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Routes To Economic Vision: Sustainability


What is sustainability? This is a bit tricky, I think. Presumably it means operating in a fashion that is not self destructive. Regarding ecology, in other words, it means operating so that one isn’t precluding continued operations in a similar manner in the future. We shouldn’t use up things critical to our operations without replacements being on the horizon. We shouldn’t generate by-products that distort our context and subvert our conditions so that our ability to do as well in the future will be undone.

If we want a sustainable economy we have to have one that properly assesses the implications of our choices for future prospects and leaves actors free to make judgments without pressures biasing them to only short run concerns. We also need the economy to give appropriate attention to expanding our relevant knowledge.

What implications does this have for economic institutions?

Well, first, we should not have markets which impose a very short time horizon, ignore effects beyond buyers and sellers, and actually reward ecological irresponsibility whenever it enhances profit margins.

Second, we should not have such wide disparities of wealth and power that those who have most of each can insulate themselves from the ecological pain that warns of insustainability, while those suffering that pain are left unable to curtail its causes.

Third, whatever the economy’s institutions may be, they need to be able to accommodate demands coming from a polity regarding ecological constraints, without gearing up to overcome those demands or suffering unduly because of abiding them.

On the other hand, fourth, the economy itself should not legislate about matters that transcend economics, nor prejudge issues that are contextual. For example, the economy should not impose attitudes about other life forms or nature, but should reflect the will of the populace on such matters, perhaps abiding laws, etc. And it should not bias toward small or large workplaces, or toward regional exchange or independence, but determine what is appropriate case by case.

On all these points, parecon is a fitting choice. With participatory planning instead of markets there is no impetus to sacrifice the longer term for the shorter term, valuations include externalities, and there is no incentive whatever to ignore ecological impacts. With remuneration for effort and sacrifice everyone has a just income and with self management everyone has comparable means to affect outcomes rather than the more influential being insulated and the less influential enduring most hardships. Laws and constraints imposed by a polity can be abided with no disruption of the economy’s logic.

And, finally, and perhaps most controversially for leftists, parecon doesn’t bias outcomes regarding scale or regional relations but it instead determines size and centralization of industries, and interdependence or independence of regions case be case, depending on what the implications are for human well being and development, as well as for ecological effects, of course.

These are all assertions…to be sure…but if the reader is interested and pursues the descriptions of parecon and its logic further, I am confident it will show that parecon is a sustainable and ecologically sound economy. It wasn’t conceived in the first place from the angle of ecological concerns, but it optimally attains ecological goals, nonetheless.

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