Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

ZSplash Forums AskAlbert Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

This topic contains 85 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by avatar Michael Albert 17 hours, 26 minutes ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 86 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #454408

    Happy to try to answer questions or concerns folks may have about Participatory Economics and Participatory Society. I can’t effectively rewrite whole long presentations here – but I can answer questions based on folks familiarity with other presentations, which, however, leave concerns. P.S. This post says it is from administrator – that is because I set it up while online as admin…but answers here will be from me – too – however, hopefully I will remember to do it from my Michael Albert account…

    #555489
    avatar
    Tyler
    Participant

    Hey Michael, here is a simple one. What is the meaning of the “Complex” part of the term Balanced Job Complexes. For example, why aren’t they simply called Balanced Jobs? Thanks.

    #557696
    avatar
    Michael Albert
    Participant

    Chuckling, the simple ones are always the hardest -

    I don’t know. I have to guess because I just don’t remember.

    If it was reasoned, perhaps robin and I were chatting and thought what do we call this thing? Balanced Jobs – hmmmm…what is that? It doesn’t seem to connote much – one could slide by it thinking one knows what it is, because it doesn’t seem to point to anything new – but not…knowing. We may have been thinking about it, at the time, by methodically figuring out, first, okay, what is a job? Well, it is a set of tasks. What do we need to do to fix the reason why some jobs leave people dominating others? We need to balance them for empowerment. What does that mean? It must mean we have to apportion tasks into jobs by a different norm than now – seeking to largely equalize empowerment effects. So – it seems to be just a little complex. Whoa – Balanced job complexes.

    Another possiblity is five minutes earlier one of us used the word complex, or complexes, for some reason – and then just blurted it out again, and we stuck with it.

    Another possibility, less benign, is we were worried no one would notice there was something really different unless we used some new word, and it would be better to use one that wasn’t totally obscure, of course, and that also fit, but that also didn’t seem like trivia.

    So you see, I just don’t know.

    #611617
    avatar
    Tyler
    Participant

    Thanks. Here’s something else.

    I’m interested in the potential challenges for worker cooperatives in a capitalist society that want to adopt Parecon-like practices. For example, a workers cooperative could adopt the following practices:
    1. Equal pay rate based on effort — possibly taking the form of an equal hourly rate if coworkers accept that everyone generally puts forth the same level of effort.
    2. Balanced job complexes.
    3. Self management.

    From your experience and understanding, will the cooperative face external pressure from markets (setting aside whatever political pressures exist) to undo these practices? If I understand some of the other things you’ve written, in particular about the occupied factories in Argentina, the economic pressure to survive in a capitalist economy will tend to undermine efforts to have fair work distribution — do you think that’s true and can you explain why? Is it just as simple as banks won’t lend money to a non-hierarchical company or is it something more fundamental than that?

    #623292
    avatar
    Michael Albert
    Participant

    If a firm decides to be pareconish inside a capitalist country there are numerous pressures that will push it to reconsider. Yes, one is the problem of dealing with banks, or really all kinds of other institutions, who will view the choices as either hostile or idiotic.

    But beyond that, there is the pressure of market competition. The pareconish firm will want to make decisions consistent with the well being and development of its employees, its neighbors, and those who it provides output too. The market, however, doesn’t assess all that but only profits – which in turn provide means to persist and grow, in particular to seek larger market share. If my firm makes bikes responsibly – in a pareconish way, and other bike makers due it in a corporate way, in a market system, they will generate far more funds to use on seeking audience, promoting sales, and, yes, even investing. Pressure rises to not clean up the neighborhood effects of our activities, to employ speed up and cheaper conditions for workers, and even to short change customers as long as one can do it withough hurting their allegience which is often quite possible.

    These pressures will often be enough to wreck havoc with morale and confidence, or just to compel obedience to the broader (il)logic.

    There is another pressure, as well. Employees of the pareconish firm who have a lot of coordinator class training and preparedness could bolt, to get higher income elsewhere. You might say, yes, but they can stay for dignity, a sense of purpose, solidarity, and so on. All true, and all enough, more than enough – until those market pressures start raising tensions, hostilities, etc. Then it will seem to those who can get more income elsewhere that there is little reason to not do so…

    Those are some of the dynamics – real – and powerful. What it means is that to create a pareconish operation amidst a sea of corporate operations requires ideological commitment, I suppose you might call it. Yes, it establishes a basis for greater dignity and participation in work, etc., but it also bucks up against external pressures that are very hard to navigate. Moved by commitment to an experiment, to a goal, one can persevere. But without that, I think such efforts buckle – examples being coops that revert to old ways, or crumple. And een perseverence may not work, of course…

    #720903
    avatar
    Michael Acuña
    Participant

    Michael,

    Let me preface my questions by saying that I think it’s great you’ve established a forum on ZNet and are willing to converse with ordinary users.

    I have been following your work closely for quite a while and agree that a participatory economy is ethically desirable and humanly feasible – save for a few misgivings regarding balanced job complexes. However, in the course of my activism I have a had an extraordinarily difficult time attempting to convince people that workers’ self-management operates as productively as bourgeois hierarchical management using empirical evidence, so attempting to convince them that an entirely self-managed economy (while lacking any evidence of such an economy ever existing) is within the realm of possibility is an especially difficult exercise. So, my first question is: what is the best method you’ve found for addressing this understandable skepticism? Personally, I’m of the view that the only way for the mass of people to overcome their pessimism is for them to actually witness self-management at work, or at least know of people who have participated in the organizational form. If that is indeed the case, it would seem that a proliferation of worker cooperatives and other radically democratic projects is necessary before society can make the transition to a comprehensively planned economy.

    My second question is of a more technical nature. I’ve debated several learned individuals (e.g., Herbert Gintis) on the viability workers’ self-management and participatory planning over the years, and I’ve encountered several detailed criticism of your proposals, a few of which I found rather difficult to counter. The one I would be interested on hearing your response to today comes from Geoffrey M. Hodgson’s 1998 paper “Socialism Against Markets? A Critique of Two Recent Proposals” (Economy and Society, Vol. 27, No. 4, pp. 407-433). His argument concerns the relative dynamism of a participatory economy. It is his contention that the trouble with planned economies, of any variety, is that they lack the incentive to experiment and innovate which competitive markets feature. In short, workers within a (non-market) socialist commonwealth would likely be averse to adopting or investing in new technologies because doing so would disrupt the working environment they’ve become accustomed to. I find this prospect particularly troubling because, if a participatory socialism is ever to be constructed, it is inevitably going to begin on a national scale and therefore exist in a world still dominated by capitalist economies. And if the capitalist world continues to exhibit technological dynamism while the hypothetical socialist nation quickly falls into stasis, it’s difficult to imagine how the latter could maintain itself for long.

    I can, of course, conceive of mechanisms which could be implemented within a participatory economy that could, as it were, compel collectives to adopt newer, more efficient technologies; perhaps consumer councils could play a role in the process. However, one of the interesting things about living in a non-alienated society is that you can personally see the individuals attempting to alter your work life. Thus, if an agency was to be established which compelled workers to adopt new technologies, it could prove corrosive to social harmony. Firms operating within alienated market economies, on the other hand, can always blame the mysterious, impersonal forces of the market for their decisions to modify the production process, and therewith disrupt the lives of their workers.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    #720910
    avatar
    Michael Albert
    Participant

    Hi,

    Thanks for the kind words, and raising your concerns. You mentioned some problems with balanced job complexes – perhaps you could raise them? Happy to hear…

    As to “productivity” the first thing is to ask why the person who is concerned thinks parecon would be less productive? And also, what the person thinks constitutes productivity, while we are at it. Why does the person think he or she, working in a parecon, would either work less effectively, or less hard, or less long – those being the main reasons why he or she would be less productive – given that doing any of that leads to lower income? If they have no reasons, then you can’t address their reasons. If they do, you can.

    If you will give me some reasons they raise, I will try to address them. But parecon, you should keep very much in mind, is not JUST self management.

    Herb is a friend of mine, and was a teacher of mine, too. But we haven’t had contact in a long time, now. It is interesting to hear that he has criticisms though I believe he has never broached any publicly, or to me…

    So, regarding your concern, is parecon less conducive to experimentation and innovation than a market system? Well, again why would it be? The first thing to notice is that in a market system almost all the fruits of a successful innovation go to owners, not those who actually conceive, test, and implement the ideas. So the owners have an incentive to push workers, I suppose you might say – but that is not highly desirable, to say the least, and workers tend to resist – and that is best case, when, in fact, owners want to innovate in some useful manner – which is actually rather rare.

    Second, in reality, that is, most innovation, by far the lion’s share, I suspect, in market systems comes from the largely or even entirely planned sectors – like NASA, research institutes, etc., and from the human curiousity and drive of individuals. It is actually where risk is relatively low – due to financing and insurance from the government – that innovation occurs, I bet, so that market competition has nearly nothing to do with generating it. Likewise for hierarchical oversight, which barely plays an y role at all, say, in labs.

    But still more, capitalism, in fact, incredibly distorts and circumvents innovation and experiment – because the idea is to profit and there are lots of ways to do that without, in fact, risking failure. Innovate to fragment workers and control them, sure, but not to make their work day more fulfilling. This is no small observation.

    In a parecon there are workers whose job is to do research, innovate, etc. They are in institutes, and also workplaces. Their income depends on doing their labors well enough to merit receiving resources, and income. The benefits accrue to all. There is no bias to distort the pursuits to reproduce profit and power, instead of well being, exactly the opposite.

    The idea that workers would resist innovations that would, on balance, disrupt and otherwise harm them – which in a parecon actually means via balanced job complexes and equitable remuneration, harm everyone, is certainly true – just as it ought to be. If we have a system which is exploiting workers for a small class of beneficiaries of consumer goods, then that resistance will be stamped out by power. Sure. But that is not good. Nor are the result even of the innovations good.

    Really, there are endless ways to see this but consider vehicles, which means cars, boats, trains, planes, etc. What, 100 years of massive concentrations of power and wealth, market organized – and you tell me. Innovations that matter? It is estimated that commute time is longer now than in the late 1800s. The world is being poisoned. I think it is 50,00 in the U.S., yearly, dead in accidents, and so on. Market dictate accumulation – in part that does include some drive to innovate, but within narrow and horrendously distorting boundaries.

    On the small scale, yes, if ten of us have a nice viable working situation and someone says lets switch it thusly – and there is only a small upside and potential pain for us (meaning worsening of work overall) but some benefit in market share or cost savings for the owners, should we do it, or not? Well, in capitalism, or a market system, we do it or get fired – terrific. In parecon, it isn’t in fact just a personal choice, because if not doing it would make our work socially unproductive compared to norms in society, we would no longer get paid. What turns out is that the calculation undertaken makes sense – will innovating generate enough benefit over all, which when spread to all offsets any associated costs – so that the pursuit is wiser than other pursuits we might otherwise undertake.

    What compels workplaces to innovate, when we are talking about innovations of value – labor saving, less polluting, really generating well being via better products, etc. – is that in some industry, if you don’t do that, you are not doing socially useful work, so you will do it. But why take the initial leap – well, because that is what the reasearch department earns its income for, it is what gives them a sense of accomplishment. Tenured professors don’t innovate ideas because of competition…

    The underlying issue here, though, is what is a good innovation? You tell me, in a workplace, what type innovation should be implemented, what type should be rejected – then it is possible to ask whether parecon or a market coordinator or capitalist system would function better.

    #720921
    avatar
    Michael Acuña
    Participant

    Thank you for the prompt reply, Michael. I really appreciate it.

    You mentioned some problems with balanced job complexes – perhaps you could raise them? Happy to hear…

    As a worker who has been involved in menial labor my entire adult life (which, admittedly, hasn’t been that long – I’m 27 years old), I’ve discovered that I harbor a number of work preferences. For example, I’m currently employed in a job which requires that I frequently rotate tasks. All of the tasks entail customer service in one form or another, but each one could probably be assigned a rank of relative ‘empowerment’ or ‘disempowerment’ by parecon’s criteria. However, even though my job features an atypical balance of cognitive and rote work, I would much rather specialize in just one task. I’m of a disposition which desires regularity and the prospect of mastery (even of rote tasks), and balanced job complexes just seem at variance with that. I realize that my preferences are, to a certain extent, exogenously influenced, but I can’t help but think that even within the context of unalienated, self-managed work, I would still prefer the stability specializing in one job offers; and I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with that.

    Furthermore, I question whether one could ever fairly rank tasks according to their degree of empowerment (or lack thereof). The nature of how people perceive work just seems too subjective for that. A surgeon, for instance, may find the notion of having peoples’ lives in his or her hands each day psychologically trying, whereas – to use Chomsky’s old example – an ice cream vendor may find his job quite fulfilling. Consequently, determining onerousness seems rather complicated. And even if society democratically decided on the matter, some people would always feel cheated. What society can do objectively, however, is examine trades wherein the very lives of the workers are a stake and compensate the individuals involved in those dangerous professions accordingly. We can also prioritize our investments in automation with that information.

    As to “productivity” the first thing is to ask why the person who is concerned thinks parecon would be less productive? And also, what the person thinks constitutes productivity, while we are at it.

    The general assumption these individuals have is that human beings are inherently lazy and will always view labor a disutility. They aren’t considering how radically different employment could be after transitioning to a life of directly social labor, i.e., democratically planned, self-managed production. But even after I describe the myriad ways in which labor would be transformed, and cite the empirical studies which routinely find that workers who possess greater control over their work lives are happier than those who don’t, they maintain their skepticism – and I can’t say that I fault them for it. After all, it’s one thing to say workers in self-managed firms are happier than those in hierarchical ones, but it’s quite another to say that the former set of workers are just as productive. As it happens, they are (self-managed firms even rank as slightly more productive in many studies) – which I hasten to point out – but that evidence only extends to labor-managed firms operating within the confines of market economies. In other words, I cannot use that data when advocating on behalf of parecon because we simply don’t know if that fact would obtain within a democratically planned socialist commonwealth as well. I happen to think there are reasons to suspect that it would, but it’s merely speculation on my part. And therein lies the problem I was getting at in my last post. It’s difficult to get people to join you in a movement which is struggling for institutional changes they feel are infeasible. And, in my experience, even when I cite specific cases of more limited forms of successfully self-managing entities, such as worker cooperatives, they retain their pessimism; which is why I feel it may be necessary to go through a transitional period wherein we expand democratic projects to demonstrate that humanity is, in fact, capable of achieving considerably more than bourgeois ideologists would have us think. ‘Seeing is believing,’ as the old cliché goes.

    With respect to what the skeptics have in mind when they discuss productivity, it’s usually material output per worker. Without hierarchical, detached managers overseeing the shopfloor, they believe workers will shirk.

    But parecon, you should keep very much in mind, is not JUST self management.

    I understand that, in addition to self-management, a parecon would feature remuneration based upon effort and sacrifice, balanced job-complexes, and participatory planning – all of which I support, with the aforementioned exception of balanced job-complexes.

    Herb is a friend of mine, and was a teacher of mine, too. But we haven’t had contact in a long time, now. It is interesting to hear that he has criticisms though I believe he has never broached any publicly, or to me…

    I have debated Mr. Gintis (whose early work on economic democracy I admire) on few occasions on Amazon.com. As you are doubtless aware, he underwent something of a philosophical metamorphosis in the ’90s and basically abandoned socialism in toto. Prior to that he did a lot of theoretical work on labor-managed firms, which he now regards as economically inefficient and ethically undesirable – a detailed example of this can be found in his Amazon review of Theodore Burczak’s Socialism after Hayek (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006). When the issue of your own work was raised, he basically dismissed it as impracticable.

    Ever since he started working in behavioral economics and began entertaining sociobiological notions, his views have become quite reactionary. It’s unfortunate because he’s very intelligent and we on the left would do well to keep individuals of such a caliber in our ranks. But I digress.

    So, regarding your concern, is parecon less conducive to experimentation and innovation than a market system? Well, again why would it be? The first thing to notice is that in a market system almost all the fruits of a successful innovation go to owners, not those who actually conceive, test, and implement the ideas. So the owners have an incentive to push workers, I suppose you might say – but that is not highly desirable, to say the least, and workers tend to resist – and that is best case, when, in fact, owners want to innovate in some useful manner – which is actually rather rare.

    Second, in reality, that is, most innovation, by far the lion’s share, I suspect, in market systems comes from the largely or even entirely planned sectors – like NASA, research institutes, etc., and from the human curiousity and drive of individuals. It is actually where risk is relatively low – due to financing and insurance from the government – that innovation occurs, I bet, so that market competition has nearly nothing to do with generating it. Likewise for hierarchical oversight, which barely plays an y role at all, say, in labs.

    I fully agree that the vast majority of research and development presently occurs within the state sector and is primarily driven by the scientists’ curiosity and creativity. The problem that Hodgson sees isn’t necessarily that rate of technological innovations will reduce within a planned economy, but rather that workers will be hesitant to invest in new technologies and/or incorporate those technologies into the labor process.

    Suppose, for example, there was a plant manufacturing cellular telephones in a parecon and an inventor came up with a way to dramatically increase the number of phones produced with a fraction of the labor currently employed. Demand is high for this particular product, so it would significantly benefit consumers. Moreover, none of the environmental externalities would be different under the new method. But the workers employed in the manufacturing collectives enjoy the traditional production techniques they employ and don’t want to search for work elsewhere. A tension, as you can see, arises. How is the matter to be settled?

    But still more, capitalism, in fact, incredibly distorts and circumvents innovation and experiment – because the idea is to profit and there are lots of ways to do that without, in fact, risking failure. Innovate to fragment workers and control them, sure, but not to make their work day more fulfilling. This is no small observation.

    Indeed. I found David Noble’s Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation particularly enlightening on the many ways capitalism distorts our investment and R&D priorities.

    The underlying issue here, though, is what is a good innovation? You tell me, in a workplace, what type innovation should be implemented, what type should be rejected – then it is possible to ask whether parecon or a market coordinator or capitalist system would function better.

    I suppose Hodgson’s response would simply be that the ease by which market economies accommodate the introduction and adoption of new consumer products, technologies and/or methods of production renders them more technologically dynamic than planned economies, since the latter require a greater amount of time being spent on deliberating the costs and benefits those new products and technologies will have for society. But, as you said, that is a perfectly justifiable process.

    The problem I see, however, concerns a hypothetical democratically planned country operating within global capitalism. Will the ethos of the masses in the socialist nation be sufficiently transformed that the temptation of more frivolous consumer luxuries being produced in foreign capitalist states not jeopardize the stability of the system? If it’s true that market economies (be they capitalist or market socialist in orientation) possess a great technological dynamism, they may well produce flashier devices and in a greater abundance.

    Anyway, thank you, again, for taking the time to thoroughly respond to my posts.

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by avatar Michael Acuña.
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by avatar Michael Acuña. Reason: Typos
    #720947
    avatar
    Michael Albert
    Participant

    Hi again!

    To avoid getting too long in one post – I will break this into two parts – first, some comments about balanced job complexes – and then another post re your other concerns.

    So, about balanced job complexes you write: “I would much rather specialize in just one task,” and feel that this would interfere with your enjoying, or society having, balanced job complexes.

    First, I think that with only a few grotesque exceptions, there is no such thing as a job that has only one task that is completely obedient. On a really harsh assembly line and in other such situations this exists. A person does literally just one thing, all day, every day, over and over. I find it hard to imagine any human would prefer that to greater diversity of actions.

    I suspect you would agree. So I think you have in mind jobs that are more diverse than that, but still fall short of the level of diversity that would be involved in having balanced job complexes. (a) I am not sure they are short of it. That is, if you have a reasonably diverse job, just how much of an imposition, even on someone who says they want to focus, would arise from including tasks that balance, rather than tasks that do not. What we are really talking about, then, is, you might say, three kinds of diversification of jobs. Someone has virtually one task – the horrible case noted above. So, balancing means adding more – and doing less of that one. I doubt you are concerned about this. Second type, we have done that for everyone so that no one is doing one thing over and over, etc. Now, someone has a mix that is, however, overwhelmingly disempowering. So that person changes some tasks – some disempowering out, some empowering in. Alternatively, someone has almost completely empowering tasks in their diverse job. Again, we balance by having some empowering out, some disempowering in. I suspect, honestly, that your concern isn’t a real one, in practice. In a rich workplace, with lots of tasks, much less throughout all of society, a balanced job complex you would opt for would be one where you are doing things that you find amenable or really like – otherwise you would opt for some other job – in which your time for things that are more complex and demanding is ample for being good at those tasks (otherwise your work is not socially valuable), and thus, all is well.

    But (b) suppose for someone, perhaps you, this isn’t the case. You select a balanced job complex suited to you, but you report that you would rather jettison some of the tasks, moving toward or heavily into unbalanced, and will be happier that way. Now what? I admit, I don’t think it is a real situation. With ample training, freedom etc. etc., my guess is everyone will prefer a suitable balanced job, understanding that the reason is to preserve classlessness, certainly to one that is less empowering… But, if not, my answer is no, it is not an option to have a largely disempowering job, Councils simply don’t create them. Because writ large to allow such jobs is a recipe for disaster. If there are any gains for some subset of individuals – such as yourself – and we are not talking about people with ailments who have no alternative – they would be swamped by the negative implications of class division.

    You are also concerned that “Furthermore, I question whether one could ever fairly rank tasks according to their degree of empowerment (or lack thereof).” Nothing is perfect in any social assessment. But within a range of acceptable error, this is actually quite possible. In a workplace it is achieved when folks agree on how to combine tasks into jobs. Once that is done – then basically it is a bit like now. You apply for a job, as defined. At the end of each year, say – who knows precisely how different workplaces will decide to operate – they get tweaked. Why? Well, in a workers assembly there is agreement that because of innovations, or mistakes in past assessment, some jobs are significantly unbalanced and need some correction. But it is a social process. A negotiation. This is all a social process – a matter of some discussion and settling on a decision. It isn’t some kind of engineering calculation.

    When you worry that “the nature of how people perceive work just seems too subjective for that,” I think there is a misunderstanding. The issue isn’t how do I feel about my job. The issue is, overall, what does the workers’ council decide vis a vis apportioning tasks into jobs. Not everyone agrees that a decision is perfect, some will even dislike a decision. So?

    You say, “A surgeon, for instance, may find the notion of having peoples’ lives in his or her hands each day psychologically trying, whereas – to use Chomsky’s old example – an ice cream vendor may find his job quite fulfilling.” I find this example weird. It looks at a hypothetical situation, now, and extrapolates to a criticism of a possible future type of economy, but pays zero attention to the actual reasons for choices. I would suspect that any ice cream vendor who is subject to strict oversight, who operates on a schedule, and who does the same things over and over, is far less fulfilled than is claimed, here, to say the least. Ask such a person whether he or she would like his or her child to grow up to be an ice cream vendor, or a doctor. On the other hqnd, have the person providing ice cream in a workers councils responsible for all aspects, and him or herself doing a mix of activities, and things change, dramatically. But, in any event, the issue is not a particular person liking or not liking a job complex – those who like x will do x, those who don’t, won’t. And in a parecon, people are not in classes that lack such options.

    In a parecon, in other words, the reason people do job x instead of job y is they will be happier at x than y. Of course. The social issue isn’t how much does the person doing the job like it. The issue is, how does society assess it. And it isn’t, in any event, liking or not, it is empowering or not.

    You write also: “Consequently, determining onerousness seems rather complicated. And even if society democratically decided on the matter, some people would always feel cheated.”

    It isn’t all of society deciding on every workplace’s apportionment of tasks into jobs, it is overwhelmingly the workers council of a workplace. You are also mixing onerousness and empowerment. Suppose, we have set up balanced job complexes and agree they are good vis a vis empowerment. Now, are any of the jobs unduly onerous? Some could be, though I suspect most of the time such differences will be small and not worth attention. But suppose one job is really significantly more onerous – meaning what? Well, the workers council agrees on that, before anyone settles on what job they will do. So, it is agreed there should be somewhat extra income for doing that onerous job. Now suppose you really like that job, so you apply for it and get it, and you get some extra income too, because the workforce agrees the job is unduly onerous. So now you are doing very well – you have a job you like, and you are getting some above average income. Okay, fine. Or, if you feel like you are getting more than you should, you can pass on the extra income.

    One of the problems of thinking about balanced job complexes and really every part of parecon is thinking that it is some kind of perfect, crystalline, system in which everything is always perfectly tuned, and everyone is getting perfectly equalized benefits, and so on. If it diverges from that, it is flawed. No. Nothing is that perfect. But the complaints people have about parecon, which almost always come down to a hypothetical person who will be uncomfortable in some way – bear not even a tiny resemblance to the pain and suffering of markets, much less capital, imposed almost universally – if the parecon complaints would exist at all.

    You don’t like a job, fine, do a different one. What you have to argue is that there is no balanced job that would suit you – and that that debit is so great, cumulatively, and solving it wouldn’t impose still more pain on others, and the debit outweighs attaining classlessness and all the fruits that flow from that.

    You write: “What society can do objectively, however, is examine trades wherein the very lives of the workers are a stake and compensate the individuals involved in those dangerous professions accordingly. We can also prioritize our investments in automation with that information.” Actually, whether society can do that or not depends on its institutions. In a parecon it can – and it automatically does. The self managing councils plus participatory planning identify where individuals should get more or less income, and the planning process identifies where it is desirable to invest for the purpose of making jobs more fulfilling, or products, or cleaning the environment, and so on. But with corporate divisions of labor, markets, etc., society cannot, and does not do these things. The institutions not only don’t provide the information that would be needed, they propel contrary choices, viciously contrary. The gap between the approaches is enormous.

    #720948
    avatar
    Michael Albert
    Participant

    As to the second part of your concerns, centered mainly on “productivity,” the first thing is to ask why a person thinks parecon would be less productive? And also, what the person thinks constitutes productivity, while we are at it.

    You write: “The general assumption these individuals have is that human beings are inherently lazy and will always view labor a disutility. They aren’t considering how radically different employment could be after transitioning to a life of directly social labor , i.e., democratically planned, self-managed production.” And I would add, in which the apportionment of circumstances and income is just. And would add that the claimed self management can’t be had if there is a class division between empowered and disempowered workers.

    You add, “but even after I describe the myriad ways in which labor would be transformed, and cite the empirical studies which routinely find that workers who possess greater control over their work lives are happier than those who don’t, they maintain their skepticism…after all, it’s one thing to say workers in self-managed firms are happier than those in hierarchical ones, but it’s quite another to say that the former set of workers are just as productive.”

    Take into account larger scale variables – wasted labor on oversight, resistance, strikes, etc. etc. Take into account that in fact income in parecon depends on doing socially valued labor, which means given social assessments, desires, capacities, etc., a firm can’t under utilize its assets and have it employees get full incomes. The next evaluation is parecon would be far more productive, actually – for hours worked, though people may opt for shorter works weeks, and the like. Then include that instead of the economy needing 80% of the population to enter it with near no initiative, with capacities smashed, etc., it needs and expects everyone to be fully developed in whatever directions they desire – and the productivity gap, per hours of human labor, is growing immense. Now get rid of idiotic redundancies, built in obsolesence, etc. etc. and the gap grows still more.

    When you say, “As it happens, they are (self-managed firms even rank as slightly more productive in many studies) – which I hasten to point out – but that evidence only extends to labor-managed firms operating within the confines of market economies.”

    And these are not, by and large, remotely self managed in parecon’s sense. Just like you would not call bourgeois democracy participatory democracy.

    But the big problem is what kind of productivity matters and is desirable? We all understand that a slave, whipped, who picks more cotton than one who is not whipped – isn’t a good thing. We don’t seem to get that same insight, however, for wage slaves. And for some reason, the gigantic variables, like military production, the costs of maintaining hierarchies, the savage annihilation of environments, and on and on, all of which grow from class division, are simply ignored in such discussions.

    Parecon does not claim it is the economic system that will generate the largest pile of stuff. It claims to be an economy that will generate a pile of stuff people actually benefit from and want, in ways that also benefit people including their desires for leisure, etc. Very very different.

    Of course you can’t argue for parecon by saying in that parecon, right over there, these are the results. True. And, yes, there is no alternative to there being a long period of emergence of movements, including many reforms won along the way, including transitional programs, etc. etc. Of course. But, while all that is happening, are we moving toward classlessness, or not. Is it galvanizing working people and generating awareness of classless possibilities – or, instead, are we opposing some powerful and dreadful ills, but also solidifying habits and views that preclude their full elimination.

    You write: “With respect to what the skeptics have in mind when they discuss productivity, it’s usually material output per worker. Without hierarchical, detached managers overseeing the shop floor, they believe workers will shirk.”

    And, in a capitalist firm, of course they will. I would. What is surprising, actually, is that it is a less pronounced phenomenon than one might expect, and might hope for in the form of job actions, etc. But what if the workers run the shop floor, and run the whole firm. And they all have balanced job complexes. And what if the systems operate such that if their firm under produces given its assets, their income will suffer – and note this doesn’t push excess accumulation, no gains from that, but it does provide a disincentive to shirking, an incentive for responsible work levels.

    And finally, if shop floor oversight is important, then what precludes having it? That is, self management doesn’t rule that out, It doesn’t even rule out hierarchies, which are sometimes very much needed. The person piloting a plane doesn’t have a vote on her decisions in a storm. But the person piloting does have a balanced job complex, as do all the other folks, and does get an equitable income, as do all the others, and so on. Same for a workplace – what if – think of an orchestra – at various points and times, there needs to be oversight and not dissent – okay, fine. But not fine if those doing the overseeing only oversee, and if those being overseen are only overseen.

    You write: “I understand that, in addition to self-management, a parecon would feature remuneration based upon effort and sacrifice, balanced job-complexes, and participatory planning – all of which I support, with the aforementioned exception of balanced job-complexes.”

    The crucial missing point is that the remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work – is only for socially valued work. In this context incentives are as they need to be and should be to elicit productivity that adds to fulfillment more than side effects detract – treating everyone’s fulfillment as mattering.

    About Gintis, if you could send me anything he wrote about parecon, that would be nice to see. I am guessing that Herb, who really is very very smart and capable, did not, in fact, address it carefully, but rather just threw out the usual kinds of scare terms – impractical, impossible, etc. etc – without saying why…

    You write: “The problem that Hodgson sees isn’t necessarily that rates of technological innovations will reduce within a planned economy, but rather that workers will be hesitant to invest in new technologies and/or incorporate those technologies into the labor process.”

    Honestly, I think this is true for what you and I would call harmful technologies, not true for what we would call desirable ones, but maybe I am missing something. What kind of technological innovation, in a parecon, would be researched and ready to implement? Well, one that would either reduce the onerousness or the time required – or the pollution or other social ills involved, to generate the familiar output – x. Or one that would improve the quality and social value of the output, without unduly increasing any harms involved. Now, why would workers in some plant resist such an innovation?

    Remember, they understand the system, appreciate classlessness, etc. etc. Well, you might think, maybe they put themselves above the rest of society… but, wait, how do they get hurt by the innovations? The former have no negative impacts on them, ditto the latter. They wind up with balanced job complexes, and equitable income, and after the overall effects one or the other or both improve somewhat. Now you might claim that there should be a local bonus gain of the innovations, for a time, to incentivize any risk involved – and fine, parecon can incorporate that.

    You write: “Suppose, for example, there was a plant manufacturing cellular telephones in a parecon and an inventor came up with a way to dramatically increase the number of phones produced with a fraction of the labor currently employed. Demand is high for this particular product, so it would significantly benefit consumers. Moreover, none of the environmental externalities would be different under the new method. But the workers employed in the manufacturing collectives enjoy the traditional production techniques they employ and don’t want to search for work elsewhere. A tension, as you can see, arises. How is the matter to be settled?”

    Since demand is so high, actually, I think your example isn’t what you want. Say demand is modest – so after the innovation the benefits of cell phones entail only 50% of the workforce remaining in that industry. What happens? If this is happening in all industries, the work week just gets shorter – or people decide they still want to work the same duration, and more stuff is produced for people than before. But suppose, for your example, it is just this industry that has the change. In a parecon, some workers will need to change jobs once the technology is in place. So, they will get income for the duration of the transition – and yes, maybe the installation of the new technology is delayed just a bit to avoid unplanned dislocations. The workers who opt for a change get training if needed. And so on. No unemployment without income or with reduced income. No sense of failure, etc. And of course, if all that cost is too high to be offset by the gains of the technology being in place, it is delayed – because the issue isn’t technological innovation for the sake of it, but for people’s well being.

    Now what about other economies? For this type innovation, workers simply get dumped, by bosses, and suffer horrendously. That is the real comparison. What about other types of innovation – well, innovations that increase owner and manager control – they imposed, who cares and harm on workers. Innovations that spew crap that society has to clean up or suffer, but profitabe for the firm – they are imposed, who cares the harm on society. Innovations that subtly change the product to make them addictive say, or prone to needing repair from the producer. Great.

    My point is, not only do folks generally not understand parecon’s logic and steps, due to not really trying, I think, or having the opportunity, but they overlook the ills of other economic arrangements. What is striking is that it isn’t a matter of complexity, but rather of having a belief system or rationalizations for existing relations, and defending those without seriously thinking through the real issues.

    I wrote: “But still more, capitalism, in fact, incredibly distorts and circumvents innovation and experiment – because the idea is to profit and there are lots of ways to do that without, in fact, risking failure. Innovate to fragment workers and control them, sure, but not to make their work day more fulfilling. This is no small observation.”

    And you wrote: “Indeed. I found David Noble’s Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation particularly enlightening on the many ways capitalism distorts our investment and R&D priorities.”

    Yes, exactly, but this isn’t academic – it is mammoth. Even if every concern anyone has ever voiced about parecon had some merit – which I don’t think many do, at all – this would dwarf all that. Every system one can envision will have situations of imperfect functioning, etc. With some systems this does serious harm, with others not so much. But then there are systems where it isn’t just imperfect functioning that is a problem, but, instead, the proper functioning, by the system’s logic and dictates, is the real problem.

    I wrote “The underlying issue here, though, is what is a good innovation? You tell me, in a workplace, what type innovation should be implemented, what type should be rejected – then it is possible to ask whether parecon or a market coordinator or capitalist system would function better.”

    You reply: “I suppose Hodgson’s response would simply be that the ease by which market economies accommodate the introduction and adoption of new consumer products, technologies and/or methods of production renders them more technologically dynamic than planned economies, since the latter require a greater amount of time being spent on deliberating the costs and benefits those new products and technologies will have for society. But, as you said, that is a perfectly justifiable process.”

    Yes, but it isn’t just justifiable – it is absolutely essential if one wants economics that serves populations, not elites.

    And this so-called dynamism or markets isn’t dynamism in pursuit of popular well being and development, but dynamism in pursuit of profits for owners and preserved status and wealth for coordinators. Huge swaths of possible technologies are not only not pursued but aggressively blocked because they would raise worker consciousness and confidence, diminish the value of existing properties, etc. etc.

    Then you add: “The problem I see, however, concerns a hypothetical democratically planned country operating within global capitalism. Will the ethos of the masses in the socialist nation be sufficiently transformed that the temptation of more frivolous consumer luxuries being produced in foreign capitalist states not jeopardize the stability of the system? If it’s true that market economies (be they capitalist or market socialist in orientation) possess a great technological dynamism, they may well produce flashier devices and in a greater abundance.”

    I guess we will find out – or I hope so. My own view is that a participatory society, with a participatory economy, or even a country that is remotely well on the way – would be hugely resistant to temptation and that the impact toward change would run in the other direction. The threat of a good example would be real and huge. And I think that elites very much understand this. Which is the main reason why they are so hell bent on curtailing even moderate forays in positive directions. They worry about a real domino effect – if a country becomes participatory – or good in general – and others elsewhere can hear about it, see it, experience aspects of it, the whole giant system of injustice risks dissolution in the face of informed desire.

    And yes, you are right that those who go first have a toughest route to travel. True.

    #720978
    avatar
    Michael Acuña
    Participant

    *NOTE: Although I’m not quoting each of your paragraphs, I hope to address the substance of all of them*

    First, I think that with only a few grotesque exceptions, there is no such thing as a job that has only one task that is completely obedient. On a really harsh assembly line and in other such situations this exists. A person does literally just one thing, all day, every day, over and over. I find it hard to imagine any human would prefer that to greater diversity of actions.

    I apologize if I gave the impression that I prefer jobs which comprise of literally one task, for that is not actually the case. You’re correct that what I meant was that I prefer a job which features one range of tasks, be they cognitive or physical in nature. What I dislike is having to rotate between jobs that consist of radically different tasks, as I’m currently having to do.

    I suspect, honestly, that your concern isn’t a real one, in practice. In a rich workplace, with lots of tasks, much less throughout all of society, a balanced job complex you would opt for would be one where you are doing things that you find amenable or really like – otherwise you would opt for some other job – in which your time for things that are more complex and demanding is ample for being good at those tasks (otherwise your work is not socially valuable), and thus, all is well.

    You may well be right that my concern is more a failure of imagination than anything else. I realize that extrapolating from my personal experiences as a wage laborer under capitalism to what my preferences could be within a more liberated context is problematic for a variety of reasons, but it’s difficult to refrain from doing that at times.

    Just to clarify before proceeding, my misgivings regarding balanced job-complexes isn’t out of some desire to maintain a rigid division of labor wherein a privileged minority are shielded from having to do any ‘dirty work,’ or what have you. I find that notion absolutely repellent. My concern was primarily directed at the notion of people being forced to be proficient in a wider variety of tasks than they would otherwise prefer. With that said, you have convinced me that the social benefits that would accrue as a consequence of implementing balanced job-complexes outweigh whatever discomfort it may cause individual workers.

    Regarding the feasibility of the proposal, I do believe that by providing the entire populace with publicly subsidized higher education the number of skilled workers (doctors, engineers, etc.) will increase. Whether that expansion will prove significant enough for society to afford to have, say, surgeons participate in disempowering labor as often as the rest of the workforce is an empirical matter. I believe it should be, but the theory of intelligence I espouse is such that it renders an outcome of that sort possible – those who adhere to more hereditarian views (which includes approximately half of the psychologists currently involved in intelligence research) would probably be more pessimistic. But even if, for whatever reason, the percentage of the population endowed with the potential to acquire the requisite skills isn’t adequate enough for balanced job-complexes to be a viable option for each collective, I still don’t believe it would prove detrimental to the rest of the parecon model. We would simply have to resign ourselves to the disappointing realization that, for the time being, some workers would be immune from having to rotate tasks as often as others.

    I find this example weird. It looks at a hypothetical situation, now, and extrapolates to a criticism of a possible future type of economy, but pays zero attention to the actual reasons for choices.

    The purpose of the hypothetical situation wasn’t to focus on choice, but rather the subjective nature of perception. My point was merely that even professions many people regard as being empowering contain onerous qualities (the psychological stress a surgeon may feel having a patient’s life in his hands, as per my example), while some individuals can find fulfillment in jobs that aren’t ordinarily considered particularly attractive. I’m sure it’s rare in the latter case, due to the manner by which workers employed in those industries are treated (unfairly remunerated, micromanaged by managers accountable to capital, etc.), but that would obviously change upon the establishment of socialism.

    As for choice, I think it is clear to all but the most deluded bourgeois ideologues that brute luck (in the form of a person’s environment and genetic endowment) and transparently unjust property relations are the chief determinants of one’s lot in life under capitalism.

    Ask such a person whether he or she would like his or her child to grow up to be an ice cream vendor, or a doctor.

    The careers people consider desirable vary throughout history. Recall that in ancient Rome jobs related to entertainment (acting, music) were considered humiliating, whereas today they’re revered. In class societies people primarily judge the relative attractiveness of a job by its rate of remuneration, which helps explain those variations in time and place. And since ice cream vending yields very little in terms of monetary compensation today, it doesn’t command much respect. In a classless society, as a result of resource distribution being fairly egalitarian, I suspect humanity will devise a new method of evaluating professions.

    One of the problems of thinking about balanced job complexes and really every part of parecon is thinking that it is some kind of perfect, crystalline, system in which everything is always perfectly tuned, and everyone is getting perfectly equalized benefits, and so on. If it diverges from that, it is flawed. No. Nothing is that perfect.

    Fair enough. I’m not one to think participatory socialism (or any human construct, for that matter) can be a panacea. Kant put it best when he wrote “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” I certainly don’t mean to juxtapose parecon with some abstract flawless system, as the free access communists are wont to do. I’ve always sympathized with the core tenets of parecon and only seek to be able to better defend the vision against the criticisms I’ve encountered of it over the years.

    Actually, whether society can do that or not depends on its institutions. In a parecon it can – and it automatically does. The self managing councils plus participatory planning identify where individuals should get more or less income, and the planning process identifies where it is desirable to invest for the purpose of making jobs more fulfilling, or products, or cleaning the environment, and so on. But with corporate divisions of labor, markets, etc., society cannot, and does not do these things. The institutions not only don’t provide the information that would be needed, they propel contrary choices, viciously contrary. The gap between the approaches is enormous.

    Agreed. When I wrote that society can objectively determine which trades are the most dangerous and adjust worker compensation and automation priorities accordingly, I didn’t mean to suggest that it is doing so at present. Institutional arrangements are undoubtedly crucial to facilitating or restricting that possibility.

    You write: “The general assumption these individuals have is that human beings are inherently lazy and will always view labor a disutility. They aren’t considering how radically different employment could be after transitioning to a life of directly social labor , i.e., democratically planned, self-managed production.” And I would add, in which the apportionment of circumstances and income is just. And would add that the claimed self management can’t be had if there is a class division between empowered and disempowered workers.

    You add, “but even after I describe the myriad ways in which labor would be transformed, and cite the empirical studies which routinely find that workers who possess greater control over their work lives are happier than those who don’t, they maintain their skepticism…after all, it’s one thing to say workers in self-managed firms are happier than those in hierarchical ones, but it’s quite another to say that the former set of workers are just as productive.”

    Take into account larger scale variables – wasted labor on oversight, resistance, strikes, etc. etc. Take into account that in fact income in parecon depends on doing socially valued labor, which means given social assessments, desires, capacities, etc., a firm can’t under utilize its assets and have it employees get full incomes. The next evaluation is parecon would be far more productive, actually – for hours worked, though people may opt for shorter works weeks, and the like. Then include that instead of the economy needing 80% of the population to enter it with near no initiative, with capacities smashed, etc., it needs and expects everyone to be fully developed in whatever directions they desire – and the productivity gap, per hours of human labor, is growing immense. Now get rid of idiotic redundancies, built in obsolesence, etc. etc. and the gap grows still more.

    Thank you for the suggestions. I will be sure to include those considerations when conversing with people on the benefits and productivity gains we can expect in a participatory economy.

    And these are not, by and large, remotely self managed in parecon’s sense. Just like you would not call bourgeois democracy participatory democracy.

    True, but we shouldn’t diminish the implications and utility of the data, either. At the very least it conclusively demonstrates that (non-worker) private ownership and capital management are unnecessary for enterprise productivity. Moreover, even the relatively limited democratic rights workers at a firm like Mondragón possess is a significant improvement over the conditions workers like myself have to endure.

    About Gintis, if you could send me anything he wrote about parecon, that would be nice to see. I am guessing that Herb, who really is very very smart and capable, did not, in fact, address it carefully, but rather just threw out the usual kinds of scare terms – impractical, impossible, etc. etc – without saying why…

    Sure. On one thread he wrote “I am not a reactionary at all. I am just an economist who knows the literature – a lot better, I might add, than Michael Albert.” (The literature he’s referring to concerns workers’ self-management.) “I love Michael like a brother,” Gintis goes on, “but he has a blind spot when it comes to reality.” He proceeded to describe the difficulties he sees inherent in a socialism consisting of worker-owned, self-managed firms – none of which especially pertain to parecon. The comments he has made that are of consequence to parecon are as follows:

    “If the contribution of workplace democracy to social welfare were sufficiently great, perhaps some of these severe problems could be overcome. But in fact, workplace democracy and popular ownership of capital are not fundamental values, but rather are instrumental values. Of course, in the minds of truly committed socialists they become ends in themselves, but I do not think such an idea can be sustained, even using Sen’s notion of capacities.”

    Here he fails to describe why socialism’s egalitarian vision cannot be sustained.

    “Socialists talk of ‘wage-slavery,’ but working for a boss is not slavery by a long shot. There are good and bad bosses, good and bad workplaces, but there are also good and bad teachers, and this does not imply that all authoritarianism should be abandoned in the educational process.”

    Herbert neglects the fact that there were also “good and bad” slave masters, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the practice of chattel slavery was fundamentally exploitative, just as wage slavery is.

    “The absolutely central and bottom-line problem is that an economy consisting of worker-owned and democratically controlled firms would impose a significant static efficiency loss on the economy and would severely retard scientific and entrepreneurial innovation. I say this with pain and regret.”

    He estimated to me once that labor management, applied across the entire economy, would result in an static efficiently loss somewhere in the range of 40%-50% This is, of course, little more than conjecture which stems from his belief that capital management is more effective at maximizing worker output. As for scientific and entrepreneurial innovation, I suppose he means that individuals find no intrinsic gratification in those pursuits and are spurred only by the prospect of becoming fabulously wealthy that capitalism offers. He even went so far as to argue “innovation would cease” under socialism.

    Gintis again: “More important, I don’t believe any sacrifice would be worthwhile. People generally do not want to run their firms, and I’m not sure it would create more social equality anyway. If you allow entrepreneurship, the individuals who want to run their work-life will put the worker-controlled firm to shame, at least for the most part.”

    This assertion flies in the face of the empirical evidence. And who is he to presume what people want? Most people haven’t even been made aware of the option.

    In a short paper released in 2013, entitled “Why Existing Models of the Socialist Economy are not Economically Feasible or Desirable,” Gintis expresses further criticisms of market and planned forms of socialism. I will quote only those sections germane to the latter:

    “Because information necessary to set prices and allocate investment capital. . . . is private, it must be elicited from those who control production. These individuals, however, have no incentive to either systematically collect or report truthfully such information [in planned economies]. Markets are the only known way to generate such public information.”

    This is the classic Austrian theory of the market qua information-revealing institution. It has since been refined by contemporary Misesians, like Bryan Caplan, in the form of “rational ignorance” theory. The latter theory is often employed to discredit all forms of democracy, including the workplace variety. In short, the notion is that private owners have the greatest incentive to become informed about the minutiae on their firms because they have the largest steak in the outcome of the enterprise – whether in the form of profits or loses. Once you begin to decentralize that steak, as in the cases of worker or social ownership and self-management, the incentive for one to spend the time necessary to make truly informed decisions is reduced, thereby leading to suboptimal outcomes. Reactionaries like Hans-Hermann Hoppe have used the same rationale to argue against representative democracy and in favor of monarchism. Suffice it to say, it’s unfortunate that Prof. Gintis is following in this ignoble tradition.

    Nevertheless, I would be interested in hearing your counterargument to this line of reasoning.

    On the subject of democratic allocation of investment capital and social ownership, Gintis writes:

    “The democratic political process does not generally produce economically rational outcomes. . . . The idea that [a planning bureau] could allocate investment in promising directions is implausible because the [bureau] does not know what directions are promising. This too is private information that agents will not truthfully reveal, and it is widely distributed over the population of economic agents. . . . The major problem with the public ownership of capital, however, is simply that it fatally exposed to corruption and political influence. The private ownership of capital promotes the process of ‘creative destruction’ of industries and job categories that have become technologically or otherwise economically superannuated. This process is brutal but absolutely necessary to avoid bureaucratic ossification and decline. Firms in decline are powerful and their rising alternatives are small and weak. All political influence resides with the former. The logic political democracy dictates that they will defer change with impunity.”

    This Schumpeterian critique is similar to the previously cited criticisms of democratic economic planning leveled by Geoffrey Hodgson.

    Yes, exactly, but this isn’t academic – it is mammoth. Even if every concern anyone has ever voiced about parecon had some merit – which I don’t think many do, at all – this would dwarf all that. Every system one can envision will have situations of imperfect functioning, etc. With some systems this does serious harm, with others not so much. But then there are systems where it isn’t just imperfect functioning that is a problem, but, instead, the proper functioning, by the system’s logic and dictates, is the real problem.

    Well said. People often fail to realize the gravity of that fact.

    My own view is that a participatory society, with a participatory economy, or even a country that is remotely well on the way – would be hugely resistant to temptation and that the impact toward change would run in the other direction.

    I tend to think so, too. Although surmounting the problem of false consciousness is no easy task.

    #721003
    avatar
    Michael Albert
    Participant

    I am going to try to shorten things up a bit… and we really do need to do that…

    Thinking inside the box that is current experience, in current contexts, is, in fact, arguably the primary difficulty in thinking about a better system. We often tend to evaluate and extrapolate based on current experience – when the essential step is to conceive alternatives…and evaluate in the alternative context.

    “My concern was primarily directed at the notion of people being forced to be proficient in a wider variety of tasks than they would otherwise prefer.”

    What you are saying, in context of balanced job complexes – is, as best I can understand it, that you fear that if all available jobs were balanced, lots of people would wind up with a job they would not want, given the chance to have a job that was unbalanced instead (which option would not exist)…

    Okay, if we ignore a sense of social responsibility, if we ignore a sense of justice, if we ignore concern about the broader ill effects, and we focus just on an individual – then, yes, Joe might very well prefer a job with only empowering tasks, to any balanced one. I rather doubt, however, that there are any Sarahs who would prefer a job with only disempowering tasks, to any balanced one. So I would say, even if we ignore the larger implications, there is nothing much of concern here – UNLESS one believes that the roughly 80% who do only disempowering tasks in their jobs, do so out of preference and would be seriously oppressed if they had education, training, confidence, etc., and had only balanced jobs to choose from.

    “With that said, you have convinced me that the benefits that would accrue as a consequence of implementing balanced job-complexes outweigh whatever discomfort it may cause individual workers.”

    This is the core point, yes… though I don’t buy claims about discomfort…

    “Regarding the feasibility of the proposal, I do believe that by providing the entire populace with publicly subsidized higher education, the number of skilled workers (doctors, engineers, etc.) will increase. Whether that expansion will prove significant enough for society to afford to have, say, surgeons participate in disempowering labor as often as the rest of the workforce is an empirical matter.”

    Some things are really iffy – some are not. Take the two current constituencies – 20% coordinator class, 80% working class. In the former are all the doctors, as but one example. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, they all do 40 hours of doctoring a week – which they don’t because they do paper work, other stuff, golf, etc. But suppose they do. And let’s suppose it is highly empowering. Now suppose, to get a balanced job complex, they would have to cut to 20 hours. I have no idea, but suppose so, to make it easy. So we just lost half their output – let’s say.

    Okay, now we have a pool of four times as many people. How many of them have to become doctors, in a new type society, to make up the difference? If there were 1 million doctors – reduced by half, we would need precisely 1 million new doctors to replace their medical labor, lost because the old doctors are doing balanced job complexes. So the question is, if we take the 80% and provide education, confidence, comfortable circumstances of upbringing, etc. etc. will there be enough people able and also eager to doctor – one fourth as many per 1000, as in the pool of 20%? Well, I don’t know how to say this gently and be honest. To think not, is makes sense only if one believes, even if only implicitly, that the 20% dominate and the 80% obey because capacities and preferences that cause that outcome are wired into their genetic make up. The reality is, there may be some very modest “meritocratic” effect in current societies – but I doubt even that. I suspect the pool of medical capacity among 1,000 randomly chosen members of the coordinator class pool, and 1,000 selected from the working class pool is very close. So, in fact, we can not only replace the lost medical work, but add to the total if that is what society needs and desires, even as we also reduce the amount of rote, obedient, repetitive work by innovations and eliminating needs for control, etc. I won’t even bother to talk about the increased effectiveness of medical work when the back biting hierarchies of welath and power are removed, not to mention the profit seeking pressures and motivations.

    Go back sixty years and make the two constituencies we look at men and women. There were the same debates. Men thought, and many women agreed, that the differences were genetic and women didn’t doctor because they couldn’t and wouldn’t want to in any event. A very few feminists, at first, contested the view. The prevalent beliefs were utter nonsense, of course. Assertions of working class incapacity and disinclination seems to me to be the same kind of nonsense, honestly. Sometimes it is believed due to classist habits and views. Sometimes it is believed because it is such a widely held viewpoint.

    “Well – those who adhere to more hereditarian views (which includes approximately half of the psychologists currently involved in intelligence research) would probably be more pessimistic.”

    They would have no reason to be. Unless they literally think that if a person has capacity, then in our society they will grow up to be in the coordinator class – so if no one in some constituency does, then n one in that constituency has the needed capacities – a claim so utterly absurd that I think no serious person could possibly believe it, if they thought about it. Of course innate capacity, is, well, largely innate – though requiring, also food, nurture, training, and so on. There is no debate about that. Training, disposition, etc. etc., are critical, and occur on top of what is wired in, so to speak. So? Is the distribution of wired in substratum capacities lower by any significant degree – much less enough to preclude doing a balanced job complex, for all those in the current working class compared to all those in the coordinator class? Or is there a spread of innate attributes essentially alike in working class and coordinator constituencies just as in male and female constituencies?

    You add, “But even if, for whatever reason, the percentage of the population endowed with the potential to acquire the requisite skills isn’t adequate enough for balanced job-complexes to be a viable option for each collective, I still don’t believe it would prove detrimental to the rest of the parecon model. We would simply have to resign ourselves to the disappointing realization that, for the time being, some workers would be immune from having to rotate tasks as often as others.”

    It isn’t rotating tasks. It is doing a mix. The pace of moving from task to task has nothing much to do with it. When you say for the time being, well, yes, there is a transition, of course.

    But, again, imagine years back, imagine someone saying the same thing about women and men, as almost everyone did. Can you see how it would be considered by the few who saw reality better as being horribly sexist?

    You juxtaposition of onerous and empowering mixes apples, is something onerous – and oranges, is it disempowering. And it is apples, is it pleasing or displeasing, empowering or disempowering to an individual – and oranges, what is its social characterization.

    “The careers people consider desirable vary throughout history. Recall that in ancient Rome jobs related to entertainment (acting, music) were considered humiliating, whereas today they’re revered. In class societies people primarily judge the relative attractiveness of a job by its rate of remuneration, which helps explain those variations in time and place. And since ice cream vending yields very little in terms of monetary compensation today, it doesn’t command much respect. In a classless society, as a result of resource distribution being fairly egalitarian, I suspect humanity will evaluate professions in an entirely different manner.”

    Everything will be different, of course. But your particular claim, here, arises because you assume classlessness can exist even if we have unbalanced jobs. I think it can’t.

    Consider a workplace. The workers take over – perhaps the capitalist left, maybe the capitalist got thrown out, whatever. Now the employees run the place. They equalize wages – maybe, initially, they even pay the person standing in front of a furnace more and the person in an air conditioned office less. And they also establish a council/assembly and have monthly or perhaps even weekly policy meetings with democratic votes. One analysis of these steps says, hooray. The workplace is classless. Payments are equitable. Democracy is in place. This is great – we just need to have it throughout the economy.

    Another analysis says, hold on just a second. Every step so far is in a positive direction and very important. But have they retained the old division of labor, or balanced job complexes? And how is allocation occurring, markets, central planning, or something else – participatory planning? The analysis continues, if they have the corporate division of labor, or markets, or central planning, much less the former plus one of the latter, in time those with empowering work will dominate the councils/assemblies, will increase their own pay, etc. etc. Class division and rule will arise. The best desires and plans of the workers will be trumped by institutions they have allowed to persist.

    Now I think there is an intrinsic reason, at the level of each individual, and due to the merits of a sense of participation, justice, equity, etc. – of circumstance, and not just income, that makes balanced job complexes essential. You may feel, well, at that level, no, if we remunerate to offset disadvantages in conditions and circumstances, and we have participation and democracy in an assembly, etc., then it is great.

    If so, you are saying the parecon analysis is wrong that markets, central planning, and/or corporate divisions of labor impose class division and class rule even if people want equity, democracy, etc. etc. Perhaps – but I think the analysis is right, so that is the place you would need to apply your criticisms. If you accept the analysis, then it makes no sense to say an unbalanced job won’t be as oppressive in a classless context – because, while true – the context will not be classless if we have unbalanced jobs – ditto markets and central planning. I have argued these matters at great length, many places. I think at this point, if you have doubts – fine – write something assessing the claims about the institutions, in an essay, or something.

    The main issue may be that parecon is a whole system. Each part has merits, sure, but taken alone, or in combination with features that would annihilate those merits, makes no sense. So the problem is that in talking seriously about a part, one typically has to address the whole.

    I wrote: “About Gintis, if you could send me anything he wrote about parecon, that would be nice to see. I am guessing that Herb, who really is very very smart and capable, did not, in fact, address it carefully, but rather just threw out the usual kinds of scare terms – impractical, impossible, etc. etc – without saying why… ”

    You reply: “Sure. On one thread he wrote “I am not a reactionary at all. I am just an economist who knows the literature – a lot better, I might add, than Michael Albert.” (The literature he’s referring to concerns workers’ self-management.) “I love Michael like a brother,” Gintis goes on, “but he has a blind spot when it comes to reality.”

    This is a text book example of what I predicted. It rejects nothing substantively, makes no mention of any argument I make, or of any view I hold, or of any feature of parecon, even. To my eyes, it parades erudition as if that constitutes an argument, which it certainly does not. I looked this passage up – and I did find it in an Amazon chat session – but nothing more about me or about parecon. He parades that he has no axe to grind, he loves me like a brother – which is nonsense – we were friends for a time, decades back – and then he buries the axe: “he has a blind spot when it comes to reality.” What does Michael has a blind spot mean?

    It means, assuming he doesn’t think I am generally completely out of touch, which he doesn’t, and because he believes I am very smart and logical, etc., which he does, and because he knows I believes things he rejects, which he is correct about, that he deduces that in this case I am so wedded to beliefs in parecon that I ignore the serious problems with it that reality makes abundantly evident to him, and should make equally evident to me, if I wasn’t blinded. Okay, if so, then he should state what those problems are. Anytime in the past thirty years or so. He hasn’t, at least that I am aware of. It could be true. But what I always find interesting is that those who resort to such formulations – so and so is delusional, out of touch, etc. for believing something I find ridiculous – rarely go the next step to show the trivial errors that the delusion and out of touchness imposes, and why it is an error. And, as well, they rarely if ever entertain that if they disagree with someone who is highly logical and reasoned, etc., maybe, just maybe, it is they who are letting their views be clouded…

    If you are in contact with Herb, tell him I would very happily debate him about the merits of parecon as compared to the merits of whatever economic institutions he favors – I guess, nowadays, some form of capitalist system with various reforms….but I am not sure.

    As you noticed, “he proceeded to describe the difficulties he sees inherent in a socialism consisting of worker-owned, self-managed firms – none of which especially pertain parecon.”

    Agree.

    But then you write: “The comments he has made that are of consequence to parecon are as follows:”

    “If the contribution of workplace democracy to social welfare were sufficiently great, perhaps some of these severe problems could be overcome. But in fact, workplace democracy and popular ownership of capital are not fundamental values, but rather are instrumental values. Of course, in the minds of truly committed socialists they become ends in themselves, but I do not think such an idea can be sustained, even using Sen’s notion of capacities.”

    This is not a criticism of parecon because the severe problems he has in mind, have nothing to do with parecon and do not apply to it, I would wager, and in any case, he has not suggested that they do. He just assumes them for parecon, if in fact he thinks he is talking about parecon at all, which I doubt. Then to dismiss the offsetting benefits of participation, etc. he resorts to discussing calling something a fundamental value, or an instrumental value, without explaining why that is relevant, or even what it might mean.

    He might want to say, look, self management, participation, democracy, etc., are of worth insofar as they deliver other ends that are more fundamental (in his view) – equity, efficiency in producing valuable outputs, or whatever he may have in mind. Therefore if we can get the latter ends, without bothering to have the former means, and if the former means have any deleterious effects, especially on the latter ends, but also on anything else, then we can do without the former means. Of course this is true in that abstract, but if was true in this case, it would justify an argument in favor of having a supreme leader make all decisions absolutely brilliantly – which, I suspect, Herb would reject, not least because he does value democracy, participation, etc., in their own right – as well as because he would say having a supreme leader won’t yield good results.

    Okay, I value self management, participation, etc., in their own right, and, in addition, I believe having authoritarian decision making, unbalanced job complexes, markets, etc., also preclude getting other good results.

    Again, if you are in touch with him, tell him I would be quite happy to debate….

    #721066
    avatar
    James Wilson
    Participant

    Been reading this and haven’t quite finished as I’m falling asleep (1am here in Melbourne Australia) but just wanna say thanks to both Michaels for the exchange. Lucid questions followed by lucid answers, which will, I hope, be helpful for myself when discussing Parecon with others.

    #721084
    avatar
    Michael Acuña
    Participant

    I am going to try to shorten things up a bit… and we really do need to do that…

    I apologize for that. I’ve been told that, when writing, I have a tendency to elaborate my thoughts to a superfluous extent. I’ll attempt to be more concise from henceforth, although it’s rather difficult to do when discussing subjects of this magnitude.

    Okay, if we ignore a sense of social responsibility, if we ignore a sense of justice, if we ignore concern about the broader ill effects, and we focus just on an individual – then, yes, Joe might very well prefer a job with only empowering tasks, to any balanced one. I rather doubt, however, that there are any Sarahs who would prefer a job with only disempowering tasks, to any balanced one. So I would say, even if we ignore the larger implications, there is nothing much of concern here – UNLESS one believes that the roughly 80% who do only disempowering tasks in their jobs, do so out of preference and would be seriously oppressed if they had education, training, confidence, etc., and had only balanced jobs to choose from.

    Contrary to the assumptions of neoclassical and Austrian economists, exceedingly few workers under capitalism ended up in their occupations out of preference alone, so I’m definitely not arguing that proletarians are currently where they’d like to be in the division of labor or that they’re employed in professions they freely chose. As is ever the case in class societies, unjust circumstances shaped their decisions.

    To recapitulate, my argument concerned whether society (or a workers’ council) could ever establish a sensible criteria for determining a task’s relative level of ‘empowerment’ or ‘disempowerment,’ being that those are rather subjective concepts. For instance, I find cooking a meal well and even cleaning my apartment empowering at times, because it demonstrates that I mastered those crafts, whereas attempting to engage in, say, software engineering would probably feel disempowering, being that I don’t know the first thing about it and the occupation doesn’t interest me enough to care to learn more. But since everyone in parecon would be employed in firms which specialized in things they find agreeable anyway, that matters not. Moreover, being that I affirm that workers should have the right to collectively decide which tasks they’d like perform in their workplace and the manner by which those tasks are to be balanced, my prior misgivings have been extinguished. You succeeded in convincing me of the desirability of the practice by highlighting the many beneficial consequences it would have for society. I maintain that there are more individuals that would find tasks ordinarily considered ‘empowering’ to be uncomfortable to engage in than you might imagine, but we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that point.

    Returning to its feasibility.

    So the question is, if we take the 80% and provide education, confidence, comfortable circumstances of upbringing, etc. etc. will there be enough people able and also eager to doctor – one fourth as many per 1000, as in the pool of 20%? Well, I don’t know how to say this gently and be honest. To think not, is makes sense only if one believes, even if only implicitly, that the 20% dominate and the 80% obey because capacities and preferences that cause that outcome are wired into their genetic make up. The reality is, there may be some very modest “meritocratic” effect in current societies – but I doubt even that. I suspect the pool of medical capacity among 1,000 randomly chosen members of the coordinator class pool, and 1,000 selected from the working class pool is very close. So, in fact, we can not only replace the lost medical work, but add to the total if that is what society needs and desires, even as we also reduce the amount of rote, obedient, repetitive work by innovations and eliminating needs for control, etc. I won’t even bother to talk about the increased effectiveness of medical work when the back biting hierarchies of welath and power are removed, not to mention the profit seeking pressures and motivations.

    Being that capitalism is fundamentally incapable of providing the entire populace with an equal environment to develop their capacities in, it would be disingenuous to claim that our current division of labor is meritocratic in any meaningful sense of the term – although you’re correct that it is slightly more so than it had been in previous generations. Be that as it may, one has to meet a certain threshold capacity before being able to competently engage in a trade. And though it’s an imperfect tool for evaluating one’s cognitive ability, IQ is one method researchers utilize to measure this.

    The mean IQ for doctors today is 130, two standard deviations above the mean IQ for the United States taken as a whole, and ten points higher than the mean IQ for registered nurses. At present, approximately 2% of the population have IQs at or above 130. When we expand the IQ range to account for doctors who can perform the job with IQs lower than 130, the number of people possessing the requisite aptitude for the profession amounts to roughly 13 million. The United States has 661,400 physicians currently practicing. However, we need to bear in mind that those 13 million individuals are also needed in other skilled professions (education, science, engineering, etc.).

    According to Eric Turkheimer’s research (see, for example, his 2003 study “Socioeconomic Status Modifies Heritability of IQ in Young Children,” Psychological Science, Vol. 14, No. 6, pp. 623-628), children born into stable, “middle class” environments are able to cultivate far more of their innate potential than those those born into “low socioeconomic status” households – as socialists have long suspected. We can also analyze the long-term, cross-cultural data – which James R. Flynn has been doing for decades [I highly recommend his recent book Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)] – to see the profound extent by which IQ is malleable. It would therefore be reasonable to conclude that there have been, and continue to be, gifted individuals and even geniuses who live(d) mediocre or awful existences due to never having had the opportunity to be raised in cognitively nurturing environments. We can additionally conclude that the epigeneticists are correct in emphasizing the enormous impact environment has in determining the life outcomes for the masses in general. An egalitarian distribution of resources and greater public investment into education would go a long way in redressing those problems. I believe it would also be beneficial to radically reform our educational institutions along the lines theorists like John Dewey and Alfie Kohn have suggested. Nonetheless, we can’t possibly know in advance whether the IQ distribution under participatory socialism will be such that the supply of skilled laborers will be adequate enough to meet the demands of balanced job-complexes – even when we take into account the elimination of unnecessary tasks skilled laborers (or coordinators) engage in today.

    In my opinion, even in the worst case scenario (i.e., the unlikely event that there aren’t enough individuals in the 80% of the workforce capable of being trained in professions occupied by the 20%), it wouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle. If anything, rates of labor scarcity could serve as yet more data for prioritizing society’s investment decisions. Automation, as we all know, can radically transform the nature of work, rendering formerly highly skilled professions more accessible. (Indeed, we are surely going to witness the of medical procedures even under capitalism.)

    But, again, imagine years back, imagine someone saying the same thing about women and men, as almost everyone did. Can you see how it would be considered by the few who saw reality better as being horribly sexist?

    Of course. As it happens, the IQ gap between men and women was always quite small – certainly nowhere in the range of two standard deviations – and now studies are finding that women are outperforming men on IQ tests, thus demonstrating just how profoundly things can change when opportunities are expanded and discrimination subsides. (Again, I don’t believe IQ is a flawless measure of intelligence, but it is useful for determining the cognitive requirements of a given profession.)

    Everything will be different, of course. But your particular claim, here, arises because you assume classlessness can exist even if we have unbalanced jobs. I think it can’t.

    My conception of class is Marxist in orientation, so I’m of the view that the most crucial factor for determining class is one’s relationship to the means of production. However, your concerns regarding a coordinator elite being a hindrance to social harmony are undoubtedly valid. In the case of market socialism, talented egoists can demand scarcity rents from the rest of the working class in exchange for their labor, which constitutes a form of non-capitalist exploitation, as far as I’m concerned. However, as a result of remuneration being based upon duration, effort, and sacrifice – as in parecon – exploitation would no occur. A monopolization of empowering labor and a greater degree of authority being exercised by a relatively privileged minority, on the other hand, could develop in a participatory economy which lacked balanced job-complexes. Whether that would prove corrosive to the system in the long term, I cannot say. I’m reluctant to call such a phenomenon a class conflict as opposed to an intraclass contradiction, though.

    I think at this point, if you have doubts – fine – write something assessing the claims about the institutions, in an essay, or something.

    I may write an essay on my blog on the subject of parecon’s class analysis at some point, but I suspect our disagreement reduces to little more than semantics, and possibly a difference of opinion concerning the nature of exploitation.

    This is a text book example of what I predicted. It rejects nothing substantively, makes no mention of any argument I make, or of any view I hold, or of any feature of parecon, even. To my eyes, it parades erudition as if that constitutes an argument, which it certainly does not.

    I agree.

    If you are in contact with Herb, tell him I would very happily debate him about the merits of parecon as compared to the merits of whatever economic institutions he favors – I guess, nowadays, some form of capitalist system with various reforms….but I am not sure.

    My only contact with Mr. Gintis is on Amazon, when he happens to have reviewed a book I’ve read. Should we quarrel again on the issue of participatory socialism in general, or your work in particular, I will be sure to inform him that you’re willing to debate the subject with him.

    As for his political philosophy today, he’s a self-proclaimed advocate of “liberal democratic capitalism,” though his commitment to even bourgeois democracy isn’t that resolute. He disagrees with the Democratic and Republican parties, but only insofar as he believes the correct path would be a synthesis of the two. The reforms he’s keen on are extending state subsidized loans to poor and minority groups for home ownership and businesses start-ups, as well as to maintain welfare provisions for families with children.

    This is not a criticism of parecon because the severe problems he has in mind, have nothing to do with parecon and do not apply to it, I would wager, and in any case, he has not suggested that they do. He just assumes them for parecon, if in fact he thinks he is talking about parecon at all, which I doubt. Then to dismiss the offsetting benefits of participation, etc. he resorts to discussing calling something a fundamental value, or an instrumental value, without explaining why that is relevant, or even what it might mean.

    The reason I cited that paragraph as being of relevance to parecon theory is because Herbert is basically arguing that self-management lacks any intrinsic value whatsoever, so the only reasonable method for evaluating principles of that variety is in a consequentialist fashion. And when they are examined through that lens, it turns out they yield no substantive benefits to humanity because, as he has said elsewhere, “people don’t want to control their workplaces. . . . and don’t particularly care about solidarity with other workers.” He also frequently argues that people are indifferent to inequality. “Humans,” he believes, “have goals that conflict with, and often are more salient than, egalitarianism and community values.” We just have to accept that our beliefs, while “very humane and touching” are “not shared by most people at all.” Moreover, “The notion that people should not be allowed to benefit from their natural capacities” – as is the case with parecon’s remunerative norms – “is equally repugnant to the individualist values upon which contemporary democratic ideals and support for human rights are based.” In his opinion, we libertarian socialists possess an atypical “highly specialized morality that is neither better nor worse” than others. We celebrate but “one side of human capacities, the side that cherishes affiliation and group solidarity,” but we’re “completely unaware of the equally important side in which individuals strive for excellence, seek victory through competition, and spurn the mass psychology of the crowd in order to innovate and create.” Presumably, he feels we are aberrations (that perennial, eccentric 10% of humanity Robert Nozick claimed would be attracted to socialism) and that, no matter how intellectually and ethically compelling our arguments are, we will fail to convince the masses of the desirability of greater autonomy, solidarity, and equality.

    Setting aside his philosophical arguments, his technical critique of parecon would likely include his aforementioned belief that “The knowledge of production possibilities unleashed through market competition cannot be revealed in any other way that we know of,” and that, sans capital management, free riders will be more difficult to locate and discipline – thereby leading to a static efficiency loss. On the bright side, according to Robin Hahnel, Gintis acknowledges that participatory planning “generates higher quality estimates of true social costs and benefits [of production], more effortlessly than any economy ever designed,” despite the fact that Herb “hates participatory economics”. So, apparently, Gintis had specifically evaluated parecon at some point.

    #721085
    avatar
    Michael Acuña
    Participant

    Been reading this and haven’t quite finished as I’m falling asleep (1am here in Melbourne Australia) but just wanna say thanks to both Michaels for the exchange. Lucid questions followed by lucid answers, which will, I hope, be helpful for myself when discussing Parecon with others.

    You’re welcome, James. I’m glad you’ve found this discussion as enlightening as I have.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 86 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.