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Rejoining Staudenmaier


 

For purposes of exploration and debate with Libertarian Municipalism’s Peter Staudenmaier. See whole debate here.

 

Peter,

 

I am happy to hear many social ecologists agree with balanced job complexes. I’ll follow the debate topics you raise in the order you propose, but do so as I would write a private letter, to make our debates less formal. I apologize for the length, but I can’t help it…genetic defect plus important matters.
Your first concern is "the institutional framework best suited to collective self-management."

 

You warn "against reducing the complexity of our public lives to our roles as producers and consumers," and I agree. But suppose I said we should not reduce our public lives to our roles as producers and consumers but then concluded that we should have all economic and political decisions primarily decided in workplace councils. I imagine you’d wonder how I could think that not reducing our lives to working and consuming would be best accomplished by reducing them to just working. In fact, however, parecon doesn’t reduce the complexity of our public lives at all, though it does treat economics as economics. Social ecology, in contrast, treats our public lives, not just economics, and it reduces the modality for doing so to our roles in locales only. It seems to me that your worry, if relevant at all, is applicable to your system.

 

Put differently, why shouldn’t decisions about production, allocation, and consumption be carried out by the actors involved in these functions, organized in councils rooted in both workplaces and regions. Doesn’t this garner the benefits of accessing the great familiarity and knowledge people have of their own immediate circumstances? And doesn’t it provide means for the more directly and greatly affected to mutually deliberate and express themselves in concert with one another? If you think not, please say why because I am not seeing it. And I also don’t see why doing this reduces us in any sense.

 

You seem to be asking in what capacity are we each the fullest people we can be, and thus most likely to bring the fullest range of concerns and insights to our deliberations? You answer that "citizenship promotes a more comprehensive, sustainable, and ecologically nuanced perspective on economic questions than the partial and restricted viewpoint of a single workplace or household." Maybe so, but the proper comparison is not "citizen" to single workplace or single household, but citizenship to all workplaces and all households engaged cooperatively, that is, it is comparing the perspective that belonging to neighborhoods brings to deciding on consumption, allocation, and production relations, compared to the perspective brought by being in workplaces and also being in neighborhoods.

 

This difference arose firstly in past discussions too, so I think we should try to resolve it. Would any social ecologist say that we are wisest in our capacity as citizens so therefore we ought to decide how to arrange our living rooms only in citizen assemblies? I doubt it. It would be a non-sequitor. The assembly would be seen as inappropriate for living room decision-making both because the assembly includes too many people who are virtually oblivious to and ignorant of the situation in each living room and who would be wasting their time to address living rooms with the degree of attention those who live in them would want to employ, and also because the assembly doesn’t include, necessarily, all the people who are most involved in the living room. In other words, talking about us being fuller people in our role as citizens than in our role as living room inhabitants has no bearing on deciding in which role we ought to make our primarily living room decisions, save insofar as it conveys that ultimately all relevant information and desires should come to bear, with appropriate influence. It is this latter query that needs to be put to parecon from your perspective, it seems to me. Does it bring to bear the insights that arise from being a citizen, or not? If you think not, please give me an example of what you have in mind. I think it does.

 

I say that for deciding what a particular workplace should be doing, how it will be organized, who in particular among its workers will be doing which work, how long people will be working, what investments it might undertake, and derivatively how much the workplace will be producing, surely the people in that workplace are (a) most knowledgeable of the immediate factors, and (b) most affected by the immediate outcomes (though of course not alone affected by them). And so surely they should congregate together to develop and express their preferences rather than only interacting while dispersed into a much larger assembly of people in which some of their co-workers are not even present (because they live elsewhere) and where all manner of other people who have little relevant direct knowledge of their workplace are present (and either bored silly, or or worse, unreasonably intrusive). But you say, no, workers shouldn’t assemble that way, in their own councils. Why?

 

I may have this entirely wrong, of course, and if so please clarify, but I think you reject having people in part make economic decisions via councils where they work because you fear that a person as worker won’t have in the forefront of her consciousness various concerns that might arise outside her workplace, due to pure ignorance of those concerns, or due to not feeling them all that strongly — for example, concerns about pollution, about the needs of people who consume the product, and so on.

 

Well, I think this fear is perfectly reasonable, just as I think it is reasonable, however, to be concerned that people acting where they live won’t be as attuned to and able to properly represent and advocate for outcomes based on concerns that arise inside workplaces and regarding implications felt by workers there. And so that is why parecon brings the experiences in each domain to the attention of the other and facilitates a cooperative negotiation arriving at overarching decisions that will affect both domains and that therefore need to and do incorporate the wills of both.

 

It is also why I agree with you that an economic system that said workers should decide everything about their workplaces and the broader economy oblivious to the views of those outside their workplaces would be a horrible mistake. But that isn’t parecon, which instead has people organized into consumer councils as well as into workplace councils, and which utilizes participatory planning to apportion to the former and to the latter proportionate influence, giving neither too much say or too little.

 

Social ecology says all sides of our consciousness and awareness should impact important decisions. I agree. Social ecology asserts that by moving all decisions about economics to geographic assemblies this will occur because in these assemblies we are citizens, which is our broadest selves. I don’t agree. The summary I presented indicated that parecon says that by having actors in worker and consumer councils and having them negotiate interactively with each perspective having appropriate say in outcomes in terms of effects on them, all councils using information and deliberation and decision making processes as provided by participatory planning, all sides are thereby incorporated, each side able to put forth its insights and preferences and to exact its will. In this part of our debate, I thought you were going to react to parecon, indicating problems you may have with it. I know you don’t like having workers’ councils, but what implication of having workers’ councils concerns you?

 

It seems to me that social ecology has precisely the fault it worries about parecon having, though turned on its head. Thus, social ecologists don’t want workers’ councils and consumers’ councils due to worrying that the former will dominate the latter (a fair enough worry that has to be assessed in light of the whole institutional framework, including participatory planning) or will otherwise lead to biases in deliberation and decision making. But to solve the potential problem social ecology proposes that we should give full say on all important matters to the consumer councils (or assemblies in you terminology). But it seems to me that this begs the issue, because we know that people will amply bring to their geographic assemblies where they talk and interact with their geographic neighbors, their concerns about pollution and consumer items, etc., but far less so their concerns about workplace conditions and choices — because they aren’t congregating in their workplaces and with their workmates. In other words, I don’t see why social ecologists understand that if people meet in workplaces without mediating with other constituencies they will under-represent consumer concerns, but don’t realize that if people meet in regions without mediating with other constituencies, they will under-represent workplace concerns. Once this is realized, obviously the means of mediation between the two positions becomes centrally important and both need means to voice their views and preferences.

 

Peter, if you reject workers councils in the belief they would have harmful implications in a parecon, please tell me how would workers gathering in workplaces to assess the production conditions of their workplaces and industries and what they would produce (in light of reactions from consumer councils) lead to biases or negative trends in economic outcomes, or violate values we hold dear, assuming, of course, consumers simultaneously gather in their councils and assess the economic conditions of their own lives and communities (in light of reactions from worker councils), and assuming each negotiates outcomes with all the others via participatory planning.

 

You say, "in an assembly-based model, all workers and consumers are encouraged to articulate their distinctive experiences, desires, and opinions, just as they are under parecon; but they are encouraged to do so as citizens, with a view toward the well being of the whole community and its natural surroundings." It sounds nice, but consider your local assembly. It includes all your neighbors out to a county level, or city, or state. Do you really feel that everyone should articulate their distinctive views and desires about what will go on where they work in such geographic units? And that this group should vote (somehow) on each workplace’s total output, work choices, investment projects, and so on? What if I am in your assembly but a majority of my workmates are in another one, for an extreme case?

 

More, even just philosophically, saying we should each be an agent for the whole sounds nice, of course, but how does anyone know what the whole wants or desires unless each actor in it voices their preferences, firstly and then mediates them in light of what others desire? I can represent the whole overall desires of society after I know them, that is after some process that mediates among all proposals and preferences and arrives at a social plan in a away I support–but I can’t enter the discussion of what to do representing the overall interests of all society, other than very abstractly, unless I am omniscient.

 

I agree with you that each actor in a good economy would hopefully come to feel like an advocate for the whole, and that is why parecon’s incentive systems and behavioral implications produce solidarity, creating a context in which we each advance by way of all advancing, and generating a plan by a participatory process we can all feel positive about and represented by. Still, arriving at a social agenda, for the economy or otherwise, requires that we each express our desires, as individuals and groups, not first guessing what everyone else wants and compromising what we desire, but literally saying what we really want and only later accommodating one another.

 

Social ecology seems to me to seek a way of gathering people to engage in exploring options and making decisions so as to ensure that all interests and insights are brought to bear. That’s a good goal, but we can’t achieve it just by saying we all decide, together, as citizens, it seems to me. We do have different positions and those differences matter, both in generating different insights and different preferences, and at mediating them into shared agendas. And since making economic decisions involves mediated various views, insights, and preferences, it can’t sensibly be done without providing (1) means for the views and preferences to come into existence, and (2) means for them to come up against each other, learn contrasting desires and insights, and respond by adapting into a mutual accord. This is what parecon and particularly participatory planning facilitate for economics. If you feel they don’t, I hope you will show me where you feel the institutions lead to problems.

 

 

 

You say, "While Albert’s scenario foresees a unified economic plan covering many disparate communities across large geographic areas, social ecology’s primary focus is on local communities generating economic policies tailored to their own social and ecological circumstances. When necessary, economic interactions between local communities can be coordinated through confederal bodies on a case-by-case basis."

 

How many case by case cases would need to be raised? I think decisions on how much work to do, how much to produce, with what means, with the outputs going where, are all systemic, as are parallel consumption choices. They virtually all span the country, at least to some extent, and ultimately the world, in their implications. How much does society value some item — refrigerators, radios, shirts, peas, whatever? This isn’t a local decision because locales differ and also inexorably intersect and interact and mutually provide for one another. The valuation comes from the wills of all consumers and producers combined. And that’s precisely as it should be. If one county can make good chairs cheaply, but another county can’t, should the latter have to endure few chairs? Or should the collective benefits of society accrue to all?

 

I don’t understand why ecologically concerned and aware folks don’t see the reality and benefits of interconnection. Of course, in our current society, we have one locale dumping its waste on others and we have some locales that are rich, and some that are poor, with the former exploiting the latter. But the corrective is not to create tiny self sufficient areas that fend for themselves and occasionally relate via some kind of case by case special entreaty. It is, instead, to recognize the virtues of diversity plus solidarity, and to entwine the choices made in different places as much as the implications of those choices are inevitably entwined, and to do it in ways that disperse the benefits of different places to overcome the unlucky deficits some places endure. More, parecon doesn’t just assert this, it says here are institutions that can achieve it, and that will simultaneously advance our other values as well. If this claim is false, okay, that would be a problem, but please if you think it is false, show where the failing arises.

 

To me, to say that we attain a good economy by universally breaking locales apart from one another and asking them to operate mostly in isolation, self-sufficiently, shrinking all productive units, not sharing each other’s economies of scale and beneficial assets, just doesn’t make any economic, social, or ecological sense. Sometimes small is beautiful. Sometimes not. How does treating the economy as a whole, as parecon seeks to do, yield results that make outcomes less ecological, less self managed, less solidaritous, less diverse, or less conducive to the fullfillment and development of human needs and potentials than would universally reducing interactivity and shrinking scale?
 

 

Your next set of concerns revolves around "the most sensible implementation of participatory democracy."

 

You say, "I agree with Albert that participatory democracy requires that all actors are `empowered equally’ and that nobody has `greater decision making power’ than others involved in the same project."

 

But in fact, I have never suggested that we all should have the same decision making power over every decision, and I don’t even think such an aim makes sense. I do believe, however, that we shouldn’t have fixed hierarchies of roles or conditions that cause some people to have disproportionately more or less say over decisions than impacts on them by those decisions warrant.

 

You clarify that, "Albert believes that people should influence public decisions `in proportion as they are affected by the decisions under consideration’. And that’s correct, I do. But you then say that you "think that this stipulation violates the basic democratic imperative of equal decision-making power for all participants." Well, yes, of course, it certainly does preclude everyone always having equal influence on a case by case basis, but not in sum total.

 

Parecon’s self-management aim says that when you are deciding what to wear in the morning, your influence should be predominant (though not the only influence active, because others have impacted the cost of the clothes you are choosing among, the weatherproofing of your workplace, etc.). Thus, I shouldn’t have a vote comparable to yours regarding your outfit, nor you regarding mine. This doesn’t mean we have different decision making power per se, but only that we have different decision making influence over these particular decisions. And it seems to me that the same insight applies more broadly.

 

So, in your workplace you should have more say than I will if I work elsewhere. Can anyone possibly disagree with that? For that matter, you should have more say about the operations of your work team than I have if I am in the same workplace but on another team. Or suppose we are talking about the decision whether you will consume cashews or peanuts. Do I have the same say as you over which type nut you procure as part of your consumption bundle? I should impact it a tiny bit, because if production goes to more cashews and not to more peanuts it does affect me a little. But this is minuscule for me and large for you, and so you should have immensely more say. Would anyone contest this? Do you?

 

If you feel that what’s wrong with parecon’s self-management norm is that for all decisions all actors should have the same say, then for me to understand your reasoning you need to explain why it doesn’t apply in the above types of cases, but it does for others, and which others. Yes, equal power sounds right. Yes, I favor it too, in the large. But to say that all people should always have the same influence in every decision, well, I just don’t understand that.

 

You say, "The proportionality principle, in my view, requires that participants in a given decision-making process agree on the various anticipated effects of a decision before they can make that decision, as well as predicting how these effects will be distributed once the decision is made." But, in fact, for the economy’s allocation, parecon reveals implications and apportions impact not before the allocation process begins but via an on-going planning process that adapts throughout and arrives simultaneously at the plan and the full assessment.

 

You add, "In other words, Albert’s model assumes that anticipated impact can be measured and meaningfully assigned to particular actors or groups before the fact, so that those who are likely to be more significantly affected by a decision have more formal power over the decision itself." Actually, for allocation, the impact emerges in the course of the decision process, not before it. But yes, in various other cases, the assessment occurs more or less as you indicate. So, for example, a workplace might agree before the fact that hiring and firing decisions should be taken by all those in the area where the new employee will work having a veto and requiring consensus to hire plus a majority vote of the rest of the workplace,  that collective planning decisions should occur by two thirds vote and some other process, that teams should decide their daily operations by still other voting patterns and of course in context of larger council norms set by still different voting patterns. If the people involved fill this picture out as they decide, is this perfect? No, it is a social process, after all, not a math equation. But will it come much closer to apportioning the appropriate say to actors than would simply saying a priori that everyone should always have one vote and that majority should rule for all decisions all the time? Of course it will. If you think that requiring equal say is appropriate a priori for all cases, okay, but please tell me why.

 

At South End Press, a small pareconish workplace, we used to have consensus decision making for hiring new members on grounds that everyone was hugely impacted by the presence of a new person and ought to be able to veto a new hire if so inclined. It seems like you are saying that operating that way was wrong, in principle, no less. On book selection votes it took two thirds to pass, but there were various rules about holding a book for further discussion. Work on a book, or say a promotion catalog, was decided largely by those doing it, though in context of overarching norms set by the whole workers council, sometimes by majority vote, sometimes by other norms. So is careful prejudging of types of decisions and application of different methods of arriving at conclusions when the type comes up, a deviation from direct democracy that we shouldn’t have been party too?

 

Regarding allocation, suppose a plant in Michigan proposes a change in its techniques that would produce more highly desired output, more cheaply, than what they had been doing before. Consumers of the product will benefit if the proposal passes. Workers will also gain better conditions. But it turns out that disgusting fumes will escape in a trajectory impacting Illinois, though pretty much nowhere else, for some odd climactic reasons. Now what?

 

It seems clear to me that decisions about such a proposed change must be worked out in context of the whole economy — the change would impact all prices, quantities, and so on – and yet, at the same time, the people involved should have different levels of influence. It shouldn’t be, I think, that the people of Illinois have to patiently convince the whole population to the point where fifty percent plus one vote their way. What’s preferable is to have a dynamic process which yields a decision that mediates interests and arrives at accommodations such that, in the end, actors have had proportionate influence. To argue against such a process, it seems to me, one should point out how it would lead to bad results. Surely it would be desirable if workable, I should think.

 

The actual criticism you rendered regarding parecon’s self management decision norms is this, I think: "I think [parecon's self-management norm] is not only impractical but undesirable; it is an attempt to structure preferred outcomes into the process of decision-making, which in my view ought to remain neutral regarding outcomes."

 

The first part, being impractical, if true, ought to be able to be demonstrated. So, how is participatory planning impractical? Or how is deciding in a workplace or a consumer locale that some decisions should be one person one vote but that others should use other norms and rules due to impacting people differently impractical? Why is it impractical, to give a specific example, that those in a division or work team would have more say in their own daily workplace choices than would people not in those teams? It seems to me that what would actually be hugely impractical, in fact utterly impossible, is having everyone in the workplace involved in every decision that is taken. Similarly, why is it impractical that the people in Illinois should have more impact on a decision about utilizing a technique that would pour pollution on them than should the same number of people in Florida who would only benefit from the decision’s effects, never encountering the pollution?

 

The second part of the criticism you raise, as best I can see, isn’t explained and I have to admit I don’t understand it. How can views about the outcomes of a decision not impact the decision’s resolution? Why else do we vote other than assessing implications? In participatory planning decisions evolve through a cooperative negotiated process. We don’t know impacts before the process is complete, that’s true, but during the process the influence of actors does come into accord with what they collectively determine to be the expected impact. In other cases, such as establishing decision procedures in a workplace, we do try to prejudge, broadly, for various types of decisions, so that we will later use an appropriate technique. I don’t see why that is undesirable.

 

You say, "In contrast to Albert’s approach, I think that participatory democracy works best when the related norms of inclusion and equality are both respected."

 

Well, I don’t see why this insight is “in contrast” to my views since parecon does respect both those norms, though it doesn’t fetishize them to the point of saying that everyone has to be equally included and equally influential in every decision no matter how little or how much impact said decision has on them.

 

You say, "Inclusion means that everybody who is affected by a decision participates in making the decision, and equality means that all participants meet on an equal basis, with everyone having the same formal power."

 

Obviously parecon strives for inclusion. It creates a context where everyone affected has an involvement proportional to the effect on them. But equality, to repeat, is odd. Why is equality of impact, per se, a virtue? Yes, everyone should have the same general power, but specific power or influence in specific decisions should just as obviously vary. And once we agree that you should have more say in what you have for dinner, and I should have more say in what I have for dinner, we can’t say as an unbridgeable norm that for all decisions everyone must assemble and partake and moreover do so with the same voting power. Peter, I wish you had shown how parecon’s institutional implementation of self-management would result in outcomes or processes you don’t like. I don’t think it would.

 

You say, "The heart of direct democracy is discussion and deliberation, and this is the proper place for disparate impacts to be taken into consideration, rather than trying to build them into the formal decision-making procedures."

 

What this says, it seems to me, is that in the process of discussing and deliberating we discover disparate impacts and we shouldn’t act like we know these impacts before the debate. And I agree, though we sometimes can know some things before a debate. Indeed, parecon follows just your advisory by utilizing an allocation process that discusses, deliberates, voices preferences, mediates them in light of one another, reveals implications, and finally arrives at appropriate influence and outcomes. Inside a workplace or locale, however, for decisions such as hiring and firing, or overtime, or production rates and amounts and division and team assignments, or in a locale for who consumes what, or for deciding on collective consumption of parks and laundry rooms versus private consumption of trips and washing machines, I don’t think that in each case we always have to start from scratch regarding how best to arrive at a result. There are broad types of decisions and with each we can start from our best understanding of the decision processes and procedures that we think best apply. We can always discern new truths and make changes in our commitments, but starting from the notion that everything is always best handled with one person one vote majority rule, and never deviating from that is just self defeating, it seems to me. It honestly does seem like a kind of fetish – one person one vote majority rule for its own sake, not as a means to the end of appropriate decision making influence, optimal exchange, best outcomes, etc.

 

 

 

Your next area of concern was "the distributive principle most appropriate to a free society (communism or remuneration for effort)."

 

You point out that, "Albert conceives of [parecon's] effort criterion as an alternative to capitalist values, but I think that it actually recuperates a decisive element of capitalism’s logic. Indeed I think this distributive maxim contradicts several of parecon’s other core values." If your assertion here is true, parecon has a problem. But Peter, I have to say, I don’t see that you explained how remunerating effort maintains a decisive feature of capitalism (since capitalism remunerates property and power, arguably output, but not effort) or how it contradicts other parecon values.

 

You say, "Participatory economics is built around the recognition that production and consumption are social processes, not individual affairs. Why should personal expenditure of effort entail greater personal consumption within an otherwise thoroughly socialized system?"

 

Well, in a nutshell personal expenditure of effort is the one component that is largely personal. Our personal effort is what we each choose to do, and is also what reduces our over-all well being relative to spending the time instead in other pursuits that we would prefer.

 

Put differently, why does a person need an economic incentive to do something? Well, because it is painful, takes time, takes energy, and if it doesn’t garner reward commensurate to the cost, why do it? And why does a person morally deserve remuneration for doing something? Well, because it is a contribution which costs the person the time, energy, onerous conditions, etc., and their life should not be diminished due to having contributed all that, which is to say, payment should rebalance the scales.

 

More concretely, if I work in nice conditions and you work in crummy ones, or I work twenty hours a week at the same conditions that you work forty hours a week, then I believe I should get less and you should get more so that our overall labor/leisure condition is fair and equal, and also so we will be motivated in ways consistent with furthering all our priority values.

 

Remuneration for effort/sacrifice provides people a share of the economic product commensurate to what they have expended in producing that product, and it does so in a way that best generates equity because we get our just rewards and, as well, differentials are quite modest. To give or to let someone take more for exerting less is economically dysfunctional because if this is an option why shouldn’t we all take everything and only play and otherwise best enjoy ourselves, and is also morally wrong since it gives some a better mix of labor and leisure than others, with no warrant to do so.

 

Peter you say you don’t like remuneration for effort expended and sacrifice endured, but what is the result of remunerating in this manner that you feel would be economically or morally harmful to people, and how? Do you think it would give a wrong distribution of income or wealth? Do you think it would provide improper motivations?

 

You say, "Instead of remuneration for effort, social ecologists propose libertarian communism as the eventual goal of a free society. Albert rejects this approach to distributing social wealth as unfeasible, but I think this dismissal is too hasty."

 

Actually, I reject the approach, at least when it is proposed as the sole or primary remunerative norm, on numerous grounds. What does it even mean to remunerate only need? How much need is respected? How does one responsibly know what one needs so as to ask for it, rather than asking for too much, unless one can weigh off one’s desires against the adverse implications of meeting one’s desires? But how does one know what are the adverse implications of having a third house, or a second one, or more steak, or a bigger vehicle, unless the economy engages in a dynamic process that reveals the true social costs and benefits of all options? This can’t occur if we just get what we say we want. Being remunerated in accord with effort, however, is perfectly compatible with generating accurate valuations.

 

You say, "Like all economic systems, communism recognizes that total consumption is limited by total production, but it does not assume the predominance of private material interest or of generalized scarcity; it sees these phenomena as a legacy of capitalism and hierarchical society."

 

Who does assume "predominance of material interest"? Not me. It isn’t alone operative, but it does exist, of course. And what is "generalized scarcity"? Rejecting everyone getting whatever they say they want doesn’t presume generalized scarcity, it instead recognizes that there isn’t unlimited plenty so that choices to produce this or that item reduce the productive capacity that remains to produce other items, which in turn tells us that sensibly deciding among options requires that we know how much people want different items and what negative and positive social implications their production and consumption will have — not merely that people want them at all, regardless of implications.

 

In other words, if I get whatever I say I want…then there is no indication to the economy how much I want what I get. This destroys the capacity to make rational choices among options. Rejecting remuneration according to need therefore isn’t done only because it is utopian, though that is a factor, but more instructively because it destroys rational allocative choice. Such a norm might make sense if there was unlimited abundance, I suppose, but there isn’t. So I have not only said I like remuneration for effort and sacrifice, but why I think remuneration for need fails and remuneration for effort and sacrifice works. You have indicated why you like remuneration for need, but not why you think remuneration for effort would lead to bad outcomes, or what those bad outcomes would be. I would very much like to hear that.

 

You say, "Social ecology foresees the potential for all community members to articulate their own needs and desires in a responsible fashion, shaped by their experience of participatory self-management, as part of a social process guided by reason and an ethos of mutual aid and interdependence."

 

To my ears this is just an assertion. Parecon has specific institutions. It describes how these work. It makes claims about the operations. If the claims are faulty, then something about those institutions will be harmful. As to social ecology, I honestly think the above quote is rather indicative. It seems to me that it has assertions about what is good and bad, what is desired and not, but it doesn’t actually flesh these assertions out with substantive structure and processes that we can then assess. So, for example, how do I "articulate my needs responsibly" in social ecology? I suspect that by this you mean I won’t ask for too much, which is to say I wouldn’t ask for an amount that would impinge on others getting an equally fulfilling and fair share. But how do I know how much a responsible share is if I don’t know the relative value of the things that I want? Parecon has mechanisms of participatory self-management that provide clear indication of how much workers and consumers favor various options and which thereby help me know what a responsible choice is in light of my overall work level. If you find it wanting, okay, but please tell me how.

 

You continue, "But will people actually work if they can take whatever they want from the common goods regardless of how much they contributed to producing them? If the history of experiments in libertarian communism is a reliable indicator, then the honest answer is: probably, but it depends on the institutional and ethical context."

 

This implies we want an institutional context that generates solidarity, not one that presumes it. I agree. But let’s assume that no one, not one single person, will willfully try to take from the commons more than he or she ought to receive given the amount he or she works. And let’s also assume that not one single person will willfully try to work less than he or she ought to, given how much he or she chooses to consume. Okay…even with these behavioral assumptions…how does anyone in the social ecology framework know how much to work or how much to consume, to be making an appropriate choice? How does a workplace know how much to produce? If you are producing lightbulbs, how do you know how many to produce? Why not more, why not less? And so on.

 

Put another way, in social ecology’s approach, under what conditions would it be reasonable for me to want more output than I would receive, or to suffer less output than I would receive, if I were remunerated for effort/sacrifice with all items valued at their true social costs, as in a parecon?

 

Peter, you say, "As long as we are envisioning a fully developed free society which realizes the finest aspirations of our history of struggles for human fulfillment and against privation and oppression, it would be imprudent to abandon the ideal of libertarian communism as part of a possible future."

 

Well, if you think that in some distant future economic bounty will be so plentiful and popular consciousness so broad and deep, and popular morality so refined, that remuneration for need alone will make sense, that’s okay with me. But I think parecon’s institutions are precisely what is needed to move in that direction, starting with real people as we know them now and, in my view, in the future too. What would be imprudent, on this score, it seems to me, would be for us to cloud our thinking with vague aspirations unconnected to viable institutions that can manifest them.

 

 

 

The fourth area of your concerns is the "relationship between economics and politics within libertarian and egalitarian communities."

 

You say, "Albert’s scenario describes the economy and the polity as two separate spheres with differing functions, and proposes that economic matters be dealt with by specifically economic institutions made up of workers and consumers. Social ecology’s communalist approach argues, in contrast, for re-integrating economic affairs into public life as part of a comprehensively democratic model of citizenship."

 

Actually, I am not saying economics occurs exclusive of politics, or vice versa. Political choices will have economic implications, not to mention implications for family life, culture, and so on. Economic choices will have implications for polity, not to mention for family life, culture, and so on. Sometimes, indeed, political choices will constrain economic ones. But yes, you are right that I think production, consumption, and allocation are different functions than legislation, adjudication, and implementation, which are in turn different than procreation, nurturance, and socialization, which are themselves different than celebration, identification, etc. And you are also right that I don’t think it makes any sense to try to subsume any of these in the logic of the rest, or under the institutions of the rest, even though it most certainly does make essential sense to try to accomplish each compatibly with and even mutually supportively of the rest.

 

You say, "We share Albert’s goal of `a cooperative self-managing negotiation of collective well-being’, but disagree on the appropriate role of economic structures within this process." It seems to me the role of economic structures is to facilitate producing, allocating, and consuming, all in light of the full social and ecological consequences of the processes involved in each and of their outcomes. If we disagree significantly about that, it would surprise me.

 

You say, "I think that the separation of economics and politics is a consequence of capitalism, and that a democratic post-capitalist social order will need to transcend this artificial separation."

 

In capitalism politics and economics are certainly not separated, though they are in certain abstract theories. Nor are these social realms separated in a parecon. But while entwined, they do also have different aspects and features. But suppose I said that the separation of religion and politics, or of sexual life in our homes and politics is a consequence of the past, and that in a better future we will transcend this artificial separation. What would that mean? I think it would be equally true, and equally false, as what you say above.

 

You say, "Production and consumption should be seen as means, not as ends in themselves."

 

Yes, they should be seen as means to fulfillment and development, as well as to furthering values we hold dear. I agree. So does parecon.

 

You conclude, "The ends are for free people to determine, in recognition of social potentials and ecological parameters. The structures and methods of economics ought to be subordinate to these social objectives and values, as one component of a broader communal direct democracy. From the perspective of social ecology, economics is to be absorbed into politics."

 

In a parecon the economic process would be subordinate to the political, in some respects, of course. So, if there is a law about not killing rabbits, or not working more than thirty five hours, there is no rabbit stew produced by the economy, and no over long work week. And so on. Likewise, the polity has to pursue collective political projects in light of decisions taken through economic institutions. The polity, therefore, can’t decide that the value of desired buildings and tools sought for a center for disease control, for example, will be other than what they in fact are as determined in the economy. But to say that economics is to be absorbed into politics makes no more sense to me than to say the reverse, or to say that both should be absorbed into kinship or culture, or vice versa.

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