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
what short-run demands can foster participatory planning? Eight broad areas of
change stand out for me.
Infrastructure and Knowledge Base
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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
Needs not Profitability
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.
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.
Leisure Less Labor
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.
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.
Allocation in our Movements
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?
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
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?
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.