Chapter 2: Parecon
This is the chapter two of Occupy Vision, which is the second volume of the three volume set titled Fanfare for the Future. In coming days we will post the book’s eight chapters. You can find out more about Occupy Theory, Occupy Vision, and Occupy Strategy, as well as how to purchase the books in print or for ebook reading, at Z’s book page for them – which is at: http://www.zcomm.org/topics/fanfare-for-the-future
“If all economists were laid end to end,
they would not reach a conclusion.”
- George Bernard Shaw
As per the logic of the past two chapters, our visionary task is to conceive institutions consistent with our values for each major social sphere of society. Dealing with economy means conceiving economic institutions for production, consumption, and allocation. We call our economic vision, which has come into being over the last twenty years or so, participatory economics, or parecon for short.
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”
- Charles Dickens
Translating our preferred values, which we proposed last chapter, into their meaning in the economic sphere will get us started toward arriving at an economic vision.
“Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle…
mutual aid is as much a law of animal life as mutual struggle.”
- Peter Kropotkin
The first value we settled on addressed relations among people. In capitalist economics, to increase your income and power you must ignore the horrible pain suffered by those left below or even help push them farther down. This is not rhetoric, it is the logic of the roles owner and worker and buyer and seller. Greed is good, runs the mantra.
In contrast to the capitalist rat race, a good economy should be a solidarity economy generating sociality rather than anti-social greed. A good economy’s institutions for production, consumption, and allocation should, therefore, by the roles they offer, propel even anti-social people into having to address other people’s well being if they are to advance their own well being. Getting ahead in a good economy should derive from, and depend on, others getting ahead as well. When we act to better our lot, in a good society, we become more solidaritous with others rather than having to pervert ourselves to be hostile to others.
Interestingly, this first economic value, so contrary to the capitalist logic of “me first and everyone else be damned,” is entirely uncontroversial. Who would argue that an economy would be better if it produced, in the process of delivering the goods, more hostility and anti-sociality in its participants than if it produced more mutual concern in its participants? Who would rather live in a hostile dystopian realm of nastiness than in a realm of mutual aid? We desire solidarity, not anti-sociality.
“So long as the water is troubled it cannot become stagnant.”
- James Baldwin
Our second value has to do with the options people encounter in their economic lives. Capitalist market rhetoric trumpets opportunity but capitalist market discipline curtails satisfaction and development by replacing what is human and caring with what is commercial, profitable, and in accord with existing hierarchies of power and wealth. In the process of doing this, market diversity is constrained to not include humane options. We get Pepsi and Coke but we do not get soda that takes into account the well being of soda producers, soda consumers, or the environment. The tremendous variety of tastes, preferences, and choices that humans naturally display are truncated by capitalism into conformist patterns imposed by advertising, narrow role offerings, and coercive marketing environments that produce commercial attitudes and habits. Yes, we get variety in the Mall and the corporate workplace, but there are tight constraints on just how varied they are and, in particular, these constraints rule out options that account for human well being and development for all above profit and power for the few.
In capitalism, those who control outcomes seek the most profitable method instead of many parallel methods suiting a range of priorities. They seek the biggest, quickest, brightest of almost everything, if that is what they can sell most widely – without undercutting hierarchies of power and wealth. This virtually always crowds out more diverse choices that would support greater and more widespread fulfillment and, most important, affect people’s knowledge, skills, confidence, and ties in ways contrary to elite domination. People do this not because they have anti-social and homogenist genes, but because their positions as owners of capitalist firms requires these choices.
In the economy that we seek, given our values, we instead want economic institutions that not only wouldn’t reduce variety but that would emphasize finding and respecting diverse solutions to problems. A good economy would recognize that we are finite beings who can benefit from enjoying what others do that we ourselves have no time to do, and that we are fallible beings who should not vest all our hopes in single routes of advance but should instead insure against damage by exploring diverse parallel avenues and options. Even when we think there is one best way most of the time, in fact, it is not the case. We should rarely, if ever, put all our eggs in one basket, shutting down all other options.
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