I was asked me for a summary of Parecon for purposes of creating a flyer for many Occupy Sites – and I sent the following…
Parecon is a proposal for a way of carrying out production, consumption, and allocation that is classless and equitable, that delivers to each actor self managing say, and that produces not only desired goods and services but also desirable solidarity and diversity. It is not a comprehensive blueprint but, instead, a description of the key attributes of four institutions deemed essential if economics is to be both worthy and desirable.
What are these four institutions?
First, workers and consumers self managing councils are the venues through which people determine their actions in accord with other people doing likewise. Self management means each actor has a say in decisions proportionate to the impact of the decided issue on them. If the issue is what socks I wear to work tomorrow – the impact is almost entirely on me, so I decide, essentially alone. We do not have a majority rules vote, or a consensus vote, or any other kind of vote of the whole workers council about my socks. I just decide. If, however, the issue is a new hire, then perhaps everyone will be affected, though maybe the work team where the person would spend time will be affected more than others. If the decision is about the schedule of work, perhaps all are comparably affected. Based on such differences, sometimes a few decide in context of overarching decisions by the whole council. Sometimes the whole council decides. Sometimes decisions are by majority vote, or consensus, or other means. The point is to best approximate people having a say proportionate to effects on them. Self management.
The second structure has to do with work. How do we arrange it? In the usual pattern, about 20% of the workforce does overwhelmingly empowering tasks. 80% does overwhelmingly disempowering tasks. The former do work that conveys to them confidence, social and conceptual skills, knowledge of the workplace and its possibilities, decision making habits in daily life relations at work, etc. The latter do work that diminishes confidence, reduces social and conceptual skills, reduces knowledge of the workplace and its possibilities, instills habits of obedience, and exhausts. There are two problems.
First, some have better conditions, meaning more enjoyable and engaging work. This could be offset by income considerations, so we will set it aside for a moment. Second, some become ready to govern, others to be governed. In the workers council – and for that matter also in the broader society – the 20% who do overwhelmingly empowering work set agendas, make proposals, dominate discussions, and, ultimately, get their way. The 80% steadily become bystanders. We are talking, here, about a class relation – a difference between two types of worker due to their position in the division of labor. The former – and parecon's advocates typically call them the coordinator class – rule over the latter, or the working class.
To get rid of this class hierarchy one must break the relative monopoly on empowering circumstances that gives the coordinator class its dominant position. To do this, rather than put the empowering tasks all into few jobs that few people then hold, we spread the empowering tasks through all jobs by creating what we call balanced job complexes.
Each person does a mix of tasks – at which they are capable and comfortable, of course – such that the mix that you do, and the mix that I do, and the mix that everyone else does are balanced from one person to the next for the empowerment effect of work on the worker doing it. This is balanced job complexes, and in parecon the balancing occurs not only inside each workplace, but across workplaces as well. The result is that we all have comparably empowering work. We are all comparably prepared to participate in workers and consumers councils. Self management is not rendered moot by class rule.
The third feature of parecon is called equitable remuneration. What is each person’s rightful claim on the social product? How much do you get, how much to I get? What is responsible and fair, and works?
Parecon says people who are too young or old, or who are medically unable to wrk, should just get a full income anyhow. But people who can work should have an income share that depends on the duration, intensity, and onerousness of their socially valuable labor.
I can’t be remunerated as an athlete or singer or anything else for which my abilities don’t allow me to produce outputs that others will want to have. But I can do anything I can do well enough for my efforts to be socially valuable. And when I do, if I want to consume more out of the total social product, I can do so by working more hours, or more intensely, or perhaps doing some more onerous tasks, as long as I work in a balanced job complex overall, and as long as I arrange my activities with my workers council.
This type equitable remuneration is not only fair, but also facilitates consumption matching production and vice versa – and also allows conveyance to workers and consumers indicators of the preferences of others for leisure and work, and for different kinds of work, and different products.
The fourth and last key feature of parecon is called participatory planning. It replaces markets and central planning with self managed cooperative negotiation by the workers and consumers councils carried out in light of true and full social costs and benefits. As compromising of parecon as it was to offer the first three components as succinctly as was done above, it would be even worse to make believe we have described participatory planning in just a very few words.
The claim of parecon is to be a classless economy that accomplishes production, consumption, and allocation without class division and in accord with people’s needs and desires, ecological sustainability, and social harmony. If so, parecon is a worthy alternative to capitalism and also what has been called market or centrally planned socialism – which I call coordinatorism. It can provide guidance for planting the seeds of the future in the present, as well as for our long term aims and actions. This would be important. Hopefully you will want to explore further to determine how you feel about it.