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Re: Imagine and then Act


In the last six years or so I have been an advocate in Sweden for the Parecon model, its values and institutions as described in the claims 5-7 in the article “Imagine and then act”.  The target group for my discussions and articles during this period has mainly been people associated with SAC, a Swedish union based on libertarian socialist values. During the years I have received some feedback which may be worth recapturing in this discussion about strategy. I have noticed that the four basic institutions of the model; workers and consumer councils, remuneration in accordance to effort, balanced job complexes and participatory planning are received differently.

 

Worker and Consumer Councils

 

Decision making organized in Workers and Consumer Councils is the institution that is least controversial and most easily understood and accepted. People have an understanding of what this is all about and workers councils are even partly implemented in some cases in the organizations of the libertarian left. There is some debate about which questions should be handled at which level in the council structure. This debate is constructive and leading forward. Consumer councils are met by a little more skepticism but that is mostly to do with concern about the level of detail that will be required in submitting proposals. The institution of Consumer councils in itself is accepted and understood quite clearly. I believe that the explanation as to why this institution is so easily understood and well accepted has to do with the historic connection. Democratic decision making is a value that has been discussed within many different socialistic organizations in Scandinavia during a long period of time and workers councils is an established concept.

 

Remuneration of effort and sacrifice

 

If equal pay per hour is taken as an approximation of this institution there is an acceptance in principle for this institution as well. When the discussion goes into how to grade effort and sacrifice in a more detailed manner there are some concerns. There is a hesitation to grading ones coworker but I think there are ways to deal with this in a way that will win acceptance. I do think it will be necessary to minimize the subjective grading by individuals of their coworkers and instead trying to establish and select within the councils measurable statistical figures acceptable to the council that will form the ground for grades for each individual. If this is done successfully the burden of the individual of passing judgment on her/his coworker in a direct way will be minimized.

 

Job division based on balanced job complexes

 

The acceptance of hierarchical job division in practice is surprisingly high even within organizations that subscribe to a different outlook in principle. Even organizations that believe in job rotation implicitly “accept” that this will not work in practice if implemented fully. I think that this is explained by an unrealistic commitment to job rotation without any consideration of education and/or experience. The Parecon model holds the solution to this problem in that it allows for a job division based on training and experience so long as the overall average value of the job tasks in a job complex is equal as far as empowering goes. The institution of balanced job complexes is for many people a new concept and therefore it will take more effort to explain and promote this institution. Balanced job complexes are often confused with job rotation without distinction. To the extent that the concept is correctly understood there are concerns about who will grade the different tasks for empowerment and if it is even possible to do so fairly. I trust those types of concerns will be dealt with satisfactory within the different councils as long as the institution itself is accepted.

 

Participatory planning

 

Allocation through participatory planning is the institution of the Parecon model that in my experience is most difficult to get people to accept. The belief in the market as means to allocation is very strong even among the organizations on the left and the only thinkable alternative is always central planning. In part I think this is explained by the “success” of the social democracy in Sweden and Scandinavia in general during the 20th century. The objections to the participatory planning model are mostly that it will be too costly in terms of time and effort to implement and run. Even if most people agree with the problems of the market as means of allocation identified in claim 6 it is really difficult for many people to accept participatory planning as a real alternative. In some cases people’s disbelief in the possibility of introducing participatory planning leads to a total rejection of the whole Parecon model. The presentation of the participatory planning process in the books PARECON: Life after capitalism and The Political Economy of Parecon is clear and instructive in my opinion but for many people it is not convincing. It is a matter of making the model more accessible and of getting the model discussed in wider circles, through seminars and so on. This part of the Parecon model is in my opinion crucial since the abolishment of the market is fundamental to the model.

 

Summary

 

Of the four basic institutions of the Parecon model, Workers and Consumer Councils and Remuneration of effort and sacrifice are already to some degree accepted as institutions to strive for and are in some cases even implemented.

 

Balanced job complexes and especially allocation through participatory planning are considered to be more controversial. I think this is mainly explained by the fact that these institutions are newer concepts that do not have any historical ancestors in same way that the two previous concepts have. Also, In Sweden the social democratic party historically has been very “successful”. Their influence has decreased in later years but they are still quite powerful in the political scene. One of the effects of this is that for many Swedes the answer to the problems with the capitalistic system is more of social democratic politics. This influence can be seen even among the more radical left.

 

All of this means that the focus of the efforts for promoting Parecon, at least in Sweden, should be on increasing the understanding of balanced job complexes and participatory planning.

 

 

Anders Sandström

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