PARECON: Remuneration and Balanced Job Complexes


Maybe it’s the level of exposure I have had to our own prevailing system that presents obstacles to constructive thinking but I recently had difficulties in comprehending how remuneration and balanced job complexes would work in a parecon society.

Let me start with remuneration. I get how it is unfair to compensate for ownership, inheritance or genetic lottery, but I admit that I was slightly hung up on not paying more for work that is more socially valuable.

Until an email conversation yesterday with Michael Albert that sparked some creative thinking I was still leaning towards paying more for more socially valuable work. So if you make deodorant and I make airbags, car seats for children or seat belts then I should get paid more. The logic at first glance seemed to make sense.

But then I did some thinking that led me to a similar thought I had on religion and morality.

For awhile now I have been critical of how Christianity uses the promise of Heaven and the fear of Hell to instill good values into people.

I will give two hypothetical examples (though I am willing to bet these are more real than hypothetical):

  1. A preacher tells his congregation that if it were not for the Lord then he would see no reason to be faithful to his wife. In other words, if it were not for the reward of Heaven or the punishment of Hell he would see no reason to be good. This to me is saying we should do the right thing for the wrong reasons. It seems to me that we should be teaching the right morals for the rights reasons; we should be faithful to our spouses because we love and respect them.
  2. A Christian woman volunteers at her local homeless shelter because she wants to be right with Jesus. She really wants to walk through the Pearly Gates and meet St. Peter so she helps out her fellow man because she knows the Lord will be pleased. Like the above example this is teaching the right thing for the wrong reason. The right reason would be that she genuinely is concerned with the welfare of others.

I am talking mostly about solidarity.

Here is another thought process I used to test the sensibility of not remunerating based on social value: Say I work in a shoe factory and you work in a shoe factory. I make Nike Air Jordan’s but you make cheap house slippers. My product is more socially valuable than yours, but we both put in equal effort and sacrifice. Why in the Hell should I get paid more than you?

Let’s go with another example: Society wants deodorant but, even more, it wants safety features in our cars. We, the workers, give that to society not because we expect to be paid/rewarded more for it but because it is the right thing to do.

Work is compensated simply on the basis of how hard and long we work. There would be a "social average income" (Albert) that is applicable to all jobs. So if we put in the same effort and sacrifice at different jobs (me at the car safety factory, you at the deodorant factory) then we get paid the same.

The only way different jobs would predictably produce different pay is if one job typically calls for less effort and sacrifice. Maybe I work in a floral store while you work on an assembly line in some hazardous factory. It would make sense that you make more money than me, but even then your extra income would be nothing like the income inequality we see today. Plus it would not give you anymore power or influence over planning than myself.

Well what about balanced job complexes? I was also in doubts about this but with the help of Michael Albert I think I got a good understanding of it now.

Let’s say we all work in a big hotel in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Maybe it is the Worthington (the super-nice hotel that the Republicans recently celebrated their local electoral victories at taxpayers’ expense. So the next time Joe Barton or John Cornyn talks about fiscal conservatism we should ask them why they feel the need to use our money to celebrate at expensive hotels).

Okay, within this place of business are many, many tasks. Some of them are empowering and enlightening, and give the workers access to vital information needed for planning while other  tasks are tedious, boring and provide little or no insight into how to best plan business for the hotel.

And remember, we want to avoid certain elements of corporate divisions of labor because we want the workplace to be democratic and allow the workers to properly participate in planning. If we keep the prevailing structure then most workers will be consigned to following orders and not having equitable access to information that allows them to best participate in the decision-making process. The democratic process will largely be a sham.

The purpose of balanced job complexes is to separate all the tasks into empowering and un-empowering tasks and then balance them out amongst workers. This doesn’t mean everyone does the same tasks but it does mean that based on what you qualify for and what you desire you will balance out your job tasks so that you have an appropriate mix of empowering and empowering tasks. Imagine getting hired on to this hotel and provided a list of tasks to choose from. You make your choices and depending on your qualifications and their availability that will determine what you get.

Anyway, I think this is a good understanding of the remuneration and balanced job complex features of Participatory Economics.

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