ParPolity: Political Vision for a Good Society

Revised: Nov. 2005
typos corrected Oct. 2011

(This draft benefited from conversations with many people, but especially Michael Albert and Cynthia Peters, and from feedback at a panel discussion in Porto Alegre on political vision and from very helpful comments from students at the Z Media Institute. I particularly profited from an essay posted in ZNet’s ParEcon Forum by Gar Lipow, that grappled with the question of political vision, sometimes coming to the same conclusions as me, sometimes not. None of these people are responsible for any of the views expressed here.)

The relevance of political vision

1.1 Why should we be interested in thinking about what the political system of a good society might look like? There are two main reasons.

1.2 First, because you need to know where you want to end up if you want to know which path to take. Every political activist chooses strategy and tactics based on whether or not they bring us closer to our goal. Therefore, if we are to choose the appropriate strategy and tactics, we will need to have some rough idea of the goal to which we aspire.

1.3 Second, we need to show people that an alternative is possible. One of the most powerful arguments in favor of the status quo is that “there is no alternative.” Unless we can demonstrate that society can be organized to realize our values, it will be impossible to convince people to make the commitment and sacrifices necessary to challenge that status quo.

1.4 Several arguments have been advanced against thinking about political vision (or any vision, for that matter).

1.5 One such argument is that it is arrogant and elitist for a few individuals to put forward a vision for the rest of us.

1.6 Certainly it would be elitist and downright dictatorial for a few to impose a vision on. But no one is imposing anything on anyone. An attempt at formulating a plausible, but attractive vision is being made. It is offered up for discussion. If it is not discarded and replaced with something else better, then it will surely be modified, many times and in substantial ways. But if no one offers up anything for discussion, then the discussion never takes place. I give specifics, just to show that the goals we want are possible, but this doesn’t mean that the specifics are the final word. They are meant to begin the conversation on vision, not end it.

1.7 A second argument is that ideas come from practice, from struggle, from real activities, not from theorizing from the top of a mountain.

1.8 Of course they do, and that’s where my ideas come from, from my own experiences and my reading of the experiences of others. And of course any proposed visions have to be measured against what we learn from new struggles and from new social experiments — and revised or rejected accordingly. But the fact that a vision was not issued as a communiqué from a revolutionary struggle somewhere does not invalidate it: it needs to be invalidated — or validated — on its merits. Moreover, since the political vision described here presupposes a compatible economic vision and a long-term context, there are not likely to be many relevant real-world experiences. The much-studied experience of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, for example, as valuable as it is, exists within an environment of extreme economic inequality; naturally, what is needed and what will work in an environment of great inequality is far different from what is needed and can work in an environment with basic equality. Other examples are often short-lived experiences that, however inspiring, cannot tell us much about what is possible on a long-term basis. So, as important as real-world experiences are, they are not sufficient alone without some theorizing as well.

1.9 Similar to the previous objection, it might be asked how can we in 2005 be proposing vision for a new society that is decades away?

1.10 It’s quite true that we can’t expect a vision put forward today to be appropriate and compelling many years hence. But consider an analogy. Scientists put forward theories about the cosmos, about subatomic particles, about the human genome based on very little data. As more data became available, those theories were revised or sometimes discarded entirely. But no one would have thought to say to the scientists “don’t theorize today because your theories will be revised when there is more data in the future.” As political activists our situation requires at least as much theorizing as is done by natural scientists. If astronomers held off their theorizing about the nature of the universe until vastly larger amounts of data were in, not much would be affected. But if we don’t theorize about our goals, our ability to gain adherents to our cause or to choose appropriate strategy and tactics will be compromised. To be sure, our strategy and tactics will probably not be optimal (because the vision we are now measuring it by will probably be substantially modified), but our best judgment of our vision today will give us the best chance of pursuing appropriate strategy and tactics.

1.11 A final objection asks “OK, but how do you get there?”

1.12 Clearly this is an important question. But one essay cannot deal with everything. It doesn’t seem illogical to figure out where you would like to go and then see how to get there. Obviously, if it is later shown that there is no way to get there, then the destination has to be rejected. This is true even when considering far more modest changes. Say we are unhappy with the current health care system. The first thing we would do is inquire if some form of national health care is desirable and feasible. If our answer to these questions is yes, then we would inquire as to whether we can get there from here. That’s an important question, but it is logically subsequent to our being able to describe a desirable and feasible alternative.

A political system that is appropriate for ParEcon

2.1 The political system of a good society is only one aspect of that society. Every society needs to deal as well with economics, family life, international relations, and so on. By focusing on politics here there is no implication that these other matters are unimportant. They are in fact critical. However, one essay cannot cover everything.

2.2 In any vision of a good society, the various components — economics, politics, family, etc. — would have to be compatible. I am going to take as a given that the economy will be run according to the principles of Participatory Economics, or ParEcon for short. (See Michael Albert, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, London: Verso, 2003, for the latest elaboration of this model.) I choose this because, one, I personally find it to be the most compelling vision currently put forward, and, two, because it seems to be compatible in terms of basic values and structures with the political vision I describe.

2.3 The basic features of a participatory economy are (1) goods and services are produced according to a plan developed by an iterative procedure of democratic, participatory planning by consumers and producers councils; (2) people are remunerated not for capital or skills or output, but for effort; and (3) everyone has a balanced job complex — a mix of empowering and disempowering jobs — so as to share the burdens and benefits of each.

2.4 So what political system — what kind of polity — would be appropriate for such a society? For convenience, though certainly not elegance, I will call this political system ParPolity.

Why do we need a political system at all?

3.1 The first question to be addressed, however, is why there is a need for a political system at all. Many of the conflicts in capitalist societies today can be traced to the economic system. This has led some critics of capitalism to argue that once the capitalists are expropriated, there will be no more divergent class interests, and hence no need for parties, and indeed no need for politics.

3.2 Many of those working against racism, sexism, and heterosexism would argue that class is not the only source of clashing interests. In principle, we can imagine a society that has eliminated capitalism, but yet has conflicts over racial, ethnic, gender, or sexuality issues. It might be replied that the struggle to overcome capitalism will necessarily be anti-racist, anti-sexist, and so on (or else it won’t succeed), and thus inequalities based on race or gender will disappear at the same time as those based on class — not automatically, but as a natural result of a struggle that combines all these concerns.

3.3 One would hope this were true, but even if so, there will still be many issues that will divide people in a good society. These issues may not be as fundamental as those that were integral to capitalism, or even to capitalism overlain with patriarchy, institutional racism, and the like, but they are issues that have evoked passionate controversies on the left, that is among those who are agreed on the need to end patriarchal, racist, capitalism. Here are just a few issues that will continue to vex us in “life after capitalism”:

• animal rights (should meat-eating be outlawed as immoral?)
• pornography (is it inherently oppressive to women or an expression of individual autonomy?)
• prostitution (in a society without economic exploitation is it possible for someone to “choose” to be a sex worker?)
• deep ecology (to what extent should we treat the environment not just as something to be protected so that it can continue to sustain us in the future, but as something of value independent of all human benefit?)
• drug legalization
• multilingualism
• children’s rights
• allocation of expensive or scarce medical resources, like heart transplants
• cloning
• surrogate
• motherhood
• euthanasia
• single-sex schools
• religious freedom when the religions violate other important societal values, like gender equity.

3.4 On top of this, there are issues that are generally supported by the Left, but not universally so, and about which we can imagine continuing debates in a good society: for example, the extent to which we should recognize abortion rights or preferential policies for members of previously oppressed groups.

3.5 And then there are issues that would arise from the fact that the whole world may not become “a good society” all at once — what might be called the “socialism in one country” problem. How will we deal with questions of foreign policy, trade, or immigration?

3.6 In short, even in a society that had solved the problem of economic exploitation and eliminated hierarchies of race, class, and gender, many controversies — many deep controversies — would still remain. Hence, any good society will have to address issues of politics and will need some sort of political system, a polity.

What values do we want for our political system?

4.1 The values that we want from a good political system are similar to those of ParEcon.

4.2 Liberty. We want the policies that affect us to correspond as much as possible to our own desires, but without intruding on anyone else’s ability to have policies that correspond to their desires.

4.3 Justice. we want a fair society, one that treats each human being equally.

4.4 Participation. We want a political system that doesn’t just produce results that benefit us, but one in which we participate in the decisions that affect our lives. Why? Because self-management makes us more fully human. Politics is not just a means of attaining our ends but is also a means of defining who we are and hence what our ends are. Moreover, no political system is likely to produce results that benefit us unless there is some means of knowing what it is that benefits us, and this is not given, but emerges only after public deliberation. Our participation helps to define and create our preferences, which is what the polity is seeking to address.

4.4.1 Now this can be overdone. Political activists should not assume that everyone has the same enthusiasm for politics — for meetings, for debates, for reading about politics — as they do. Just as people vary in their preferences and capacities for music or crafts or mathematics, so too will they vary in their attitude toward and talent for politics. So we don’t want a polity that requires everyone to value political participation as much as full-time political activists do today, or that penalizes those without a flair or an interest in politics by somehow denying their interests equal consideration. But some degree of participation — less than that of political fanatics, but more than that of most citizens of capitalist democracies — is essential.

4.4.2 Moreover. participation takes time, and time spent participating takes away from time that can be spent on other things. So while participation is important for us all, we want to make sure that it doesn’t impose excessive time demands upon us.

4.3 Solidarity. We want a political system that allows and encourages us to take account of our common interests with others, that promotes cooperation, and that helps us see how our lives and interests are intertwined with those of others.

4.4 Tolerance. Because people have different views of the good life, a good political system should promote diversity, allowing as many different visions of the good life as possible, so long as they don’t deny that same tolerance to others.

5.0 Any political system has to accomplish some basic functions: it has to have some means of making group decisions; it has to have a way to carry out those decisions; and it has to have means of resolving disputes. These functions are typically called legislative, executive, and judicial functions, respectively.

Legislative Functions

5.1 I propose that legislative functions be carried out by a system of nested councils. Here is one way that such a system might function.

5.2 There would be primary-level councils that would include every adult in the society. The number of members in these primary-level councils would be somewhere between 25-50. Each primary-level council would choose a delegate to a second-level council. (Each second-level council would be composed of 20-50 delegates, probably the same size as the primary councils, but not necessarily so.) Likewise, each second-level council would choose delegates to third-level councils, and so on, until there was one single top-level council for the entire society.

5.3 The number of members on each council would be determined on the basis of a society-wide decision, and perhaps revised on the basis of experience, so as to meet the following criteria: small enough to guarantee that people can be involved in deliberative bodies, where all can participate in face-to-face discussions; but yet big enough so that (1) there is adequate diversity of opinion included; and (2) the number of layers of councils needed to accommodate the entire society is minimized. For example, if all councils have 25 members, then, assuming half the population consists of adults, then 5 layers could accommodate a society of 19 million people; with councils of 40 members, 5 layers could accommodate 200 million people; and 50-person councils could accommodate 625 million people by the fifth level. With a sixth level, even 25-person councils could accommodate a society of about half a billion people.

5.4 These delegates would be charged with trying to reflect the actual views of the council they came from. But they would not be “mandated”: that is, they would not be told “this is how you must vote,” for if they were then the higher council they were attending would not be a deliberative body. In fact, the delegates could then be easily replaced by a computer message relaying the sentiments of the lower council.

5.5 If someone on a second-level council is chosen as a delegate to a third-level council, the primary council of which that delegate was a member sends a replacement delegate to the secondary level council. This replacement delegate attends both the primary level and the second-level council, is recallable by the primary level council and seeks to reflect the actual views of that primary council. The delegate chosen to the third level-council continues to attend the second-level council and the third-level council, is recallable by the second-level council, and seeks to reflect the actual views of that second-level council. In this way, the primary council remains organically connected to the second level council, and the second to the third.

5.6 Councils at every level would be deliberative bodies.

5.6.1 A deliberative political process is a natural concomitant of ParEcon where the economic plan is developed by a constant back and forth, continually seeking to accommodate people’s consumption and production requests.

5.6.2 The size of the councils would be conducive to face-to-face deliberation, their procedures and culture would emphasize discussion and accommodation rather than scoring debater’s points and vanquishing one’s opponents, participants would be expected to give reasons for their views framed in terms of the public good, rather than self-interest.

5.7 The councils would operate by consensus where possible, majority rule where not.

5.7.1 Whenever possible, consensus would be sought. However, to insist on consensus in every case is to give every individual the power to block the overwhelming majority. Such an approach is ill-advised. It is sometimes said that even a large group should be forced to respect and acknowledge the sentiments of a single dissenter who feels strongly on an issue. Respect and acknowledgment are fine; but the question is whether the strong feelings of the one dissenter should invariably be able to block the equally strong feelings of everyone else. Say there is general agreement to provide abortion procedures at a local health clinic. One individual deeply and strongly considers such an action to be murder. The others, however, hold equally deep and strong views that to prohibit abortion is to violate women’s most fundamental rights. They talk, they debate, they respect the moral seriousness of each other, they find some areas of common agreement (say on the need to provide resources for those women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term), but at the end of the day they cannot reach a consensus. In that case, a vote, decided by majority rule, is the only just option. To allow the lone dissenter to block action is to deny the overwhelming majority ultimate authority to decide their own fates. There is nothing magical about 50 percent plus one, but it does deserve more moral weight than 50 percent minus one.

5.7.2 Another problem with insisting on consensus is that it overly privileges the status quo. The status quo is already inevitably privileged by any policy-making procedure because if nothing is done the status quo prevails. No additional privileging of the status quo is warranted: it should not be so much more difficult to erect a traffic light at such and such an intersection than not to do so.

5.7.3 Moreover, sometimes a decision has to be made within a fixed time frame. A hurricane is expected and two proposals are put forward to prepare for the storm. Opinions are strong and divided. One proposal has the support of two thirds of the group, the other has the support of one third. When the first proposal is put forward, it is rejected for failing to achieve a consensus. But the second is rejected on the same grounds. Unless one of the proposals is approved, there will be disaster. Now, of course, it will be argued that under the consensus decision-making rule, reasonable people who held the one-third view would defer to the two-thirds. This is true. Often the result of the consensus rule is exactly the same as the majority rule, in which case either rule is equally good. But what if the one-third group called on the two-thirds group to defer? How does it get decided which group ought to defer? If you think it seems obvious that the one-third group ought to do so, then you are essentially endorsing majority rule. If you say, no, the group that has the wrong position ought to defer — how do we decide which group that is? The culture of consensus decision-making that says that everyone’s opinion ought to be respected, that ways of accommodating everyone ought to be sought, that decisions shouldn’t be railroaded through — all these are important and ought to be part of council decision-making. But when, after all these things are done, no consensus is achievable, then some other decision-making rule is needed, and majority rule makes the most sense.

5.7.4 Why not use some sort of super-majority rule instead, such as requiring 90% of the votes for something to pass (or three quarters or two thirds)? This way, the single ornery person can’t block a socially necessary decision. But the same objection as applies to unanimity applies to super-majorities. Why should, say, 12 percent of a group be able to override the deeply held views of 88 percent?

5.7.5 Sometimes, of course, it is silly to go forward with a new initiative unless substantially more than half the people concur. (For example, should some community project be built that only makes sense if it will be used by most everyone?) So here one hopes that a reasonable majority will not insist on pushing its view forward when there is a lot of dissension. Consensus ought to be the norm.

5.7.6 Note that majority rule runs into problems if the majority acts foolishly; consensus runs into problems if the minority acts foolishly. One would hope to avoid both, though presumably the majority will act foolishly less often than a minority.

5.7.7 Full consensus decision making may work when the participants have a broad area of basic agreement (and where those who don’t agree tend to withdraw). But in a full-scale society, where issues of the sort listed above (3.3) are likely to come up, total agreement on fundamentals cannot be assumed. Indeed, imagine that there is a single person who rejects ParEcon (but, out of orneriness or some other reason chooses not to emigrate). Should this person be allowed to block every action that everyone else wants to take?

5.7.8 This said, in fact the dynamics of small groups strongly incline towards consensus. People who find themselves in the minority on some issue are likely to be willing to go along with the majority because they know they’ll be in the majority on some other issue. In large, anonymous groups this sense of reciprocity is unlikely to be as strong, but where there is face-to-face contact, social pressure will tend to encourage people to avoid votes and to go along with the sense of the meeting. But on some occasions this will not be the case, and then it makes sense — after appropriate deliberation — to have a vote. The vote is of benefit not just to the majority, which gets its policy preference, but to the minority as well, which can officially register its dissenting view.

5.8 When any voting does take place, it should be open, not by secret ballot. The secret ballot has come to be seen as a basic requirement of democratic politics, and it may indeed be necessary in societies where vote buying is rife. (I’m not likely to pay you to vote for me if there’s no way I can be sure that you’ll actually carry out your part of the bargain.) But as John Stuart Mill noted, the secret ballot has the unfortunate effect of telling voters that the reasons for their voting one way or another should not be public reasons, reasons that could be justified in public, but reasons of self-interest. Citizens should be publicly answerable for their votes, not in the sense that there will be punishments for inappropriate votes, but that they can be asked by others why they voted the way they did. This will encourage people to vote in a discursively defensible manner. Vote buying would, of course, be illegal, but this danger is not likely to be very serious in a society without significant income inequalities.

5.9 One problem with face-to-face meetings is that sometimes consensus reflects not the meeting of minds and the balancing of interests, but bullying by a few domineering individuals. There are various practices that can minimize this problem (rotating chairs, giving each participant a fixed number of chips that have to spent each time the person speaks, etc. [Mansbridge, Beyond Adversarial Democracy, p. 241]). And because councils are small, but not tiny, it would be rather unlikely that there will be no one willing to speak up to a bully. The ultimate check on bullying behavior, however, is that members of primary-level councils could ask to leave a council that they find uncomfortable, in order to join another one they find more compatible. But we don’t want members leaving councils simply because there are disagreements. The idea is NOT to make every primary council politically homogeneous, for if so then not much deliberation would take place within them. Deliberation requires the respectful and reasoned engagement of contrary views. So anyone wishing to leave his or her primary council would need to ask the permission of the second-level council (the level above the primary council), which would try to determine whether the personality clashes were counter-productive or a healthy difference of opinion. (See paragraphs 6.12-6.15 below for more on secession.)

5.10 All meetings of councils above the primary level should be open, broadcast, videotaped, and archived for review by members of lower-level councils.

5.11 At councils above the primary level, there could be three kinds of decisions: (1) consensus decisions (most often), (2) majority vote decisions, and (3) decisions returned to the primary level for votes by everyone.

5.11.1 A petition signed by a given number of people can always assure that a vote is returned to the primary level councils. Additionally, a higher level council can always decide to send an issue to the primary level for decision. This will make sense whenever the issue is contentious and at all close.

5.11.2 The reason not to have all decisions made at higher councils is that doing so may not accurately reflect popular sentiment. Say in 20 primary councils the vote was 18-12 in favor and in 10 primary councils the vote was 30-0 against. Then the delegates in the local council might vote 20-10 in favor, but in fact the actual sentiment is 540-360 against. Nor will weighting delegates’ votes work (you get 30 votes if your sending council voted 30-0, 18 votes if they voted 18-12, etc.), because the higher-level councils are deliberative too, and they might refine the original proposals. So going back to the primary level councils is necessary, to be sure that people approve the new version of the proposal, as it has emerged from further deliberation.

5.11.3 The reason not to have all issues sent back to the primary level for decision is that it’s a waste of time. Most people are happy to let minor, non-controversial issues be decided by their representatives — as long as they have the ability to have their say when they want to.

5.11.4 Often the issues taken up by councils above the primary level will be those that come up from lower-level councils. Sometimes, however, consideration of an issue may begin above the primary level. But if the issue is close or contentious (as determined by either the higher-level council delegates or a petition from below) it still must go back to the primary level for approval.

5.12 Delegates to the second-level councils and above should be volunteers (that is, they should be people who enjoy such activity). Their participation will be part of their balanced job complex.

5.12.1 Rotation is mandatory (but only among those council members who have interest in such activity, and who have the confidence of the sending council that they will be able to reflect its views).

5.12.2 Members of higher-level councils should frequently return to their sending councils. In standard representative democracies, when a representative returns to her home district, it means visiting several hundred thousand constituents, which is obviously impossible. But in ParPolity it means returning to the group of 20-50 people who made up the delegate’s sending council and of which the delegate was a part. Thus, the connection between council and delegate is much closer and organic than between constituents and representatives. It’s more truly a two-way relationship, with delegates reporting to their sending councils the deliberative discussion from the higher council and the sending councils giving their new input to their delegate, taking into account the higher council’s deliberation.

5.13 All councils at the second level and above should have a staff assigned. The staff is made up of people with balanced job complexes who research issues of public policy. The staff prepares research reports in response to requests from a council. All these reports are posted on the internet. In addition, “social impact statements” will have to be prepared for each piece of legislation coming to a formal vote. In hiring people to work on these council staffs, a premium should be placed on political diversity (as will be true for the economic facilitation boards as well). Staff reports should strive for objectivity — that is, be factual presentations acceptable to all sides in a debate, leaving underlying political differences for the political bodies to resolve.

5.14 Even though all important and contentious issues are voted on by the whole population, this is not referendum democracy.

5.14.1 First, the hallmark of referendum democracy is that people unreflectively vote up or down on a polarizing proposal. Turnout tends to be low. But in ParPolity, at each level the councils strive for consensus. And when consensus is unattainable and a vote is needed, it is far from unreflective. Instead, people discuss and debate the issues in their primary-level councils. (If one’s primary council is unanimous on some significant and contentious issue (not that they reached a consensus, but that there was never any difference of opinion), then a request is put out on the internet for a nearby council with a divergent view; a joint meeting then allows the participants to face a contrary view and if necessary refine their own views.)

5.14.2 Second, unlike in typical referenda in capitalist democracies, the vote is not likely to be won by a minority of eligible voters. (Everyone’s workday factors in adequate time for primary-level council meetings.)

5.14.3 And third, with public voting, the likelihood of voting on the basis of prejudice is reduced (given that the prevailing norms in the society will be supportive of difference and diversity).

Checks on the majority.

6.0 Referendum democracy or not, rule by the majority always raises the danger of “the tyranny of the majority.” How can this danger be averted? Again, it might seem that requiring consensus would prevent the tyranny of the majority; it would, but at the expense of permitting the tyranny of the minority, an even more serious problem

6.1 I propose that there be a High Council Court, consisting of 41 citizens chosen by lot for staggered, 2-year terms, established to act as a check on unjust laws. (The number 41 is of course arbitrary. It ought to be large enough so that by the laws of probability it will be broadly representative of the population, but small enough so that real deliberation can take place.) Lesser Council Courts would be established corresponding to each of the council levels above the primary level.

6.2 Constitutions often set limits on the majority (such as “Congress shall pass no law interfering with the people’s right of free speech. . .”), but this is no sure protection: first, because constitutions can be amended by a large enough majority and second because someone still has to decide whether in fact the constitution’s strictures have been violated. In some capitalist democracies — but not all — there is the institution of judicial review whereby the courts, in particular a Supreme Court, are authorized to declare laws of the legislature or executive actions unconstitutional. This poses a dilemma for democratic theory. On the one hand, if judges on these courts are elected by the people, then the judges are likely to be as subject to the majority passions that are threatening minority rights as is the legislature. So no great protection of minority rights is likely to emerge. On the other hand, if judges are in some way insulated from popular control — such as appointments for life, as in the United States — then we have given up on democracy, depending on a group of unaccountable judges to restrain the people.

6.3 Is an unelected Court necessary for democracy? We might note

6.3.1 First, that among capitalist democracies, those without such Courts or with no provision for judicial review are not noticeably more abusive of their minorities than are those with them.

6.3.2 Second, even in the United States, the view that an unelected Court should have ultimate power has not always been undisputed. While a strong anti-democratic sentiment has existed since the founding of the country, it is also true that for some two hundred years there was a strong presumption that, in James Madison’s words, “the people themselves” were the best defenders of the people’s liberties, not unelected judges. (See Larry D. Kramer, The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review, Oxford, 2004.)

6.3.3 Third, in the United States, the Supreme Court’s role as the champion of the rights of unpopular minorities is often exaggerated. The Court has rarely protected minorities from national laws, but from state and local laws. The Supreme Court, for example, did not have to act in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education to overrule the tyranny of a national majority, but to make up for a federal government structured in such as a way as to thwart majority sentiment on the national level (with the unequal representation in the Senate, the seniority system, the filibuster). For most years of its existence, the Court has been more intent on protecting power and privilege rather than the powerless and the underprivileged. While there have been some cases of the Court striking down federal legislation violating basic rights — on flag burning, for example — there have also been cases where the Court has prevented the legislature from protecting minority rights (as when it struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1996). The federal courts have less representation of the current minority party (leaving aside the question of how different the parties are) than would an elected body. For example, as of 2002 on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Republicans held 2/3 of the filled seats, yet in the previous Congress they held only 54% of the Congressional seats in the states covered by the Court’s jurisdiction and received only 51.5% of the popular vote for President. (And the Republicans are planning to fill the three vacancies, giving them 73% of the seats.) On the 7th Circuit Court, Republicans held an 8-3 edge (73%), even though they held only 56% of the corresponding House seats and received only 49% of the popular vote for president. And on the 5th Circuit, which includes George W. Bush’s home state of Texas, they held a 10-4 advantage in seats (71%, potentially going up to 76% when 3 vacancies are filled), despite holding 49% of the House seats and having received 59% of the popular vote for President. (Court data from NYT, Dec. 1, 2002, p. IV:3, and corrections 12/8 and 12/15/02.) Obviously, the party of the appointer is no guarantee of a judge’s views (Earl Warren being the most dramatic example), but probabilistically speaking there seems no good reason for putting our faith in a U.S.-style judiciary to protect minority rights.

6.4 Is this High Council Court just another body through which the majority can carry out its tyranny? James S. Fishkin has shown that a random cross section of the population, if brought together for deliberation, come to more thoughtful policy positions than were indicated by public opinion polls, which gather people’s off-the-cuff views (The Voice of the People, Yale UP, 1995). This is no guarantee that the majority still won’t abuse its power, but, as political scientist Robert Dahl has written, “To the extent that a people is deprived if the opportunity to act autonomously and is governed by guardians, it is less likely to develop a sense of responsibility for its collective actions.” (Democracy and Its Critics, p. 192) By having the check on the majority be another democratic body, the people are still in ultimate control.

6.5 What happens if the randomly-selected High Council Court has a disproportionate number of anti-social individuals? Mathematically unlikely, but not impossible, this wouldn’t be catastrophic because Court members have only two year terms, far shorter than on any current country’s Supreme Court, let alone than the U.S.’s life terms.

6.6 Each Court will have an assigned staff, and advocates for different points of view will present their positions before the Court. But the decisions that the Courts will have to make are basic political/moral decisions, where no special expertise is needed, beyond careful deliberation.

6.7 One further check on the tyranny of the majority is the right of secession, a right which would be recognized constitutionally.

6.8 Secession is not a desirable outcome, for it means that people have given up trying to cooperatively resolve their differences. But like divorce, which is unfortunate but often the best among bad options, secession is a basic human right.

6.9 There are some exceptions to the right of secession (just as there are exceptions to all rights when they come into conflict with other fundamental rights.)

6.9.1 First, a secession should not be permitted when it involves taking a disproportionate share of the common resources. In a marriage in some jurisdictions, the property of the two individuals becomes common, or community, property, which then must be divided evenly upon divorce. Likewise, if a region has vast oil resources and the rest of the country does not, that region cannot take all the oil when it secedes; the resource must be equitably shared.

6.9.2 Second, a seceding region must assure that it is not going to use secession as a means of oppressing some minority within its borders (as the American South did during the U.S. Civil War). Any region that wished to secede would be permitted to do so, so long as resources were fairly divided and there were an assurance of it establishing a polity that recognized basic democratic rights. It would not have to retain ParEcon or ParPolity — people should be allowed to change or reject a social system if they so choose — but basic rights would have to be protected.

6.10 Cass Sunstein (Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do, Oxford, 2001) argues that a right of secession is contrary to the basic concept of deliberation and should be rejected. Allowing such a right, he argues, would allow powerful subunits — those with more economic resources, for example — to blackmail others: give us our way on such and such, or we leave. But such threats wouldn’t be very effective unless in fact the subunit could take a disproportionate share of resources, which, under the rules proposed here, it cannot. Rather than discouraging deliberation, a right of secession might foster it. A majority might think that no attention need be paid to the minority; the latter can simply be outvoted and has no recourse. But such disrespect carries a cost — in extreme circumstances it might provoke secession — and therefore the majority would be well advised to take account of minority views in so far as possible.

6.11 Secession might take place if a group thought that its cultural identity were being overwhelmed. But note that ParPolity is not magically imposed on currently divided societies. If Belgium or Canada or Britain underwent political transformations from capitalist democracy to societies with ParEcon and ParPolity, at the starting point the people of Quebec, Wallonia, or Wales would decide whether they wanted to be part of larger states. If not, the issue of secession wouldn’t arise. If so, then secession would only be a concern if ParPolity were more oppressive to these regions than was previously the case. This is possible in theory (and why a right of secession ought to be constitutionally entrenched), but unlikely, given that the institutions of ParEcon and ParPolity both foster inter-regional equality.

6.12 Thus far we have considered the right to secede from the society entirely. What about the right of a neighborhood or locality to secede from existing larger units and join others?

6.13 In contemporary democracies such transfers are suspect because they usually involve a desire by a wealthy unit to avoid paying taxes to support a poor one. But where everyone’s living standards are roughly equal, this would not be a concern. There would be two benefits from allowing neighborhoods and localities to transfer from one subunit to another: it would serve as a further check on majority tyranny within subunits of the society, and it would also allow people to more often live under laws of their own choosing. (Thus, if a locality finds that the laws in a neighboring region are much more compatible with their own views than are the laws of their own region, there is a plausible case for being able to transfer.)

6.14 But against these benefits there is a substantial drawback. Such transfers will, by definition, reduce the diversity in the society. People will have less contact with those who are different from them. Deliberations will tend more often to take place between like-minded people, thus forgoing the educational and empathy-promoting benefits of interacting with those whose views are different.

6.15 It is unlikely that any fixed rule about these matters will be right in all situations. Sometimes differences of opinions enrich deliberation; at other times the incompatibilities become a real obstacle to civic harmony. Therefore, neighborhoods or localities should be able to request a transfer to another subunit, but the determination should be made by the next higher level council, weighing these various considerations. (Thus, if a neighborhood wanted to switch from one locality to another, the regional council that included the two localities would make the determination, and so on.)

Who Decides?

7.1 Obviously we want decisions to be made at the most appropriate council level. Some cases are easy:

7.1.1 Some decisions should be left up to individuals only and no council — whether a neighborhood council, a local council, a regional council, or a society-wide council — should intrude. With whom one chooses to live, for example, or what one chooses to believe.

7.1.2 Some decisions affect the people in the neighborhood and no one else; then so long as these decisions are not reserved to individuals, it is appropriate that the decisions be made at the neighborhood level and not at any higher-level councils.

7.1.3 Some decisions will affect everyone in a region, but not beyond. So, here too, so long as the decisions are not properly reserved to individuals or lower level councils, the decisions should be made by regional councils and not above.

7.1.4 And a decision that affects everyone should be decided by everyone.

7.2 More difficult are those cases that have most of their impact within some area, but some lesser impact beyond. Then who decides which level is most appropriate?

7.3 Say a second-level council wants to enact policy X and the third-level council takes the view that X should not be permitted. Who decides? One can insist that in a dispute of this sort, the higher-level council decides, or the opposite — that the lower level council decides. But it is likely that neither rule will lead to optimal results, for there is no general answer to the question of which level should decide: it will depend on the specifics of the case.

7.4 Accordingly, in cases of disagreement, the question of which level should decide should be made by the Council Courts. The Council Courts’ role in making sure that majorities don’t violate the fundamental rights of minorities is a subset of this larger role, which is to determine the appropriate level at which any issue should be determined. If there is a debate between a second-level council and the third level council as to who should decide an issue, the determination should be made by the third-level Council Court.

7.5 Two possible rulings that the Council Court might make are (1) the decision should be made by second level councils and (2) the decision should be made by the third level council. But there is no reason to limit the Council Court to these two possibilities. Here are four other possibilities: (3) the decision should be made by second level councils, but only after a deliberative meeting with a deputation from the third level council; (4) the decision should be made by the third level council, but only after a deliberative meeting with a deputation from the second level council; (5) the decision should be made by second level councils, but only with a two-thirds vote; (6) the decision should be made by the third level council, but only with a two-thirds vote. (And, of course, the Council Court can also issue ruling (7), which is that neither the second level nor the third level council has a right to enact legislation on the issue because it is a matter properly left up to individuals or to primary-level councils.)

7.6 Rulings (1), (2), and (7) are standard in modern political systems. These provide only a very rough approximation to the democratic principle that one should have a say in a decision proportional to the degree to which you are affected by it. Rulings (3), (4), (5), and (6) are still far from permitting a precise fit with this principle, but they do allow us to come considerably closer.

7.7 It might be asked why not require a 2/3 vote always and dispense with the Council Court rulings? Because issues are different and depending on the issue the appropriate level for decision making and the appropriate majority required will vary. Voting rules that automatically require a body to obtain a supermajority (some majority greater than the usual 50% plus one) do not distinguish between cases where the body has a larger than average stake and where it has a less than average stake. So, say a country required a 2/3 vote for its parliament to pass anything. The added obstacle of requiring a supermajority would be good when the parliament was intruding into local matters where the national interest was slight. But the supermajority rule would also block the parliament from acting in cases where the national interest was major.

Political culture

8.1 It would be wrong to base a political system on the perfectibility of human beings. But it is quite reasonable to hypothesize that a society embodying ParEcon and ParPolity institutions will have a political culture generally supportive of their underlying values. Thus, a final — and perhaps the most important — check on the power of the majority is the society’s political culture, which values and reinforces diversity and liberty.

8.2 That it is political culture as much as any political institutions that prevent the tyranny of the majority is as true for capitalist democracies as for ParPolity. As Robert Dahl has written,

8.2.1 “I don’t mean to suggest that every person in a democratic country must be formed into perfect democratic citizens. Fortunately not, or surely no democracy would ever exist! But unless a substantial majority of citizens prefer democracy and its political institutions to any nondemocratic alternative and support political leaders who uphold democratic practices, democracy is unlikely to survive through its inevitable crises. Indeed, even a large minority of militant and violent antidemocrats would probably be sufficient to destroy a country’s capacity for maintaining its democratic institutions.” (On Democracy, pp. 157-58)

8.3 In practice, the institutions of many capitalist democracies would permit all sorts of tyranny — the British Parliament, for example, could extend its own term of office indefinitely, make Buddhism the country’s official religion, or restrict the right to vote to women aged seventy and over.[These examples come from Gwendolyn M. Carter, The Government of the United Kingdom, 2nd ed., New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1967, p. 31.] What prevents this is not any institutional obstacle but a broadly democratic culture. ParPolity would need — and, if it existed at all, would surely have — such a culture. In addition, however, the institutions of ParPolity would encourage the development of such a culture among the population: talking to others, face-to-face contact, striving for consensus — these all tend to build empathy.

Intensity of preference

9.1 Democracy doesn’t just mean that everyone gets a vote, but that people have a voice in decisions proportional to the degree to which the decision affects them. This is not the same as, but it is similar to, the notion that intensity of preference should be taken account of. It surely doesn’t seem fair to enact policy X when 55% have a mild preference for it and 45% have a passionate opposition to it. In capitalist democracies, there are several ways in which intensity of preference is taken into account, but each one of these ways is badly skewed and fails to treat citizens equally, fundamentally undermining democracy.

9.2 Campaign contributions. The stronger one’s political feelings on a question, the more one is likely to contribute to a political cause. Since money affects the chances of success of a candidate or cause, this is one way to take account of intensity. But because the distributions of wealth and income are terribly unequal, campaign contributions represent much more who’s rich and who’s not rather than intensity of preference. In ParPolity, on the other hand, because people’s incomes are roughly equal (varying only by effort, which precludes any substantial inequality) an individual’s spending on trying to convince others to his or her point of view will be roughly proportional to intensity of preference. (An individual’s consumption request can include a certain amount for political donations, which, presumably, will require reducing the individual’s amount of other desired consumption.)

9.3 Time. One can contribute not just money, but time to a favored cause: time going door-to-door, time writing letters to the editor, and so on. This is another reflection of intensity of preference, but again one involving a resource that is unequally distributed in capitalist democracies. In these societies, various groups have more disposable time than others: the wealthy in general, lawyers, college teachers, college students, middle class housewives. In ParPolity, balanced job complexes will equalize some of these differences. Some might choose to work lesser hours than others, so they will have more time to use as a political resource, but they will also have correspondingly less money to use as a political resource. So everyone’s political resources — time plus money — are roughly equal, and thus use of these resources will more fairly reflect people’s actual intensity of preference.

9.4 Political efficacy. A person’s political efficacy is partly a function of his or her inter-personal skills, writing skills, speaking skills, facility at political reasoning, etc. Since these are not equally distributed among the population, people’s political impact will vary. This is probably inevitable in any society, but notice a crucial distinction. Most societies exacerbate any innate differences between people in these regards. They give the jobs with the most empowering characteristics to those who began with the greatest skills, and the most disempowering jobs to those who began with the weakest skills. They provide the widest opportunities for using and developing these skills to those whose skill level is already highest. Under ParEcon, on the other hand, balanced job complexes strive to give people equally empowering work experiences. And in ParPolity, everyone is given the empowering experience of grappling with tough political issues together with one’s fellow citizens.

9.4.1 Note that under capitalism, people have few opportunities for non-hierarchical conversations with people of different social classes and hence for people of different skill levels. Neighborhoods are segregated by income, as are civic organizations, religious organizations, educational organizations, the military, and so on. Under ParEcon and ParPolity, however, where there are minimal hierarchies, roughly equal incomes, and balanced job complexes, non-hierarchical interactions between people of different skill levels will tend to be much greater. This should work to reduce (though not eliminate) differences in political efficacy over time.

9.5 Log-rolling. One way to incorporate intensity of preference into political decision-making is by allowing people or representatives to trade their votes. In the United States Congress this practice is known as log-rolling. The Senator from a farm state offers to vote for the oil depletion allowance if the oil state Senator will vote for agricultural subsidies. The idea here is that the farm state Senator doesn’t care nearly as much one way or the other on the oil depletion allowance as on the agricultural subsidies, so a vote on an issue one doesn’t care much about is traded for a vote on a subject one cares a great deal about. There are a number of ways in which this practice is questionable on democratic grounds. The beneficiaries tend to be different sectors of the elite rather than different sectors of the public. It’s usually a behind-the-scenes deal, and is rarely given a public justification in terms of the common good. Additionally, such deals almost always reflect unequal bargaining power. (Those with more power are far more often able to get those with less power to go along than vice versa.) In ParPolity compromise and bargaining will be commonplace, especially in primary-level councils. (I’ll go along with the consensus on X because my neighbor went along with the consensus on Y, etc.) But the bargaining will be among equals, with less opportunity for secret dealing, and thus will be much more likely to result in an outcome serving the common interest.

Some questions

10.1 It might be asked why do we need ParEcon at all? Couldn’t we just have ParPolity and let people democratically decide what kind of economic system they wanted?

10.1.1 But without ParEcon or some close equivalent, the conditions for political democracy will not exist: as democratic theorists have understood for centuries, unless the economic system assures that people have roughly equal political resources, meaningful democracy is impossible. However, this doesn’t mean that the economic system is set in stone with people unable to democratically change different aspects of it. Indeed, people always have the right to decide to

10.2 It might be asked, why do we need participatory political institutions at all? After all, citizens of ParEcon will not be without exposure to participatory experiences; they will all already be members of worker and consumer councils, where participation is key.

10.2.1 However, as important as decisions involving work and consumption are, they tend to be rather more mechanical than heavily value-laden. Whatever the virtues of participation over representation — empowering people, giving them a direct role in making the decisions that affect their lives, allowing face-to-face deliberation — these are likely to apply with added force to fundamental political questions as distinct from economic allocation decisions. Of course, there is overlap here. The allocation decision of whether to provide extra consumption allowances to people with specific needs is certainly a value question. But there is no need for us to draw a clear line between these two sorts of decisions. Because every adult is already a member of a consumption council, these same councils can serve as the political councils as well. (It would make sense to give them another name — perhaps popular councils — so as not to privilege their role in economic allocation. For clarity they can be called consumption councils when they are discussing allocation issues and popular councils or just councils when discussing political questions.) There is no need to set up a separate council structure for political concerns on top of the consumption councils. The consumption councils are already organized on a geographic basis, which is the typical basis for organizing political institutions.

10.3 Why not use the workers’ councils for political decision-making rather than the consumer councils?

10.3.1 Even in a society where there were no unemployed, and even if college students and others formed councils akin to workers’ councils, still workers’ councils are not the appropriate site for making political decisions. Consider just one problem: retired people. If they all live together, then they can form a council of their own, but what about those retirees who choose to and are able to live in multi-aged neighborhoods. Are they going to have to travel outside their neighborhoods to meet with their fellow council members? Moreover, while geographic areas can be divided up into units of roughly equal population, workplaces will tend to have very different numbers of workers.

10.4 Why are the second and higher level councils needed? That is, why can’t we just have the primary level?

10.4.1 The economic plan under ParEcon is not thousands of separate local economic plans, but one integrated plan. Therefore, we obviously need higher level councils to develop the society-wide plan, and to correspondingly resolve any of the important value questions that underlie the plan. But do we need one big plan? Kirkpatrick Sale in his book Human Scale suggests that economically self-sufficient units of 10,000 or so people would be perfectly adequate. Much of what modern economies produce, says Sale, are unneeded — the thousands of brands of virtually identical items — and thus what we do need could be produced by small-scale, self-sufficient economies. While Sale is certainly correct about the pathologies of modern product differentiation, I am not convinced that every community of 10,000 could produce or would want to produce its own mass transit vehicles, its own CAT-Scan equipment, its own art museum. More importantly, there are certain problems that cannot be addressed on a small scale. Take the question of pollution. Sale says small communities on the shores of a lake “would almost certainly choose not to pollute their own waters . . . , out of sheer self-interest if not out of good sense. . . . (And if by chance a community or two did go on polluting, resistant to all appeals, their toxic effects would not likely overstrain the lake’s ability to absorb them.)” But it might not be in every community’s individual self-interest to refrain from pollution. In general, there’s no reason why fully autonomous units will weigh the costs and benefits of some polluting activity exactly the same. And this is why when, in the United States, coal plants in the Midwest emit pollution that harms New Jersey, federal legislation is needed. And it is why some sort of international agreement is needed to address the problem of global warming, not just letting each country decide for itself.

10.5 OK, but then why nest the councils? Why not have higher level councils elected directly by the people?

10.5.1 Say that each third-level council represented 40x40x40=64,000 adults. If the 64,000 adults were to directly elect the council, then many of the standard defects of representative democracy would obtain. a. People don’t really know their representatives. But in ParPolity each delegate is personally known to her or his constituents: the group of 20-50 people who decided to send her or him to the next higher level council. b. Representatives don’t really know their constituents. But in ParPolity each delegate personally knows her or his constituents: for the delegate is one of the 20-50 people who make up the next lower-level council. c. Representatives don’t really know their constituents’ views. They may read the public opinion polls or constituent mail, but the former reveal people’s immediate preferences, rather than their considered judgments, and the latter give the views of only a minority of constituents. In ParPolity, on the other hand, delegates have participated in face-to-face deliberations with their constituents. d. Representatives tend to develop interests apart from those of their constituents. If the representative is entitled to unlimited terms, then he or she becomes totally out of touch. If the representative is limited in terms, then constituents have no way to punish representatives who diverge from constituent preferences. In ParPolity, first of all, balanced job complexes tend to prevent any serious divergence of interests. Second of all, recall assures that delegates whose views have diverged from those of their constituents will be replaced. Recall carries no moral onus: there is no accusation of high crimes and misdemeanors, or of having had sex with Monica Lewinski. Rather, it is simply a matter of noting a divergence in view and trying to rectify it.

10.5.2 Notice that although the political institutions described here seek a “human scale,” there is no requirement that people live in small rural communities or even in small-scale communities of any sort. One of the great trade-offs we’ve seen through history is that small-scale communities offer many virtues, but at the expense of diversity. A small community will only offer so many restaurants, lectures, art exhibits, even friends. ParPolity does not prejudge the question of how people want to live: whether in smaller communities with closer interpersonal relations or in larger communities with more varied people with whom to interact. But whatever size communities people live in, their primary political institution will be a face-to-face council of roughly the same size throughout the society.

10.6 What if people want to form organizations with or just associate with people of like views? Do geographically-based councils preclude forming groups to work for the promotion of disability rights or animal rights or Gaelic heritage?

10.6.1 The formation of all such groups is permitted and encouraged. Such groups can lobby councils to adopt laws they favor. Such groups will be funded out of contributions from members (which, as with campaign contributions above, will be part of a person’s consumption request, presumably traded off against other desired consumption). Such groups can have volunteer staff or paid staff; if the latter, the pay comes from the members, though the work has to be part of a balanced job complex, as is all other paid work.


11.1 Media deserve special consideration because a vibrant and diverse media is an essential prerequisite for democracy. 11.1.1 Under standard democratic capitalism, the media are uncensored by government but owned privately and supported by private advertising (the cover price is rarely enough to support media without advertising). The result is that although alternative messages are available on the fringes, for most of the population their only source of news and political commentary comes from outlets congenial to society’s dominant corporate interests. 11.1.2 In a system of pure workers’ control, the media would be controlled by media workers, whose views — and hence the media — may or may not reflect the views of the population as a whole. 11.1.3 In ParEcon, producers put forward a work proposal in coordination with consumers’ consumption requests. So just as consumers can request size 8 brown shoes, they can request radio programs or magazines with material from any particular point of view they desire. But the two cases don’t work the same way. With shoes, the overall demand for shoes, after the iteration procedure, determines the level of employment in the shoe industry. Then the shoe workers produce shoes of different sizes, colors, and styles in response to consumer demand. But a given workforce of media workers cannot “produce” different political points of view on demand. A group of writers committed to deep ecology cannot put out 5 issues of a magazine supporting their views and 7 opposing (in an attempt to match consumer demand at some point in time). Nor can they put out two magazines, one supporting and one opposing deep ecology. 11.1.4 Instead what has to happen is the following: any group of people who wish to produce some form of media (political commentary or news, which is not easily separated from politics) writes a brief description of their political orientation and philosophy and the scope of their interests (Latin American affairs, news of Lubbock, Texas, housing issues, etc.). These descriptions, along with samples illustrative of writing style, etc., would be made available to all consumers who then vote for as many or as few as they want. (Once any particular piece of media already exists, sample copies, rather than descriptions, can be made available.) These votes then are translated into funding coming from the national consumption budget (or a local budget if the media in question is of only local interest).

11.2 Note a number of features of this arrangement. 11.2.1 People could receive as many different media as they want; the only cost to their personal consumption budget would be the marginal cost of production of their piece of media. Hence if the media were available on the web or on radio or on TV, the cost would be zero. If a print magazine were involved, the costs of printing and mailing that one additional copy would be the cost of the issue out of the individual’s budget. This doesn’t mean media get created for nothing — all the non-individual costs are funded by the society as a whole (or a region or locality). By making the cost to citizens of obtaining news and views very cheap, ParPolity encourages the development of smarter citizens. 11.2.2 How will individuals vote? There would be no incentive to vote for things you didn’t want to promote. (You would be adding to society’s costs — and hence, to a small degree, to your own — for no purpose. You would surely vote for media whose views you wanted to see supported (whether or not you actually wanted to read/watch/hear it). But you would also vote for media that you may disagree with but which you nevertheless want to read/watch/hear or simply believe that that view ought to exist. Any view voted for (not necessarily endorsed) by any significant fraction of the population would be represented. Views with many votes would have resources for many writers/reporters, larger radio transmitters, etc., while those with fewer votes would receive lesser resources. 11.2.3 What if media producers tried to disguise their political views in their brief descriptions? People who read the material and found that it diverged from what they were led to believe was its perspective (or focus or scope) would simply not vote for it the next year and its funds would be cut correspondingly. For news, especially, many producers might offer to provide “objective” news and might intend to do so. There is no need for us to resolve the question of whether truly objective news is possible. Consumers who are not happy with some media source — either because they think it’s not objective enough or too objective — can simply refrain from voting for it next time around. 11.2.4 Thus, ParPolity would be far more diverse in its media than any capitalist democracy. This doesn’t mean that controversial issues of free speech and free press would not arise and have to be resolved (pornography, hate speech, etc.). But the system would not give any veto power over media content either to those with money (as under capitalism) or to self-selected media workers.

11.3 The above would assure a diverse media, but this alone would not assure that citizens were exposed to varied points of view — people might all just read, watch, or listen to sources that they already agreed with. Therefore, ParPolity needs some way to build in an incentive for diversity within, not just among, media. One way this might be done is that any media proposal that offered to feature regular debates between opposing points of view would receive a subsidy: for example, its votes might be increased by 50% for whatever fraction of its content was devoted to debates between opposing points of view. (So if a proposal for a radio station offered that 40 percent of its programming would consist of debates and if the proposal received 100,000 votes, it would be counted as if it had gotten 120,000 votes — that is, 100,000 x (1+.5x.4)=120,000. Note that “talk radio,” where one side controls the on-off switch and can silence the other side is not a debate.)

Executive Functions

12 How will executive functions be handled in ParPolity? Consider some of the executive functions in contemporary capitalist countries: 12.1 Mail delivery. Under ParPolity, postal workers would be no different from any other service workers: they would put forward a production proposal, consumers would put forward their requests for mail delivery, and through an iterative process a plan would be reached. This plan would then be carried out by postal workers the same way that the plan for computer repairs would be carried out by computer repair workers. Like other workers, postal workers would have balanced job complexes. 12.2 Building a mass transit system. Workers that produce goods for individual consumers don’t make whatever they want, but have to produce consistent with the final plan, into which they had input. The same is true of workers, like heavy construction workers, who produce collective goods. The request for such goods comes from consumer councils and is incorporated into the final plan. The members of the council won’t have specified every last detail of the mass transit system in their plan. These would be developed by the council staff in consultation with the producers. The council staff are responsible to the council. Like other workers, council staff would have balanced job complexes, as would heavy construction workers. 12.3 Regulating health conditions in food production facilities. Presumably consumers would make as part of their general consumption requests an insistence on quality control at all workplaces. But if, for example, a few cases of tainted food occur, society might decide that some sort of independent monitoring is required. (Workplaces won’t have the capitalist incentive for allowing rats to wander through meat plants — profit maximization — but perhaps some workers will find that the work is a lot easier when quality control is ignored.) So a separate firm could be established with responsibility for monitoring food facilities. 12.3.1 A regulatory firm would differ from other firms in one key respect. It would be given legal authority by the relevant council to conduct investigations; this authority would be carefully circumscribed, but it would still allow what might in other circumstances be considered a violation of privacy. (If corruption ever became a problem, councils might insist that high integrity be added to the job description for workers at such firms.) Like other workers, regulatory workers would have balanced job complexes. 12.3.2 The regulation process would work as follows: Workers at the regulatory firms would check relevant workplaces for compliance with health standards as codified in laws passed by councils. (Some of these standards might be complex and would be developed by the council staff, but voted on by the council, or, if controversial, by all citizens in their primary councils.) If a workplace was found to be in violation of the health standards, it would be told to comply, and the regulatory workers would file a report. This report would be available to the councils voting on the next year’s plan and deciding on everyone’s level of sacrifice. Perhaps the council will deem the violation a minor matter or inadvertent. Or it might judge the violation to indicate a cutting of corners reflective of less than average sacrifice — in which case the workers at that violating facility would receive less than average funding. Finally, either the regulator or the council might judge the violation (especially if a previously reported violation was not corrected) to be more serious, showing intentional malicious intent, in which case it would be turned over to the judicial system (see below). 12.4 Environmental protection. 12.4.1 Here there are at least four jobs: a. Doing the scientific research needed to draw up effective environmental regulations consistent with laws set by the councils. b. Drawing up the environmental regulations consistent with laws set by the councils. c. Dispatching regulators to monitor compliance with the regulations. d. Carrying out any required abatement or clean-up procedures.

12.4.2 Task (d) would be handled the same way mass transit construction was handled above. Task (c) would be handled like the food health regulators above. Task (a) would be accomplished by funding research at universities or scientific firms. Science experts on the council staff would draw up the specifications for the research needed (within a research budget approved by the council), invite proposals, and then these experts plus representatives of the relevant scientists at universities and science firms would decide which proposals should be funded.

12.4.3 Task (b) is more complicated. It is in fact a legislative function that in most modern societies is performed by bureaucracies outside of popular control. In the United States, regulations must be published and then public comment is invited. The problem is that the public tends to have inadequate resources to participate in the comment process on an equal footing with industry. In ParPolity regulations would be drawn up by the council staff, consistent with council legislation and relevant science. But because such regulations will generally be too technical for the public or the council to vote on as is, there would be Public Watchdog groups, funded from societal resources, proportional to their support in the population, which would explain the political implications of the regulations, and challenge them when appropriate. The way this would work is that anyone interested in setting up a Public Watchdog group would present a proposal, explaining the perspective, focus, and approach of the group. Citizens would vote for as many of these as they wanted — the more the merrier, but of course these are all being paid for out of social resources so people will have an incentive not to proliferate these groups needlessly. Once a group has been around for a while, of course, it would no longer simply present a description, but would document its previous activities.

12.5 National defense and foreign affairs. I leave these topics for further consideration.

12.6 Law enforcement. This will be discussed in the section on the judicial functions.

The Judiciary and Law Enforcement

13 Judicial systems often address three kinds of concerns: judicial review (are the laws just?), criminal justice (have specific individuals violated the laws?), and civil adjudication (resolving disputes between individuals). In ParPolity, the first of these functions is the responsibility of the Council Courts, discussed above. The other two are discussed here.

13.1 Criminal Justice.

13.1.1 Will there be crime in ParPolity? There are good reasons for thinking that the incidence of crime would be dramatically reduced compared to contemporary capitalist democracies. First, there would be no poverty. Second, there would be no significant inequality. Third, alienation would be much reduced; one doesn’t know the degree to which existential angst would exist even in a good society, but surely the existence of meaningful work, social networks, and face-to-face involvement with neighbors and lack of anonymity — all these should reduce alienation. Fourth, some things that are currently criminalized in modern capitalist democracies would not be criminalized in ParPolity; drug use for example would be mostly a public health problem, not a criminal justice problem. Nevertheless, it would be overly optimistic to assume that these changes would totally eliminate all law-breaking. (There would presumably also be civil disobedience, for ParPolity citizens may disagree passionately with the majority — but this sort of law-breaking would not pose a public danger the way other law-breaking might.) Again, we do not assume that people in ParPolity are perfect, so we have to be able to deal with the possibility of anti-social behavior.

13.1.2 Will there be police in ParPolity? Law breaking could range from minor infractions to extremely serious violations. In some of these cases it will be necessary to investigate the crime and discover and apprehend the wrongdoer. It is sometimes suggested that because crime will be so infrequent, there would be no need for police; the whole community could join in the hunt for and capture of criminals (perhaps on the model of the posse). But there are two problems with this.

a. First, it underestimates the degree to which police work is a skilled activity — as much as so many other jobs. Will random volunteers gather the crime scene evidence, do the DNA analysis, talk the hostage-taker into releasing the hostage, apprehend the armed malefactor with minimal danger to others?

b. Second, it ignores the degree to which police work is an extremely sensitive undertaking, involving as it does frequent entanglement with citizen’s rights. To be sure, current police departments often ignore or abuse these rights, but society is much better able to guarantee that these rights are respected when there is a well-defined police force whose members can be screened, trained, and disciplined if necessary. If the community is told to fan out and gather evidence, will all community members know what kinds of searches are permissible and which violate citizens’ basic rights of privacy? (And what if the person who volunteers to look for evidence in some location is in fact the criminal?)

13.1.3 This isn’t to say that there might not be some situations when the community would be deputized. If a child went missing, community members might be asked to join in the search. If a rapist were on the loose, community patrols might provide some security. But these tasks are occasional undertakings and are by no means all that police are called upon to do. In general in ParEcon and ParPolity everybody doesn’t do everything. Balanced job complexes are required as a means to share empowering and disempowering work — but there is no requirement that everyone make shoes and repair dishwashers and deliver mail and milk cows. So unless there is a good reason for it, there is no reason everyone should be doing police work.

13.1.4 But don’t we have citizen armies and aren’t they as effective if not more so than professional armies? Citizen armies tend to have a core of professionals and the citizen soldiers undergo substantial training, taking many months. Citizen armies are appropriate in emergency situations when vast numbers of soldiers are needed, when for example the country is being invaded. The benefit of a citizen army is that (i) it can muster large numbers of soldiers; (ii) it makes it harder for the government to wage a war without popular support; and (iii) it reduces the influence of the professional army which might become the dominant force in society. Large numbers is not a critical factor in most police work. The police parallel to point (ii) is not really relevant. And the danger of a police takeover is nonexistent when police forces are small because the need for policing is small, as we assume it would be in ParPolity (an assumption also made by those who call for citizen policing, otherwise citizens would be too burdened by their policing obligations).

13.1.5 It might be replied that we place responsibility for rendering legal verdicts in the hands of citizens — the jury system — so why not for the investigation and apprehension process? But the jury system works by having a group of citizens — who are first carefully screened for impartiality — rendering a verdict collectively. This is different from having citizens go out on their own to investigate crimes and apprehend the wrongdoers. The jury system, after all, is not authorization for citizens on their own to render judgments of innocence or guilt and carry out the punishments.

13.2 How will police be kept under popular control in ParPolity?

13.2.1 All workers in ParPolity are constrained by rules and the economic plan. Workers can’t discriminate in hiring, can’t make whatever products they want oblivious to the plan, or pollute in violation of the law. But because police work implicates the rights of other citizens so intimately, the rules governing police work will need to be more extensive than for most workers. For every police department there will be an independent complaint review board. Any citizen who feels he or she has been mistreated or has had his or her rights violated by a police officer, will register a complaint with the board. The board will have its own investigatory arm — independent of the police — that will be able to investigate the complaints. The board will issue a report and recommend appropriate remedy, though complainants have the right to pursue their complaints through the courts if they are not satisfied with the outcome. Boards will be elected by the relevant council (the police force of a locality will have a local complaint review board, elected by the local council, etc.).

13.2.2 If the review board sustains a complaint against a police officer, then it will be turned over to the police department for appropriate action. If the infraction is more serious, or if the board determines that a complaint has not been adequately handled by the police department, then the issue is turned over to the courts, where the same range of punishments applicable to other citizens apply.

13.2.3 Many jobs in ParEcon will have special job requirements. Doctors will have to be licensed. Teachers will have to be certified, and so on. Police work will also have stringent job requirements, including sensitivity, ability to operate under stress, and so on. (Police officers, like other workers, will have balanced job complexes.) Police officers will be judged as to their suitability not just when they begin their jobs, but on a regular basis. Information from any complaint review board reports will be part of this regular process.

13.3 How will guilt or innocence be determined? In many areas of life, ParEcon and ParPolity operate on the principle that the common good is not achieved by simply having people pursue their self-interest. The adversary system of justice, however, has a certain logic to it. Certainly those accused of crimes ought to have the right to defend themselves. But guilt or innocence should not be a function of how good someone’s argumentative skills are. Therefore, people should be allowed to avail themselves of advisers who will present their cases for them: which essentially means an adversarial system.

13.4 Why does the adversarial criminal justice system in capitalist democracies so often fail to yield a just result — defined as convicting the guilty and freeing the innocent? Some of the reasons for this are good and some bad.

13.4.1 Here are two good reasons for this failure:

1. Consider two societies, in both of which half the defendants are innocent and half guilty. In one society all the guilty are convicted and 80 percent of the innocent are let free — so that overall justice is done in 90% of cases. In the second society, 50 percent of the guilty are convicted and 100% of the innocent are let free, so that justice is done overall in 75% of cases. This is obviously a value judgment, but many would argue that the second society is preferable on the grounds that it is better to let several guilty people go free rather than wrongly convict several innocent people. (As Blackstone expressed this fundamental principle of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.” [Commentaries, IV, p. 27])

2. Say the police had the right to spy on anyone at any time and to search anyone’s home at any time for any reason. In such a society, trial results might be more accurate (since there would be more information on which to base a verdict), but such a society would properly be rejected by many. In societies with civil liberties, including the right of privacy and the right not to be subject to a search without probable cause, fewer guilty persons will be convicted of crimes. But this is something we accept because we value civil liberties so highly. (And note regarding the debate on the “exclusionary rule,” which says that evidence obtained via an illegal search is inadmissible: the problem — if there is one — lies not with the exclusionary rule but with the prohibition against illegal searches. That is, people are upset when an obviously guilty person gets off because evidence illegally obtained was thrown out; but if the police had behaved properly, the guilty person might not have been caught. Since we presumably want police to behave properly, an objection to the exclusionary rule really means an objection to the rule that says police should have to get a probable cause warrant to conduct a search — the Fourth Amendment in the United States Constitution.)

13.4.2 Here are two bad reasons why capitalist criminal justice systems often fail to obtain just results:

1. Unequal resources. In capitalist societies, the best predictor of how people are treated in the criminal justice system is their resources, rather than their guilt or innocence. In ParPolity, all citizens have roughly equal resources and hence the criminal justice system is more likely to yield a just outcome.

2. In many countries, the criminal justice system is retributive, not rehabilitative. Generally the best solution to some crime is to rehabilitate the wrongdoer. But in many societies, this is an uncommon outcome: drug treatment facilities are woefully inadequate, psychological treatment is rarely available, and so on. Thus, there is frequently a contest between prosecution and defense to determine which of two bad options is preferable for dealing with criminals: a punitive prison system, which tends to make people more rather than less anti-social, or no social response at all, which leaves society vulnerable to further depredations. Thus, the incentives are set up in such a way that lawyers on neither side are engaged in a real search for justice. (When plea bargaining takes place, it’s usually not to find the best rehabilitative option, but to find a compromise on how much retribution should be exacted.)

13.5 Determinations of innocence or guilt in ParPolity would be made by juries. The jury system in the United States has various features that yield less than optimum results. Most significantly, attorneys are able to excuse jurors through preemptory challenges (challenges without having to provide a reason). This has allowed juries to be stacked by race and in general makes the jury less a cross-section of the population. Challenges for cause are needed (the victim’s brother should not be on the jury, nor the defendant’s aunt), but challenges without reasons do not advance the cause of justice. The fact that jurors are compensated so poorly for missing work time has the effect of skewing juries toward those with certain occupations; in ParPolity, jury service would be part of people’s normally compensated work time.

13.6 Will there be judges? Yes. Deciding whether the evidence is sufficient to convict someone of a crime is a matter for a jury. But experts in the law are needed to run the trials. (For example, someone has to preside over the process of jury selection, rule on claims of procedural irregularities, and so on.)

13.7 How will judges and prosecuting attorneys be chosen? The dilemma in modern democracies is that if judges are not elected, then they are removed from popular control. But when they are elected, their campaigning (not to mention their campaign fund-raising) tends to undermine the neutrality of the bench. When judges and prosecutors campaign on platforms of being eager to fry more criminals than their opponents, justice is in trouble. Probably the best combination of popular control without sensationalist campaigning can be achieved by having judges chosen by the councils. (Candidates for judgeships can be rated by committees of lawyers, but this would be advisory.) Judges would have terms of office that were not too short (which would subject them to the day-to-day shifts of popular passions), but not too long either, especially not for life, given the need for ultimate popular control. Popular recall should be permitted, but with a strong presumption of not trying to second guess someone who is obligated to protect the rights of individuals. A similar approach makes sense for prosecuting attorneys, but here somewhat more responsiveness to changes in public opinion seems warranted, so the term would be shorter.

13.8 What will be done with guilty people in ParPolity? As noted above, the goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation, not retribution. Even in capitalist systems, small-scale experiments with alternatives to incarceration show no worse recidivism rates than prison (see, for example, J. Savolainen, et al., Criminal Recidivism Among Felony-Level ATI Program Participants in New York City, New York: New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Aug. 2002; S. Lee, et. al, Balancing Punishment and Treatment: Alternatives to Incarceration in New York City, New York: Vera Institute of Justice, May 2002), and this is true even though rehabilitation under capitalism is inherently limited by the fact that rehabilitation programs are rarely able to deal with issues of poverty, unemployment, and discrimination in the larger society. Hence, in ParPolity we can assume that such programs would be even more successful and adequate to deal with the much lower-level crime problem. Note, however, that these programs will sometimes be coercive — that is, those who continually drive drunk or who get drunk and abuse family members will not just be told that alcohol treatment would be advisable; it would be mandatory.

13.9 What about people who seemed incorrigible and dangerous? We would assume that such people would be extremely rare, but — particularly since in its early years, ParPolity’s population would have been brought up under capitalist conditions — we need to face the possibility that there will be some people who pose a danger to society and who seem not to respond to rehabilitative programs. Kirkpatrick Sale (Human Scale, p. 486) favorably notes that in extreme circumstances a dangerous criminal might be “banished and sent into hermitage,” but it is not clear if this is practical or more humane than a prison in which rehabilitation programs could be continued.

13.10 What about minor infractions — like speeding? This is an anti-social behavior that society rightly wishes to discourage (it endangers the lives of all drivers and pedestrians). In general, however, social pressures should be adequate to dissuade people from such law breaking. Having wrongdoers meet with some families of motor accident victims might help drive the point home. But if such measures prove inadequate, fines (coming only from people’s discretionary income) or even license revocation might be warranted.

14. Civil adjudication

14.1 Under capitalism, law suits are the means by which disputes between individuals are resolved. An individual who feels that she or he has been wronged by another brings suit before a court. If the court — either a judge or a jury — is convinced that plaintiffs have proven their case, it can order the defendant to pay damages. Lawyers choose to take these cases because if they win on behalf of a plaintiff they are typically entitled to a substantial share (a third) of the award.

14.2 There are a number of ways in which such a system departs from justice. First, while punitive damages are often set high to deter future improper conduct on the part of the defendant, there is no particular reason why this money should go to the plaintiff (by definition punitive damages represent a payment beyond any actual damages suffered (including emotional distress and so on). In class action cases (where the plaintiffs are a large group of people, like all those who ever lived near a particular toxic waste plant), all those who suffered harm receive some compensation, but in most cases the beneficiaries do not include all those who were harmed.

14.3 Under ParPolity, everyone’s medical costs are covered by the society. In addition, victims of crimes or wrongdoing are compensated by society for their losses. This doesn’t just mean that if a bicycle firm makes a shoddy product that causes me to break my arm, my medical costs are covered; in addition, the pain and suffering I’ve experienced (I can’t do a variety of things I’ve enjoyed doing because my arm is in a cast), will be compensated by society. When a citizen files a claim for such compensation, an accident investigating firm prepares a report. Either party can contest the report before a jury. If the claim is not sustained, medical costs are still covered, but nothing more. If the claim is sustained, the injured citizen receives compensation for all losses incurred and the report is placed on file so that the councils voting on next year’s plan can decide (a) if new rules are needed to avoid such accidents in the future; (b) if the offending firm should have to introduce specific changes in its procedures; or (c) if the plan should allocate fewer (or no) resources to the offending firm. (Notice that under capitalism, a plaintiff often will take a monetary award in return for signing a non-disclosure agreement — which essentially trades off the benefit of an individual plaintiff against the public good in knowing of problems so that they can be addressed.) The accident investigation conceivably could find that not simply negligence was involved, but intentional criminal behavior, in which case the matter would be turned over to the criminal courts.

14.4 Some civil cases will be of the following sort: one firm has ordered a widget from another and claims that the delivered item wasn’t up to specifications. The widget makers, however, insist that they produced what was ordered. If both parties agree, then they will both seek out a mediator (there will be mediation firms), who will decide on an equitable solution. Otherwise a jury will decide the matter. Since lawyers will not get a share of any judgment (or any retainer), they will be motivated to take a case simply on its merits. Thus, a check on frivolous complaints will be that each side will have to find a lawyer willing to take their case.

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