How much say should each actor in an economy have
over decisions in that economy? Why should we aim for self-management defined
as decision-making input proportionate to the degree one is affected by
outcomes? Why not aim for "economic freedom" defined as the right to
do whatever one wishes with one’s person and property? Or why not give
everyone equal say over all economic decisions all the time? Or why not permit
the more knowledgeable or successful more say than those who are less
knowledgeable or less successful?
Consider a worker in a plant. Suppose he has his
own work area. He wants to put a picture of his daughter on the wall. How much
say should he have? How much say should I have about his daughter’s picture
if I work across the plant in another division or even across town?
Suppose another worker wants to play Punk Rock
all day long in her area. How much say over that should she have? And how much
should I have if I work just a little way up the floor from her, well within
the “hearing zone”? What if I work across town?
Suppose a group is deciding a shared schedule.
How much say should each member have? What about folks who use the group’s
outputs in another part of the plant? What about folks who consume the
plant’s products across town or on the other side of the country?
Or suppose you live near my plant…what say
should you have relative to me about the noise emanating from my plant into
your neighborhood? Suppose that you consume products that I help produce. How
much say should you have about what the plant produces, about our choices for
organization and output?
It’s obvious that no single decision-making
method is always best. A worker ought to have dictatorial say over the picture
of his daughter. From the next cubicle, I should have a veto over a worker’s
option to play Punk in her area all day. A work group should have most say
about its operational choices, but groups that consume its product should have
some say as well, in proportion to the extent they are affected.
Decisions often differ in how much they affect
different individuals or constituencies. Seen in this light, one-person one-vote majority rule, or
two-thirds rule, or consensus decision-making, or dictatorship, and any other
particular decision-making methodology are tactical options for reaching some norm or
other, rather than being ends in themselves. To enshrine a single
decision-making method as always applicable ignores that different tactics do
better in different situations, even for accomplishing the same favored norm.
To choose decision-making tactics or methods based on how appropriate they are to best
accomplish a preferred norm depending on different contexts, therefore makes good sense.
But what norm should we regularly aspire to? Ordinarily, when we spontaneously decide how to
make specific decisions in daily life, assuming we respect everyone involved and aspire
to democracy, we automatically try to give each actor a say proportionate to
the degree they are affected. While we can’t always perfectly attain this
type of self-management in which everyone has decision-making input proportionate to the degree
they are affected
by outcomes, any deviation from it means at least one person is having excessive impact
while at least one other person is denied their share.
Are there sometimes good reasons to violate
proportionate input for all? Suppose there is a sudden announcement that a
tidal wave is heading our way. One of us is a tidal wave survival expert, the
rest are city-folk who know nothing about the matter. A quick shift to
dictatorship is prudent. Does this insight abrogate the above natural
inclination to advocate decision-making input in proportion to effect as our guiding norm
for a good economy? Does it suggest instead adopting decision-making input in
accordance with relevant knowledge?
Knowledge and Decisions
Relevant knowledge for decisions comes in two
forms. (1) There is knowledge of the character of the decision and its context and
of its most likely implications. And (2) there is also knowledge of how each
person feels about those implications and specifically how they value the
various options. The first type knowledge is often quite specialized, as in
the case of the tidal wave hero who has a complete monopoly on it. But the
second type knowledge is always dispersed since we are each individually the
world’s foremost experts regarding our own personal valuations. I know best
don’t want to drown. I am the world’s foremost expert regarding my
valuations, you are regarding yours, and Shawn, Sally, Sue, Sam, and Samantha
are regarding theirs. So whenever the conclusions of specialized knowledge
about implications can be disseminated sufficiently that each actor can assess
the situation and arrive at their own view in ample time to express it for the
decision, each actor should have impact proportionately to the effects they
will endure. Whenever that’s impossible for some reason, then we may need to temporarily
function according to a different norm that cedes some authority for a time,
though in ways that don’t subvert the prior aim more broadly. Obviously the burden
of proof is on deviating from what is most desirable, and the implication for
distributing knowledge to permit self-management is evident.
In short, the fact that you are a chemist and
understand the chemistry and biology of lead paint whereas I am a painter or
auto-maker and do not, doesn’t mean you get to decide disproportionately
whether my walls have lead paint or whether our whole community permits or
rejects lead paint. It does mean, however, that I and my fellow community
members should listen to your
expert testimony before making a decision. But in the decision-making per se,
you are like everyone else. You have a say proportionate to the effect on you,
just as we have a say proportionate to the effect on us.
Councils and Other Implications
So the self-management goal is that each actor
influences decisions in proportion as he or she is affected. To accomplish
this, each actor must have easy access to the relevant analysis of anticipated
outcomes and must have sufficient general knowledge and intellectual
confidence to understand it and develop preferences in light of it. Society’s
organization should insure that the
sources of analysis are unbiased. Thus each individual or group involved in a decision must have organizational means
to arrive at and to make known their desires, as well as the means to tally them
the economy, we thus need various levels of workers and consumers
councils—as decision-making vehicles for different size collectives of
workers and consumers. Thus, work-group, division, workplace, industry, and
living group, neighborhood, community, and county councils are needed as
vehicles for expressing individual and group preferences, voting by various
means, implementing results, etc. We also need information dispersal that
provides the knowledge necessary for informed judgments about economic
interactions by those affected. We need, also, that each actor has personal
confidence and is sufficiently empowered that they feel comfortable arriving
at a preference, expressing it, arguing on behalf of it, and voting for it.
And we need a means of allocation and other institutional interactions that
abides the self management norm and fulfills these requirements.
are thus many institutional implications of striving for decision-making
influence in proportion to the extent one is affected, and discerning even the
major ones takes some doing. But the principle itself is straightforward. Next
Commentary: a program of demands and actions aimed directly at fostering economic
self-management. Further commentaries will address additional features that
bear on this aim as well, however — such as workplace organization and how
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