Self Management as a Goal

Michael Albert

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?


Decision Settings

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?


Self Management

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

that I

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

allocation occurs.


more on Participatory Economics please see www.parecon.org)

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