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Pat Devine’s criticism of Parecon structure


Hi Mike,

After reading Devine’s review of Parecon in Historical Materialism, as well as your reply, I think it might be  worth trying to excavate the actual (possibly subtle) differences.

One issue that I think accounts for a significant part of Devine’s critical disposition towards Parecon has to do with the desirable composition of a governing council of a production unit.

Devine’s vision for the composition of a governing production council bases itself on a concept of social ownership.  From your response to Devine: "In Devine’s own words, he seeks "social ownership, defined as ownership by the different groups affected by the use of the assets involved in proportion to the degree they are affected." Well, with a little caveat, I wholeheartedly agree with this." (Michael Albert- Devine on Parecon http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/14609.)

In reality it seems that you and Devine take a different interpretation of this principle and its implications. For Devine there are aspects of decisions involved in the government of the production process of individual units that significantly impact third parties; he believes therefore that these third parties should be represented on the governing councils of production units. One of the primary functions of the governing council is to discover and articulate the social interest in relation to the production unit’s activities. The workers council in the production unit has autonomy over choices involving the utilization of the production unit’s resources in light of the framework established in the participatory process of discovery and articulation amongst the appropriate combination of social owners.  

In Devine’s own words: "While the governing bodies of production units would be representative of those affected by their activities, including their workers, internal organization would be on the basis of self-management. This would further decentralize decision-making to those affected. Once its governing body had defined the social interest in relation to a production unit’s activities, decisions on how best to use the unit’s resources to further that interest would be made by those working in the production unit. They would be in possession of the most local level of knowledge and would be best placed to use that knowledge effectively in the social interest." (Devine, Pat. Democracy and Economic Planning, 49)

I believe that your response to Devine was impaired by misunderstandings that stemmed from the fact you were only relying on hints about Devine’s visionary proposal that were contained in the book review. Devine’s critical stance perhaps becomes clearer with detailed knowledge of his vision.  Putting oneself in his shoes: it is obvious to ask why in your Parecon, consumer’s interests or the interests of elements of civil society impacted by the unit’s activity, or the significant suppliers of intermediate inputs, etc are not actively involved in the governing council of the production unit along with workers?

In the part of your reply concerning the interrelation of a participatory economy with the wide body of citizens you characterize this interaction by relating the constraints that citizen’s interests might wish to put on the economy.  The examples you give: "laws against killing owls, to give a simple example, or health codes, zoning laws, labor laws, trade norms, and so on." appear to describe, almost exclusively, external restrictions of parecon activity by the citizenry whereas in Devine’s vision its seems that the proposed social structure involves a more fully integrated relationship between the political and economic spheres.  Can you please discuss these differences?

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