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Economics and the Rest Of Society


Michael Albert

A

Participatory Economy produces, consumes, and allocates to meet people’s needs

and develop their capacities. It also promotes equity, solidarity, diversity,

and self-management. Its central features are workers’ and consumers’

councils, remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, balanced job

complexes, and participatory planning. Yet, however high we may rate a parecon,

a good society needs more than just a good economy.

Imagine

a society with a participatory economy but sexist kinship institutions that

subordinate women to men. What happens?

Parecon

structures would violate a sexist household hierarchy by not subordinating women

to men and by giving women and men expectations contrary to male supremacy.

Sexist kinship arrangements would violate balanced job complexes by apportioning

tasks unfairly in the home and by giving women and men expectations contrary to

universal equity. The parecon would produce equitable expectations that the

kinship sphere would violate. The kinship sphere would impart expectations of

female subordination that the economy would violate. But if an economy produces

people to not fit their households and households socialize people to not fit

their economy, the economy or households must change.

In

light of this, suppose a feminist movement favors genderless parenting instead

of mothering and fathering. Or maybe it rejects patriarchal marriage and the

nuclear family. Whatever its preferences, a new feminist vision would certainly

require that a compatible economy not violate kinship values. Likewise,  a

compatible kinship vision would have to respect parecon’s economic

requirements.

Once

we understand this reciprocity, we see that building a participatory economy

impacts building a feminist kinship sphere and vice versa, and therefore need to

be compatible. And similarly, for a good economy to fit with desired innovations

in education, or the state, or culture, or international relations, it must

incorporate structures that respect the new aims of those other realms–and vice

versa. This is the logic of “economics and the rest of society” and here are

some indicative examples.

Education

Education

wants to convey information and skills suited to each individual meeting their

own agendas. “Be the best you desire to be.” But education also wants to

convey information and skills suited to people filling available roles in the

society. “Be what society needs you to be.”

For

ideal educational institutions, we would want these two aims to be mutually

consistent and supportive. Education for people to be what they desire should be

precisely what’s needed to also prepare them for positions that society will

willingly remunerate. Education that prepares people to fit a good society’s

roles, should imply addressing people’s fulfillment and development. A good

society, in other words, offers people diverse role options in tune with their

true desires and inclinations.

But

think about capitalism. It often needs compliance, passivity, and a willingness

to obey orders and endure boredom. Thus capitalism violates education for human

fulfillment and development, and capitalist schools dumb most people down.

Parecon,

in contrast, needs schools to educate people to deal well with information, to

make smart decisions, and to utilize their special talents and capacities as

they prefer and are able. Parecon not only doesn’t conflict with good

educational priorities, it fosters them.

 

Ecology

The

relationship between parecon and the environment is a little trickier. Any

economy says to any effort to address the ecology, “fine, but do it in a way

consistent with business as usual.” A market system thus says to those

concerned about ecology, “fine, worry about the ecology, but don’t distort

ecologically unsound market prices or curtail ecologically unconcerned market

transactions or otherwise disrupt ecologically dismissive market logic.”

In

contrast, participatory planning intrinsically properly values resources and

ecological diversity in terms of their impact on human well-being and

development. But beyond this, some people might also value various species or

even natural formations independent of implications for humans. A parecon can

accommodate rules about impact on other species, but only if it is compelled by

outside constraints.

By

its intrinsic logic, that is, a parecon values economic choices in terms of

their implications for humans. It automatically accounts for resource depletion

or pollution or extinctions or other ecological outcomes insofar as these in

turn impact human well-being and development. Additionally, in response to an

external advisory, a parecon can also not displace or kill rhinos, snail

darters, smallpox bacteria, or anything else, even if displacing or killing

rhinos, snail darters, smallpox bacteria, or anything else would benefit humans.

In other words, when society deems an ecological constraint on economic options

desirable, its imposition on a participatory economy will not disrupt the

economy’s logic or efficiency.

But

what about influences in the opposite direction? How does a parecon impact

ecological concerns and sensibilities?

First,

a parecon communicates to people focusing on ecology a strong impetus to not

ignore the human dimension. Indeed, it literally compels all actors, including

those who are primarily motivated by ecological priorities, to account for the

human implications of their economic choices. And second, a parecon requires

that ecological goals be realized without compromising balanced job complexes,

remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, council self-management, and

participatory planning.

 

The

State 

One

implication of parecon for the state is that political functions will be enacted

in balanced job complexes and be remunerated only for effort and sacrifice. For

any vision of adjudication, legislation, and political implementation, this

means that whatever political values we seek, they must not violate pareconish

economic values. Thus we won’t have politics elevating some people to

disproportionate power, rewarding some with unbalanced job complexes, or giving

some unjust income. Nor will the ideological or behavioral implications of

political institutions obstruct producing and consuming in a pareconish way.

The

legal system of a society is one typical political component we might consider.

Currently U.S. attorneys for opposed parties do whatever they can get away with

to win.  Neither is primarily seeking truth or justice, yet truth and

justice are supposed to emerge from their competition. This may remind us of the

even more ridiculous but quite similar idea that economic buyers and sellers

being greedy anti-social individualists will maximally promote just economic

outcomes. In any event, I suspect that a serious political vision won’t

dispense with adjudication or policing but will, instead, define these functions

more sensibly and find ways to accomplish them that also meets broader

political, economic, and other priorities. Do we get rid of police or court

trials and have everyone in the society do whatever policing is called for and

resolve their disputes only informally or locally? I doubt it. I suspect we will

instead recognize that like for piloting planes, or doing medical operations, or

handling a big crane at construction sites, some folks being specially trained

in police and courtroom functions with other folks not having to prepare for or

worry about these particular tasks, will yield better skills and better utilize

them than having everyone do these tasks without specialization, not to mention

enhancing diversity. But however we come to understand police and courtroom or

other political responsibilities, we will require balanced job complexes and

participatory self-management for those doing them, of course.

 

International

Relations

If

we aspire to a parecon nationally, the consistent international economic goal

seems pretty obvious. Why should a child born in a country with fewer resources

or with a history of being dominated by colonialism have a worse life than a

child born in a resource-rich country or a country that has colonially exploited

others for decades? People born in different parts of the world should not

suffer (or benefit) due to accidents of geography or past history. Thus a

particular society with a parecon should deal with other nations in ways that

reduce unjust differences in average income and circumstance as rapidly as

possible without disrupting lives so much as to do more harm than good. A

minimal but important step is that in trading with other countries a

participatory economy would favor whichever price – the international market

price or the parecon valuation within the parecon society – that most

benefited the worse-off trade partner. Beyond this, it could offer various forms

of aid, etc.

 

The

Bottom Line

Obviously

the above discussion is limited. Yet, nonetheless, many readers will easily

agree that a good society should have equity of circumstance and income between

men and women, respect for diversity of sexual and social choices, freedom for

cultural communities to exist without fear of penalty and a general social

respect for diversity, full political participation and full dissemination of

information and skills essential to universal participatory self-management,

respect for the natural environment as it affects humanity and also in its own

right, and a steady equalization of wealth and circumstances internationally.

But I suspect many readers would also easily agree that to answer the question

“what do you want” and inform our strategic choices, we need more detailed

and convincing descriptions of positive cultural, kinship, political,

ecological, and international values and institutions.

The

limited point of this commentary, therefore, is that if these new visions are to

be compatible with parecon, they must not abrogate and ideally will even help

promote parecon’s economic priorities and norms. Likewise, if parecon is to be

compatible with these needed new visions, parecon’s economic implications must

not abrogate and ideally will even help promote their kinship, sexual, cultural,

political, ecological, and international priorities and norms.