Book Interview on Economic Justice

1. Can you tell Znet, please, what your book, Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation (Routledge 2005) is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Economic Justice and Democracy argues that progressives need to go back to the drawing board and rethink how we conceive of economic justice and economic democracy and how we fight for both. In Part 1 the case for defining economic justice as reward commensurate with effort, or sacrifice, and economic democracy as decision making power in proportion to degree affected is strengthened. Competing conceptualizations of economic justice are carefully examined, including those of Robert Nozick and John Rawls, and competing notions of economic democracy are examined, including those of Amartya Sen. The last chapter in Part 1 discusses a number of myths that plagued the left during the twentieth century that we need to move beyond.

Part 2  spells out a systematic critique of both capitalism and centrally planned socialism that should be useful for all anti-capitalists who preach beyond our own, small choir. Part 2 also evaluates the strengths and weakness of social democracy and libertarian socialism, explaining why anti-capitalists of all stripes, including those committed to democratic socialism, failed to sustain the cause of equitable cooperation and permitted the economics of competition and greed to dominate the last quarter of the twentieth century.

After exploring the strengths and weakness of market socialism and community based economics, Part 3 further develops the model of a participatory economy by explaining concrete ways a participatory economy can protect the environment, and how a participatory economy can take part in international trade and investment without undermining its own principles. It concludes with a careful evaluation of the major criticisms and doubts critics have expressed about participatory economics over the past dozen years.

Part 4 explores how to promote the economics of equitable cooperation in the here and now through economic reform campaigns and movements that already exist, and through alternative experiments that promote cooperative over commercial values. Ways to broaden the base of existing economic reform movements while deepening their commitment to more far reaching change are emphasized. The entire book is written for progressives and activists without any training in economics, but activists should be particularly interested in Part 4 — the longest part of the book — which offers many practical suggestions about how to make activist organizing more effective.


2. Can you tell Znet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

This book is the product of working for progressive social change as an economist and activist for almost 40 years. It is the culmination of decades of work developing a thorough understanding and critique of capitalism and its major competitors — centrally planned and market socialism. It is the culmination of decades of work, along with Michael Albert, developing the model of a participatory economy. But mostly this book responds to important criticism that have been voiced  about participatory economics, and suggests answers to important issues not adequately addressed before. It offers more thorough justifications for our definitions of economic justice and democracy.  It breaks new ground with concrete proposals about how to protect the environment in a participatory economy, and how a participatory economy can engage in international economic activities. And it provides more complete responses to a host of concerns expressed by people who share our values. But most importantly this book attempts to answer two questions proponents of participatory economics have not seriously addressed: (1) If democratic socialism was the right answer to capitalism in the twentieth century, where did social democrats and libertarian socialists go wrong? Why were democratic socialists of all stripes more confused and powerless by the end of the century than earlier in the century? (2) How can we improve on the  practice of those who fought for economic justice and democracy last century? In other words, how can we accomplish in the century ahead what they failed to accomplish in the century just ended — finally replace the economics of competition and greed with the economics of equitable cooperation?


3. What are your hopes for Economic Justice and Democracy? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically?

I hope the book will contribute to a serious rethinking about how we go about combating the economics of competition and greed and fighting for the economics of equitable cooperation. I hope it will help the new generation of activists avoid the mistakes of those who went before them, while appreciating what they did get right, and what they did accomplish. While I do believe we need to go back to the drawing board, it would be tragic to jettison babies with bath water, or spend valuable time reinventing old wheels. I also hope the book will contribute to a more constructive dialogue between twenty-first century social democrats and libertarian socialists — particularly those who don’t yet recognize that their political analysis and practice falls into a tradition with a long history of successes and failures. I hope the book will help people to work more constructively in a number of different economic reform campaigns and movements, and also help people   building experiments in equitable cooperation to be more successful. Finally, I hope the book will provide leftists with new ideas about how to organize ourselves that will prove more productive than working in small political sects and help us better sustain more enjoyable lives of activism.



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