When the 2008 financial meltdown reignited interest in alternatives to capitalism, Professor Richard Wolff was thrust into the limelight. The Marxian economist and scholar appeared on national TV and radio programs hosted by Bill Moyers, Charlie Rose, Bill Maher and Amy Goodman. He spoke to standing-room-only audiences at universities, union halls and churches. The academic also established the nationally syndicated radio program Economic Update (currently aired on 120-plus stations), authored numerous books and emerged as a leading American socialist.
Wolff was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1942 to parents who were refugees from Nazism. He received his B.A. from Harvard, a master’s in economics from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in economics from Yale. The professor has taught at Yale, The City College of the City University of New York and the Sorbonne in Paris. He’s currently professor emeritus at UMass, Amherst, and visiting professor at The New School University in Manhattan, where Wolff lives with his wife, hypnotherapist Dr. Harriet Fraad.
The economist’s professional blossoming late in life disproves F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notion there are “no second acts in American lives.” Ironically, owing to Wall Street’s crisis, the anticapitalist critic finally found his audience. The bemused professor marvels, “I’ve got to pinch myself; I’m having the time of my life.” In this candid Q&A, Richard Wolff discusses socialism, income inequality, democracy, worker cooperatives, the Presidential race, class struggle, Marxism—and an economy of, by and for the working class.
HUSTLER: You’ve appeared on Fox Business Network’s “Capitalism vs. Socialism Town Hall Event” and debated right-wingers like [ex-Presidential candidate] Herman Cain, Fox hosts Lou Dobbs and Stuart Varney. Why go on a pro-business outlet to debate conservatives?
RICHARD WOLFF: I readily agreed to appear on Fox. The answer why is very simple: It has been mainly impossible to discuss the fundamental issue of capitalism versus socialism, for the most part, over the last 75 years in the U.S. The Cold War meant this conversation became taboo. Any association with or conversation about socialism that wasn’t merely dismissive or denunciatory was ruled out of order. That’s a terrible loss. It’s not healthy to avoid discussing how your systems are working or whether you can do better than what exists. That’s how progress is made in every aspect of human life. It should be part of a discussion of economics. Making it impossible set us back for 75 years, allowed capitalism to develop here without limits and in extreme ways. So for me it’s very important to put that topic back on the agenda of Americans, to assess the strengths and weaknesses of both capitalism and socialism, so we can have an intelligent conversation and see what’s the best way forward in an economic situation most Americans already agree leaves a lot to be desired.
Since Fox is one of the major TV news networks and attracts a conservative, pro-business audience, this population has especially suffered from the taboo against ideas I present. So it’s important to bring those ideas to just those folks.