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Grubacic Interviews Albert Regarding Parecon



1. Is there life after capitalism?


 


Yes, I think there is not only life after capitalism…but a menagerie of sorts — so the question becomes, which post-capitalist life do we want.


 


For example, there was the life after capitalism endured in the Soviet Union, and, somewhat differently, in Yugoslavia, Poland, and so on. This was a life, however, that I don’t aspire to. It was a life that has tried since to revert to the capitalist variant, another option that I reject.


 


I call those fallen Eastern Bloc economies coordinator economies because coordinators are the people in the economy who largely monopolize empowering work, higher incomes, great power, and high status, all of it justified by educational credentials and monopolized skills and knowledge, and because I believe that the coordinator class, not workers or capitalists, were the ruling class in those economies.


 


2. What is wrong with capitalism?


 


Capitalism organizes production, consumption, and allocation in a way that elevates a a few percent of the population to huge wealth and power. These capitalists, by virtue of owning property, run huge corporations as top down economic dictatorships that pursue profits for their owners, not to mention also buying or otherwise coercing political outcomes they favor. Capitalist economies are organized on their behalf, with those below benefiting only by virtue of what they are able to demand. Life is a struggle and the playing field is horribly unequal. Everything from homelessness and hunger to alienation, callousness, and war emerge from this mix.


 


3. What is wrong with markets?


 


Markets, even without capitalist ownership, bias valuations in ways that reduce social motivations and enlarge egocentric ones. Markets misprice goods and misallocate them whenever there are external effects of transactions such as when there is pollution or other ecological implications, or when there are social by products. Markets destroy solidarity by pitting actors against one another so that nice guys finish last. Markets tilt the motives of production toward amassing surplus regardless of the harsh or even deadly implications for others. Markets produce a division of labor that divides about 20% of the population who monopolize empowering work from about 80% of the population who are left with rote and obedient work, and markets also pit these two classes — coordinators and workers — against one another, elevating the coordinators to ruling status whenever there are no capitalists above.


 


4. What went wrong with Yugoslav self-management?


 


In Yugoslavia there was no private ownership of productive assets, which was a positive step beyond capitalism. However there were markets and an associated corporate division of labor. Each firm had to compete with all other firms for surpluses not only to try to enlarge payments to employees, but to win market share and thereby avoid being competed out of business. To accrue surpluses to win market share requires reducing costs and refusing to provide socially warranted benefits to labor. To carry out this agenda, even if workers are nominally free to do as they like, workers will hire managers who are in turn insulated from workplace conditions and low pay to then make the nasty decisions required to reduce the costs of the rest of the production process in order to remain in business and win market share. In time these managers and others beyond the workplace who share their conditions and circumstances and logic of legitimation become a class existing above the rest of the workers, a ruling coordinator class.


 


What went wrong in Yugoslavia, at least at the broadest and most general economic level, in other words, was that there was not real self-management but only a rhetorical reference to self-management. There was a market system which dramatically curtailed and constrained economics options and a corporate division of labor including a ruling coordinator class monopolizing most power and income.


 


Of course, there was in Yugoslavia also the problem of the authoritarian state, but that is a matter that goes beyond economic institutions, and it is important to realize both the undesirability of political authoritarianism, as is usually recognized, and also of of markets and corporate divisions of labor, which is often not noted.


 


 


 


5. How would you describe Parecon for those who have never heard of it?


 


Participatory economics is a model or vision for a different way of conducting production, consumption, and allocation. The guiding values are solidarity, diversity, equity, and self-management. These values mean people caring about one another and being social in their inclinations, having varied options and outcomes, having fair distribution of wealth, income, and also circumstances, and it also means people having a say over the decisions that affect them in proportion to the extent they are affected.


 


Having these values at its core means that participatory economics proposes institutions that (it claims) propel these results rather than propelling anti-sociality and individualist competition, homogenization of outcomes and tastes, gross inequality, and top down hierarchical rule all familiar from both capitalism and the two post capitalist coordinator models that their advocates respectively call market socialism and centrally planned socialism.


 


What institutions does parecon offer instead?


 


(1) Workplace and consumer councils with self management decision making.


 


(2) Balanced job complexes, which means a division of labor in which each actor has a mix of tasks and responsibilities that is balanced so as to convey average workplace quality of life and average empowerment to all.


 


(3) Remuneration only for effort and hardship — not for output, power, or property.


 


And (4) participatory planning – which is a cooperative interactive approach to allocation that replaces both markets and central planning.


 


So parecon combines these central institutions into an economic system that accomplishes economic activity to meet needs and fulfill potentials while also propelling solidarity, diversity, equity, and self-management. Parecon therefore gives us true classlessness and is therefore an alternative both to capitalism and to the horrible systems that previously existed in Eastern Europe.


 


6. What is the relation of Parecon and global economy?


 


Participatory economics is a system for whole economies. We could more or less dodge the question by saying the relation is simply that the advocate of parecon would ultimately want the world to operate in a pareconist fashion. But, more short-term, the relation would be that the “pareconist” would want innovations in world relations to increase the benefits from exchange that go to those who are poor and weak, rather than the benefits that go to those who are rich and strong.


 


The pareconist global aspiration is therefore more or less the opposite of corporate globalization which tilts the economic playing field so that most gains from international exchange accrue to those who start out most powerful and wealthy. The pareconist isn’t against global relations per se, therefore, but, in contrast to corporate globalizers, wants to tilt the playing field so that most gains go to those who are poorer and weaker, to redress the imbalances.


 


I have written a bit about this, proposing as replacements for the IMF, World Bank, and WTO new institutions that would engage in international investment, trade adjudication, etc., with the purpose of protecting and strengthening poor domestic economies, guarding the environment, protecting workers and consumers, redistributing wealth downward, and otherwise generating desirable international outcomes.


 


 


 


7. What is the relation of Parecon and anarchism


 


Participatory economics is an economic vision. Its implication for other parts of life are that each of society’s key domains such as polity and also kinship and culture, need to be compatible with a new desirable economy, and vice versa, which in this case means other domains of life need to honor the classlessness of parecon and also the intellectual and other needs it has for people able to function in a cooperative fashion, just as the reverse must occur and parecon must respect the needs of the political, socialization, and cultural institutions of a good society.


 


I think participatory economics is itself an anarchist economic vision because it achieves desirable economic functions in ways that properly incorporate each person’s influence and involvement. Parecon has no fixed hierarchies or class structure. It generates not only participation and fairness of material and social outcomes, but also real self management, which is of course the hallmark goal of anarchism.


 


I should think, in other words, that anarchists would not merely find parecon congenial, but see it as a very close match for their aspirations. Parecon is in accord with and expands on the council-centered themes of anarchist literature, as well as with anarchist entreaties for justice, solidarity, participation, and equity. Parecon, however, adds detail and depth via its attention to the structure of economic life and to issues of incentives, income distribution, quality of outcomes, productivity, avoiding waste, and attending to the ecology and social relations, all via its provision of specific positive economic institutions not previously clearly advocated by anarchists – perhaps most notably balanced job complexes and participatory planning.


 


8. What are some of the strategic implications of favoring Parecon?


 


At the level of particulars there are many, but such detailed implications are time and context sensitive. There are also, however, a few broad and general insights of merit.


 


A pareconist orientation will highlight three centrally important classes, not just two — workers, capitalists, and also coordinators. It will therefore seek to create movements that working class people will define and that have working class culture and values, not only attracting but empowering working people. This is no small commitment because it means not only rejecting capitalist domination of efforts at social change, but also rejecting coordinator domination of those efforts. It means creating organizations, that is, that eliminate the coordinator worker class hierarchy in their job definitions and allocations — incorporating balanced job complexes in the movement itself. I should perhaps also note that this focus goes beyond addressing the emergence of a political bureaucracy (sometimes called a class) from leninist organization and subsequent party rule. These need to be avoided as well, of course, but what I am talking about in this interview is economics, and the class relations I am addressing are rooted firstly in the economy and its modes of allocation and its division of labor.


 


Second, a pareconist strategy will favor economic revolution that replaces markets with participatory planning, corporate divisions of labor with balanced job complexes, and so on. It will understand, in that context, that reformism rejects such basic changes, instead only advocating modest means of ameliorating current pains. But it will not take that reasonable insight to a self defeating extreme. It will not mistake all reforms for reformism, and it will understand, instead, that it is possible to fight for and win reforms short of revolution in ways that both improve people’s conditions and options now, and that also create opportunities for further victories in the future. A pareconist strategy will understand, that is, that to be an advocate of a new society does not warrant ignoring people’s current pain and suffering, but does warrant that when we work to address current ills and work to make things immediately better, we should do so in ways that raise our consciousness, empower our constituencies, and develop our organizations and that therefore lead to a trajectory of on-going changes culminating in new defining economic and social structures.


 


That is, a pareconist strategy will emphasize winning sequences of reforms that move us toward pareconist institutions and consciousness — such as winning redistributive taxes, changes in work relations and especially the division of labor, more participation in budgeting and workplace decision making, more access to information, and control over collective consumption, and so on, all in ways that build workplace and consumer councils and that arouse and empower ever wider circles of committed activists. The gains will be sought in ways that expand rather than delimit desires and that build activist organizations, allegiance, and empowerment, all headed toward new defining institutions.


 


A pareconist viewpoint will not dismiss people’s short run struggles for higher wages, an end to a war, affirmative action, better work conditions, a participatory budget, a progressive or radical tax, a shorter work week with full pay, abolishing the IMF, or whatever else – because it will respect the reality of how people’s consciousness and organizations develop through struggle, and, aggressively avoid the kind of contempt among activists for people’s courageous efforts to improve the quality of their lives which corrupts efforts at building movements, of course.


 


Finally, third, I hope a pareconist strategy will not confuse economics for all of life, but will instead understand as well the parallel importance of culture, gender, polity, ecology, and international relations, and will ally with and support movements that derive from positive aspirations for each of these realms, as well as for the economy.

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