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July 2010 By Michael Albert
Markets subjugate ecology, abominate personality, breed poverty, and require gross inequality. War,
what is it good for? Not people. Capitalism? It makes accumulation the goal of life and caring a token of failure. But, another world is possible nearly everyone replies. Really, what is it? We want the world and we want it now. Yes, but kind of world do you prefer? Well, when I am asked that question about economics—and it is a good question about culture and kinship, and polity too—I answer, what I want is the fourth of four currently available options. The first, capitalism, combines private ownership, remuneration for property, power, and, to a degree, output, corporate divisions of labor, and markets in ways primarily benefiting the capitalist class. The second and the third, centrally planned and market (20th century) socialism combine markets or central planning with public or state ownership, remuneration for power, and, to a degree, for output, and corporate divisions of labor which primarily benefit a coordinator class of planners, managers, and others similarly empowered in the economy. The fourth, participatory economics (parecon for short) combines social ownership, self-managing workers and consumers councils, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work, balanced job complexes (that apportion labor so each job has roughly the same empowerment effects as all other jobs), and participatory planning where workers and consumers cooperatively negotiate economic outcomes with no class divisions. I advocate participatory economics because it transcends capitalism and also market and centrally planned socialism by establishing core institutions that promote solidarity, equity of circumstance and income, diversity, participatory self management, classlessness, and efficiency in meeting human needs and developing human potentials. Here are more detailed reasons.
Reason 1: Parecon solves the problem of class
The usual approach to class has been that economic classes were a product of ownership relations.
The main division was between capitalists owning the means of production and workers owning only their ability to do work. There were other classes such as peasants, but they were deemed less important. One could also distinguish between little or big owners, skilled or unskilled workers, and so on, but this was also secondary. The big issue was capital versus labor.
Instead. the workers. when less was at stake. Other times consensus was the best way to achieve it. yet not ownership. engineers. what about managers. but also the conditions under which people work and the things they do impact both their collective motives and their operational means realizing that corporate divisions of labor and market allocation produce the coordinators as a separate and dominating class committing to balanced job complexes and participatory planning in their place Reason 2: Parecon solves the problem of economic self management Many in my generation became radicalized in the mid-1960s. debate. proposes a system that eliminates the familiar corporate divisions of labor through what it calls balanced job complexes.—and those who mainly follow orders and suffer tedious conditions. Controlling our own lives was a key theme of our new leftist commitments. lawyers. engineers? Critics of the received left wisdom weren't satisfied with lumping these highly empowered workers in with either rote workers below or even more powerful owners above. and a potential to rule economic life. it was coordinators who dominantly decided economic outcomes and who aggrandized themselves from society's output. to like the idea of self management which came to mean that we each should have a say over decisions that affect us proportionate to the extent of their effect on us. Participatory economics extends the insights of anarchists like Bakunin and libertarian socialists like Barbara Ehrenreich that what was called socialism in the past had core institutions that didn't elevate workers while eliminating owners. doctors. where coordinatorism is an economic system that retains the class division between those who monopolize empowering circumstances in their work—the managers. quicker procedures were better. then. etc. Sometimes 50 percent rule was the best approximation to everyone having that level of influence. The features of Parecon that are most central to its solving the class problem are: seeing that economies produce people and social relations. Other times. went beyond conditions of ownership to something more general —position in the economy—which gave classes interests collectively different and contrary to other classes. not simply outputs understanding that not only ownership relations.When some folks examined this time-honored left wisdom. doctors. and (b) accomplishing economic functions without incurring class division and class rule. Participatory economics solves the class problem by (a) identifying the key classes. In response. Sometimes requiring two-thirds for a decision was best or sometimes one person alone deciding. It didn't take long to realize that if we should all have a say in decisions in proportion as they affect us—to the point where trying for further . We felt that the in-between group was different based on their economic position. In the socalled socialist economies. What made a class. but that elevated coordinators while eliminating owners. a different methodology for personal advancement. as another option. It was quite natural. a different self image and image of others. as in how to arrange his/her desk. Sometimes extensive discussion. and refinement of proposals made sense. in this view. we asked. Each worker does a fair mix of tasks such that everyone's job is essentially equivalent in its total empowerment effects. So parecon's class insight was that beyond capitalism there is classlessness as one option. we realized workers didn't decide economic outcomes and equitably share society's output. lawyers. but there is also coordinatorism. participatory economics.
Again.000 pencils. balanced job complexes. but what they choose from is determined without their having an impact. Or suppose those who breathe pollution don't have a say in car sales. but also the broad context in which we make those choices familiar corporate divisions of labor and market allocation produce dominating elites with excessive say over outcomes hierarchical decision-making destroys self management self-managed councils. Participatory economics solves the self-management problem by understanding and highlighting accomplishing economic functions without giving any one set of participants more than proportionate say. but central planners tell them how much they must produce or markets impose output levels on them over which they have little say. albeit some actors far more than others. But this means every decision affects every actor. we aren't producing whatever else we could have with the labor and resources that went to the pencils. and participatory planning need to replace capitalist and coordinatorist options Reason 3: Parecon promotes equity .precision would cost us more in time and hassle than it would gain in desirable decision making and process—the implications for economics were pretty extreme. Suppose workers in a plant make their local decisions. goodbye self management. if we. you can't consume that pencil. workers must have a say in their workplaces about their activities as producers and consumers must have a say about what they get to eat or wear or ride. and also about what is available. So for an economy to be self managing. in our society produce 100. workers councils and consumers councils use self-managed decisionmaking in their local deliberations and choices. The features of participatory economics most critical to its solution to the self-management problem are understanding that each person's freedom needs to extend to the point of others having similar freedom but should not extend further than that: not only what we do day-to-day has to be self managed. Likewise. Goodbye self management. So in a participatory economy. together. and labor to do some other thing. looking at lists of availabilities and freely choosing among them. resources. or those who produce bicycles have no say in the availability of rubber or of safe biking conditions. More. and between workers and consumers throughout the economy. is handled in a way that all participants have appropriate influence. But it is also necessary that the interface between workers in various plants. sets the context for all other parts and choices. An economy is a general system in which each part. between consumers in one region and another. suppose consumers get to choose what they want from among society's outputs. Doing any one thing foregoes using the component energy. including each choice. If I consume a pencil.
parecon examines remuneration and arrives at a particular norm—that we should each receive for our socially useful contributions to the economy a share of its outputs in proportion to the duration. however. the participatory planning system. just as if I were digging holes and filling them. and onerousness of our socially valued labor. What parecon contributes regarding equity is." Margaret Thatcher intoned many years ago. but they do not have great energy for social change because social change seems to be a dead end. Someone might think. so stop whining about it. but doing the work in a slipshod or incompetent fashion that misuses inputs. this cynicism is an obstacle so centrally important that overcoming it is a precondition for .Regarding equity. some other group will be. or some sport or hobby. Nor can you work hard at making something useful and desired. first. and for no other reason. institutions that facilitate attaining it. Rather. leftist entreaties to activism sound like juvenile whining. To me. But parecon rejects remunerating property. Or that a thug with great bargaining power such as our corporate centers of industry deserve whatever income they can take. Parecon's combination of methods and structures ensures that each actor who is able to work is afforded a share of the social product of his or her choosing in proportion to the duration. Massive suffering is just the way of the world. They believe if it isn't one war it will be another. of course. harder. offering the claim as a reason for accepting capitalism. For Thatcher. A person might have great energy for their job or interpersonal relations. again. as well as for most people. which is to say not all the time or effort you are expending is warranted by the desirability of its product and therefore not all of it deserves full remuneration. or at worse conditions. as should everyone else. and onerousness of his or her socially valued work. or remunerating bargaining power. Or that it is equitable for Tiger Woods to get gargantuan income by virtue the value of his fantastic athletic talent to those who like to watch golf tournaments. workers will adopt methods and norms of measuring that they prefer. in different parecon workplaces. or even remunerating personal output. If that group over there isn't homeless or starving. you are not creating socially desired outputs commensurate to the labor you are expending. In such cases. intensity. You get more simply for working longer. second. We should get more income if we work at useful production longer. which are. and self-managed councils. with the overarching guidelines. that it is equitable for Bill Gates to get income equal to that of whole populations of numerous countries by virtue of owning property. as long as you are producing valued output. balanced job complexes. or harder. always consistent. Parecon is not manic to the tenth decimal place about this. Reason 4: Parecon can help overcome cynicism There is no alternative. You can't work hard digging holes in your back yard and filling them and expect an income for it. or while enduring more onerous conditions. intensity. instead. Their belief in the necessity of the pains all around us ensures social passivity. I can't be shortstop for the Yankees or quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts in a participatory economy because my efforts would not be appreciated. clarification as to its meaning and composition and.
unless they have discussed and refined their aims? How can movement activists become advocates of a shared vision which. I agree.building large and sustained movements. and how they would work? And how can a large number of participants have such knowledge and the confidence to act. refined. always ready to make changes. and relations to other efforts should try as much as possible to reflect the values we'd like in a future society both to learn and to inspire. and ironically it is often precisely those who by their values most desire a self-managed economy. decision making. leading to a world we would rather not inhabit. helping us to incorporate councils. however. doesn't exist in the public imagination? People's justified fears of sectarianism actually suggest that we should adopt vision flexibly. think there is a contradiction between seeking liberty and freedom and espousing an institutional vision. and I think a very correct one. Parecon can inform how we construct and carry out our projects. at some point. it should arise from our experiences. modes of remuneration. where else has participatory economics or any other vision come from other than our assessments of our accumulated experiences over about 200 years of anti-capitalist activism plus a few decades of personal experiences and experiments? . why they are valuable. divisions of labor. and relations among people that embody the features of participatory planning. and widely self consciously sought. in their internal organizational structure. classless. equitable remuneration. it can help people recognize that indeed there is a viable and worthy alternative to capitalism. and welcoming criticism and debate. It says that unless the future is brought into being without being thought about. decision-making methods. If participatory economics is widely shared and clearly enunciated and if I am right about its merits. and class relations. Of course. debated. it is seeking it? How can a movement be participatory and attain a self-managing economy and society. Indeed. and self managing. Our movements. with an open mind. I am confused by this objection to parecon and to vision more generally. People with concerns about giving time to developing and advocating vision often say that what we want for our future should arise from our experiences. organizations. we should have movements that embody what we seek in race. As such. and movements. it won't be participatory. balanced job complexes. They think advocating specific institutions for a new society forces us into authoritarian. sectarian dynamics. gender relations. But how can a movement win a different future unless. self-managed decision making. unless it is seeking such a society based on the insights of huge numbers of people? How can a huge number of people be seeking particular institutional changes unless they know what these new institutions look like. that we need to try to incorporate the seeds of the future in the present. Many people. Reason 5: Parecon can inform current activist focus in ways essential to success It is an old anarchist adage. discussed.
The Spirit Of Resistance Lives URL: http://www. or supersede the aims. welcoming debate and refinement. understand the aims. and give participants an equal chance to make the aims of the movement their own. refine. and Parecon: Life After Capitalism. and finally win them. But it should also be maximalist in seeking that which allows future people to self manage classlessly. adapt the aims. act in light of the aims. including Realizing Hope. orient their actions to desirable goals.zcommunications.org/why-participatory-economics-by-michael-albert . Remembering Tomorrow. able to inspire support and action. vision should be minimalist in the sense of not specifying circumstances that are for future participants to decide. Z Michael Albert is co-founder of South End Press and Z Magazine. What our movement needs is shared classless and self-managing vision offered in the most accessible possible language. Yes. From: Z Net . correct. He is currently a staff member of ZNet and he is author of numerous books.Movements that don't have shared compelling vision will not have large and powerful memberships that can embody the seeds of the future in the present.
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