Interview About Parecon

Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Parecon: Life After Capitalism is about an economic system called Participatory Economics that seeks to accomplish production, consumption, and allocation to efficiently meet needs consistent with the guiding values: equity, diversity, solidarity, and self-management. When people ask what do you want for the economy, I answer: parecon.

Parecon features workplace and consumer councils, self-managing decision-making norms and methods, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning – a set of institutions very different from those of capitalism as well as from what has been called market socialism, for example.

The book, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, first examines existing systems, revealing their incompatibility with guiding values we hold dear. Then the book presents defining institutions for the new economy, describing workplaces, consumption, and allocation. Next the book details the daily life implications of the proposed institutions. Finally, the book deals with a host of broad concerns that people have registered on first hearing about this new vision: Would it really further our aspirations and values? Would it be productive? Would it violate privacy or subvert individuality? Is it efficient, flexible, creative, meritorious? And so on.

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

Participatory economics has been around as a model for a little over ten years. Robin Hahnel and I developed it and have written about it in various venues. This new book is my best effort to motivate, describe, elaborate, and defend the vision.

In that sense, Parecon: Life After Capitalism emerges from many engagements over the years and reflects lessons from actual experience with work life, teaching, organizing, public speaking, dealing with questions in online forums on ZNet, and of course from trying to work through the model in new ways as new insights, questions, and explorations arise.

Regarding the writing, I and many folks who helped me have prioritized making this book as accessible and compelling as we could. I am not the world’s best writer, nor even in the top 600 million or so, but I plug away, and I did a lot of plugging on this book.

What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

If everyone who is reading this and all their friends and relatives and workmates don’t go out and buy it, soon – I will be wondering what I did wrong.

This book tries to answer the question “What do we want?”, seriously, compellingly, and accessibly. So naturally I would hope people would give it a read.

As mentioned, I have been hard at work on developing and trying to make known participatory economics for over a decade, and the work is finally beginning to have impact. Parecon: Life After Capitalism in some ways climaxes that effort, and will hopefully bring it further along. The book will be published in many languages and has attracted considerable attention even before publication. There is diverse interest from many quarters. There is some momentum for this economic vision, it seems.

In addition, times have changed quite a bit in the past decade. We have progressed from the heyday of market mania and Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “There Is No Alternative,” to a new time of deep travail and wondering about all things economic. Among progressives the World Social Forum inspired watchword has become “Another World Is Possible.” Anti-globalization movements have taken the wind out of market complacency and are scrutinizing everything economic. People want to know from all kinds of activists, what is your alternative – and participatory economics is, I hope, a very good answer, regarding at least the economy.

So, I hope Parecon: Life After Capitalism is going to propel this economic vision into much greater visibility than it has previously enjoyed. Of course, I hope the model will prove compelling and worthy, and thus be adopted widely. I have very high hopes indeed and I admit that I will be quite let down, in the sense of the question, if the book doesn’t garner attention and provoke discussion, leading to either support for parecon, or, if not, then in lieu of that to development of some other better vision. I would also hope it inspires people to address matters of kinship and gender, culture and community, political organization, ecology, international relations, trying to generate vision in these realms as well. Life is not just economics, by any means. But mostly, the fact that we need serious, worthy, defensible, and comprehensible economic (and other) goals seems indisputable. That now is a good time to offer visionary aims for assessment, also seems also indisputable.

So of course I’d like to see Parecon: Life After Capitalism travel the world’s roads and subways in the hands of the world’s working populations. More realistically, I’d happily celebrate the book worming its way into wide enough visibility so that someone far more eloquent than myself writes a much better book that reaches still more widely, into those roads and subways, putting the new vision into widespread left consciousness.

So go visit Amazon, please, or your local independent book store, and get the momentum going…books aren’t cheap, nor is the time needed to seriously read them in oversupply, I well know. But, well, I guess I think/hope this one will repay the attention very positively. That’s my hope, anyhow. And I wish that people will give that hope a chance.

In the United States: please purchase from Amazon.com

In England and internationally: please purchase from Verso

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