I am thinking about the possibility of a new book perhaps entitled Parecon and Society. It would be about what having a parecon would mean for the rest of society, beyond the economy. I am curious if people think such a book would be useful. I am also curious who might best write its various chapters.
This post is a draft introduction. The next post is a draft first chapter. The third post is a draft list of possible subsequent chapters. The last in the sequence is a draft of the possible education chapter. ANy reactions welcome.
Parecon and Society is a book about the non economic implications of an economic system. Suppose that in a society like the United States we had this new type economy, called participatory economics, or parecon for short. What would have to occur in other parts of society for the new economy to be workable? What changes would have to happen elsewhere to be compatible with the new economics? What implications would the new economics have for other parts of life, and, vice versa, what can we expect the economy to have to incorporate to respect and changes that might occur in other parts of life?
This whole book is therefore conjecture, or, perhaps more accurately, conjecture built on hypothesis. After all, there is no participatory economy, so even its economic features are conceived but not implemented, a proposal not an actuality. To ask what the implications might be for other parts of life of having a participatory economy takes the leap of prognosis still another step away from where experience is strongly applicable. Still, if we are going to get beyond capitalism we need to have a feeling for and to steadily reevaluate where it is we are seeking to wind up. We have to conceive, describe, and test not only the directly economic attributes of our economic vision, but even its broader social implications. A proposed economy that would be economically wonderful but would consign us to horrible gender, racial, political, technological, environmental, or other difficulties is not a worthy aim. We need an economic vision that is profoundly worthy economically, but also profoundly worthy in its broader social implications. So we have to conceive and assess both.
Of course a new economy and a new society will only arise from massive commitment by huge numbers of people. Its features will only emerge, be refined, and become real in the cauldron of daily life activity over a considerable span of time. At the same time, even the most positively motivated forward aimed activity can lead to desirable or to undesirable results. Having ideas about where we are headed and why we want to get there and about how we will do so will enhance our likelihood of success. More, major collaboration to attain a new economy won’t happen without widespread interest and hope which in turn won’t arise on the basis of rhetorical promises without institutional substance. Progressive activity won’t be participatory unless all actors have a shared comprehension of what is going on and why, and are equally in position to evaluate choices and to put their own stamp of preference on outcomes.
Participatory economics, or parecon, has been described, debated, and argued vis a vis other economic systems regarding its economic properties in numerous places. Much material is easily available not only in print, but also on the internet at www.parecon.org. There has been much less discussion and exploration, however, of the implications of a having parecon for other parts of social life. Advancing the later discussion is the main focus of this book. After a succinct presentation of parecon’s defining features and brief summary of their economic logic and implications we will consider broader social ramifications, as well as some strategic matters.
How would having a participatory economy, or if you prefer, for now, a desirable economy, or a classless economy, or a solidarity economy, or a self managing economy, affect political relations such as resolving disputes, dealing with criminality, establishing shared norms and rules, and engaging in large-scale collective pursuits. In short, that is, how would having a parecon affect politics via creating the context in which it occurs, influencing what issues and problems arise, and affecting how it is carried out?
What about international relations? If parecon means war or even perpetual international strife and conflict, that’s obviously unacceptable. So what does having a parecon imply for international relations: war or peace, strife or cooperation, equity or widening inequality?
Another factor impacting how we engage around political and social issues is the conveying of information about both international and local events, including reporting, evaluating, debating, etc. What implications does parecon have for journalism and media, both for its content and its process?
People develop diverse cultures and in turn identify in cultural communities that are racially, ethnically, and religiously defined. What implications does parecon have for the definition of communities and for relations between them? If parecon creates or even just exacerbates community hostilities, that would be a damning debit, of course. If it tends to diminish the prospects for and intensity of hostilities, that would be an important benefit.
What about nationhood, nationality, and immigration. What are the implications of parecon for these relations, and vice versa.
Humans engage in diverse artistic pursuits – painting, drama, film, music, sculpture, photography, and more – including conception, performance, etc. Does parecon provide a fertile and positive environment for artistic innovation and creation? Or would the presence of a parecon somehow reduce artistic creativity or diminish artistic quality? Regarding the interface with art, a parecon can have positive promise or negative likelihood, and to judge this aspect of its worthiness we need to explore which.
And what about athletics? In a society with a parecon what becomes of the great struggles and performances that go under the rubric of sports, both competitive and otherwise? Is this realm of life diminished or enhanced, both in its availability and its quality by the implications of a parecon? For that matter, what about competition itself? What becomes of competition in non-economic realms with the change to a cooperative rather than a competitive economy?
Human societies involve women and men being born, maturing, aging, and dying. What are the implications of having a parecon for relations between the sexes, living arrangements, procreation, nurturance, and socialization of new generations, and even for sexuality? If parecon imposes harmful features on these aspects of life, it will be suspect and perhaps dismissible. If on the other hand parecon benefits all these gender related relations, and can operate compatibly with anything we might reasonably expect these realms to require, then on this score it will be worthy.
What about education? What is the implication of parecon both for the organization of schooling and training more generally, and for its content? Does parecon’s presence call forth the best pedagogy we can imagine, or does it limit our imaginations regarding sharing knowledge and skills?
Economies and whole societies exist in context of a social setting including a natural environment. How does parecon fare regarding treatment of the environment? Is a parecon likely to lead to environmental problems or even disasters? Or is a parecon suited to sustainability and even to wise environmental interactions? What are the implications of a parecon, for that matter, for other species than humans. Obviously its ecological implications is a major basis for evaluating any economy’s worth.
Humans exist alongside and entwined with all manner of other species, from the smallest one celled creatures to great elephants and whales, from bugs that kill to bugs that sustain, from plants that overrun us to plants that keep us alive, from pets that we love to predators we fear. What implication does parecon have for species other than humans, and are the these implications acceptable, or even admirable, or, on the contrary, are they so distasteful that we must jettison our support for this new type economy on behalf of our solidarity with other living things?
Well, what about the health of our own species. How does having a parecon impact medicine and medical care and concerns for and about human health most broadly?
People live, work, and also play in buildings and cities and other complexes — and how these are designed both influences and is influenced by the requisites of diverse social institutions, including the economy. So what are the implications of parecon for architects and urban designers? Does parecon have positive or negative implications for the nature of their work, and for its output, including the design of the cities we live in, the buildings we work in, and our family dwellings?
Humans have throughout history sought to understand the world we inhabit from its most minuscule sub atomic components to its most gargantuan extra galactic manifestations, including everything in between, not least our bodies and minds. How is science, both the knowledge that scientists accumulate and the methods that they employ and activities they embark on affected by having a participatory economy? Is scientific understanding propelled or retarded, enriched or impoverished, by being sought in context of a parecon?
Scientific knowledge as well as experiential skills and wisdom are utilized by humanity to create tools that we in turn employ in all manner of ways – for production, for health, for entertainment, etc. What happens to technological innovation and to the use of technology when these are pursued in context of a parecon? Is technological development accelerated or obstructed, and what happens to its direction and its content? Are the results of parecon’s impact on technology desirable, or are they a debit that should make us reconsider the merits of parecon?
How does parecon fit in the history of human creation and life? Would it be a natural outgrowth or an odd deviation? What would it mean for future history?
Finally, if we assess this proposed economic model, participatory economics, and we think its attributes are highly desirable and worth fighting to attain both for the economy and for its extra-economic implications, what activities and projects might help bring it into existence, and what choices, if made, might instead curb its prospects despite advocates desires?
The above are the broad questions this book addresses. It presents my own answers, but more importantly I hope it will provoke others to develop their own views of the interconnections between economic vision and prospects for other spheres of social life, and, even beyond that, to move on to propose vision for each area, as in political vision, gender vision, and so on. There are two complicating factors in this book, I should note at the outset, however.
First, the book starts by presenting parecon. To do that in full, however, requires at least a book itself. So the presentation here is necessarily very brief. If one doesn’t already know parecon and hasn’t assessed its economic merits, the introductory chapter will not fulfill that function. It may leave you feeling, okay, this sounds good, let’s see how it would stand up in a societal setting, in which case you could simply continue reading. If the rest of the book proved compelling, you might then decide to be more careful in your economic evaluation, taking a look at longer presentations and discussions of specifically economic matters. Alternatively you might read the summary chapter and have such grave doubts that it makes little sense, in your view, to proceed to assessing parecon in society. The issue would be, for you, is parecon even a worthy economy. At that point I can only recommend you temporarily set aside this book and pick up one dealing more fully with participatory economics itself, or pursue the same query on the parecon web site. Time enough for broader questions after that.
The second complication is that each subsequent chapter is about parecon and some other aspect of social or daily life, such as political relations, or education, or technology, and so on. The idea has been for these chapters to make a largely self-contained case. This has entailed some redundancy as relevant features of parecon have to be noted repeatedly. We try to keep it to a minimum. There is also the problem that each chapter is doing essentially the same thing, though each time with new subject matter. This can get boring quickly. To alleviate that we have tried to find diverse angles and methodologies for making what are very related claims, from chapter to chapter.
But, enough apology. On to the content.