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Participatory Economic Program


Michael Albert

Participatory

economics is a set of institutions for accomplishing production, consumption,

and allocation while meeting people’s needs and furthering their development;

is a set of institutions designed to propel equity, solidarity, diversity, and

self-management; is a set of institutions centered upon democratic councils,

remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and

participatory planning; is a set of institutions that answers the question: if

not capitalism, what do you want?

Participatory

economic program is a set of demands meant to win improvements in people’s

lives in the short run while laying the basis for more gains and the eventual

winning of a participatory economy in the long run. It includes demands for…

  • …just

    rewards — including profit, wealth, inheritance, luxury, and income taxes,

    affirmative action, full employment, minimum wage supports, social wage

    supports, reverse income taxes, higher wages, and also just rewards inside

    our movements. 

  • …self-management

    — including workers’ and consumers’ councils, democratized information

    access, democratized workplace decision-making, consumer power over

    production norms, democratized budgets, and also self-management inside our

    own movements.

  • …dignified

    work — including upgrading degrading jobs, regulating overly empowering

    jobs, creating balanced jobs, empowering all workers, and also dignifying

    and balancing work in our own movements. 

  • …participatory

    planning — including council infrastructure and democratic knowledge

    disbursement, social regulation of prices, expansion of qualitative

    descriptive information, enlargement of solidarity, placing human needs

    above profitability, democratizing budgets, winning more leisure and less

    labor, and also participatory allocation inside our movements. 

  • …democratized

    and just international relations (which are the subject of many other ZNet

    Commentaries) including abolishing the World Bank, IMF, and WTO and

    instituting in their place democratic agencies subordinate to the will of

    local populations and seeking to regulate world trade and exchange to the

    benefit of the worst off participants.

All

the above has been discussed in this series of parecon commentaries and now one

final step concludes the series.

Suppose

we adopt a participatory program encompassing all the above. What do we then

highlight as our central demand? What feature becomes the lynchpin of our

efforts, the element that produces public visibility and widespread support?

What is our version of “abolish slavery,” “get the vote,” “end the

war,” “free my people”? What current demand within the broad program can

best:

(a) 

address needs that people currently feel

(b) 

propel parecon consciousness-raising

(c)  

empower people to seek still more, and

(d) 

and galvanize people to win sought gains and simultaneously advance the

encompassing broader program it is part of?

I

am going to hazard a guess…very loosely and broadly, and obviously not refined.

  • We

    demand one quarter less work time for everyone, plus a parallel one quarter

    drop in wage and bonus income for the top quarter income earners in society

    (including an additional quarter profit tax on their income from capital),

    no change in total wage income for the middle half of society, and a one

    quarter raise in total wage income for the bottom quarter of society.

  • We

    demand overtime must be paid at twice the rate of normal time and firms

    cannot hire or maintain overtime workers while there are applicants for

    normal time labor.

  • We

    provide that anyone who wishes to work beyond three quarters of their

    current load can do so, but only in special employment programs initiated

    and paid by the government, administered locally by workers and consumers,

    and directed at improving local health care, education, social services,

    public housing, or other basic functions in poor communities where pay for

    this “surplus” work would be at twice the minimum wage (and the minimum

    wage, by the above requirements, would be two-thirds above what it was

    before this demand is won, until other pressures raise it still further).

  • We

    demand the government invest in social programs including: training the

    unemployed to fill newly open work positions, training folks in previously

    unemployed or unskilled jobs to take up higher skilled work left unattended

    by the reduction in workload of the currently well employed, oversight of

    the whole system in each workplace by unions and worker’s councils, the

    research and activism to pare away currently socially useless labor in

    advertising and similar worthless pursuits, and service work for those

    wanting to add their energies to advancing health care, education, social

    services, public housing, etc.

The

work reduction and income altering scenario releases – I think — more income

than it hands out, assuming any resultant lost output is confined to useless and

pointless products. But does the freed income (equal to one quarter of the

current wages, bonuses, and profits of the top quarter income earners in

society) fall short of the costs of the job program plus the costs of training?

Perhaps, and if so, we then demand that the government reduce defense spending

and spending on the prison industrial complex – and thereby free appropriate

people to work in the real economy making up for lost hours and funds needed to

handle program expenses.

What

would all this do?

Well,

by reducing everyone’s work time commitments by 25% it would greatly empower

the public to have time to develop agendas of change and to fight for them.

People can do this with there new found time either through the social programs

by which they can also get additional income, or via volunteer movement

activism.

The

demands also dramatically redistribute income.

  • Even

    before derivative impact on bargaining power changes wages further, the top

    quarter earns wages at the same rate as before, though losing a quarter of

    their profit income and of course a quarter of their wages and bonuses due

    to reduced labor time. Yet even this group can be addressed about the

    benefits of the program not only in moral terms regarding the well being of

    others, but also because through the changes they will get more free time

    and will also enjoy many of the social benefits such as reduced hostility in

    society, increased public goods, and so on,

  • The

    next half of the population has a one-third hourly pay rate increase so that

    they earn the same amount as before but for three quarters the time spent at

    work. They therefore benefit from reduced work time, an increased hourly pay

    rate, from the social spending, and also from the changed balance of power

    between society’s classes due to new found security, etc.

  • The

    bottom quarter of the population also spends three quarters the time spent

    before at work (though the unemployed of course increase their time at

    work), but now they get a quarter more total pay then before before, which

    is a two thirds hourly pay increase. They also benefit most from the new

    social spending and changes in balance of power among society’s classes.

Obviously

the program directly immediately improves the condition of society’s worst

off, but, more, it diminishes and perhaps even eliminates unemployment thereby

securing the weak against job threats by the strong, further empowering workers

to take a still larger share of output as they solidify their new strength. The

redirection of much labor to social programs also not only benefits the poorest

constituencies in society directly, due to new schools, housing, etc, it also

greatly empowers them, in turn leading to new demands for better wages and

conditions and other social improvements. Likewise, efforts to replace highly

skilled labor allotments reduced by a quarter for such jobs, uplifts other

workers, eliminating barriers to entry to better tasks at work.

The

supremely strategic aspect of the program is, I think, that at its heart is a

core demand to work less hours, something that people at every level of our

society think is warranted and desirable and which no one will be able to argue

powerfully against. The rest of the program flows logically from the desire to

reduce hours in ways most benefiting the worst off while improving the overall

quality of society, rather than enriching only the powerful and already

privileged. In addition the program opens doors to issues of remuneration,

power, job definition and allocation, and budgeting and broad valuations. The

program, in other words, wins terrain that leaves folks not only immediately

better off, but also more empowered and ready to struggle on.

When

thinking about what might be a lynchpin of an economic campaign that would

galvanize broad and deep support, I gravitated to demands about length of work

time and associated income because my experiences suggest that time pressure is

greatly felt, greatly despised, and a great barrier to radicalization…and

therefore a great target for a massive campaign. The whole project just

embellishes demanding thirty hours work for forty hours pay, and, I admit, even

that simple demand, all by itself, even without diverse caveats and

improvements, would be a wonderful centerpiece for a parecon movement.

Embellished more or less as above, however, seeking a quarter less work time

looks to me like a wonderful lightening rod, lynchpin, and foundation for

struggle.