Karl Marx & the Flaws of Capitalism: Lex Fridman Talks with Professor Richard Wolff




Lex Fridman, a Russian-American computer scientist and artificial intelligence researcher, hosts a popular podcast where he often interviews academics and helps them reach a surprisingly large audience. In recent weeks, he’s had long and wide-ranging conversations with NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin (on the history of Russia and the Ukraine war), and Stanford historian Norman Naimark (on genocide). Above you can now find his conversation with Marxist economist, Richard Wolff.

Fridman prefaces the lengthy conversation by saying, “This is a heavy topic, in general, and for me personally, given my family history in the Soviet Union, in Russia and Ukraine. Today, the words Marxism, Socialism and Communism are used to attack and divide, much more than to understand and learn. With this podcast, I seek the latter. I believe we need to study the ideas of Karl Marx, as well as their various implementations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries…. We need to consider seriously the ideas we demonize, and to challenge the ideas we dogmatically accept as true, even when doing so is at times unpleasant and dangerous.”

You can listen to their engaging conversation above, or find it on various podcasts platforms. Along the way, Wolff underscores the glaring deficiencies of capitalism, and why populists on the left and right are now looking for alternatives. And Fridman asks whether capitalism, despite its faults, may still be the best option we have. Wolff and Fridman undoubtedly have different worldviews, but the conversation is civil and deep, and worth your time.

Related Content

A Short Animated Introduction to Karl Marx

5 Free Online Courses on Marx’s Capital from Prof. David Harvey

Marxism by Raymond Geuss: A Free Course


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Comments (4)
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  • Jonathan says:

    Wow, another “academic” who’s going to tell us all about the wonders of socialism and communism. It’s worked in Venezuela, Cuba, the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and many other lovely places. Why won’t it work here, in the evil USA? Maybe people like to have enough to eat for one!

  • Abe says:

    You lost me at….. second nr. 10.
    To compare serfdom and slavery to employment is so totally ridiculous…
    Serfs and slaves don’t have anything to choose in which organization they want to work, the work-conditions and how much they want to work. The political environment is totally different; absolute monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies vs. democracy. Serfs and slaves don’t have unions. They can’t start businesses of their own. Serves and slaves have no saying in the expenditures of taxes. And so on, and so on. …
    Totally ridiculous!

  • Peter Schaper says:

    I did not listen to the discussion. I would have read a transcript, or at least skimmed it, but AV is a waste of time, so I am not commenting on the discussion, only on the comments.

    Jonathan’s irony might be appropriate if people in the USA really did have enough to eat, but it is obvious that many don’t, and the US is also very harsh in its treatment of its homeless people, so there is a lot NOT to like about the US system, not only its gun lobby, who should all be lined up and shot, like American school children are, and all their guns destroyed.

    Jonathan is right in saying that Communism is not the answer, but socialism could be, but Americans insist on equating socialism with Marxism, and because of their misguided anti-socialism they are heading for an economic melt-down.

    Communism worked briefly in the early Israeli kibbutzim. It was not even tried in the Soviet Union, China, etc., the nearest they came to communism was enforced Collectivism, which destroyed the Russian and Chinese economies and caused famine and huge loss of life. And all the countries that tried Marxism discovered its fatal flaw, “the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, the fact that people who gain absolute power seldom willingly relinquish it, and the associated fact that the ruling clique soon was dominated by one man, Stalin and Mao and their successors in Russia and China, right down to Tzar Putin and Emperor Xi Jinping, the Kim family in North Korea, Ho Chi Min in Vietnam, Pol Pot in Cambodia, etc. etc. Gorbachev almost saved Russia, but the totalitarian regime had become too firmly entrenched. That is how Marxism works out.

    Marxism is fatally flawed; Communism only works when all members of the commune are committed to it; Collectivism doesn’t work at all, because people wont work hard unless they derive some personal benefit from doing so; so short of going back to a subsistence economy and a barter system there really doesn’t seem to be any alternative to Capitalism.

    However, Capitalism is also fatally flawed. As currently implemented it is a huge Ponzi scheme, requiring constant growth to remain viable, which is not possible in our finite world, and it is hugely inequitable because it concentrates wealth in the hands of a privileged minority of ‘investors’ and corporate high flyers, parasites who ‘earn’ money from money instead of from honest productive work. Interest on investments is the primary driver of inflation, it increases the amount of money in circulation without providing a proportionate increase in the value of the underlying economy, so it is a very effective means of transferring wealth from the poor to the rich, by decreasing the value of the currency. Because of these fatal flaws in Capitalism we are now heading for an economic collapse, unless a way is found to share the world’s assets more equitably.

    To prevent the economy collapsing, corporations need to brought under the control of Governments, not vice versa, to set limits on their profit predation, and wealth needs to be distributed more equitably via an appropriate social security system, probably a Universal Basic Income Scheme and public health services and public education, funded primarily by taxes on corporate and investor profits.

    Unfortunately, the wealthy will continue to avoid tax in their pursuit of ever greater wealth, and the real incomes of workers and the financially disadvantaged will decrease to the point where retail sales slump because people can only afford the bare essentials, manufacturing will decrease or stop, the economy will collapse, and the wealthy will discover that they cannot eat money.

    The above is a simplification of the reality, but it is the guts of it, Capitalism has within it the seeds of its own destruction. We cannot maintain constant growth in a world of finite resources. We cannot continue to concentrate wealth in a world of finite resources. If the wealthy do not soon start paying tax proportionate to their means, money will soon stop circulating, the economy will collapse, and the wealthy will find that their money is worthless. Funding favoured charities won’t help, the wealthy need to actually pay tax proportionate to their means if they are to keep money circulating and keep the economy viable.

  • Ray Collins says:

    Total misunderstanding of true capitalism, of which it could truly be said, “It hasn’t really been tried.” The above is arguing against *corporatism* and *cronyism,* which uses the power of government to enrich some at the expense of others.

    The very ones who use tariffs, special favors, bribes, blackmail to enrich themselves and their friends can’t be counted on to direct or manage or control capitalism, because this is what they do. The economy the U. S. has now is not even close to free-market capitalism; it’s a controlled opposition, like claiming Fox News is pro-liberty.

    In a system in which people *voluntarily* exchange goods, services, and money, some benefit more than others (good for them; they deserve it), but when customers are king, they benefit, if only to have their dollars stretch further when the cost of goods and services are lowered via inventions and capital to fund the production of them.

    Capitalists would also disagree with the assertion that it is a zero-sum game. Zero-sum games are the provinces of governments, which steal from some and give to others (tariffs, plunder, welfare, military-industrial looters, etc.).

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