Poland Watch Parecon Interview

> 1) Effects of this what is now called ‘globalisation’ but should be rather called ‘investors rights agreements’ are very visible in Poland. For example, a few days ago the decision was made that Hundai will build new plants in Slovakia, not in Poland. That is simply because wages on Slovakia are lower and labour unions have less say. What would you propose people in Poland who want to oppose that kind of ‘globalization’ processes and don’t have possibilities to participate in World Social Forums and familiar events? Is there any possibility to win changes when in other countries in the region neoliberal reforms are very quickly conducted? 

I honestly can’t make suggestions for how people in Poland might best organize. It is too different a context than the one I am familiar with, and what makes most sense strategically is always very much dependent on context. Some things are just about universal though. It is essential to develop broad understanding that bears on the issues movements wish to address. It is essential to spread that understanding as widely as possible. There needs to be shared commitment and willingness to agitate and organize, and also to demonstrate to raise social costs to elites so that they succumb to demands. Beyond that, what demands might make sense once there is a movement able to press for change – and what ties might be able to be developed between a movement in Poland and movements in other countries in the region, or how that might best be accomplished, I am in no position to suggest.
> 2) You and Robin Hahnel have created a participatory economic system (parecon). This economic system is based on such values like: equity, solidarity, remuneration for effort and sacrifice and self-management. Could you explain the main ideas of parecon? How might transition to parecon start and what might it look like in Poland?

Very briefly, this proposed economic system, parecon, rests on some key defining institutions.

(1) There are workers and consumers councils and federations of councils. Within these councils and federations of councils, decision making methods and procedures aim for allotting to each actor an influence over decisions proportionate to the degree the actor is impacted by those decisions.

(2) In accord, instead of a corporate division of labor in which about 20% of the population monopolizes empowering and more pleasant labor and conditions – and the remaining 80% is left with only rote, boring, often dangerous, and certainly less fulfilling and empowering tasks, parecon has what are called balanced job complexes. Each parecon worker has a mix of responsibilities and tasks making up their overall job so that the job has a fair share of empowering and disempowering, more pleasant and less pleasant work. On average, each job in a parecon is comparable to all other jobs in its overall empowerment implications. We are not divided into a coordinator class – and this was the ruling class in old Poland – and a working class. Rather this class hierarchy is eliminated by changing the division of labor to be equitable and just.
(3) Also, remuneration is for effort and sacrifice. We get income for how hard we work, and for how onerous it is (though this is balanced), and not for property, or for power, or even for output.

(4) And finally, since markets and/or central planning intrinsically undermine council self management, obliterate balanced job complexes, and deny remuneration for effort and sacrifice – and since they also distort prices, induce class divisions, impose antisocial motivations, and have other failings as well – for allocation in their place parecon utilizes what is called participatory planning in which workers and consumers councils cooperatively negotiate economic allocation with all actors having an appropriate self managing say and with prices reflecting true social costs and benefits.

As you note, I claim that parecon not only efficiently meets needs and develops potentials as its priority, but that in doing so it fosters solidarity, diversity, equity, and self management. This contrast dramatically to current economies that enrich the few at the expense of the many while producing anti-sociality, homogenizing outcomes, producing gross inequality, and imposing harshly authoritarian decision making.

As to how such a new economy – a parecon — might be won, I would expect there to be very widespread and committed movements, with workers and consumers councils as a core way of organizing themselves, with many projects and firms of a pareconish sort developed and experimented with, that win a range of alterations each bettering the lot of oppressed constituencies and each also increasing the power and commitment of the involved movements, together finally taking over the economy. What occurred recently in Argentina, had there been stronger movements and more clarity about aims, provides a general picture of key elements of such a process.
> 3) You are a market abolitionist. In Poland, after the experiences with central planning, people regard such views as a heresy. Could you explain your point of view?
The fact that central planning was horrific is not an argument on behalf of markets but only an argument against central planning. If one item is poison, you don’t rush to take the next item on the shelf as if it must be a delightfully nutritious one – you check its merits independently of your rejection of the prior item. Both items could be poison.

In the case of markets and central planning, that is precisely the case – both these approaches to allocation are poisonous to human well being and development in that both impose on society a coordinator class / working class distinction with the former class ruling over the latter. Poland had central planning and an abysmal economy, that’s true. But Yugoslavia also had an abysmal economy with markets and not central planning.

Markets are intrinsically bad for a host of reasons. Even without private ownership which aggravates market flaws and adds a few additional problems as well, markets impose anti-social attitudes and behavior on buyers and sellers, guarantee production for surplus and not for use and fulfillment, cause goods whose effects that go beyond just their immediate buyers and sellers (which is easiest to understand for those that have pollution or other obvious side effects) to be horribly mispriced, insure that tastes and preferences will be skewed toward private rather than public approaches toward meeting needs even when the former would be far more effective, violate ecological sustainability due to mispricing problems and short run timelines, and impose class division and class rule.

More, there is no reason to abide all these problems. We don’t have to choose markets because we detest central planning any more than we would have to choose arsenic for our tea or coffee if we came to feel that artificial sweetener was horrible for our health. And I mean that analogy seriously, because as bad as central planning is, markets are far worse. (If that sounds odd, given your experiences, remember that you had not only central planning but also a harshly authoritarian political system in Poland, and much of the horror of the old society was due to the latter and not the former.) And the reason we don’t have to opt for markets or central planning is because we can instead opt for other means of allocation. For allocation in a good economy, indeed, we opt for what is called participatory planning.
> 4) Many people in Poland used to say that markets are often bad but at least they are efficient. What would you say to people who think that other economic systems (for example parecon) won’t be efficient?

Well the first point is that in fact markets are not efficient. Unless we think enlarging profits for the few is the highest or even sole value, it is not efficient that the human capacities of about 80% of the population are horribly underutilized. It is not efficient to sacrifice the health and integrity of most of the population to enlarge profits. It is not efficient to violate the ecology, and so on.

Efficiency means attaining desired ends without wasting assets or incurring other costs that hurt us. Markets attain profits for owners while sacrificing public well being, workers health, everyone’s integrity, etc. Owners just don’t give a damn about all that loss. So, yes, in the owner’s value system markets are efficient just like slavery was efficient when assessed by the logic and moral calculus of slave owners who didn’t care about impact on the slaves. But for the rest of us, markets are not only not efficient, they are horribly inefficient. They attain ends other than those most in our interests – indeed they attain ends that horribly violate our interests — and they waste assets we hold dear including our capacities, the environment, etc.

The critique regarding efficiency actually goes further, though the above is the main point to realize. It turns out that owners don’t care directly about output per cost either, nor about ecological sustainability. So, if a firm could produce more output per inputs used by adopting an approach that empowered the workforce greatly and therefore caused them to be able to take a larger percentage of the surplus in income in turn leaving less for owners, owners would not adopt it instead sacrificing output per input to maximizing profits. This occurs all the time. And likewise, markets misprice gasoline for automobiles by about a factor of nine (when they gas should cost $1 it should actually cost $9 if all the true social costs and benefits were accounted for) because markets do not account for the detrimental impact on the air and communities, etc. And this holds for many goods and causes untold damage that hurts populations – but since it proves to allow massive profit-seeking, it persists and is called efficient.

In other words, the so-called remarkably efficient markets that propaganda celebrates in fact misprice virtually all goods and services, operate in pursuit of immorally narrow aims, and trample by their institutional implications values we hold dear, including our health and even survival. The widespread impression that markets are at least efficient is a sign of just how powerfully our school systems and media distort our comprehension of our own lives.

As to parecon, while it requires a much longer presentation to make the case compellingly, the motive of production (and consumption) in a parecon is to meet needs and fulfill potentials for all, not to profit a relative few, and prices register true social costs and benefits so that allocation choices are made in light of actual implications. Parecon is, as a result, effective at attaining the ends that people choose freely and with appropriate input and parecon does not waste or otherwise violate values or aspirations people hold dear. In other words, parecon really is efficient, not in the morally myopic eyes of some narrow elite, but from the informed point of view of all members of the population. Again, I know the above is not a full case, just a claim for a model – but it is a claim which would be so positive if true, that I hope people will feel they should investigate it further, to check its validity for themselves.
> 5) Now, in Poland there is a debate about implementing policies whose main aim is to reduce administrative and social (mostly) spendings. It is called ‘Hausner plan’. There is a high probability that if the plan is not implemented there will be serious financial crisis. The probability of crisis is very high because budget deficit is huge and investors are ‘disquiet’. Of course nobody from the establishment cares about common’s people opinion, as you could expect. Minister Hausner said that society gave him ‘cold concession’ so everything is ok. What in your opinion should be done? Should this plan be implemented?

If it is a government proposed plan, I doubt it is anything other than an attempt to codify even more firmly mechanisms for enriching the few at the expense of the many – unless, that is, it is a plan that has been demanded by workers and consumers against the inclinations of the government and elites. But I don’t know the details of the plan, nor of the situation in Poland, and so other than that general observation, I am afraid I can’t comment. 
> 6) There are opinions that situation in Poland is going to be similar to the situation in Argentina or Brazil. About 60% of people in Poland live in poverty. In big cities (Szczecin, Kraków for example) poor districts are coming into existence where people are living in alcoves. Not to mention corruption which is enormous. Do you think that Argentina’s scenario could be repeated in Poland?

I think throughout Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union as well, the public thought that transcending the old system (which I call coordinator economies and which also had authoritarian political systems) would mean becoming like Spain, say, or Italy, or Canada. Now people in these regions are beginning to think that their destiny, instead, was to become more like Brazil or Argentina – but, actually, I think Guatemala would have been a more accurate barometer from the outset – at least for most eastern bloc countries.

However, if you mean do I think that people in Poland might soon rebel against the conditions that are being forced upon them in an activist manner like that which characterized Argentina recently, or electorally as in Brazil, I don’t know, but I hope so. And I hope it would go still further, as well.

> 7) You’ve helped create ‘South and Press’, ‘Z magazine’ and ‘ZNet’. What advices would you give people in Poland who want to create alternative media? What should be avoided and what is most important, in your opinion?

This is hard to answer, again due to the different context. Some things I think are similar. To have alternative media it is important, in my view, to develop your projects in accord with your values as much as possible – so that their operations don’t compromise your intentions.

Thus one shouldn’t mimic mainstream institutions but should instead try to build new institutions with new structures that embody values we aspire to – in my case that means building project that incorporate pareconish structures and norms, among others. So I recommend that alternative institutions should have balanced job complexes, self management, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, and so on. We did all that in the institutions you mentioned, with great success, despite a lack of resources. I think it can be done elsewhere too. 


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