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Article for Polish Periodical


I was recently asked for an article on parecon for a prominent Polish periodical of the left, and sent what follows. It is a bit long, an adaptation of earlier essays. I thought I would put it here though — this kind of thing is happening quite a lot nowadays…

Parecon and our Future
By Michael Albert

If we were to create a stack of all the speeches and talks and conversations and books and essays about how capitalism hurts people that have been offered in those thirty years – and if we were to create another stack of all the speeches and talks and conversations and books and essays about an alternative to capitalism and how it could benefit people that have been offered in those thirty years…the pile documenting misery would touch the sky, perhaps reach the moon, and the pile describing a superior option would barely leave the ground.

I think this is a huge error. I think our collective allocation of energies and insight between addressing what is wrong and its origins, on the one hand, and providing a vision of what we desire and its logic and implications, on the other, needs to be overhauled. We need to do more of the latter.

For economics, at least, a vision that I personally advocate is called Participatory Economics or Parecon for short. Parecon is an economy conceived and designed to fulfill five central values that we hold dear.

Solidarity

Any economy inevitably impacts relations among people. What impact do we want it to have? Surely not to make people anti-social and contrary to one another. Not to cause people to have to ignore or violate each other’s humanity to survive or prosper.

The value we hold dear, instead, is solidarity. We want the economy to cause people to be concerned for one another, to look out for one another’s well being, to advance by virtue of collective benefit and not by way of exploiting or ignoring the plight of others.

Who would disagree that, other things being equal, an economy that produces more solidarity is better than one that produces less. I don’t think anyone would, and so we have our first value, Solidarity.

Diversity

Economies affect the range of options available to us. We value having more options for the choices more diversity gives us, because we can benefit vicariously from the experiences of others who do things we don’t do, and because diversity insures against our putting all our hopes on single scenarios without other possible avenues being explored and available if we need to change our priorities.

So who would disagree that other things equal an economy that offers more diversity is better than one that offers less, and far better than one that homogenizes outcomes? I don’t think anyone would disagree about that, and so we have our second value, diversity.

Equity

Economies impact the distribution of income and wealth. What do we want an economy to do in this respect, if we are to deem it worthy? How much should we all get?

Various norms are possible. Remuneration could be for property. In that case, if you have a deed in your pocket that says you own machines, equipment, land – and productive capital – you get to receive as income the profits those means of production generate. But of course, we should all reject that norm for remuneration on the grounds that allowing an owner like Bill Gates to have more wealth than the entire population of many countries is not just immoral, but vile, uncivilized, and even barbaric.

Remuneration could instead be for power. Then you get what you can take. The more power you have, the more you get. But we reject that remunerative norm on grounds that having a society built on the ethics of Genghis Khan, or of the Mafia, or of the Harvard Business School—the three are alike in this respect–is likewise immoral and barbaric.

Third, remuneration could be for output…and this is more subtle. Indeed, why wouldn’t it be right to reward each participant with the amount that they by their work give to the economy?

The answer is because the amount that Sally adds to the economic output of society depends, in part, on many factors that have no relation to Sally’s choices or actions. It depends on how much society values Sally’s product, on how productive her workmates and tools are, on her innate talents and capacities – over all of which which Sally has no control and in some cases was simply bequeathed.

Milton Friedman, the right-wing Noble Economist, once confronted a bunch of leftists about their views. He said, you leftists reject that someone should by virtue of being born to a capitalist parent, be born with a silver spoon, be born with huge advantages, be born rounding third base heading for home, with no catcher there to tag him out – as compared to the working class youth born at bat, against an awesome pitcher, already with two strikes, and wearing a blindfold.

But Friedman added, okay I can see that position, but if you think we shouldn’t benefit from the luck of being born to rich parents – why should we benefit from the luck of being born with good genes? Why should Mozart be paid more than Salieri? Why should Michael Jordan be paid more than a yeoman ballplayer?

Friedman thought he had given a reductio ad absurdum argument against rejecting lucky conditions as a factor for remuneration. I think, instead, that Friedman’s example wasn’t absurd at all, and that the left ought to agree that there should be no remuneration benefits for property inheritance, and also no remuneration benefits for genetic inheritance. It is not necessary nor desirable to pile monetary reward on top of the luck of having been born with good genes, or of having good tools to work with.

Finally, another possibility is that remuneration could be for effort. We can reward people for the effort they expend and the hardship they endure at work.

Two people go to the fields to cut sugar cane. Suppose they both work the same length of time, with the same conditions, and the same effort. Should they get the same pay? Suppose one is much larger. Should we reward the larger person more income because at the end of the day her pile is larger than that of the smaller person?

What if one of the cane workers has a better set of tools? Or what if one works in a cane field that is easier to cut or with more cane per area? Do such differences warrant one cutter receiving more income than the other?

We want an economy to elicit more productive conditions and activity, to be sure, but to attain that end, we needn’t reward people immorally such as giving Billy more than Barbara because of size, or innate talent, or tools, when Billy and Barbara work the same length of time with the same effort and hardship.

Two people create mathematics or art, or produce bicycles or jet engines… one is more creative, is quicker, has better tools, or is producing something more valued. But they work at the same rate, in similar conditions, with the same effort. Should one get more pay than the other?

There is no moral reason to remunerate output. And there is also no economic reason – higher pay can’t get an individual to have better genes…nor is it the best way to elicit appropriate application of talents or tools.

Rewarding effort provides an appropriate incentive to work hard. It gives us more if we exert more. And the morality is right as well. We are rewarded for what we endure, for what we do, not for luck or circumstance. And so we have a third value, equity meaning remuneration for effort and hardship.

Self-Management

Economies also affect decision making. What input into decisions should each actor have in a worthy economy? Imagine a worker among many others who wants to put a picture of her family in her workplace unit. Who should make that decision? She should, unilaterally, of course. Suppose she instead wants to put a loud radio in her workstation, blaring forth music. Who should make that decision? Certainly not her alone. Instead her neighboring workmates should also have a say.

And just that quickly we have our norm. Economic actors should influence decisions in proportion as the decisions impact them. Sometimes a decision should be unilateral – even dictatorial. It isn’t that the boss should decide dictatorially when I go to the bathroom, as now occurs in many workplaces – but that I should decide that, myself. Other times one person one vote, majority rule makes most sense. Or sometimes consensus makes most sense, or other procedures.

The specific methodology is not universal. Decisions have different attributes. But the goal we are trying to accomplish with our choice of voting procedures is always that we should each impact decisions in proportion as we are affected by them.

If we don’t each have proportionate influence, then obviously someone will have disproportionately more say and someone else will have disproportionately less. There is no moral or pragmatic justification for that. It is morally right that we control our own lives. More, we are each most suited to do so. We are each the world’s foremost expert on our own desires and aspirations. And so we have a fourth value, self-management.

Efficiency

To be efficient is to accomplish some desired goal without wasting resources, energy, effort, or other assets. If the goal is profits and people who don’t own property aren’t valued, as in capitalism, then efficiency will mean using resources and other assets to generate profits regardless of its impact on non-owners. It won’t be a problem that workers suffer industrial diseases, are worn to the bone, and lack dignity in their labors. It will not matter that pollution clogs the populace’s eyes and lungs. If profits are maximized, it’s efficient.

For us, in contrast, efficiency is achieving democratically sought after production and allocation while furthering the values that we hold dear. It is meeting needs and developing capacities without wasting or abusing things that we value, including, of course, ourselves.

So now we have five values – solidarity, diversity, equity, self-management, and efficiency – and our visionary task is to settle on a set of economic institutions that can accomplish production, consumption, and allocation consistently with advancing those five values. That’s what it means, it seems to me, to try to indicate what we want, institutionally, for the economy. We have values…we need institutions consistent with them.

What About Old Institutions?

Why not just maintain old institutions for our new economic vision?

First, private ownership of course grotesquely violates equity and self-management. It results in concentrations of wealth that not only don’t reward effort alone, but that create a condition in which a handful of the rich own more than multitudes of the poor. It results in concentrations of power, in owners of capitalist corporations, which, again, are wealthy almost without limit. Capitalist workplaces are virtual dictatorships. There is certainly not decision-making influence for all in proportion as each is affected by decision outcomes.

So, if we take our values seriously, we have to reject private ownership of the means of production as an institutional component for a worthy economy.

Second, corporate organization of course violates our values as well. It apportions to managers and other highly empowered conceptual employees (like lawyers, engineers, high status professors, and doctors) disproportionate control over outcomes and inflated and sometimes even immense income, as well.

I call this sector the coordinator class. And a point to keep in mind as we think about economic vision is that this coordinator class can become not merely an elite class, but a ruling class. All it requires for that to happen is an economy that eliminates capitalist ownership but that retains corporate organization and allocation institutions that foster this class’s existence and that elevate it to dominant decision making power – as in the economies that have heretofore been called socialist.

At any rate, with our values, we have to reject corporate organization which imposes hierarchies of power and reward in work, and pits classes against one another.

Third, markets, another familiar institution, violate solidarity. Markets create a context in which in order to get ahead each actor must out-compete others. Markets also misprice virtually every item due to ignoring effects on people external to the actual buying and selling. This is not a small problem. It is estimated that the proper price of gasoline in the U.S. would be about $15 a gallon, not $1 a gallon, if all the negative impacts on ecology and social relations were properly accounted for.

And markets also distort personalities into anti-social patterns. They foster the pursuit of profits or surplus above human well being. Markets also compel corporate organization, forcing workplaces to compete for buyers, and to reduce costs and expand sales even by limiting their own conditions of work…a task allotted to managers, thus engendering coordinator class rule.

Given our values, with respect to markets we have to be abolitionists in almost precisely the same sense that people were earlier abolitionists regarding slavery, and certainly we can’t utilize markets, which violate our values, in trying to propose a new economic vision that will further our values.

A final familiar economic institution used for allocation, central planning, of course violates self-management. By definition it apportions disproportionate power to planners and to those who share with planners their conditions of elite standing including monopolized skills and training, advanced schooling and credentials, and especially empowering jobs. Down go orders, up comes reactions to them. Down go orders, up comes obedience.

So, given our values, we must reject central planning too. Thus, we have rejected markets and central planning, which are generally considered to exhaust the list of possible allocation options for an economy.

When Margaret Thatcher said there is no alternative, or TINA, she of course meant there is no better alternative, and she was referring to capitalism, to capitalist institutions. In her view there is no better alternative than profit-seeking, than markets, than corporate hierarchy, than all the contemptible rot that afflicts humanity in Brazil, in Thailand and Turkey, in Mexico and Italy and Russia, in South Africa, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan…in Poland and in the USA.

Margaret Thatcher was wrong. Actually, there are better alternatives and I want to advocate one. So what new institutions do I want?

Council Democracy

First, I hope uncontroversially, I want workplace and consumer councils as the vehicle of direct input into decisions and collective organization. Such councils have arisen in every massive uprising of workers and consumers. They are a natural choice not only for that reason, but also due to their intrinsic logic and quality.

They are simply the most direct vehicle for collective expression and resolution of views at every level from the small to the very large, and are therefore the first leg on which the new economic vision, participatory economics, stands. We need a place where people can develop and express their aspirations, with the appropriate influence and needed contextual knowledge.

So the first institutional feature of a parecon is workers councils for teams, divisions, workplaces, whole industries and the economy and consumer councils for living units, neighborhoods, counties, cities, states, and countries.

Balanced Job Complexes

Second, and no doubt quite a bit more controversial, I want what I call balanced job complexes. The idea is simple. Every job in any economy is a conglomeration of tasks and responsibilities. In familiar corporate organization, each worker has a batch of things to do that are quite like each other in their implications for quality of life and human empowerment.

Some people have jobs that are mostly at the high end for these attributes – what I call the coordinator class of managers, engineers, lawyers, doctors, and others who enjoy great control over their own work conditions and often over the conditions of other workers below. They have high status, high remuneration, and great power due to largely monopolizing empowering conditions and access to levers of influence.

Many other people, however, have jobs that are in contrast overwhelmingly rote and obedient. Their work is low in fulfillment and empowerment attributes. They take orders and earn relatively little.

Switching to balanced job complexes means that we instead divide up tasks and responsibilities so that each person has a combination of things to do that is in its sum total effects average regarding quality of life and especially empowerment implications.

Call it sharing the burdens and benefits of work equitably, if you like – but the main point is that it equitably shares the conditions that are essential to having influence over outcomes.

With balanced job complexes we eliminate the hierarchy of corporate division of labor and replace it with a situation in which each worker has a particular job that is generally different from that of other workers, of course, but that is comparable in its overall impact on quality of life and especially on empowerment.

We don’t have some people who overwhelmingly make decisions and otherwise design and conceptually govern outcomes, and other people who overwhelmingly only obey. Instead, each worker has some rote, some onerous, some boring, and some empowering and edifying tasks and responsibilities, in a balanced mix.

So, the second leg on which this new economy stands is balanced job complexes – not only eliminating the class division between capital and labor – but also eliminating the division between the coordinator class and working class.

Remuneration for Effort

Next, we incorporate remuneration for effort institutionally into parecon.

Workers are entitled to a share of output in accord with the effort they expend in useful labors that help to fulfill human needs and to develop human capacities. Effort is measured by co-workers using procedures universally acceptable in society and also locally agreeable in each workplace.

With balanced job complexes we all have comparably empowering and demanding work conditions and therefore with remuneration for effort, the only reason Bill gets more pay than Barbara is if Bill works longer, or if his peers democratically by agreed procedures judge that he exerts more effort.

So the third leg on which parecon stands is remuneration for effort and a point to notice is that with balanced job complexes remuneration for effort means we all advance in our economic lives overwhelmingly only if others advance as well. We are better off due to improvements in the average job complex for society or due to enlargement in the social output as a whole, which we share essentially equally.

For example, if Andrea works part time in a coal mine (and part time elsewhere in order to have a social balanced job complex overall) and if Andrew works part time in a publishing house (and part time elsewhere to have a socially average job complex overall)…it turns out that Andrea and Andrew will both prefer to see an investment that improves the conditions of coal mining significantly as compared to one that modestly improves the conditions of book publishing because both of them have an interest in the overall average job complex for society, not merely in what goes on in their own workplaces. Parecon creates conditions that make solidarity the road to personal gain.

Participatory Planning

The fourth leg on which the new economic vision stands – and obviously parecon is a far more developed model than the brief picture I am presenting in the limits of this short article – is the hardest to convey succinctly.

It is called participatory planning and it replaces markets and central planning. The broad idea is relatively simple.

Envision each workplace with a council, and likewise each community. Envision councils as well for larger units – for neighborhoods, counties, states, industries – and for smaller ones too, for parts of workplaces, work groups, divisions, and so on.

Envision actors individually and also collectively in their councils proposing what they wish to produce and consume, and then also assume there is a communication system that brings such information to universal attention, and that does so in appropriate ways.

Now imagine that each actor utilizes the information from all others, suitably massaged into useful form by appropriate institutions (with balanced job complexes for the employees, of course) to adapt their own proposals. Imagine that individuals and units can get from this allocation system true indicators of real and full social costs and benefits – which is to say valid relative prices – and also qualitative information as needed.

The planning process is then a negotiation between actors that whittles demands and elevates supplies into a match with one another, but that does so by a cooperative process in which each actor – individual and collective – voices their preferences, evaluates the preferences of others, and refines their choices in line with budgets and desires, until there is a meshing.

This is not a full picture, of course, but such a picture exists, for example at www.parecon.org, in the approach called participatory planning, with all its component institutions and main features specified, and with its properties presented and evaluated.

No one in participatory planning has a motive to sell for the sake of sales, or to try to corner markets, or to deceive anyone. People’s incomes and circumstances can’t be enhanced in such ways, and such actions only waste and misdirect resources.

Instead, the motive of producers is to utilize their capacities to make a maximum of desirable outputs in tune with expressed preferences and in accord with their own personal needs at work, while seeking an income based on the effort they expend. And the motive of consumers is to use their income to get products that enhance their lives, individually and collectively, but also with attention to the situation of producers.

So What Is Participatory Economic Vision? And how is it different from what has gone under the name socialism?

Participatory economics is council democracy for producers and consumers, balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and hardship, and participatory planning. It differs from what has gone under the name socialism because it rejects markets and central planning, it rejects corporate organization, and it incorporates balanced job complexes and self-management.

It differs because it eliminates the class division between managers, planners, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and other conceptual workers on the one hand – and rote workers on the other hand, by sharing empowering work among all actors rather than having a relative few monopolize it.

It differs because it is an economic system that truly manifests the social ideal of workers and consumers controlling their own lives – rather than espousing that ideal, but instead elevating a relatively narrow class to economic dominance.

It differs because what has in the past been called socialism ought more accurately to have been called coordinatorism – while what I am calling participatory economics implements the most worthy ideals of the most inspiring and libertarian activists who have labeled themselves socialists in the past.

So, is Parecon Worthy?

One way to gauge this is to look at what some exemplary people in the past have asked for of a good economy, either explicitly or by implication, to see whether Parecon measures up.

So, the humanitarian civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., from my homeland the U.S.A., urged… “True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Participatory economics, or parecon meets King’s admonition. It eliminates King’s hated edifice of unjust distribution by eradicating private ownership as well as class division based on access to power at work. In parecon we each have income in accord with our efforts, and unjust disparities of wealth and circumstance are unknown.

The famous capitalist ideologue Adam Smith, bemoaned… “The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments … the man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding … and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be.”

The implication is that we need an economy that doesn’t force most people to be “as stupid and ignorant” as it can reduce them to being.
And indeed, whereas in capitalism the educational task is to dumb down 80% of the populace to be prepared to endure boredom and obey orders in rote and subordinate work at which they exert no wisdom and intelligence and over which they have no control, in a participatory economy the roles we fill, the tasks we do, and the responsibilities we have all call for us to have had our skills and talents maximally respected and enlarged in our educations, and then at work free us to utilize those talents, skills, and insights to the greatest degree possible consistent with showing the same respect and opportunity for all.

In the same spirit, the writer and craftsperson William Morris, who lived in the latter half of the 1800s in England envisioned… “We seek a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master’s man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain-sick brain workers, nor heartsick hand workers, in a word, in which all would be living in equality of condition and would manage their affairs unwastefully, and with the full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all—the realization at last of the meaning of the word commonwealth.”

And parecon meet’s Morris’s aspirations because it disperses circumstances at work so that we each have a balanced mix of tasks and responsibilities regarding both the quality of our lives and the power that we can exert. We are all inspired brain workers AND enlivened handworkers, and we are so in appropriate measure. Even more, we all impact the decisions of our economy in proportion as they affect us, not out of someone’s kind gesture, but because such fairness and dignity is built into the very texture and pattern of our economy’s allocation system and other institutions. Morris’s commonwealth becomes not only a beautiful desire, but an institutional reality.

Similarly, the less known but highly insightful American playwright Barbara Garson wrote… ”As it happens, there are no columns in standard double entry book-keeping to keep track of satisfaction and demoralization. There is no credit entry for feelings of self-worth and confidence. There are no monthly, quarterly, or even annual statements of pride and no closing statement of bankruptcies when the worker finally comes to feel that after all he couldn’t do anything else, and doesn’t deserve anything better.”

And to fulfill Garson’s entreaty, parecon is precisely designed to respect and account for the true human and social costs and benefits of all economic transactions both on those immediately involved, and also throughout society. Satisfaction and demoralization, self-worth and confidence…these and other measures of the true human and social implications of economic activity become the central entries of participatory economic accounting. Participatory allocation is no longer the mere bean-counting and profit-mongering that Garson’s insights reject, but instead becomes the translation of people’s wills into outcomes that honor people’s true needs and aspirations.

The great British philosopher Bertrand Russell taught… “All who are not lunatics are agreed about certain things. That it is better to be alive than dead, better to be adequately fed than starved, better to be free than a slave…humankind has become so much one family that we cannot insure our own prosperity except by insuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.”

And parecon’s participatory planning process, coupled with balanced job complexes and remuneration for effort inscribe Russell’s request for solidarity into the very roles of economic life. In capitalism even a very social and humane person, to personally advance, must step on and otherwise violate others. To advance in the market context you must trample others, or at least you must ignore the plight of those you leave behind.

In contrast, in parecon, even a greedy, anti-social person, to get ahead must be sensitive to the well being and condition of others. In parecon, it is structurally build into the roles we fulfill that we improve our lives in cooperation, not at each other’s expense.

The American activist Noam Chomsky, has urged… “The task for a modern industrial society is to achieve what is now technically realizable, namely, a society which is really based on free voluntary participation of people who produce and create, live their lives freely within institutions they control, and with limited hierarchical structures, possibly none at all.”

Chomsky’s wish to minimize authoritarian structures that limit people’s control over their lives is precisely the purpose of council democracy and of participatory self-management as a norm of decision making and participation. To meet Chomsky’s high standard, Parecon reduces authoritarian impositions as a central defining feature of its institutions, rather than this aim being a mere addendum, or being excluded entirely as it is now in capitalism.

Finally, the 20th Century Dutch revolutionary Anton Pannekoek wrote… “Now the problem arises of how to unite freedom and organization: how to combine mastery of the workers over the work with the binding up of all this work in a well-planned social entirety. How to organize production, in every shop as well as over the whole of world economy, in such a way that they themselves as parts of a collaborating community regulate their work.”

And Pannekoek’s aim highlights what participatory economics adds to the revolutionary councilist heritage: an allocation system that cooperatively coordinates the wills of producers and consumers, that apportions appropriate influence to each, that pursues individual and collective human fulfillment and development, and that accomplishes these aims in accord with values that we hold dear – diversity, equity, solidarity, and self-management.

But if it’s worthy, what are some of parecon’s strategic implications?

Non-Reformist Reforms

A confusion among some people on the left exists about the word “reform.” What the word reform is confused with is the word reformism.

A reform is any change in the existing system which doesn’t alter its defining relations. Ending a war. Winning higher wages. Winning affirmative action. Even abolishing the IMF. Reformism, in contrast, is fighting for such changes with the presupposition that there will never be any change in defining relations, rather than with the intention of bringing about such basic changes.

Seeking revolution, which is the opposite of being reformist, for me means seeking to replace private ownership, remuneration for power and property, corporate organization, elite decision making, and markets with council democracy, remuneration for effort, balanced job complexes, self-management, and participatory planning.

What we need if we are to be on a path toward fundamental changes is to win non-reformist reforms. A non-reformist reform is a change that we seek and hopefully win which improves the lives of badly-off constituencies in the present, but which also creates conditions conducive to winning still more gains in the future, in a trajectory leading to our ultimate goals.

Participatory economics, or parecon, helps us conceive non-reformist reforms regarding

• income distribution
• payment methods
• decision making methods
• workplace organization
• social budgeting
• allocation more broadly
• and many other facets of social life

In other words…as a goal it can inform our strategic choices of issues, demands, and of course the consciousness we are trying to advance. I don’t have time to offer much more on strategy, here, but I want to mention at least one more implication.

In the U.S. a key problem of our organizing is that working class participation in radical activism is horribly low. I think a large part of the reason for this is that the movement is not congenial to and empowering of working people, but, is instead designed in the image of and to be comfortable for and empower what I call the coordinator class. The movement is more like a law school meeting room in its demeanor and values, than like a working class pub or bar.

Even more dramatically, the movement employs structures and norms familiar and horrific to workers from their daily lives – including corporate organization and top down decision making – rather than new norms and structures that would empower workers.

An implication of advocating parecon is that just as we struggle to rid our movements of racism and sexism…so we should struggle to rid our movements of capitalist ways of making decisions, organizing labor, and remunerating it.

We should work to incorporate council organization, balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort, and self-management in our own institutions. We should not put up with having classist culture or organization, because such features undermine our credibility, impoverish our movement lives, repel working people, and reduce our capacity to develop real working class allegiances and program.

Council democracy, balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort, and participatory self-management aren’t just distant goals, they are structures we can enact in our lives and especially in our institutions, to make them models of what we desire and to make them empowering to working class people.

Conclusion

The nineteenth century English poet Alfred Tennyson told us to…

Ring out old shapes of foul disease.
Ring out the narrowing lust for gold.
Ring out the thousand wars of old.
Ring in the thousands years of peace.

That was good advice.

The great 20th century Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci wrote, “It is necessary with bold spirit and in good conscience to save civilization… We must halt the dissolution that corrupts the roots of human society. The bare and barren tree can be made green again. Are we not ready?”

That’s even better advice.

For the economy I want workers and consumers to have control over their economic lives. I want everyone to have fair conditions that fully utilize their talents and potentials. I want incomes that accord with the efforts people expend in their labors.

I want what is produced, by whom, under what conditions, and with who consuming the result all determined to enhance human well-being and development and all decided by the people who are involved in proportion as they are affected.

I want an end to hierarchies of power and wealth and to class division that subordinates most actors to an elite few…and to accomplish all these ends I favor the institutions of participatory economics — worker and consumer councils, remuneration for effort, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning.

This means I want revolutionary change, and I advocate it positively…not solely indicating what I am against. I am not merely fighting a good fight but I am instead fighting to win, because we can and we must.

Exploitation, alienation, poverty, disempowerment, fragmenting and debilitating labor, economic dislocation, production for profit, harsh homelessness, starvation, globalization, degradation – these constraints on our lives are not like aging or gravity.

They arise from institutional relations established and maintained by human beings. New institutions, also established and maintained by human beings, can generate vastly superior outcomes.

Defining and working to attain those new institutions, including winning non-reformist reforms on a trajectory of change leading toward our ultimate goals, ought to be our economic agenda.

If I am wrong about the worthiness of the participatory economic institutions that I have described – if someone should demonstrate that parecon’s institutions somehow fail to accomplish necessary economic functions or that they have social or personal by-products that outweigh their benefits – then I would simply return to the drawing board.

I would not settle for no vision, but would seek a new vision because to overcome capitalism, to win a new world, one thing that we most certainly need is shared, popular, accessible, compelling, and inspiring economic vision – whether that vision is participatory economics or something else.

I believe that equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management are coming to Brazil, Thailand, and Turkey, are coming to Mexico, Italy and Russia, are coming to South Africa, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Poland.

I even believe that equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management are coming to the USA – and that all our movements and efforts need to be part of a massive entwined process that will make it so.

We need only commit ourselves, and seek the best of ourselves — and it will happen.

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