Ehrenreich: The book is incredibly optimistic, some would say utopian. At a time when most on the US left are fighting constant erosions of rights and services — all of which were limited enough in the first place — what do you think the role of a book like Parecon can be?
Albert: Of course we won’t attain a participatory economy soon. Bush is seeking international empire and to dissolve social programs domestically. It is the worst of times, in those respects. But it is also the best of times considering international activism’s growing scale, awareness, and aspirations. I think Parecon can help that positive trend, even in the very short run, by compellingly addressing the question “What do we want?
When the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher proclaimed “There is no alternative” she echoed a widespread belief. If we have no worthy alternative to capitalism then asking people to oppose capitalist exploitation feels like an invitation to a hopeless cause. People reasonably fear that short run gains will ultimately only lead back to the same old conditions. Busy people don’t do fool’s errands, which includes fighting the good fight only to lose. For motivation, hope, and to have positive aspirations, people need vision.
I don’t want to seek change just to be on the side of the angels, or to be able to look at myself in the mirror. I want to struggle to win. I want the pressure of having to try to win, not just to show up. We need economic vision so that we can sensibly orient our efforts to take us where we wish to go. Strategy requires understanding not only our present situation, but also what we aim toward, our vision. And, of course, I think participatory economics is a worthy vision to adopt.