[The following was submitted as a paper/talk for the Seoul South Korea International Conference on Globalizing Social Transformation and Role of Alternative Media, March 31 - Apriul 1, 2006]
The anti corporate globalization movement – the movement that is not against global relationships but that is against greed and injustice in international relations and that is for internationalism in their place, seems to me, and I am told to many activists here in Korea as well, to have come to a potential fork in the road.
Even as the message we offer about the ills of corporate globalization becomes ever more widely accepted among ever broader constituencies, the size, militancy, and frequency of our efforts at rejecting corporate globalization grow smaller and less frequent.
Likewise, even as our messages about U.S. overall foreign policy and particularly the war in Iraq are ever more widely accepted and ratified by a public that is increasingly antiwar, again, our aroused and militant efforts to impede war policy become smaller and less frequent. In the U.S., the country is antiwar yet the antiwar movement has a hard time mobilizing even a tenth of what it mobilized just a short time ago.
We would be doing really well if our goal was to get people to agree with us, but to then do nothing more. To agree and to then go home. But if our goal is getting people steadily more organized and active, to form every larger and more powerful movements, to force real change, then I think we have to admit that we are not doing all that well, in fact, so far, we are failing.
I think the choice we now face is between two possible directions for our movements, one that can expand and enrich our activism, and one that will lead to our activism’s steady dissolution. I think the same choice arises, I should say, in other movements as well – about media, about war and peace, about gender and race, about poverty, and so on.
I think the positive steps we need to take involve addressing the most basic structures of national economy and society and offering positive aims.
I think the negative approach, toward dissolution, involves standing pat with our anti IMF, anti World Bank, and anti Trade agreements – or, for that matter, our anti mainstream media, anti war, anti discrimination, anti poverty focuses – leaving largely alone the defining structures of national society and failing to offer positive goals.
The good approach, in other words, moves toward being anti capitalist and especially toward having explicit new inspiring national goals. The bad approach acts as though the problem we confront is entirely due to international machinations, not national structures and doesn’t offer inspiring vision.
To see whether this is true or not, and more to the point, to try to see what the new direction – already well under way in many respects – might be like, I think we can usefully explore about global economics:
What conditions, broadly, do we currently endure internationally?
What changes would we like to win, short term and mid term, via our activism? And why has our activism seemed to diminish, rather than grow, with time – whether we look at the explicitly anti corporate globalization efforts, or even at our anti-war efforts.
More, what do our aspirations for international relations imply for domestic economics? What new economic vision might accommodate our aspirations? What might striving for new economics, around the world, mean for our approach to ties among nations and how might it benefit our organizing prospects?
Rejecting Capitalist Globalization
Current international trade benefits overwhelmingly those who enter today’s exchanges already possessing the most assets. When trade occurs between a U.S. or Korean multinational and a local entity in Guatemala, Kenya, or Thailand, the benefits do not go more to the weaker party with fewer assets, nor are they divided equally. They go disproportionately to the stronger traders who thereby increase their relative dominance.
Opportunist rhetoric aside, capitalist globalizers try to disempower the poor and already weak and to further empower the rich and already strong.
The result: of the 100 largest economies in the world, over half aren’t countries; they are corporations and tens of millions of people throughout world live not only in poverty, but literally starve to death each year.
International market competition for resources, revenues, and audience is most often a zero sum game. To advance, each actor preys off the defeat of others so that corporate globalization promotes a me-first attitude that generates hostility and destroys solidarity between individuals, industries, and states.
Public and social goods are downplayed, private goods are elevated. Businesses and nations augment their own profits while imposing losses on other countries and even on most citizens of their own country. Solidarity fights a rearguard battle against capitalist globalization.
Moreover, in current global exchange, whether structures are McDonaldsesque or Disneyesque or even if they instead derive from worthy indigenous roots, cultural communities and values disperse only as widely as their megaphone permits them too, and worse, are drowned out by other communities with larger megaphones who impinge on them.
Capitalist globalization swamps quality with quantity and creates cultural homogenization not diversity. Not only does Starbucks proliferate, so do Hollywood images and Madison Avenue styles. What is indigenous and non-commercial must struggle to even survive. Diversity declines.
In the halls of the capitalist globalizers, only political and corporate elites are welcome. The idea that the broad public of working people, consumers, farmers, the poor, and the disenfranchised should have proportionate say is actively opposed. Indeed, the point of capitalist globalization is precisely to reduce the influence of whole populations and even of state leaderships save for the most powerful elements of corporate and political rule.
Capitalist globalization imposes corporatist hierarchy not only in economics, but also in politics. Authoritarian and even fascistic state structures proliferate. The numbers of voices with even marginal say declines.
As the financiers in corporate headquarters extend stockholders’ influence, the earth beneath is dug, drowned, and paved without attention to other species, to by-products, to ecology, or even to humanity. Only profit and power drive the calculations.
Capitalist globalization has established norms and expectations of international dominance and subordination. To establish, enforce, defend, and punish violations of those norms, the strong often use violence against the weak. Domestically this means growing police state apparatuses and repression. Internationally it means local, regional, and international hostilities and war.
The Movement Against Corporate Globalization
Anti-globalization activists have opposed capitalist globalization because capitalist globalization has violated the equity, diversity, solidarity, self-management, and ecological balance that activists pursue.
>From the movements of local citizens fighting against foreign incursions, horrible labor practices, poverty, pollution and resource exploitation, to the massive international outpourings against the IMF and World Bank, to the even more massive explosions of populations against the oil based war in Iraq, we have raised our voices.
But, after we have raised our voices, after we demonstrated, after whole populations began to openly agree with our claims about unjust relations and policies, we seem to have lost energy, not to have gained energy. We seem to have become less likely to go out and organize and demonstrate, not more likely to go out and organize and demonstrate. We seem to have diminished in numbers, not increased in numbers. Why are we getting these deflating results?
Well, one possible answer is revealed by what people say to us, over and over. We need only listen.
People say they doubt anything can be done. People say they see no alternatives. People say they see no prospect of attaining justice.
It seems that we activists and history have together convinced people that capitalism is horrible, and that poverty is not imposed by genes or by god, but by greed. But we have also convinced people that this is the way of the world, the way things are, forever. Or, more accurately, mainstream media, schools, scholars, officials, and everything all around has actively convinced people of that cynical view, and we have done little to actively rebut it.
We talk over and over about what is wrong. We explain how bad and also how overwhelmingly powerful the centers of power that wreck havoc with people’s lives are. We then hold out our hands and say come join us in making life better, yet what people hear is that the world is horrible and it isn’t going to get significantly better, so find some relatively safe terrain, protect yourself and your family, and in that way your energies just might ward off the worst, which is all you can hope for.
And so our movements don’t grow.
I know there are other problems. The other side is strong. The media is pervasive. Disputes divide us. And on and on. Honestly, I am sick of hearing about all that. What we have to talk about is what we can and will do. We need to talk about our vision, about our strategy, about why it is sensible for a hard working person concerned about his or her well being and the well being of his or her family, friends, and community, to become active, to struggle, to fight, with expectations of real success.
So even as we have opposed the injustice around us, including corporate globalization which is our focus here today, the question has arisen – what is the alternative to capitalist globalization continuing to violate virtually all norms of civilized and mutually beneficial exchange and development?
In short, what do anti-globalization activists propose to put in place instead of the institutions of corporate globalization, including most prominently the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization?
The International Monetary Fund or IMF and World Bank were established after World War II. The IMF was meant to provide means to combat financial disruptions adversely impacting countries and people around the world. It initially employed negotiations and pressures to stabilize currencies and to help countries avoid economy-disrupting financial machinations and confusions.
The World Bank was meant to facilitate long-term investment in underdeveloped countries and to expand and strengthen their economies. It was set up to lend major investment money at low interest to correct for the lack of local capacity.
Within existing market relations, these limited IMF and World Bank goals were initially progressive. Over time, however, and accelerating dramatically in the 1980s, the agenda of these institutions changed.
Instead of facilitating stable exchange rates and helping countries protect themselves against financial fluctuations, the IMF began bashing any and all obstacles to capital flow and unfettered profit seeking, which was virtually the opposite of its mandate.
Instead of facilitating investment on behalf of local poor economies, the World Bank became a tool of the IMF, providing and withholding loans as carrot or stick to compel open corporate access. It financed projects not with an eye to accruing benefits for the recipient country, but with far more attention to accruing benefits to major multinationals.
In addition, the World Trade Organization or WTO that was first sought in the early post war period actually came into being only decades later, in the mid 1990s. Its agenda became to regulate trade on behalf of even great advantages for the already rich and powerful.
Beyond imposing on third world countries low wages and high pollution due to being able to easily coerce their weak or bought-off governments, as IMF and World Bank policies were already by the 1990s achieving, the idea emerged that the rich could also weaken all governments and agencies that might defend workers, consumers, or the environment, not only in the third world, but everywhere.
Why not, wondered the truly powerful, remove any efforts to limit trade due to its labor implications, its ecology implications, its social or cultural implications, or its development implications, leaving as the only legal criteria of trade’s regulation whether there are immediate, short-term profits to be made?
If national or local laws impede trade–say an environmental, a health, or a labor law–why not have a new organization of world trade to adjudicate disputes, and to render an entirely predictable pro-corporate verdict in all cases?
The WTO was thus added to the IMF/World Bank mix to trump governments and populations on behalf of corporate profits.
The full story about these three centrally important global institutions is longer than this brief talk can present, of course, but even with only this overview, improvements are not hard to conceive.
First, why not seek to establish, instead of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, an International Asset Agency, a Global Investment Assistance Agency, and a World Trade Agency. These three new (not merely reformed) institutions would work to attain equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological balance in international financial exchange, investment, development, trade, and cultural exchange.
They would try to ensure that the benefits of trade and investments accrue disproportionately to the weaker and poorer parties involved, not to the already richer and more powerful.
They would not prioritize commercial considerations over all other values, but would prioritize national aims, cultural identity, and equitable development.
They would not require domestic laws, rules, and regulations designed to further worker, consumer, environmental, health, safety, human rights, animal protection, or other non-profit centered interests to be reduced or eliminated, but they would work to enhance all these, rewarding those who attain such aims most successfully.
They would not undermine democracy by shrinking the choices available to democratically controlled governments, but they would work to subordinate the desires of multinationals and large economies to the survival, growth, and diversification of smaller units.
They would not promote global trade at the expense of local economic development and policies, but vice versa.
They would not force Third World countries to open their markets to rich multinationals and to abandon efforts to protect infant domestic industries, but would facilitate the reverse.
They would not block countries from acting in response to potential risk to human health or the environment, but would help identify health, environmental, and other risks, and assist countries in guarding against their ill effects.
Instead of downgrading international health, environmental, and other standards to a low level through a process called “downward harmonization,” they would work to upgrade standards via a new “upward equalization.”
The new institutions would not limit governments’ ability to use their purchasing dollars for human rights, environmental, worker rights, and other non-commercial purposes, but would advise and facilitate doing just that.
They would not disallow countries to treat products differently based on how they were produced – irrespective of whether they were made with brutalized child labor, with workers exposed to toxins, or with no regard for species protection – but they would instead facilitate just such differentiations.
Instead of bankers and bureaucrats carrying out policies of presidents to affect the life situations of the very many without even a pretense at participation by the people impacted, these new institutions would be open, democratic, transparent, participatory, and bottom up, with local, popular, and democratic accountability.
These new institutions would promote and organize international cooperation to restrain out-of-control global corporations, capital, and markets by regulating them so people in local communities can control their own economic lives.
They would promote trade that reduces the threat of financial volatility and meltdown, enlarges democracy at every level from the local to the global, defends and enriches human rights for all people, respects and fosters environmental sustainability worldwide, and facilitates economic advancement of the most oppressed and exploited groups.
They would encourage domestic economic growth and development, not domestic austerity in the interest of export-led growth.
They would encourage the major industrial countries to coordinate their economic policies, currency exchange rates, and short-term capital flows in the public interest and not for private profit.
They would establish standards for and oversee the regulation of financial institutions by national and international regulatory authorities, encouraging the shift of financial resources from speculation to useful and sustainable development.
They would establish taxes on foreign currency transactions to reduce destabilizing short-term cross-border financial flows and to provide pools of funds for investment in long-term environmentally and socially sustainable development in poor communities and countries.
They would create public international investment funds to meet human and environmental needs and ensure adequate global demand by channeling funds into sustainable long-term investment.
And they would develop international institutions to perform functions of monetary regulation currently inadequately performed by national central banks, such as a system of internationally coordinated minimum reserve requirements on the consolidated global balance sheets of all financial firms.
These new institutions would also work to get wealthy countries to write off the debts of impoverished countries and to create a permanent insolvency mechanism for adjusting debts of highly indebted nations.
They would use regulatory institutions to help establish public control and citizen sovereignty over global corporations and to curtail corporate evasion of local, state, and national law, such as establishing a binding Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations that includes regulation of labor, environmental, investment, and social behavior.
And beyond all the above, in addition to getting rid of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO and replacing them with the three dramatically new and different structures outlined above, anti-globalization activists also advocate a recognition that international relations should not derive from centralized but rather from bottom-up institutions.
The new overarching structures mentioned above should therefore gain their credibility and power from an array of arrangements, structures, and ties enacted at the level of citizens, neighborhoods, states, nations and groups of nations, on which they rest.
And these more grass-roots structures, alliances, and bodies defining debate and setting agendas should, like the three earlier described ones, also be transparent, participatory and democratic, and guided by a mandate that prioritizes equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological sustainability and balance.
The overall idea is there simple. The globalization problem isn’t international relations per se. Anti corporate globalization activists are, in fact, internationalist. The globalization problem is that capitalist globalization alters international relations to further benefit the rich and powerful.
In contrast, activists want to alter relations to relatively weaken the rich and powerful and empower and improve the conditions of the poor and weak.
So, the first thing I am saying about our anti-corporate globalization activism , if it is to become more successful, is that it ought to move from being anti- as its posture – to being pro- as its posture. And it ought to be pri- an array of institutions like those I just described.
Bigger Vision Problem
Yet even this turn toward international vision won’t be enough, I think. Suppose activists agree on what we want internationally – global justice in place of capitalist globalization – where it isn’t just words, but is a vision of new institutions and relations and a methodology for winning gains in the present that lead toward that preferred future.
Still, if that is what we want internationally, what implications does it have for what we want domestically, inside our own countries?
That this would become the new issue, the new stumbling block, on the way toward a more positive stance, is true, I think, because even if we adopted something like the above vision for new international relations, there would still be a vision problem for anti-corporate globalization activists. People would still doubt the efficacy of joining us.
Everyone knows that international norms and structures don’t drop from the sky. It is certainly true that once in existence they impose severe constraints on domestic arrangements and choices, but it is also true that global relations sit on top of and are propelled and enforced by the dictates of domestic economies and institutions.
The IMF, World Bank, and WTO impose capitalist institutions such as markets and corporations on countries around the world, of course. But the existence of markets and corporations in countries around the world likewise propels capitalist globalization.
So even assuming anti-corporate globalization activists offer a vision for a people-serving and democracy-enhancing internationalism in place of capitalist globalization, everyone will know that we are proposing to place a very good International Asset Agency, Global Investment Assistance Agency, and Global Trade Agency, plus a foundation of more grass-roots democratic and transparent institutions, on top of the very bad domestic economies we currently endure. People will still be skeptical.
The problem is that the persisting domestic structures inside our countries would continually militate against the new international structures we construct on top of them. Persisting corporations and multinationals would not positively augment and enforce our preferred new international structures, but would at best temporarily succumb to pressures to install them, then perpetually emanate pressures to return to more rapacious ways.
So when people ask activists “what are you for?” they actually aren’t asking only what are you for internationally. They also mean, what are you for in place of capitalism?
If we have capitalism, they reason, there will inevitably be tremendous pressures for capitalist globalization and against anti-capitalist innovations. The new IAA, GIAA, and GTA sound nice, but even if we got them put in place, the domestic economies of countries around the world would push to undo them, just as those relations pushed against the original logic of the IMF and World Bank.
Capitalist globalization is, after all, domestic markets, corporations, and class structure writ large. To really replace capitalist globalization and not just to mitigate its effects, we would have to replace capitalism too.
If we have no way to talk about that, no vision for that, no methodology for that, then our other fine formulations become horribly suspect. Reducing or ameliorating corporate globalization via the new international institutions described above looks like rolling rocks up hills only to be crushed when they eventually come back down, unless our efforts are part of a larger project to transform the underlying root capitalist structures. People really do understand this, believe this, rightly, I think.
If you have no alternative to markets and corporations, many feel, your gains would be at best temporary. This assessment is widely held and fuels the reactionary slogan that “there is no alternative.”
To combat this mentality and underlying reality we need an alternative regarding international agencies and regarding global economics, but we also need an alternative regarding markets, corporations, and domestic economies.
Participatory Economics Not Capitalist Greed
Capitalist economics revolves around private ownership of the means of production, market allocation, and corporate divisions of labor.
Remuneration is for property, power, and to a limited extent contribution to output all causing huge differences in wealth and income.
Class divisions arise due to property and due to differential access to empowered versus obedient work. Huge differences in decision-making influence and in quality of circumstances exist.
Buyers and sellers one-up each other and the broader public reaps what self-interested competition sows. Anti-social trajectories of investment and personality development result.
Decision-making ignores or exploits ecological decay. Reduced ecological diversity results.
To transcend capitalism, to give our international movements a shared economic goal for what replaces not just corporate globalization, but capitalism itself, suppose we were to advocate the same values as used above for global assessments: equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological balance to re-envision domestic economic structures, not only international ones.
What institutions can propel these values in domestic economics, as well as admirably accomplish economic functions?
To start, we might choose to advocate public/social property relations in place of privatized capitalist property relations.
In the new system, all citizens own each workplace in equal part. This ownership conveys no special right or income. Bill Gates doesn’t own a massive proportion of the means by which software is produced. We all own it, or symmetrically, if you prefer, no one owns it.
At any rate, ownership becomes moot regarding distribution of income, wealth, or power. In this way the ills of private ownership such as personal accrual of profits yielding huge wealth, and personal disposition over the uses of massive productive assets disappear.
Next, workers and consumers could be organized into democratic councils with the norm for decisions being that methods for dispersing information to decision-makers and for arriving at preferences and tallying them into decisions should convey to each actor about each decision, to the extent possible, influence over the decision in proportion to the degree they will be affected by it.
Councils would be the seat of decision-making power and would exist at many levels, including subunits such as work groups and teams and individuals, and supra units such as workplaces and whole industries. People in councils would be the economy’s decision-makers.
Votes could be majority rule, three quarters, two-thirds, consensus, etc. They would be taken at different levels, with fewer or more participants, depending on the particular implications of the decisions in question.
Sometimes a team or individual would make a decision pretty much on its own. Sometimes a whole workplace or even industry would be the decision body. Different voting and tallying methods would be employed as needed for different decisions. There is no a priori single correct choice.
There is, however, a right norm to try to efficiently and sensibly implement: decision-making input should be in proportion as one is affected by decisions.
Next, we alter the organization of work by changing who does what tasks in what combinations. Each actor does a job, of course. Each job is composed of a variety of tasks, of course.
What changes from current corporate divisions of labor to a preferred future division of labor is that the variety of tasks each actor does is balanced for its empowerment and quality of life implications.
Every person participating in creating new products is a worker. The combination of tasks and responsibilities you have at work accords you the same empowerment and quality of life as the combination I have accords me, and likewise for each other worker and their balanced job complex.
We do not have some people overwhelmingly monopolizing empowering, fulfilling, and engaging tasks and circumstances. We do not have other people overwhelmingly saddled with only rote, obedient, and dangerous things to do.
For reasons of equity and especially to create the conditions of democratic participation and self-management, when we each participate in our workplace and industry (and consumer) decision-making, we each have been comparably prepared by our work with confidence, skills, and knowledge to do so.
The typical situation now is that some people who produce have great confidence, social skills, decision-making skills, and relevant knowledge imbued by their daily work, and other people are only tired, de-skilled, and lacking relevant decision making knowledge due to their daily work.
Balanced job complexes do away with this division of circumstances. They complete the task of removing the root basis for class divisions that is begun by eliminating private ownership of capital.
Balanced job complexes eliminate not only the role of owner/capitalist and its disproportionate power and wealth, but also the role of intellectual/decision making coordinator who exists over and above all others.
They apportion conceptual and empowering and also rote and unempowering responsibilities more equitably and in tune with true democracy and classlessness.
Next comes remuneration. We work. This entitles us to a share of the product of work. But this new vision says that we ought to receive for our labors an amount in tune with how hard we have worked, how long we have worked, and with what sacrifices we have made while doing our work.
We shouldn’t get more by virtue of being more productive due to having better tools, more skills, or greater inborn talent, much less by virtue of having more power or owning more property. We should be entitled to more consumption only by virtue of expending more of our effort or otherwise enduring more sacrifice. This is morally appropriate and also provides proper incentives due to rewarding only what we can affect, not what we can’t.
With balanced job complexes, for eight hours of normally paced work Sally and Sam receive the same income. This is so if they have the same job, or any job at all because no matter what their particular job may be, no matter what workplaces they are in and how different their mix of tasks is and no matter how talented they are, if they work at a balanced job complex, their total work load will be similar in its quality of life implications and empowerment effects so the only difference specifically relevant to reward for their labors is going to be duration and intensity of work done, and if we assume these are the same, then the share of output earned will be equal. On the other hand, if duration of time working or intensity of work differ somewhat, so will the share of output earned.
Who mediates decisions about the definition of job complexes and about what rates and intensities people are working? Workers do, of course, in their councils and with appropriate decision-making say using information culled by methods consistent with employing balanced job complexes and just remuneration.
There is one very large step remaining, even to offering merely a broad outline of economic vision.
How are the actions of workers and consumers connected? How do decisions made in workplaces, and by collective consumer councils, as well as by individual consumers, all come into accord? What causes the total produced by workplaces to match the total consumed collectively by neighborhoods and other groups and privately by individuals? For that matter, what determines the relative social valuation of different products and choices? What decides how many workers will be in which industry producing how much? What determines whether some product should be made or not, and how much? What determines what investments in new productive means and methods should be undertaken and which others delayed or rejected? These are all matters of allocation.
Existing options for dealing with allocation are central planning (as was used in the old Soviet Union) and markets (as is used in all capitalist economies with minor or greater variations).
In central planning a bureaucracy culls information, formulates instructions, sends these instructions to workers and consumers, gets some feedback, refines the instructions a bit, sends them again, and gets back obedience.
In a market each actor in isolation from concern for other actor’s well being competitively pursues its own agenda by buying and selling labor (or the ability to do it) and buying and selling products and resources at prices determined by competitive bidding. Each person seeks to gain more than the other parties in their exchanges.
The problem is, each of these two modes of connecting actors and units imposes pressures on the rest of the economy that subvert the values and structures we favor.
Markets, even without private capitalization of property, distort valuations to favor private over public benefits and in ways that channel personalities in anti-social directions thereby diminishing and even destroying solidarity. They reward primarily output and power and not only effort and sacrifice. They divide economic actors into a class that is saddled with rote and obedient labor and another class that enjoys empowering circumstances and determines economic outcomes, also accruing most income. They isolate buyers and sellers as decision-makers who have no choice but to competitively ignore the wider implications of their choices, including effects on the ecology.
Central planning, in contrast, is authoritarian. It denies self-management and produces the same class division and hierarchy as markets though in the central planning case built first around the distinction between planners and those who implement their plans, and then extending outward to incorporate empowered and dis-empowered workers more generally.
Both these allocation systems subvert rather than propel the values we hold dear. But what is the alternative to markets and central planning?
Suppose in place of top-down imposition of centrally planned choices and in place of competitive market exchange by atomized buyers and sellers, in accord with extending the logic of our internationalism into our domestic economies, we opt for cooperative, informed choosing by organizationally and socially entwined actors each having a say in proportion as choices impact them and each able to access needed accurate information and valuations including each having appropriate training and confidence to develop and communicate their preferences. That would be consistent with council centered participatory self-management, with remuneration for effort and sacrifice, with balanced job complexes, with proper valuations of collective and ecological impacts, and with classlessness.
To these ends, imagine that global activists turning their attention to domestic economics came to favor participatory planning, a system in which worker and consumer councils propose work activities and consumer preferences in light of accurate knowledge of local and national implications and true valuations of the full social benefits and costs their choices will impose and garner.
The system utilizes a back and forth cooperative communication of mutually informed preferences via indicative prices conveying summary information about relative valuations and facilitation boards processing and communicating preferences and other data, rounds of accommodation to new information in which actors cooperatively negotiate with one another, and so on.
So now imagine a movement for internationalism that favored the three new global institutions mentioned earlier, to replace the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization, and that favored as well…
* Democratic workplace and consumer councils for equitable participation
* Diverse decision-making procedures seeking proportionate say for those affected by decisions
* Balanced job complexes creating just distribution of empowering and dis-empowering circumstances
* Remuneration for effort and sacrifice in accord with admirable moral and efficient incentive logic
* Participatory planning in tune with economics serving human well being and development
Together these constitute the core institutional scaffolding of participatory economics, a systemic alternative to capitalism and also to what have been called centrally planned or market socialism.
My point in this talk is that while in the long term the ultimate answer to the cynical, reactionary slogan that “there is no alternative” – which belief is limiting our movements growth and power – is to actually enact an alternative, in the near-term the answer is to offer a coherent, consistent, and viable model of preferable institutions and their dynamics.
We need international and domestic economic vision that everyone can understand and refine and make their own.
If we are to reverse our movement’s decline, we need vision to generate hope, to provide inspiration, to reveal what is possible and valuable, and to orient and also democratize our strategies so that they might take us where we desire rather than take us in circles or even toward something worse than what we now endure.
To have an internationalist movement that keeps growing, rather than one that bogs down, we need vision that inspires and informs us in the movement, and those we reach out to in society as well. We need vision both about international relations, but also about consistent national relations. About what replaces capitalism.
The name for the combination of new features I have discussed to replace capitalism is participatory economics, or for short, parecon.
With this new type economy, parecon, the pressure of capitalism to conquer ever expanding market share and to scoop up ever widening sources of resources and labor, are removed. There is no drive to accumulate per se, and there is no tendency to endlessly expand market share or to exploit international profit making opportunities, because there is no profit making. The origins of imperialism and neo colonialism, not merely some of their symptoms, are removed.
If the whole world had participatory economies, then nothing structural would prevent treating countries like one might treats locales–neighborhoods, counties, states, etc. And likewise, there would be no structural obstacle to approaching the production side similarly, seeing the world as one entwined international system.
Whether this would occur or not, or at what pace, are matters for the future. It certainly seems to be the natural and logical international long-run extension of domestic advocacy of parecon.
If balanced job complexes and equitable distribution in light of the total social output are morally and economically sound choices in one country, why not balance across countries and relate incomes based on effort and sacrifice to international output?
Likewise, if it makes sense to plan each country in a negotiated participatory manner, why wouldn’t it make sense to do that, as well, for interactions from country to country?
Of course, even with the structural obstacles emanating from capitalist relations of production gone, and even assuming cultural and political forms would allow or even welcome extending the logic of domestic participatory economies to a world wide participatory economy, the remaining difficulty is the magnitude of the inter-nation gaps to be overcome.
Even if one wanted to, one simply cannot sanely level income and job quality between a developed and an underdeveloped society, short of massive campaigns of construction, development, and education as well. Moreover, if there are some parecons, and some capitalist economies, the situation is still more difficult, with the gaps existing in development and also in social relations.
So the real issue about parecon and international relations becomes as countries adopt participatory economies domestically, what happens to their outward facing trade and other policies?
The answer is not inexorable. We can conceive, I suppose, of a country with a parecon that is rapacious regarding the rest of the world. It is difficult to imagine, yes, but not utterly inconceivable. So what we are talking about is a policy choice.
How should a parecon interact with other countries who do not share its logic of economic organization and practice?
The answers seem to me to be implicit in the whole earlier discussion of international global policies. The idea ought to be to engage in trade and other relations in ways that diminish gaps of wealth and power.
One obvious proposal is that the parecon trades at market prices or at parecon prices with other countries, depending on which choice does a better job of redressing wealth and power inequalities.
A second proposal would be that a parecon engage in a high degree of socially responsible aid to other countries less well off than itself.
A third would be that it supports movements seeking to attain participatory economic relations elsewhere.
There is every reason to think the workers and consumers of a participatory economy would have the kind of social solidarity with other peoples to embark on just these kinds of policies…but it would be a choice, made in the future, not a constraint imposed on society by a systemic economic pressure.
But the real more short-run point here is, if our movements could become positive, could have shared vision, could formulate related shared strategy, then they could fight for gains today with the informed expectation that their efforts were headed into a better future, rather than being doomed to unravel before long. More, they could fight today in ways carefully conceived to persist successfully into the future.
The point of this talk is that seeking just international relations leads, rather inexorably, toward seeking just domestic relations, and vice versa. Participatory economics fulfills both agendas. More, this is not just an academic matter. Whether our movements sustain hope and desire depends greatly on whether they counter the cynical fear that there is no alternative. They can’t do that without proposing an alternative, without fighting for an alternative.
So, it seems to me our desirable future path is to move on to anti capitalism. More, it is to move on to advocacy of a new more inspiring and fulfilling future. If that’s not parecon, then it needs to be something else that is classless and self managing and inspires and guides us. Nothing less will sustain sufficient commitment to win against the odds we face.
And winning, even against the odds that we face, is not only what we need to do for liberty, it is most likely what we need to do, even just to survive.