Robin Hahnel's Of the People, By the People: The case for a participatory economy (Soapbox Press, 2012, distributed by AK press, www.akpress.org) is the latest and most accessible presentation of his argument that a new economy—based on equality, participation, solidarity, and self-management—is both desirable and possible. Originally formulated by Hahnel and Michael Albert more than two decades ago, the model has been continually refined and improved, addressing problems raised by critics. This is precisely the way vision for the future should be developed: through an ongoing process of criticism and revision.
In this new book, Hahnel offers two revisions to his previous exposition. In previous versions, the planning process—participatory planning—made no distinction between the current annual plan and more long-term plans. Here Hahnel acknowledges that the latter involve some special complications that need to be addressed. In particular, our estimates of opportunity and social costs become less reliable the further off into the future we are projecting, and therefore long-range planning will have to rely more on discussion and debate among delegates to federations of consumer and worker councils. This will require finding means of maintaining popular involvement in the long-run planning process in the face of less direct participation.
The second revision involves the annual consumption requests. How can people know what they want for an entire year, many critics asked? They can't, Hahnel says. But if their beginning-of-year guesses—which might just be "same as last year"—turn out to be wrong, then mid-year corrections can be made. There is no assurance, of course, that everybody can get whatever they want and are entitled to exactly when they want it, but not even a market system can guarantee that.
This new book doesn't end the cycle of critique and revision, and in that spirit, I posed a number of questions to Robin Hahnel that came to me as I read normal”>Shalom: The Red and the Black," The Jacobin, no. 9, Winter 2013, p. 39.] Not all products are consumed within a year (so last year, for example, I bought an electric razor; I don't want "same as last year" for that). The sneakers that I bought two years ago have worn out; so I'd need to amend last year's request. And what about products that change over time? I had avoided a snack food last year because it had too much salt, but this year there's a low-salt version. And of course books, music, movies, video games, software—I don't want the same as last year.
Hahnel: line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>If you remember that the sneakers you bought two years ago have now worn out you will add a pair of sneakers to your consumption request this year that were not on your consumption list last year. You will also not request an electric razor this year. Since I will not remember I need new sneakers but do not need another electric razor, and I would not bother submitting a revised request even if I did, my initial consumption request will be the same as last year and not include a pair of sneakers but will include an electric razor. Moreover, when my neighborhood consumption council sends me the revised indicative prices in the second round of the planning procedure and asks me if I want to revise my consumption proposal I will not respond again, whereas you may choose to modify some of your requests in response to updated indicative prices—perhaps requesting two pair of sneakers if their indicative price has fallen, or postponing your replacement sneakers another year if their indicative price rose significantly.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>It's important to distinguish between what we need to accomplish and what we do NOT need to accomplish in the annual participatory planning process. When the year starts worker councils need to know what they are expected to produce and what inputs they have been authorized to use to do that. If they know these two things they can get started producing when the year begins, so that is all the participatory planning process must accomplish. Before it can begin production on January 1, does a shoe making company in a capitalist economy know how many size 9 vs. size 11 shoes to make? How many brown vs. black shoes to make? How many high quality vs. low quality shoes to make? It has no way of knowing the answers to these "how much of each slightly different product should I make" questions, nor does it need to. Based entirely on its own guesses and research about trends in consumer demands, a capitalist shoe making company starts to produce shoes in January at a faster or slower pace than last year and then adjusts to unanticipated changes in the overall demand for its shoes, and shifts in demand for different sizes, colors, and qualities, on the fly as new information arrives. Shoemakers in a participatory economy will do this as well, except the annual plan provides them on January 1 with much better information about what to expect.
 So if their approved production plan had a SB/SC ratio of 1.09 but their actual ratio at year's end turns out to be 1.03 the cap on average effort ratings for workers in the council next year is 1.03 not 1.09. Similarly, consumers, and consumer councils and federations are charged for what they actually consume during the year, not what was approved for them in the plan. Any differences are recorded as increases or decreases in the debt or savings of individual consumers, neighborhood councils, and consumer federations.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>If we want consumers to influence the annual plan we need input from consumers during the planning process. If we want worker councils to have a better idea of what to produce than firms in market economies this must come from the annual plan. In a participatory economy consumers influence production decisions primarily through the "self-activity" proposals of consumer councils and federations during the planning procedure. Consumer councils and federations respond to estimates of the social costs of producing different final goods and services by indicating how much they want, knowing they will be charged according to the prices "indicating" what it costs society to provide them. As those estimates of social costs are adjusted during the planning