Movement for a Participatory Economy: An Overview

Michael Albert


immediate objectives, great social movements need long-run goals for inspiration

and guidance. The abolitionist movement to end slavery and the movement for the

eight-hour day both in the nineteenth century, the movement for women’s suffrage

at the turn of the century, the labor movement that led to the CIO in the

1930′s, the civil rights, student, and peace movements seeking to expand justice

in the 1960′s, and the women’s liberation movement in the 1970′s all bear out

the point.


about a 21st century movement to replace greedy competition with equitable

cooperation? For that we will need visionary long-run goals as well as a battle

plan of immediate objectives. In twelve commentaries over the next few months, I

will suggest some long-run goals and some immediate objectives that might help

define a mass movement seeking a "participatory economy." Four themes

for further exploration will be central.

  • Just


  • Self


  • Dignified


  • Participatory





the U.S. and all other countries vast differentials in income and wealth stem

from numerous factors. Why should we favor massive redistribution of wealth and

remuneration according to only effort and sacrifice as Just Reward, instead of

permitting huge disparities of wealth and rewarding according to profit, power,

or output?


should we want Bill Gates to lose his vast wealth and then earn only for work

that he does and for how hard it is, but not for having contributed to the

design or creation of a vast productive apparatus?


should we want surgeons and coal miners to earn only for the time they work and

for how hard they work and for how much sacrifice is involved in their work, but

not for the number of lives they save or the tons of coal they extract?


first step in arguing for Just Rewards is elaborating the moral and economic

grounds for advocating rewarding only effort and sacrifice. If we can answer the

above questions and agree on the norm in a first commentary on the subject, the

second step will be to consider how to fight for Just Rewards?


would clearly need to fight to reduce and ultimately eliminate pay differentials

based on race or gender, reduce and ultimately eliminate reward for property,

power, and/or contribution to output, and finally correlate rewards that people

receive to the levels of effort and sacrifice they actually expend. To create a

program furthering these ends a second commentary on Just Rewards will advocate

such reforms as affirmative action; profit, property, wealth, inheritance, and

income taxes; and a full employment program, minimum wage supports, increased

social wage payments, reverse income taxes, and many job actions for increased

wages, among other immediate objectives.



contemporary societies, people at the top of corporations and government

bureaucracies have vast economic power. Others mostly obey. Why should we aim to

level these power differentials and seek self-management, defined as

decision-making input proportionate to the degree one is affected by outcomes?

Why not aim for "economic freedom," giving everyone the right to do

whatever they wish with themselves and their property? Or why not seek simple

democracy, giving everyone equal say over all economic decisions? Or why not

seek meritocracy, giving the more knowledgeable or more successful more say than

those who are less knowledgeable or less successful?


we can answer these questions and decide that Self Management is the best aim,

do we need new institutions like workers’ and consumers’ councils and

federations to achieve it? Do we need new rules for discussion and voting within

councils and federations? What changes in current workplace and consumption

relations, and what changes in the generation and distribution of information

about the economy, will move us toward self-management?


commentary in this series of twelve will defend self-management as the best

decision making goal for a Movement for Participatory Economy. A second

commentary in the series will explore ways to achieve self-managed

decision-making including strategies to legitimate and create workers and

consumers councils, ideas for changes in decision-making procedures within

workplaces, and demands to replace private decision-making over collective

consumption with democratic procedures and that increase consumers’ power over

what is produced.




some folks don’t work at all, suffering harsh unemployment. Other folks suffer

degrading conditions and have no say in what they do. Still others have plush

jobs, uplifting conditions, and lot’s of say in their work, and over other

people’s work too. If that isn’t fair, which ought to be evident, than what

should we seek instead? What constitutes dignified work? What should be the

distribution of tasks among economic actors so that each actor has a fair job

situation? Why should we reject having a few jobs at the top that have way more

quality of life and empowerment effects and vast numbers of jobs at the bottom

that have few if any quality of life and empowerment effects? A first commentary

on dignified work will argue that every worker should enjoy comparable quality

of life and empowerment effects in their work as one of our primary economic

goals-a "balanced job complex."


having agreed that dignified work entails each worker having a fair mix of

empowering and uplifting as well as boring and rote labor so there is no class

division between those monopolizing empowering work and those following orders,

and having countered fears that such a choice will reduce output by diminishing

expertise, what demands should we then make about job definitions, information,

knowledge, and training that will lead toward balanced job complexes for all? We

would certainly need to compensate those with less desirable work with time off

that they can use for further schooling or other efforts to attain better

circumstances. And we would need to require those with more desirable jobs to

spend compensating time doing onerous work as well. And finally, as workers’

organization and power to influence their conditions grows and as their capacity

to demand serious changes in workplace relations increases, we would favor

reforms seeking to reduce disparities in desirability and empowerment between

different jobs by reallocating tasks between them.




different groups of workers make different products some procedure for

coordinating their activities with each other and with the desires of consumers

is required. Economic allocation determines how much of each input and output is

used or produced and where it winds up. Partly economic allocation is a matter

of decisions; partly it is a matter of information, communication, and

behavioral roles. Currently producers and consumers relate to one another as

enemies in markets where competitive pressures drive them to try and take

advantage of one another, or to be replaced by someone else that does. But

acceding to the economics of competition and greed is not the only way workers

and consumers can coordinate their related activities to enjoy the advantages of

a division of labor. Instead they can consciously plan how to coordinate their

efforts — democratically, equitably, and efficiently.


first commentary about participatory allocation will motivate and explain how

workers and consumers can allocate scarce productive resources and distribute

goods and services without markets and their pernicious effects, by using a

decentralized, social planning procedure we call "participatory

planning" in which workers and consumers councils and federations propose

and revise their own activities in socially responsible ways. It will summarize

the advantages of participatory planning over both markets and the discredited

system of central, or command planning, and explain why fears that such

participatory planning would prove inefficient or limit legitimate freedoms are

misplaced. A second commentary in the series will discuss demands for

restricting the influence of market forces and expanding the role of equitable

cooperation by banning involuntary overtime, reducing the work week, imposing

tax and budget reforms, and expanding public influence over investment and

budget decisions.


Word About Vision and Program


goals can help us recognize current injustice, spur our motivation, and orient

our actions toward reaching preferred destination. Demands we choose in the

present and tactics we employ to try to win them have a dual logic. On the one

hand, they seek to reduce current suffering. On the other hand, they seek to

move us toward future long-run goals. In the latter capacity demands and tactics

should augment our strengths and reduce those of our opponents. They should

increase the numbers seeking change, increase the understanding and commitment

of advocates of change, strengthen dissident organizations and means of outreach

and struggle, and win gains that not only improve the lot of progressive

constituencies, but also empower them to win further gains and become ever more

committed and capable. These are the standards we should embrace as we discuss

short-term economic program. They are simple to summarize, but nonetheless

central to social strategy.





economic goals and demands is a large agenda, but seems like a good use of the

ZNet Sustainer system. Of course brief commentaries can’t make a comprehensive

case, but they can initiate discussions in the ParEcon forum to then challenge,

criticize, elaborate, or amend the views offered. To facilitate that, the twelve

economic vision and program commentaries will appear online at http://www.zmag.org/econvpcmts.htm,

linked via the Sustainer Zine page for the duration of their "publication

period." Who knows…maybe we can together even launch a Participatory

Economic Movement.


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