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Conservatives vs. Parecon


I grew up in a conservative household. My parents are strong Reagan Republicans and espouse basic conservative political philosophy. The defining elements are quite simple and attractive: constitutional minarchy, free-market enterprise, individual responsibility, and national freedom. But these ideas are not unique to political conservatives. In fact, political conservatives took these ideas from "classical liberals". What passes for conservative political philosophy is a unification of Christian moral Puritanism and the private-market liberalism of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, with a strong emphasis on national security, a large military budget, and very restrictive immigration policies. I used to subscribe to much of this, long before I even learned of names like Von Mises and Rothbard. I was raised to believe that Ronald Reagan was America‘s political savior, that the Democratic Party had once been quite conservative but had been invaded by former 60s radicals and the liberal agenda was borderline Communism. I loathe American conservative political philosophy for two reasons: first of all, because the self-righteous arrogance of the moral puritan social philosophy of the Right , and secondly because of the combination of Protestant moral Puritanism combined with classical liberal economics, has, in my view, led to a revival of "Social Darwinism". I wish to examine these in greater detail.

 

Conservatives wax nostalgic about the way America "used to be". From the way some political conservatives describe American history, America was in a "Golden Age" of sorts before modern liberalism took its roots in the decades of the early 20th century. Conservatives will appeal to the notion of "constitutional minarchy" that is keeping the government limited to its constitutional boundaries. The government has overstepped these boundaries and strong evidence of this are welfare systems and government beauracracies. From the way some conservatives describe America in the early republic, you would think it was the kind of Reagan-era, free-market capitalist society. I strongly doubt that this was the way American "really was" back then. Adam Smith did not publish his Wealth of Nations until 1776 and it would take some time before the ideas would become well-known. In fact, I don’t even know of any right to own productive capital for profit-making purposes in the Constitution itself. I certainly have never encountered it in the Bill of Rights. If we are to go back to "constitutional minarchy" and keeping within constitutional boundaries, does this mean that we have to abolish capitalism?

 

Conservatives appeal to the Declaration of Independence as evidence of what our founding Fathers believed, particularly in support of the idea of a divine origin of human rights. "All men are created equal" and are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" and among these rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". There arises a question though. They will appeal not only to the fact that these rights are rights to be free from government restraint but that they were divinely given to man. I am sure that they would love for the Declaration to refer to the Christian god rather than "nature’s God". But if all men are equal and have unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, does it not follow, then, that men (and women!) have equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

 

If so, I would ask, to what extent do we deserve our rights? To what extent does each of us get to enjoy our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? If we are equal, then it stands to reason, I would think, that we have equal rights and equal rights entail enjoying the full extent of these rights. Everyone should have the same right to life, the same liberty, and the same right to pursue happiness. I don’t see how this can be considered consistent with capitalism. When the private ownership of capital is allowed for in a nation, does this not introduce class stratification? If not, why not? Does not class stratification introduce income inequality? If not, why not? Wouldn’t this mean, then, that freedom is dependent on capital and that the more capital you own, the more profit you make off of it, and the higher your income, the more freedom to enjoy, the more liberty you have, and the better off you are? I believe that this may have been a reason that Jefferson might have opposed capitalism. Private ownership of capital would result in class stratification and income inequality and if one’s freedom depends on how much one earns in terms of a wage, those with more money have more freedom. No, not everyone is equal and not everyone is entitled to enjoy the full extent of their rights. Why is freedom tied to or based upon wealth? Not everyone has equal income and so, therefore, not everyone can enjoy the full extent of their rights.

 

It would not be right in my view to have a government redistribution of wealth and force those with more money to give their wealth to the less fortunate. As an anarchist I am opposed to state intervention to force income redistribution to achieve income equality. But what if there is an alternative to both the market economy which allows for this kind of class stratification and income inequality and a state command economy which would redistribute the wealth and rob the less fortunate of any incentive to work? What if there was an alternative that was both classless, without hierarchy, and was not statist. What if there was a way to provide incentives to work without a government redistribution of wealth or a way of life in which the accumulation of private wealth was not the driving force behind human life? In other words, is there an alternative?

 

I believe so. The alternative is one that anarchists have been wanting for decades if not for over a century or so. In a paper titled "Socialism as it was always meant to be", both Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel introduce the concept of "participatory planning" as an alternative to market economics and command economics. Their model introduces participatory planning (which would truly eliminate the business cycle, remove involuntary unemployment, and prevent production disharmony between supply and demand), balanced job complexes (which would eliminate any hierarchical divisions of labor, whether industrial, commercial, or corporate) in which all of our pleasant and empowering tasks would be balanced by unpleasant and onerous tasks, and rewards people according to their effort and sacrifice (as opposed to the contribution of labor which is beyond people’s individual control, due to a host of genetic, developmental, and environmental factors).

 

Being nonhierarchical, treating all human beings as social, political, and economic equals, and being completely libertarian in the sense of not having the state direct any activities through force or any kind of hierarchical command structures, I would think that political conservatives would be attracted to "Participatory Economics". In fact, "Participatory Economics" (called "Parecon" for short, hereafter) is an economic system that is fully consistent with conservative political values: constitutional monarchy, economic freedom, and individual responsibility. It would be libertarian, not only in the sense of abolishing the need for a state government, but it would be truly libertarian in the sense that it would allow people to enjoy the full extent of their constitutional rights, while, at the same time, giving people proper incentives for working hard and being responsible: being rewarded according to effort and sacrifice.

 

What is the most attractive feature about Parecon to me is the fact that it replaces the ethics of egoism with humanism and replaces market competition with equitable cooperation. It truly bases political and social freedom on the equality of human beings and encompasses what I consider to be the Humanist ethic: helping humanity to help itself. I can imagine people’s hesitancy to consider alternatives to capitalism given the history of horrible regimes which have worn the label "socialist" such as the Soviet Union. I completely understand people’s fears that any alternative to the "free market" would entail government control in some aspect, perhaps government moderation of the business cycle, or even worse, government control of productive utilities through a command economy.

 

I can understand a lot of this. But I wish there was a way for me to convince political conservatives that Parecon was feasible. I wish there was a way for me to convince some political conservatives that Parecon allocates resources more effectively than market capitalism and command planning. I wish there was a way I could help to persuade some conservatives that democratic, participatory planning was just as efficient, if not more, than the price-signals of market economics. I wish I could persuade people that Parecon is very libertarian, provides the right incentives, and allows for simultaneous equality and freedom and that those who work harder, work under more erroneous conditions earn more rights to consumption and that what we desire can still be produced, more democratically. No one would worry about involuntary unemployment, about inflation, about recessions, and the business cycle would be a sad memory of the past.

 

While some conservatives may be attracted to the idea of Parecon, I think that other conservatives will be opposed to it. I believe that the reason for this is because of the ethic of egoism which, I am convinced, underlies conservative political philosophy. I recall Michael Albert was once asked on a taped interview why he thought the world needed something like Parecon. Albert went onto discuss that there were probably those that disagreed with the need to replace the economics of egoism, greed, and competition, and had no problem with the current American economy. After discussing the hostile individualism of capitalism and the effects it had in turning life into a "rat race", he then mentioned a famous baseball manager who used to way "Nice guys finish last". He noted that everyone would chuckle and giggle but it was a horrendous condemnation of society to say something like this. This is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with society and its market competition mindset.

 

Albert replied that he didn’t consider himself as gentle as the coach, jokingly, but he says in response that "garbage rises". In an economy where indifference and even callousness towards others is rewarded, garbage in the form of greed, callousness, and selfishness is what rises. In the capitalist economy of market competition, the way one gets ahead and consumes more resources is by being an asshole. Gentleness, kindness, and humanitarian efforts are scorned and mocked as being "weak" and for "sissies" and "girly-men". Basically, it’s a world in which you have to be an asshole to compete and get ahead in life. How can anyone like this? I believe that part of the reason why this is so popular among political conservatives is because of fundamentalist religion. I can understand the attraction that political conservatives have for notions that are libertarian in nature, such as constitutional minarchy, economic freedom, and personal responsibility. Parecon, I am convinced, entails all of this. Parecon is consistent with constitutional minarchy (although it is best consistent with constitutional anarchy), complete economic freedom, and personal responsibility, and I am not even sure that Parecon would require taxation in any form.

 

But why would conservatives not be attracted to Parecon if it’s truly libertarian in nature? I think that the reason why some conservatives would hate Parecon is precisely because of the notion of egoism. Some conservatives see themselves as being part of a divine elect, a selected elite people who are morally righteous, if not perfect, and believe that being a part of this "divine elect" requires that they be warriors for their Deity. These conservatives see the world in dualistic terms that create false dichotomies. You are either a warrior for the Christian god or you are a wimp! You are either with Jesus Christ or you are against him. You are either worship God or you worship yourself. You either accept the Christian gospel, replete with doctrines such as biblical inerrancy, the fleshly resurrection, and recent creationism, or you are a heathen. Since all rights are unalienable and have been endowed by the Christian god, all freedom is granted to men as long as this god wills it. Rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are a matter of divine whim.

 

With this kind of mentality, it is easy to see the attraction of some Christian fundamentalists for market capitalism. You are either with God or you are against him and since God grants personal, social, political, and economic freedom, the only thing that can stand against it is totalitarian state control. Marxism, with its nontheistic concept of dialectical materialism, and its belief in the inevitability of Communism, and the establishment of a state vanguard party and a "socialist" command economy, fits perfectly as the totalitarian enemy of fundamentalism in this regard. Fundamentalists see the world in terms of this false idealistic dualism. You are either with God or you are against him and since Communism is opposed to God and is the ultimate form of atheism, supposedly, then you are ultimately for God or for state Communism. In this scenario, then, you either accept the technique of the market, which is the technique ultimately favored by God or you accept the technique of the state, which is the technique of the ungodly and the of the state, which sees itself as divine, in which nothing can aspire to be higher.

 

In this fundamentalist duality, if you are for God, then you are a warrior for God. A warrior is to be combative and militant. Machismo becomes an indicator of holiness. Only warriors who are macho, "manly", and very combative are considered to be holy warriors of God. To be kind, loving, gentle, and humanitarian is seen as be weak, girly, and for "sissies". One has to compete with others for the recognition of who is the most holy and, therefore, the most favored of God. The warrior mentality of Christian fundamentalism fits the "survival-of-the-fittest" mentality of "Socialist Darwinists" like a hand-in-glove. Such a mentality sees other forms of an economy as being compromises with ungodly forms of state totalitarianism. Just as other forms of theology, whether moderate or liberal, are seen as compromising biblical truths for the lies of men, and ultimately, heresy introduced by the Devil himself.

 

Parecon is, essentially, a Humanistic political economy. It treats all human beings as economic equals and all human beings as ends unto themselves. It promotes worker self-management (what I call "autonomy"), solidarity, diversity, responsibility, and equity. The economics of market capitalism are against these values because egoism is against worker self-management, hates solidarity with a passion, has no respect for diversity, has a warped sense of responsibility, and scorns equity, in my opinion. Fundamentalism is essentially egotistical in the sense that machismo is taken as an indicator of holiness and selfish in terms of individuals seeking both material rewards for the contribution of labor and divine rewards for a puritan moral lifestyle.

 

I don’t see Parecon is being in any way antireligious or antitheistic. As I see it, Parecon is perfectly compatible with any religion which promotes solidarity and equitable cooperation. It is even consistent with belief that a divine being or some sort of creator exists. But the modern "warrior" mentality of Christian fundamentalist communities is utterly inconsistent with Parecon and any participatory society. Machismo, competition, arrogance, and self-righteous hatred, have no place in Parecon in particular or the kind of participatory society that socialists such as myself value. But as for people who are libertarians, who value freedom, equality, and the right to enjoy life as they see fit, I heartily invite them to consider Parecon! I invite the classical liberals to give Parecon the time of day, to see it as the true fulfillment of libertarian ideals. Come on in friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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