Parecon and Solidarity

First, thank you for having me speak here – it is a great honor, of course.


Ordinarily I speak rather informally, without a text, barely using an outline. But, with simultaneous translation, it is much easier for the translators, whose job, by the way, is incredibly difficult, if I stick to a prepared text… so I will do that, until we get to questions and answers, at any rate.


I would like to talk primarily about economics, because I happen to know more about that than other dimensions of society. 


In Questions and Answers, again, later, we can broaden the focus to politics, kinship, culture, or whatever else you like. 


I want to address four questions as the basis for the talk.


What is solidarity?
What impedes solidarity in current economies?
What features would guarantee that a new economy incorporates and even generates solidarity? 
What difference does favoring a new economy make? What good would the new vision do us, now?


I am going to argue for what I call participatory economics, or parecon for short, a vision to replace capitalism and also what has been called socialism.


I think participatory economics, or parecon, is a solidarity economy, in accord with this  conference, but also …


a diversity economy
an equitable economy
a self managing economy
an efficient economy
a sustainable and ecologically wise economy
and a classless economy. 


These virtues, indeed, are why I advocate it.


So, first…


What is solidarity, in economics? 


I think economic solidarity is recognizing that economic life affects how we view and impact one another. 


Solidarity exists if we have mutual interests and a degree of empathy and mutual insight. It arises from having shared rather than opposed interests. 

Solidarity is wanting production, allocation, and consumption to enhance ties among people. 

Solidarity is for me to do well, I have to be concerned with others doing well and vice versa. The economy causes me to seek benefits in ways that benefit others too. 

Solidarity is not a rat race economy in which we advance only at the expense of others, but is a mutually beneficial economy, in which we advance in concert with one another. Moreover, once stated thusly, favoring solidarity isn’t even controversial. 


Who would say that they would rather have a society that makes us anti-social, greedy, and mutually suspicious, as compared to a society that produces mutual aid and empathy?


Okay, then, if we want solidarity, we have to next ask - 



What impedes solidarity in current economies? 


Describing institutions that cause us to be anti-social rather than mutually supportive could occupy us for a long time. We will have to just consider a few.


First obstacle to solidarity: some people own means of production. The rest work for wages. 


This private ownership gives people opposed interests. 


If I am an owner and you are my workforce, I will do better…


if you get less pay
if you work under conditions that cost me less to maintain
if you work more intensely and longer each day or year, and 
if you are made organizationally weak. 


You will do better, in contrast, if you reverse all those trends, against my interests. 


Current ownership relations therefore destroy solidarity. To have solidarity we must replace them with something new.




Second obstacle to solidarity: about 20% of the workforce have a relative monopoly on empowering tasks. About 80%, do mostly rote and obedient tasks.


Let’s call the former group the coordinator class of doctors, lawyers, managers, engineers, etc. 


Let’s call the latter group, the working class. 


The coordinator class earns way more and has way more control over its conditions and the conditions of workers below. 


The working class earns way less and has way less control over its conditions and the conditions of coordinators above. 


The coordinator class advances at the expense of the working class and vice versa. 


Solidarity dies in this confrontation which means the current division of labor, which gives some actors empowering labor and other actors only subordinate and rote labor, destroys solidarity. To have solidarity we must replace the current division of labor. 




Third obstacle to solidarity: is the current top down approach to decision making. 


Current corporations are in many respects more dictatorial than Stalin was. Stalin never dreamed of making people ask him permission to go to the bathroom, but that is not uncommon in corporations. 


We rarely even know what decisions are made regarding the organization of work, tools, the composition and number of products, procedures, investments, collective consumption, and much else about economic life, much less having a fair say in these decisions. 


Instead, owners and to a significant degree members of the coordinator class handle all this, and working people just endure the results, often catastrophically. 


But one can’t have solidarity with one’s overseer. 


One can’t have solidarity while being deprived the basic requisites of dignity. 


The obstacle to solidarity in this case is hierarchical decision making fed by, but also exacerbating, capitalist ownership relations and the corporate division of labor. 


We must have different decision making if we seriously want solidarity.



Fourth obstacle to solidarity: people in current economies must compete on the market, both as buyers and as sellers, whether they do so as owners, coordinators, or workers. 


The market creates the quintessential anti social system.


Sellers try to sell as little as possible for the highest price possible. 


Buyers try to buy as much as possible for as little payment as possible. 


Their interests contend and this opposition is alone enough to wipe out solidarity, and yet there are many more dimensions to the problem. 


Sellers of course seek to maximize profits, lest they are outcompeted and go out of business. 


As a result, they must pollute if it means more profit, which it generally does. It they don’t generate as much profit as others, they will lose market share and eventually die.


They likewise make goods that break down and require service or replacement, if it means more profits, which it generally does. 


Without going into all details, it should be clear that with markets solidarity is competed to oblivion as producers dump on and manipulate clients and communities. 


We get anti-sociality, not solidarity.


Let me give one more I hope instructive example. 


The U.S. spends a fortune on military expenditures. Why? 


Well, part of it is of course to use the product to enforce being the largest most violent rogue state on the planet, which the U.S. is. 


But that’s only part of it, and a pretty modest part. What is the rest of this expenditure about?


Many people say military spending occurs to provide jobs. 


In fact, however, hi tech military production produces fewer jobs per dollar invested than just about anything else you could undertake. 


Some people say military spending occurs because there are big businesses seeking profits who push for military spending. 


Yes, there are, but why don’t big businesses, indeed, often the same ones, push as hard or harder for government spending on schools, or hospitals, or rebuilding and generating better housing, all of which can also generate profits? 


The real reason is conflicting interests at the heart of our economies. 


What makes military spending a wonderful pursuit, from the point of view of capital, is precisely that it does not benefit anyone but owners and to a degree the coordinator class. 


Military spending does not enlighten or uplift workers. It does not make workers more secure and confident. 


These failures, looking down from the offices of the owners, are good because they mean workers can continue to be exploited unmercifully. 


If, instead of building missiles, tanks, rocket launchers, military bases, etc., the same productive capacity went to education, health, housing, public transport, etc., then the expenditures would leave workers better off, more stable, more confident, better informed, and due to all this better able to bargain for a larger share of society’s outputs, eating into owners’ profits. 


That is why owners prefer military spending. It isn’t that the elites love bombs like Dr. Strangelove. They are not perverse in that way. 


It is that owners don’t want expenditures to actually benefit working people. A mindset, if you think it through, that is arguably even more perverse. 


Could markets be any more contrary to human need?


Let’s not belabor the obvious. We know all too well the obstacles to solidarity – and indeed to civilized existence – in a capitalist economy. 


The obstacles are private ownership of means of production, hierarchical authoritarian decision making, corporate divisions of labor, inequitable remuneration, and market allocation. 


To attain real solidarity, we have to transcend all of that. 


So, in pursuit of solidarity, we come to our third and biggest question…



What features would guarantee that an economy generates solidarity?


For a new economy to generate solidarity, rather than destroy it, we have to accomplish economic functions in ways giving people shared rather than opposed interests.


There are just four major institutional changes we have to enact, which means we can at least summarize them here. 


First, we will need what we call…



Self Managing Councils


An economy involves workers and consumers engaging in economic life. 


For these actors to all have a fair say over outcomes, they will need a venue in which to express their views and manifest their preferences. 


We call these venues workers and consumers councils.


Of course, we can’t have people owning workplaces, and, indeed, the idea of ownership of capital must no longer play a role. 


You can think of it as we all own an equal share of everything, or as no one owns any productive assets – it doesn’t matter as long as there is no link between something called owning and either decision making or income.