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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Wednesday, May 31, 2023


Rather than respond directly today to the comments posted on my blog yesterday, I should like first to complicate my account somewhat by adding some additional facts.


The response of capital to the various so-called liberation movements has been complex, as one might expect. Let me offer just two examples to indicate this complexity.  In the later 19th century, employers sought to hold down wages by making a devil’s bargain with their white workers. In return for refusing to hire black workers, employers were able to resist the endless pressure to raise the wages of their white workers. In these cases, capital was opposed to the homogenization of the workforce. However, in the 20th century employers embraced the demand by women to enter the workforce because it made it possible for them to reduce the wages of male workers, who no longer required wages that would enable them to support a family. The so-called “family wage” presupposed that the man in the family was the breadwinner while the woman stayed home, raised the children, cooked the food, and cleaned the house.  The statistics from 2021 are suggestive and quite characteristic of the current American situation. In 2021, median household income in America was $70,784 a year, or $1416 a week for 50 weeks of full employment. But the median weekly wage for the same period of time was $1104 for men and $929 for women. Obviously most households depended on the wages of two workers. In general, it has been in the interest of capital to support the elimination of the privileges enjoyed by white men because by increasing the available labor supply capital can keep wages lower. 


One of the principal things Marx got wrong about the development of capitalism was his expectation that the hierarchical structure of skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled workers would gradually be replaced by a more uniform mass of semiskilled machine operators. He believed that this would facilitate the development of class consciousness among the workers, leading them to form powerful collectives in opposition to the ever more unified capital. In fact, what developed was a seemingly permanent pyramidal hierarchy of wages and salaries, with those in the upper reaches of the pyramid being paid salaries and benefits that were forever out of the reach of the majority of workers below.  On the books of a corporation, the worker who cleans the toilets and the president who sits in the corner office on the top floor are both employees and the compensation of each is listed as a cost to the corporation.  But the reality is of course quite different.

Half a century ago or more Samuel Bowles and Herb Gintis wrote a lovely little paper in which they constructed a mathematical model of an economy exhibiting what they called “relative exploitation,” in which capital exploited labor and higher paid labor exploited lower paid labor. That is indeed the situation that the American economy now exhibits and I confess that I do not now see how solidarity can be achieved in the face of that persistent structure of relative exploitation. The Occupy movement with its emphasis on a contrast between the 1% and everyone else was an imaginative effort in that direction, whatever its limitations may have been.


Well, I will stop here for the moment and await comments and reactions to these observations.




I am an atheist more out of a lack of conviction than out of conviction, and so I am always looking for evidences either of the existence or nonexistence of a good God. My latest evidence, I am afraid, is of the nonexistence of a benevolent deity: Henry Kissinger has just turned 100. I mean really, there was no need for that


I knew Kissinger 65 years ago when I was a young instructor at Harvard and he was a somewhat older assistant professor. He was ambitious, condescendingly scornful of those of us who were terrified by the dangers of nuclear weapons, not very bright, but ominously skillful at advancing his career.


I only actually met Kissinger once and then, I am pleased to say, I was able conversationally to slip a shiv into him.  It happened like this. A number of us at Harvard were doing everything we could to warn of the dangers of nuclear weapons. At one point, Kissinger wrote a letter to the Harvard Crimson in which he undertook to explain to us that “this is a very serious subject.” Not long afterward, he invited me to make a presentation to the seminar he gave each year on international relations in which he postured and preened before the young men who had come to Harvard from various third world countries and would go on in later years to be important figures in their home governments.


Kissinger asked me to make a presentation about The Strategy of Conflict, a splendid book by Thomas Schelling that had just been published. When I stop by Kissinger’s office before the class, I asked whether there was a blackboard in the room where we would be meeting. Kissinger asked why I needed one, and I said that I wanted to put up some mathematics as part of my discussion of Schelling’s book. Kissinger got a rather squirrelly look. It was obvious to me that he did not have a clue about game theory or anything associated with it and was afraid of being shown up for the poser he was. I looked at him seriously and said, “Well, Prof. Kissinger, it is a very serious subject.”


So much for fond memories. Later today I shall address the comments on my post of yesterday.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023


I think the comments on my most recent post are the most interesting and suggestive I have had in some time. Tomorrow I shall try to respond to the comments and expand on what I said. Perhaps together we can come to some deeper understanding of this matter.


For the past 70 years and more, I have been struggling to understand two sorts of social and economic inequalities in America. The first is the many ways in which groups of people, identified by race, by ethnicity, by gender, and so forth are unequally treated and have unequal life chances. Women make only a fraction of what men make in jobs for which they are equally qualified. Black women are much more likely to die in childbirth than white women who are by other social and economic metrics equivalent. Gay and lesbian men and women are denied legal and social opportunities that are routinely available to straight men and women.


These inequalities have given rise to a number of “liberation movements,” so-called – The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation, etc. Much of the progressive energy of millions of people for the past three quarters of a century has been devoted to these movements.


The second sort of social and economic inequality in America with which I have been concerned for most of my life is the enormous inequality in the distribution of income and wealth that characterizes American society. These inequalities are persistent and growing worse, as Thomas Pickety and many others have demonstrated.


Marx, bless his soul, thought that the development of capitalism would progressively eliminate the first kind of social and economic inequality while exacerbating the second in such a way as to finally trigger a revolutionary transformation that would result in a society exhibiting neither of the structures of inequality. But he was wrong, alas, as I tried to argue in my paper “The Future of Socialism.”


What has been troubling me all these years is that I can imagine the various liberation movements progressively eliminating the differential inequalities associated with race, gender, or sexual orientation while not at all having any serious effect on the systematic inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. That is to say, I can imagine an America in which women and men, black and white and Latino and Asian American and Native American individuals, gay and straight individuals are represented at every level in the economy in numbers strictly proportional to their presence in the larger society and yet without altering or even slowing the progress of the economic inequality of wealth and income in the society as a whole.



Monday, May 29, 2023


Maybe he was playing 11 dimensional chess. This suggests as much.  This is clearly well above my pay grade.

Sunday, May 28, 2023


Well, he was not playing three-dimensional chess.  

Friday, May 26, 2023


As I have observed, I cannot tell whether Biden is playing three-dimensional chess or has made the fundamental mistake of bringing a knife to a gunfight. As I wait to see which it is, here is my fantasy of how things ought to play out.

Step one: in tthe next 24 hours or so Biden and McCarthy reach a tentative deal in which Biden gives a bit around the edges in response to McCarthy's promise to raise the debt ceiling.

Step two: McCarthy takes this deal back to his caucus and Biden says that he will only sign off on it if McCarthy can pass it with nothing but Republican votes. Hakeem Jeffries holds his caucus in line and McCarthy cannot deliver the necessary votes. 

Step three: more in sorrow than in anger, Biden reluctantly invokes the 14th amendment and/or mints the coin.

Step four: Republicans in fury vote to impeach Biden and that farce goes down to a disastrous defeat in the Senate.

We shall see.