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Soc 292 – The Third Student


Hmmmmm…these student comments are a bit longer than I anticipated…also a bit less in touch with the actual characteristics of parecon…but I started so I guess I will continue, though a bit more summarily than I had hoped, given these attributes.

The Third Student writes…

> The two aspects of Albert’s Parecon system which I find most troubling are the job complex concept and the role of complete information. These features would be almost impossible to achieve in the real world and would be likely to create subclasses and power inequities. Solidarity would suffer and the goal of rewarding effort and sacrifice undercut.

It sounds like the student likes the values but doubts their implementation. Okay – but why?

> It is inconceivable that councils could obtain all the information that would be of interest to every decision maker about the impacts of an action. Presumably only a certain number of persons would have the task of assembling the basic information, with individuals assigned the task of bringing to the table whatever else they may think important from his or her personal perspective. Even with a group effort to assemble information that may be relevant about the impact of a decision, there may be information that is not even known to members of the group ahead of the decision. Or information important to one or more persons may not be within the specialized knowledge of the rest of the group – so it may in fact be unknowable by the entire group.

There is confusion. Information that isn’t known, isn’t known. But that is socially okay unless something about the system induces us to not know what we ought to (as in markets precluding attention to external effects). Information that is wrong is wrong. Also socially okay, unless something about the system induces us to errors (as in biasing our perceptions such as profit seeking). Neither is good, but these are failings, if they are honest, not structurally imposed, that are just that, failings – but not social ones. We correct them as we learn.

As to assembling information – every bit that exists beyond a mere and inaccurate price, and that is honest – is that much more than exists in a market system. Thus, also that much better.

But I don’t see any reason to think that there can’t be databases of information so that in the not so frequent cases where a consumer wishes to know why the price of some item – air conditioners – is higher than anticipated, he or she can explore the qualitative reasons as well as quantitative summary. Or when the consumer wants to become more familiar with the social and workplace implications of choices, she can see relavant information. For producers, of course far more information will be needed so that they can not only know the social worth of what they are doing, but weigh it sensibly against costs, and thus this information would be not only available but widely utilized.

One way to better understand, perhaps, is to realize that the difference regarding information from now is mostly who can access it, and less so volume – and it is volume almost entirely with respect to knowing impacts on people who are now ignored.

> Assuming it is possible to gather all information necessary for workers or consumers to make informed choices – how do you disseminate that information? Won’t there be a spin – even if the gatherer doesn’t intend it?

Again, I have to wonder what these students have read and what kinds of norms. It must be a short summary…because if it was longer works, then disagreeing would presumably include reference to the case that was made – but it doesn’t seem to, in earlier cases or in this one.

I can’t reproduce the whole description here – but information is dispersed in part via prices of items – in that case it is encapsulated. If one wants further details, one pursues them. This latter is, again, not all that different than now – except now most information isn’t put on labels etc., and you don’t have computer access to deeper knowledge, though it exists, of course – save for what is now simply ignored or even hidden, like ecological effects, etc.

As to information being skewed – well, why? Who has a motive to skew it and how do they benefit from doing so?

> Albert speaks of placing the burden on the person who is dramatically affected by a proposed action to influence others. For example the man who would die if the temperature fell to 68 degrees in his plant.

Well, now I am disturbed because I think this is only in the new book, which means these students read it, but seem not to be responding to its full arguments, or in some any of its arguments. I have to think on why that is. The comment referenced here is actually, however, a discussion of possible logics to utilize in choosing among different voting methodologies, I believe – not quite what is said above.

> In a small unit it may be possible to communicate this information with persuasive power where others know the person and feel sincere empathy. But what if the action to be taken will harm someone without skills at persuasion? What if the impact on him or her will be very large, but he or she cannot express it in a way that moves others.

Sometimes I listen to people coming up with concerns and I don’t know whether to take it seriously, or just say, are you serious?

So the issue here is that we have balanced job complexes, etc. etc. People have appropriate say but someone needs to convey special info about being even more affected than the say accommodates. And this student is worried that it will be done inadequately. Okay, this could happen, sure. Is it a serious problem for this system as compared to any other we might think of? Is there some implication?

> Even allowing for different mechanisms of decision making (one man one vote, consensus, 2/3 vote, etc) some person will have a natural advantage in prevailing on their position that have nothing to do with the mechanisms.

This is the student who doesn’t like balanced job complexes which are, of course, adopted precisely to remove the largest structural cause of the sort of problem the student is here worrying about.

If the student means some people will argue better or have more relevant knowledge, yes, no doubt. But I see no problem with that, IF each actor has appropriate decision making say…and general confidence, skills, etc. and no actors have circumstances that systematically deprive them of social skills and knowledge, or aggrandize them on these scores. If there is an Einstein of social organization, that’s fine. Everyone benefits from learning and otherwise paying attention to his insights, unless he is given control over everyone, etc. etc.

If the student means in real life there will be deviations from the abstract ideal vision that might be arrived at if some alien were able to measure all features absolutely perfectly and tell us the perfect outcomes we fell short of – of course there will. As noted throughout presentations, this will occur for many reasons – social friction, ignorance, time constraints, etc. etc. But it won’t occur in such ways as to produce systematically recurring differentials in power or income or biases in outcomes. If someone wants to suggest, no, that there will be these things – okay, but how and where…

It feels like the students actually get their reasons for being critical from the text itself, where I offer them, but then ignore the discussions in the text of why they aren’t serious matters.

> Attempts at equity will not eliminate innate endowments (via genetics) or the effects of experience that make it possible for individuals to obtain greater power by downplaying some information and highlighting other.

It seems to me the person is asking could someone lie or commit fraud in order to trick a group (that has decision making power) into behaving other than it would have had this person not manipulated them? Sure, it could happen. I suspect that it would be about as hard in a parecon as one could possibly get it to be in a social system – but yes, it could happen.

So will it happen? Maybe, in some odd case. But it won’t happen much unless there are real benefits to be had, commensurate to the effort and risk of behaving in such an antisocial fashion…even if we assume total amorality on the part of the manipulator. But there aren’t…

> Framing techniques are well known in psychology as devices which can be used to alter choices in response to the same basic problem.

These students are highly familiar with manipulative and self serving behavior – perhaps not surprisingly, how else would they get ahead in our society – and are simply saying it can exist. Yes. Of course it can. Like plain old theft, or serial murder, and so on. One guards against what does occur, and deals with it. But the key issue is will these be more prevalent or way way less prevalent than now and in other proposed economies.

All this is dealt with in the book. I can’t help but wonder why the students don’t refer to arguments offered, if they find them unconvincing.

I also have to say that I always find it odd that people finding fault with parecon make a case that it won’t attain some kind of absolute perfection – as if that is a reason to dismiss it while we live in a hellish system that barely ever transcends attaining generalized mayhem.

> In individual councils there would almost certainly be a group who would rise to the top as the wise ones, the ones to whom others turn for assistance to help them get their views expressed.

The student oddly makes no reference to removing the key basis for the differentials of the sort the student seems to say they don’t want. Balanced job complexes. If the student is worried about a priesthood as a bad thing, wouldn’t the student want social structures that minimize it as a bad thing?

That some people are more clever about some things is not a social problem, but is instead highly desirable. Think of some people playing better music, or doing anything better. We all benefit. The key point is that society doesn’t have to reward such people inordinately, nor give them greater say save over their own affairs, of course.

Now, the student may say, what if someone is better at making decisions? But that’s not thought out (and ignores the book addressing the point, as with others raised). No one – no one – is better at deciding what meets my preferences than I am. Someone might be way better at evaluating the implications of various choices most generally – of course. And then this expert’s insights need to be made known, and I will utilize them, to be sure. But once known, the expert doesn’t get my vote…I get it.

> This would create a subclass of more powerful advocate workers (or consumers) who have a special role in society. Favors, goods or services might be offered outside the economy to obtain the assistance of this class.

So we are to believe, now, that in a workplace I am going to allot more income to a few folks, or even just bring gifts to their houses, so that they will voice my preferences for me because if I were to do so, no one would list but if they do so – people will listen. And indeed, about ninety percent of us are going to do that, enriching those few folks – even though during the work day they have balanced job complexes just like we do and, to top it off, if their job is to make various cases (among other responsibilities) if they choose not to they would lose income.

What I ask this student, short of redescribing how the system works, etc., and thus why the student’s scenario is incredibly cynical about people — is, if this scenario is disturbing to you, wouldn’t you be horrified by a workplace structure that elevates a similar subset of the whole to dominance, and lets them reward themselves, make their own work cushy, and so on?

> The advocates could assist others or not as they choose, whether or nor their own views are consistent with that argued. While this might only be a small group, it would nonetheless create a tear in the fabric Albert’s system. And as he has said, the system must function as a whole, and not piecemeal. If there is a subclass of elite advocates on councils, will the system as a whole not eventually break down ?

Nope. There would be what you describe in certain domains, and more, and not only wouldn’t it cause things to break down, it would be positive. Take health. There are people who do doctoring. We go to them and get essential information. It is life critical. We decide what to do – but it is very very much influenced by what the medical experts convey. Is it a problem? They are not earning more, they do not have better conditions, and they do no have more say than is appropriate in decisions. It is no more a problem than when we fly on a plane and the pilot holds our lives in his hands – if the pilot has a balanced job complex, is remunerated for effort and sacrifice, operates in an industry that is in the planning process and self managed, and so on.

There is a sense in which novelists and other artists might arguably be said to be a bit like what this student is discussing – people who can communicate subtle feelings and information more compellingly than others to broader populations, even – but again, they would have no means to use these talents to advance themselves as against others, or none that were seriously disruptive of social equity, other than lying, fraud, etc.

> The idea of job complexes that include a variety of tasks, some pleasant and empowering, some unpleasant and not empowering, but where all jobs have the same average level of empowerment is obviously very desirable but completely impossible beyond the smallest integrated firm setting.

It is actually far easier in a large workplace than in a small one.

It would be interesting to ask this person, if they don’t want an elite that has excessive ability to aggrandize itself, which they seem to have indicated above, and if that would be a deal breaker for parecon even with its virtues, and they don’t want balanced job complexes, what they have in mind…and why its class divisions aren’t a deal breaker for capitalism…

> For starters, in order to rate tasks that will eventually make up a job, someone must make a decision whether the job is pleasant or not, empowering or not, and then rank it against other tasks in the firm.

Not someone, a workers council, over time, including of course the experience of how people regard job complexes…apply for them, etc.

> The tasks in the firm must be compared to tasks in other workplaces to so that across workplaces individuals all have the same average job rating.

Actually, each workplace has an internally average complex, for that venue. It is these complex’s overall quality – empowerment effect – that has to be compared from place to place.

I again fear the student is working from a brief description…not a serious presentation of parecon, even though I guess it is in fact from the full book – I wonder what this says either about the book, or how these students read and assess.

> Whether a task is pleasant or unpleasant, other than very extreme examples, will be subjective. Will a vote take place on every task? Will the firm’s work council determine if replacing the toner in the copier is pleasant or unpleasant? Will they decide if it empowers an employee or that it is not? What if it is unpleasant, but empowering?(for anyone who does not know how to change the toner when copies are needed the person who can do so may feel he or she does have power).

Here there is confusion? (Did the student actually look in the book to see how these issues fare, and others?) The issue isn’t impact on a particular person, but general empowerment quality for someone suited to the work. Being a surgeon would not be empowering for me, but horrendous, not to mention the corpses piling up. This is irrelevant, of course. The issue is the implications of tasks – or a job complex – for a person who actually holds it, meaning a person suited to holding it, of course.

Generally speaking, tasks come in bunches, not units…like taking the mail…not taking big letters and small ones, etc. Or cleaning bathrooms, not cleaning sinks, floors, mirrors, etc.

And, yes, workers can – this part I know from close experience – get together and broadly assess and apportion different combinations of tasks in combinations to attain balance.

Of course, if the student is thinking, this can’t possibly be perfectly done – well, yes, that is so. Also indicated in the book repeatedly. Also irrelevant. If a person wants to criticize balanced job complexes because they won’t be perfectly balanced all the time, due to being a social product – surely the person won’t then opt for virtually the most unbalanced arrangement conceivable, that is for a corporate choice.

> In a parecon, there will be a mix of task in the job complex for every worker – so that one group cannot be privileged to work only jobs that are enjoyable and which impart power in society.

Actually, it is done so that all workers will have a mix of responsibilities and tasks which in its overall empowerment implications is like that of other workers’ jobs.

> Although Albert states that he is not expecting physicists or brain surgeons to give up their primary tasks, he does want them to mix up their rewarding professional work with more mundane tasks. But this assumes that all brain surgeons view their medically related tasks as pleasant and empowering, but would view changing bedpans as unpleasant an unempowering.

Again, did the student read the book? Or is it just poorly written – I need one of those highly capable communicators the student refers to, it seems.

Actually, the issue isn’t do you like your work personally. Everyone applies for jobs, unless they are masochists, that they like more than others that they forego.

The issue is objectively speaking, does the combination of tasks that you engage in give a typical employee with the job greater overall knowledge and social confidence and energy and so on – when he or she participates in workplace council decisions – than the combination I have conveys to me.

This is not like equalizing the height of water in two pitchers – which can be done nearly perfectly. It is a social adjustment that attains an equilibration that the workers council accepts as desirable.

The surgeon may love changing bed pans – though I doubt it – but he or she won’t be made more able to dominate outcomes due to doing it than other hospital workers are made by their mix.

> For example, it is possible that a brain surgeon only went into that profession because a parent made him. He has good skills, but hates the pressure of his job. After all, suicide and drug abuse are very high for doctors. Perhaps he is empowered by his job, because he performs a task that many are not trained to do. And he can make life or death decisions affecting human beings. But he does not find it pleasant. How then would his job be ranked?

In a parecon he likely wouldn’t be doing it. But again, the issue is a social, collective one, not an individual one. We are trying to remove bases for class division…

> Perhaps he is assigned the menial task of cutting the grass at City Park to balance what is viewed as the highly rated surgeon’s tasks and the higher ranking of hospital workers in general. Perhaps he loves being outside, with the breeze in his hair, the sun on his face. Even if based on an objective council created scale, he has a good mix of tasks that meets the average of every other worker; his own subjective view of that mix may be quite different.

What the student is saying is that we aren’t equilibrating happiness – which is correct. And no one has claimed to do so. But if the student thinks this is some kind of failing, she should most certainly be a very very aggressive revolutionary in our current economy…

> In other circumstances it is likely to be inefficient to employee individuals in tasks outside their specialized routines – and substitute someone who has little skill or experience.

All of a sudden all the high minded values have disappeared and only output is elevated – even though, of course, there is no argument whatever that output would be enhanced by corporate versus balanced job complexes…and no reference to arguments made throughout the text about such issues.

> The firm will lose the additional value added by these specialists obtained in their initial training. In addition, some jobs required regular practice and ongoing training to perform jobs adequately. (e.g. teachers, lawyers, athletes). This cost of the training would be ongoing, and would create even greater inefficiencies if the workers requiring this training were taken out of their professional position regularly.

I am gratified that everything the students worry about is dealt with, in some detail, in the book Parecon…but I am concerned lest they read it and never noticed…

> Albert also assumes that there will be little incentive to move from one job to another based on financial or power related incentives. And yet, it is possible that there may a huge demand for a particular job complex because of individual preferences. For example, working near the ocean may appeal to more peopled than working in a downtown concrete and steel facility. In addition, there may not be sufficient pleasant and empowering tasks to divvy up in a workplace. Where work is composed of relatively simple tasks, and there are only one or two aspects that can be deemed pleasant, it may be weeks before a worker gets to do the pleasant task. Of course, Albert would argue that a workplace that has a low overall average would have its workers placed in another workplace part of the time where the averages are much higher. But, this mix may be impossible based upon geographic restrictions. There may be no high average workplace in the entire community.

In the short run, there will be situations like this – but in the long run, one of the aims of investment and innovation will be to correct these holdover problems.

> In a parecon there would be people performing tasks they cannot do well.

Why? Now we are getting, I suspect, to the roots of the student’s real worries. For if all the other stuff were real worries, rejection of corporate organization and capitalism by this student would be far more strenuous than rejection of parecon…

> This is because they will be required to do a mix of tasks for which they may not have been prepared and for which they do not have the right personality traits.

Why? This is an incredible assertion, it seems to me, if the person has read the model…and discussion of such matters.

> And they will expect to be rewarded for their extra effort and sacrifice when doing things they do not do well and don’t enjoy

People aren’t remunerated for work they can’t do well…they can’t hold such jobs.

> – even though it is not clear society will be benefited from their sacrifice. It is not clear how this will lead to empathy or solidarity or equity. And it certainly will not lead to efficiency.

If it were true, the conclusions would be true…

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