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A Program Seeking Participatory Allocation


Michael Albert

Participatory

planning is the allocation component of participatory economics. Producers and

consumers organized in councils cooperatively negotiate labor, resource, and

output allocations. The procedure organizes economic choices and simultaneously

fosters participatory self-management. That’s the vision, but visions result

from long years of organizing, educating, and fighting for short-range demands

that embody the vision’s basic principles and bring us incrementally closer to

their realization,

So

what short-run demands can foster participatory planning? Eight broad areas of

change stand out for me.

 

Council

Infrastructure and Knowledge Base

Participatory

planning stands on two primary pillars: democratic participatory councils and

wide dispersal of all information relevant to economic decision-making. Thus, to

establish or strengthen workplace or consumer councils or to enlarge access to

information supports participatory planning. For example, efforts to win

workers’ rights to meet and/or convene their own on-the-job rank-and-file

organizations are very positive. And likewise efforts to “open the books” in

a firm or in government economic institutions are also part and parcel of

developing norms and consciousness supporting participatory planning.

Market

Prices

One

reason to favor participatory planning is that it gets prices right. Rather than

over-valuing goods with negative public effects or under-valuing those with

positive public effects, parecon properly accounts for impacts “external to

the buyer and seller” including specifically accounting for the full social

impact on workers and the environment. So to intervene in markets to move prices

toward true valuations promotes participatory planning. For example, demands to

tax goods with bad environmental or human by-products (such as liquor,

cigarettes, or cars), or to subsidize goods with desirable impact external to

the “buyer and seller,” such as health care, socially valuable skills

training, parks, low-income housing, and education, are all “pareconish.” In

other words, parecon consumer or other movements should critique not only prices

inflated by monopoly power, but even prices that are reasonable in market terms

but unreasonable in social and human terms.

Qualitative

Descriptive Information

One

of the methods parecon employs to ensure that its indicative prices reflect true

social costs and benefits as well as guard against alienated behavior and

mechanistic ignorance of the human dimensions of economics, is to incorporate

into planning not only quantitative indicators, but also qualitative information

about what goes into producing goods and what their consumption means to people.

It follows that demands about honest and comprehensive labeling and advertising,

particularly to include information bearing on the conditions of workers or

impact on broader social relations, can also be foster the values and mindsets

of parecon, contributing to preparing for its full implementation. Imagine

honest labeling and advertising–truly honest…

Sharing

and Solidarity

One

of the ills of market exchange is that it presses all actors toward

individualist rather than collective consumption, even when this is harmful not

only socially, but to the direct participant. Parecon, in contrast, is as able

to offer collective as private solutions. For example, are private autos better

than decent public transit for inner city travel? On a smaller scale, does it

make sense for everyone in an apartment complex to be almost totally isolated

from everyone else, getting no benefits from sharing collective goods? Does it

make sense to pay for the tremendous redundancy of everyone having their own

instance of every imaginable commodity?

Workers’

councils aren’t the only place where citizens can usefully conceive and fight

for worthy demands. Not only can consumer movements fight about prices and

provision of qualitative information, as indicated above, and about government

budgets and related matters, as indicated below, they can also locally conceive

how their members might benefit from pooling their resources and sharing

purchases collectively. The only struggle in this instance is with old mindsets,

but the resulting increase in social interaction, fulfillment, and solidarity,

is certainly part of building a pareconish mentality. 

Human

Needs not Profitability

In

parecon, unlike capitalism, collective consumption and investment are handled

within the general planning process that gives each person proportionate input.

This leads to collective consumption and investment interactively oriented

toward the well-being and development of all actors. Thus, demands which seek to

put people above profit in government economic choices are pareconish, whether

we are talking about reducing war spending and curtailing sops to corporate

power, or expanding social spending on housing, health, welfare, education,

social infrastructure, or art. 

Democratize

Budgets

One

way to affect government budgets is to agitate on behalf of better choices, as

suggested above. Another way is to alter the processes by which town, city,

county, state, or national budgets are proposed and then decided on. Demands

that increase public involvement and empowerment, particularly via fledgling

council structures that could grow into parecon institutions, can improve our

lot in the present and also lay the groundwork for a preferred future. The

demand isn’t for input into an unimportant subset of the budget, of course,

but into how options are proposed throughout the budget, and of course into

making decisions about all proposed options, as well.

 

More

Leisure Less Labor

Markets

intrinsically pressure actors to work longer hours and enjoy less leisure.

Competition does this nasty job, generating strong incentives to overwork and

ensuring that if a few do raise their labor hours, all others in related

endeavors must do so as well, lest they suffer irreparable losses. Think of

current high-powered law firms to see that this occurs even against the desires

of powerful people. The lawyers are pushed into trying to endlessly raise their

billable hours, taking on as many new clients as can be had, even beyond their

own manic personalities and greed. If they relent, some other firm may become

more powerful, gobbling up market share, and the non manic firm runs the risk

not merely of having more leisure at the cost of less income (which many and

maybe all its members would prefer), but of losing their firm entirely. Thus we

see an upward spiral in work hours per week and a decline in vacation time. And

this occurs despite increasing productivity that could sustain high output

without excessive labor allotments. Comparing 1960 to 2000, we could have the

same per capita output now, but work literally half as much, say a four hour

workday or two weeks off every month, or a year on and then a year off,

alternately over our lifetimes, for example.

Parecons

generate no such pressure to expand work hours regardless of growing

productivity. The choice of upping output without limit (not to mention with

most people not sharing in it) or having a life, is not biased to the former by

competitive survival needs. Thus, demands over workday length, length of the

work week, vacation time, and time more generally are not only good ways to

redistribute wealth, they are also means to get at this leisure destroying

feature of our economy, and to propel pareconish calculations and aspirations.

Participatory

Allocation in our Movements

As

with every other dimension of economic or other focuses of movement struggle, it

is necessary to incorporate in our own efforts the aims and structures we

propose for the broader society outside. What can that mean in this case?

There

is no allocation in each movement project and organization other than what we

have mentioned in earlier commentaries regarding remuneration or allocation of

tasks. But what about between our projects and organizations? What determines

how many resources go to left print versus radio versus video, or to particular

efforts in any of these left media? What determines how many resources are at

the disposal of struggles around police violence and matters of race, or

reproductive rights and matters of gender, or international relations and

matters of war and peace, or domestic or global economics and matters of class?

And what about allocations for local as compared to regional or national

projects?

In

the broad progressive or left community there is often no self conscious

“allocation planning” of any sort at all, much less participatory planning.

Allocation issues most often aren’t even openly raised, much less

democratically decided. In fact, a key determinant of current left allocation is

competitive fund raising and related essentially market and power defined

dynamics. But just as having a parecon movement implies that within each

institution we should seek balanced job complexes, just rewards in accord with

effort and sacrifice, and participatory self management, shouldn’t it also

mean that we attempt to imbue in the left project as a whole with elements of

mutual aid and sharing and social planning?

As

with other internal innovations, incorporating participatory allocation features

in our movements won’t be easy, nor accomplished overnight. After all, at the

moment progressive and left operations, projects, organizations, and

“businesses” are barely more entwined and socially planned than are their

corporate counterpart institutions in the mainstream. At a minimum, then,

without prejudging precisely what can and ought to be done, it seems quite fair

to at least suggest that there is considerable room for innovation and

improvement regarding movement “planning” and mutual benefit.  

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