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5.0 out of 5 starsFun and easy to read
Reviewed in Canada on February 8, 2015
It's a book about economics without the economic jargon. Fun and easy to read. I recommend the "monthly update" from Prof Wolff. You can watch it on his website or on Youtube. Very, very informative and I feel it is an honest and unique perspective about the whole we are in, and how things can change.
Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism This is a small book which contains what he says in the U-tube video. Frankly, I like the video better than the book. However, it is useful to have the book. The book gives you references and links to other works and websites that you cannot pick up from the video.
Rick Wolff is always such an energetic person and a good speaker. However, his book should have been a book (with tables, figures, pictures etc), rather than a mere pamphlet-style long talk reprinted as a book.
Wolff really helps the reader step outside the box and observe the system for what it is. He discusses several problems and offers solutions which are very interesting too. His perspective caused me to pause and think several times as I read through.
I wonder why so many reviewers and critics of this book keep comparing his proposal with the USSR and failed to remind us Tito's Yugoslavia, because the system the author proposed in the book is exactly what they tried and what happened several decades ago in Socialist Yugoslavia. This is actually nothing new, but my point is, maybe it's due to the tragic huge contrast before and after the civil war in Yugoslavia, people tend to ignore and forget that Tito's Yugoslavia used to be the most successful political system in the world at that time. I never saw any books, despite I tried so hard to find one, that seriously and objectively analyze the success and failure of that system, and hence here someone is proposing it again as something entirely new.
I'm not trying to discredit the author's originality, because that's missing the point. The point is if we want to try something new it better has to be tried before, either in the USSR or some other country like Yugoslavia. And starting from what they failed doesn`t nessarily mean we will fail too, but the failure of those countries give us priceless lessons we should not ignore. So the critical point is: we got to really study what really happened in the heyday of Yugoslavia or USSR and what history is trying to teach us by showing the progress of those failures, so we can succeed without repeating the same mistakes.
If we want to build something different from capitalism like the worker's collective ownership of enterprises, the previous lessons from Yugoslavia, especially the economic and political lessons, should not be ignored and should be taken seriously so that they can serve as our starting point and theoretical foundation. This is because society is not an ant farm or lego theme park to which you can undo anything that turns out to badly. As history taught us repeatedly, trying to build a new society, no matter how reasonable and reliable the new idea appears to us, is a much much riskier business than we thought. The Soviet Union and all the other countries tregically showed those lessons to us throughout their history at the cost millions of human lives, and they don`t deserve to go unnoticed.
Here someone is proposing collective ownership socialism again, but doing social experiments at the cost of risking real people`s lives sounds very unattractive, so why don`t we, instead of starting from something new and without real historical data, sit down and analyze the 60`s and 70`s history of Yugoslavia and based on that start to plan how we should revise those legacy system to make it work? It's a much easier call and a whole lot less riskier.
Because Socialist Yugoslavia ended in a tragic and horrific civil war doesn't necessaryly mean the system is an entirely failure. Quite the opposite, it used to be considered by many people back then as the most successful, egalitarian, efficient, and just system we ever invented. But like any thing that`s beautiful and good, it`s delicate, that`s how things are in nature: good things are weaker.
Any tiny misstep could destroy a good society as a communist society. American-style capitalism is extremely ugly and in-organic and evil and greedy and suicidal, and that's exactly why it's also stronger and flexible and cancerous. It`s hard to be defeated, like virus. So if we socialists want to start over again, try to save human race from self-destroying future and bio-suicidal consumerism and bring back a peaceful and beautiful world like the 60`s Yugoslavia, we need to do it really really careful at each step this time. One misdecision, there would be no 2nd chance, because we are fighting capitalist monster designed to exterminate the entire humanity.
This book is about how America come to be in the current economic mess caused by capitalism, why alternatives to capitalism such as socialism and communism have failed, and how to solve the mess.
In America as business profits increased so did workers' earnings but in the 1970s this stopped, this was caused by the following 1) Computers allowing businesses to become more efficient which results in them needing less workers. 2) More women entering the job market creates more competition for jobs. 3) Globalization means that factories can be moved to cheaper locations abroad.
Business profits and pay for the upper classes continued to soar but for the above mentioned reasons the middle and working classes stopped seeing any improvement in real earnings.
With all the extra profits made by not passing the increasing profits on to workers the money got put in the banks. The banks had to figure out how to use it to make money. One way was in easy credit on credit cards. Because workers had no improvement in their wages they were forced to borrow heavily on the credit cards running up massive dept. The sub prime mortgage mess was also the result of banks desperately trying to find ways to loan out all that extra money and resulted in giving mortgages to people that could not afford the repayments.
The massive profits also allows business to corrupt politics resulting in politicians no longer serving the general public and being nothing more than puppets to corporate interests.
The end result of all this is that Americans are working longer hours for no improvement in real earnings, they have massive credit card dept and the dream of owning their own home has turned out for many to be nothing more than a scam. They cannot turn to politicians as they have all been bought by big business. In such a environment people's mental health and family life has taken a beating.
The book explains that Russia was never actually communist, communism was a goal they were working towards but never got even close to achieving. Russia was in fact state controlled capitalism. In private capitalism (what American currently has) the surplus (profit) is controlled by the directors/ share holders and the worker gets no say. In state controlled capitalism the state controls the factory and surplus and the worker still does not get any say.
What we call socialism here in Europe is again not actually socialism (because workers do not own the means of production) but a more moderate version of some aspects of socialism with capitalism.
The solution to this problem is to introduce democratic control by the workers of the business in what the author call workers' self-directed enterprises (WSDE). Under WSDE workers own the business and control the allocation of surplus, a truly democratic solution to worker exploitation. The Spanish Mondragon shows that worker control of business actually works, it is not a pipe dream but a real democratic alternative to private/state capitalist control.
The pros and cons of WSDE vs private capitalist are addressed and how governments could help with the development of WSDE is suggested.
My only complaint is that this book is a bit lacking in detail (but it does point you towards more detailed books for specific subjects), it is a wonderful potentially revolutionary book and I am surprised it is not more well known.
3.0 out of 5 starsAn interesting concept with poor argumentation
Reviewed in Germany on January 3, 2020
Since most books I have thus far read are exceedingly critical of socialism, I ordered this book to look at what a well known modern Marxists opinion on the matter is. Capatalism is undoubtedly far from perfect, yet so far trying to replace it alltogether has resulted in unspeakable suffering for the people engaged in those experiments. Therefore I was very interested in the authors claim that he has found a solution to Capatalisms flaws without repeating the mistakes that were made for example in Maoist China. I was looking forward to a well founded critique of capitalism and a resulting argument about the pros and cons of his idea. Unfortunately I was disappointed. It is not my place to argue about the feasibility of his proposal to solve the "crisis of capitalism" by democratising the workplace with a professor in economics. I do however find his style of argumentation entirely unfit for the importance of the issue at hand. The entire text is written in a way that suggests the author has all the answers and understands perfectly what is wrong and what is to be done without seriously considering possible counter arguments. No statistics or references are used, except to other books he himself has written. For a work that claims to have found a solution to the problems of the dominating global economic system this is a terrible approach. After all, even though this work is distancing itself from the "state capitalism" of systems such as the soviet union, it is still a proposal that is positioned in the same tradition of Marxist critique of capitalism and therefore needs to convince people that this time the result won't be the loss of dozens of millions lives. I find his idea of an economic system where enterprises are democratically governed by its workers very interesting. But simply saying that this is what should be done and then listing all the benefits this will bring without ever presenting a thorough discussion of counter arguments is far from convincing. If it sounds to good to be true, it usually is. And this is why I can't rate this book with more than three stars.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 14, 2014
I really enjoyed Richard Wolff's you tube presentations. He's a great speak, and while the book is very well written I have to confess I got a little bored with the subject matter that dragged on a little. Still - what he discusses makes a lot of sense and Richard puts the ideas forward in a clear manner.
This book is divided into 2 parts. The first half is a shallow and general rant against capitalism, where the author calls socialism and communism as a form of public administrative capitalism; he sees these government models as fundamentally unfair since the employees (the producers of surplus value) don't call the shots. The second half is an incoherent proposal where employees are the directors of the companies they work for; but in this proposal he provides no solution for any of the challenging cases... how to handle build vs buy (ie, a cleaning company), or how to handle education (it's still a government operation?). This is a short (tedious), religious book -- either you believe that employee directed enterprises are the solution to all the worlds problems, or you don't. The book provides no real evidence or thoughtful discussion of why it might be a good model for government and commerce.
Richard Wolff is really someone I admire. He speaks without hesitation because he knows his issues thoroughly, he believes in his convictions, and he doesn’t need to lie, omit, embellish, etcetera. This book is quite good in the respect that it is quite informative. It is always uplifting to read such writings, as it is uplifting to see this man speak. His smile lets us know that he knows what he is doing. I have now two versions of this book. I like to give my support to those few people who represent most of what I believe in.
Richard Wolff writes with a clarity and ease I've often found to be lost in the translated works of others. He begins the book by outlining what the conventional Cold War definition of Capitalism and (State) Socialism were, and how he differs of opinion, instead focusing on the workers' right to control their workplace directly, on building an economic democracy. Throughout the book things such as the Soviet Union, Occupy Wall Street, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession get referenced frequently to help contextualize objects of discussion. Part 3 of the book is dedicated to how one might build and the principals on which one might operate such a structure, which Wolff calls WSDEs (Workers' Self-Directed Enterprises). Overall the tone is very reminiscent of Anton Pannekoek's "Workers' Councils", if with a more updated context and a somewhat stronger emphasis on direct democracy for the workers versus Pannekoek's emphasis on councils; though the two concepts can certainly intertwine and coexist. An excellent read, especially if you're looking for something of Libertarian Socialism.
Before leaving the US on a long trip, I downloaded two books to read in my spare time. After reading Robert Reich's book "Saving Capitalism", I was left with a perplexing but simple question. How..... and perhaps more important, Why? "Democracy at Work", the second book, provided a much more sensible approach to the same problem. We don't need to save capitalism, we need to replace it with something better. Richard Wolff describes a perfectly feasible possibility for doing just that. While the WSDE was probably not possible on a large scale or in a wide variety of situations in days gone by, modern education and communications technologies not only make this possible today, but inevitable.
I'm a big fan of Professor Wolff and this is no exception. That being said I only recommend it as an introduction for people to anti-capitalist and far left views. If you've watched Wolff for a bit and are decently read on the subject you can skip this book.
4.0 out of 5 starsWE WORK DAY IN, DAY OUT FOR WHAT?
Reviewed in the United States on August 8, 2015
Wolff presents a very logical and compelling case (as always) for a more "social" democracy. While his arguments are straight forward with many good examples, the years he spent immersed in academia are obvious on every page; meaning, expect to use the left side of your brain more than you're used to. That said, this is an important work and one that presents a viable solution to a major problem with 21st Century society.
The idea that the majority of working people have become wage slaves and spend most the best hours of the day (and most of the week) working for companies in which they have no stock in, or say in how they are run, is unacceptable.
In an ideal world, Wolff would have a cabinet position in the Executive Branch of government.
This is a serious beginning of a second American revolution. It is a wonderful book that traces American history from the depression and FDRs negotiated way out, to the years that followed with the rescission of the New Deal in favor of the boom and bust cycle that we are back to now. And it explains the WSDE [Workers' self-directed enterprises], movement: what it can do and how it could work as an alternative economy for the USA. Wolff is a scholarly economist with iconoclastic views. Revolutionaries must read this. Others may wish to wait until the revolution begins. ...in 1929 the average US family had debts roughly equal to 30 percent of its annual income. In 2007 account to the Federal Reserve, the comparable number was well over 100 percent. ...The steadily produced more output in goods and services per hour, year after year. Meanwhile, the gap showed up as expanding employer profits. Since real wages stayed flat as productivity kept rising, profits kept climbing...businesses focused on helping the newly rich find profitable investments to become yet richer...ABS [asset backed securities] and their associated derivatives... ...First, stagnant real wages and rising productivity sharply altered the distribution of income and wealth...Second, the working class responded by borrowing vast sums to postpone the end of rising consumption...Third, employers and the rich lent back to the workers, via ABS [asset backed securities], a portion of the extra profits they made from real-wage stagnation... But the pattern was unsustainable.... ...two facts define WSDEs [Workers' self-directed enterprises]: that the appropriation and distribution of the surplus are done cooperatively and that the workers who cooperatively produce the surplus and those who cooperatively appropriate and distribute it are identical.