitalism when thought of primarily in terms of accumulation, but the element of market tested improvement within capitalism. She prefers the term ‘innovism’ to capitalism. Innovism developed, in part, as some of the cultural obstacles that prevented individuals, especially the bourgeois, from innovating weakened. Both authoritarian governments and the masses tend to throw up obstacles to innovation. In other words, it was the expansion of individual liberties that made for growth not, as she sometimes puts it, ‘piling brick upon brick.’

A key element of McCloskey’s case is that a change in rhetoric encouraged a cultural shift that allowed individuals to ‘have a go’ in the market. There are some elements of her writings that remind me of Glenn’s work on social capital, to the small extent that I understand it.

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