For purposes of exploration and debate with Libertarian Municipalism’s Peter Staudenmaier. See whole debate here.
Peter, you begin by saying you may have missed some important issues. I hope you won’t mind my saying that I think perhaps you did skip some central matters…and that you also won’t mind my returning to some points raised before, again, as well as responding to your new comments. Regarding debating social ecology’s vision I would like to distinguish political vision and economic vision.
Regarding the former it seems to me that social ecology is saying that it wants a political system that rests on geographically defined assemblies emphasizing direct democracy as the foundation of its logic and legitimacy. I have no argument with that. But beyond that key point, the social ecology political vision gets vague for me, and so I am having trouble figuring out what to debate.
Thus, regarding legislation social ecology seems (in your most recent comments) to say that under some circumstances one could deviate from one person one vote majority rule in the local assemblies themselves, and one could also use representation (for deliberation and or for voting) at higher levels, but it doesn’t say why or when and seems to put considerable emphasis on doing it rarely if at all. I’d like to know more fully why that is.
Also, social ecology doesn’t seem to say how what is legislated would be enforced and how disputes would be dealt with or how rights would be defined and preserved, punishments determined, redress arrived at, justice defined and attained. It doesn’t say how what is called for by assemblies (such as large projects and things like, say, a health agency, etc.) would be implemented and then overseen, even broadly. If I had a feeling for these matters I could indicate my general agreement (as with assembly direct democracy) or disagreement, but I don’t.
Take a very simple example. Presumably our new society has vehicles, or let’s say it does, anyhow. Are there speed limits? If so how are they legislated? What happens to a violater? Are there penalties, if so how are they decided and enforced? What if there is a dispute, how is that settled? This example involves legislation — setting the norm or law and establishing the agenda for the agencies involved in executing it. It involves implementation — the agencies must exist (police?) and operate and be overseen. And it involves adjudication (courts?, methods?) in the case of disputes and in the determination of guilt, redress, and so on. I just don’t have a feeling for how social ecology’s political aspirations lead to institutional structures affecting even these matters, much less more complicated matters, like abortion or euthanasia or what to do about drunks, even, and so on.
Concerning social ecology’s economic vision, again in summary of my reaction so far, it seems to say that though workers will oversee their direct relations in workplaces, and consumers in their daily life consumption, the same geographically defined assemblies as undergird politics will make all larger economic decisions — where for social ecology larger seems to mean decisions that set the general context and that impact large numbers of people. But there is a contradiction in this, as well as problems seeing how it is to be done.
If the local assemblies decide quantities produced by each workplace, as you say they do, how can you then say workers inside workplaces will decide how long they work? How long they will work, and indeed every decision they take, will be hugely impacted by how much they are to produce. If they don’t provide information regarding the latter including their preferences and conditions and deliberate on that issue and cast their ballots on it, so to speak, then saying that they make their own decisions bearing on their own circumstances is just false, it seems to me. On the other hand, I don’t see how workers in a plant can possibly arrive at and manifest their preferences and provide the information they need to, and so on all by way of geographically based councils — unless they are literally all in the same one and, at some point in its operations, act both individually and in mass as workers therein. This would mean there are no assemblies that don’t include all workers are in each workplace that provides items to the region as well as all consumers affected by any of the efforts of those workers. It seems to me totally dysfunctional, quite impossible. Workplaces affect the whole country. Consumers get items from all over the country.
Social ecology seems to presume that economic life is mostly at the level of small geographic units — with everybody affected by anything in the region or affecting anything in the region active in the unit, both workers and consumers, and all of them operating as individuals, as small consumer groups, as worker groups, and so on, up to the size of the whole assembly, where the whole is largely self sufficient. If you think of the whole society as your "assembly" and you think of parecon’s councils as the elements in it, then it would achieve what you seem to be seeking, I think…but if you require that the assemblies be small, then it falls apart.
And social ecology also seems to say that everyone should consume what they indicate they need/want and work at intensities and in amounts that they prefer–that is, that we should have remuneration for need only. This is (a) utopian in that we can’t all have what we want if we say everything we would like to have without any restraints, and (b) if we are instead supposed to limit our requests this approach includes no means by which we can know what limits are appropriate — includes no means to know what we deserve based on our work or anything else, for example.
I don’t agree with any of the substance of social ecology’s economic inclinations, yet I don’t think we are all that far apart because I do feel we probably have many similar attitudes about underlying hopes and desires for economics.
There is a famous joke about an economist, physicist, and chemist stranded on an island with some cans of soup. The physicist says to use levers and momentum from dropping the can just right, and so on, to cause the lid to pop open. The chemist finds some stuff on the island and figures temperatures of combustion and plans to use fire and reactions to open the lid. The economist thinks for a bit and says, "assume a can opener."
The short version of my concern is that social ecology seems to me to "assume a can opener" regarding economics. It wants decisions made in geographic councils but it simply assumes that doing this will yield desirable results incorporating the informed wills of all those affected. It assumes councils will have information and a means to deliberate sensibly. It assumes small scale makes sense, ecologically and economically. It assumes incentives and motives for actors are such that they will want to be responsible, and that their information and time and so on are such that they will be. It assumes a lot, in other words. And I guess to be forthright I have to say that I don’t understand why it takes this tack, given that parecon is fully consistent with what seem to be social ecology’s underlying principled aims and parecon assumes nearly nothing but, instead, offers full institutions and careful arguments for how they work.
That said by way of summary, what about the specifics you raise this time, in your rejoinder?
In the piece you rejoined (in this social ecology part of our exchange) my first question was: "Does [social ecology] therefore [say] that people should to the extent possible impact decisions in proportion to the degree they are affected by those decisions? If not, please tell me why. If it does mean that, we agree." I wish you had answered that query and I am still interesting in knowing very explicitly.
For me, that is, were I trying to set forth a political vision, self management defined as above would be my norm for participation and decision making, and one of a few guiding principles. If it isn’t such a principle for you…why not? What norm regarding participation and decision making is guiding for you, if not this one?
In reply to another query of mine, you suggest that there can be representatives making decisions for large groups, and referendums, at times, but that both should be built on rather than substitute for organs of direct participation in decision making. Okay, I agree with that foundation, no problem there. But if you agree that there are times when voting should be by representatives, times when even deliberation should be by representatives, though open and public, then when would this be, at least broadly?
I think one of the difficult aspects of political vision is that there is no single correct approach that fits all situations. No single correct voting norm, deliberative procedure, etc. That’s why a description of one isn’t sufficient, rather what is needed is broad institutional structures and values that guide diverse choices.
Putting this whole issue slightly differently, and again returning to a point from the earlier reply, do you agree that a guiding concern in developing the legislative component of a political vision should be "given that some people will and should develop great knowledge, skills, and insights by pursuing particular fields deeply, decision-making occurs with appropriate inputs by all who are affected and no disproportionate influence for experts. Is that the aim?"
When I asked about voting procedures I wanted to know not only how decisions are reached in assemblies, but which assemblies address which issues. I asked "what happens when people in an assembly differ strongly and claim to have rights that might be abridged by a majority?" I am not sure why you skipped that. Do majorities get their way irrespective of the impact on minorities (going back to the issues of proportionate say raised above)? You say you don’t like deviations from majority rule because they can lead to minorities making decisions that majorities must abide. That’s true…but isn’t it appropriate, at times, due to much larger impact on those minorities?
My query about assemblies deciding people’s dinner menus was meant to show there are limits in their jurisdiction…I followed with "But if the local assembly shouldn’t decide my personal dinner choices, what are the limits on any particular assembly’s jurisdiction, both downward and upward? What decisions are left to smaller units? What decisions must be made in larger units?" I still wonder about these matters.
I also had in mind showing in an uncontroversial way that it doesn’t matter if the majority thinks eating twinkies for dinner is absurd. If I want to do it, I do it. But that doesn’t apply just to this simple case. In fact, majority rarely, in fact, rules, and is rarely, in fact, even consulted. But why? I think the obvious answer is that the impact of decisions on the majority of society’s citizens is rarely worth the time of their equal involvement, and rarely morally warrants their equal involvement. I don’t know any other answer. But if that is the answer, then I was trying to convey that it leads toward the earlier stated principle of self management, I think — not toward some kind of blanket advocacy of majority rule as a first principle.
When I asked “are assemblies courts, as well as legislative bodies” I figured the answer would be no, and so I followed up by wondering then how guilt, innocence, accountability, resolution of disputes, and redress were determined in social ecology political vision. I still wonder and I think a political vision must deal with these matters quite centrally. As to adjudication, that is, I don’t know what to say about social ecology because I still have no firm idea what social ecology’s views on it are. I also asked about things like the Food and Drug Administration or Center for Disease Control…that is, what happens to what we now call the executive branch? Here also, I find social ecology too vague to debate. I just don’t know what it has in mind.
Regarding the economy, I am left pretty much where I was before regarding social ecology’s prescriptions. You barely even mention allocation issues and institutions but to me these are central. Do you reject markets? Central planning? If not, then presumably you would note them as part of the social ecology vision, so I will take it that social ecology does reject these options. Okay, if that’s so, then we agree on that. But in that case, what mechanism does gather, convey, assess, and then make decisions based on the vast swaths of information that are essential to economic possibilities and their implications? Pending your reaction to the issue of how much say we should each have in each situation and decision, I won’t repeat about that, but I earlier wrote "whoever makes decisions will need proper valuations of the implications of alternative choices on workers, on consumers, and on the environment. Where does this information come from for social ecology’s local assemblies unless there is an allocation system to bring it into being and convey it, something social ecology doesn’t seem to address." I still have that same query…even just trying to understand what social ecology’s economic vision is, much less how I would assess it.
You say for example that assemblies decide what quantities of items are to be produced. Where do they do this? Does each and every assembly decide how much every workplace is going to produce? How do they manage to get a mesh between inputs and outputs? How does each assembly manage to come up with the same results as every other for each workplace? Does the assembly only decide on workplaces in their region? If so, again, how does what is decided here match with what is decided by some other assembly, elsewhere, when the units rely on each other for inputs, say? Take bicycles for the whole country. Or subway cars? Or wheat? And so on. How can geographic assemblies democratically decide on these things without a process of intercommunication of worker and consumer preferences from all over the country, and without means to reconcile views and preferences from all over into an agenda? I don’t see anything like that in what you are describing. If I did, I could then try to assess if I think the proposed means produces solidarity, say, and provides worthy and viable incentives, and deals well with externalities, and yields appropriate influence for actors, and so on.
In social ecology’s formulation, this time around, it sounds like assemblies are a kind of final resort, though other structures deliberate and raise preferences as well. If so, that would in some sense be getting closer to parecon for the economy, since parecon involves a kind of cooperative negotiation among councils, which are of course vehicles of direct participation and self management. But just as I assume you wouldn’t like that the workplace councils should be the determinative agent, I don’t like that the neighborhood councils should be, at least for economic issues. Rather, arriving at economic decisions involves a mediation between various levels and kinds of grouping, and, most critically, a means for them all to to have accurate and sufficient information, and to have incentives and motives consistent with behaving in accord with values that we hold dear. I honestly don’t see any of this in the social ecology economic prescription. What are the aims of each actor? From where do they arise?
In reaction to my queries about information and proper valuations you write: "Yes, assembly members will need exactly this sort of information. I don’t think you and I disagree much on that score; I think our difference is over who decides and how."
Maybe that’s so, but i don’t see any mechanism that permits social ecology’s geographic assemblies to amass relevant information, much less act on it with actors having appropriate influence.
You continue, "In any case, it isn’t strictly true that social ecologists have not addressed this question, but we certainly haven’t given it nearly as much detailed attention as you and Robin Hahnel have."
Okay, but if you have addressed it at all, then how in your view does a local assembly amass information about the productive capacities and desires of all workplaces from which they receive outputs, and all workplaces that provide inputs to those producers, and so on, and then process it, and then decide anything based on it in such a manner that workplaces will actually or even could actually abide the decision?
You say: "I think that an assembly framework could accommodate parecon methods for assessing the social benefits of products and the social costs of inputs, and something like your conception of indicative prices would probably play a role in formulating community-wide budgets and other aspects of economic policy."
I’d go much further. I think social ecology could say, parecon is fine. That’s the economy. Parecon not only accomplishes economic functions consistent with social ecology’s priority values, it generates participatory inclinations consistent with social ecology’s political aspirations. Of course the parecon in any society should be subordinate to norms and laws and projects determined politically by our network of assemblies and through their political functions and deliberations, but that’s no problem for a parecon — so we have a match..
You say, "Much of the evaluative work and number-crunching that you assign to iteration facilitation boards is the sort of thing that social ecologists recommend putting in the hands of administrative panels. It seems to me that the informational requirements of an assembly-based model are not significantly different from those of a council-based model, and the techniques for meeting these requirements could be similar under both models. Do you disagree?"
Parecon gets the information it utilizes from workplace and consumer councils engaging in an iterative planning process. Social ecology foregoes means to get the former information, and seems also, to me, to limit the range of size of the latter that it can access. Yes, I think parecon’s information flow and also its procedures are consistent with what I hope are your aspirations, and I also think parecon’s institutions for implementing them are. I await to hear what if any reason you may have for disagreeing.
You say, for example, "We recognize that opportunity costs exist in any economy; we simply haven’t developed detailed proposals for how to incorporate them into communal decision making. As I envision things, much of an assembly’s attention to economic issues would occur in the form of budget proposals embodying different priorities for investment, consumption, and so forth. Assembly members would discuss the relative merits of each proposal and work toward a combined proposal which could garner the support of the most members. As in parecon, these proposals would rely on data from prior years, as well as estimates of future needs, and would include both quantitative and qualitative comparisons of the various options under consideration."
I have to decide my personal consumption, as do you. I am also in a family for example, and some things we consume together, and we need to settle on that. Then there is my neighborhood, doing some collective consumption — my county, my state. How much I get at every level is part of what determines how much I can reasonably ask for at other levels. I don’t want to discuss all that in a state assembly with millions of people, or in any single place, for that matter. Why would I? What I want is a means of having appropriate information and deliberative options for each level of concern and consumption, individual and collective, and a flexible way to arrive at choices, which, of course, all impact one another and the choices other people make. And this is regarding the consumption side, which we are closer on — because consumer councils are quite like different levels of geographic assemblies. But as to the production side, I most certainly do not want to try to represent my workplace views in a geographic assembly in which I am not conversing with my workmates and not interacting in the process along with them, deciding our joint views, and not then negotiating with the consumers of our products. And, finally, you can’t simply assume the data needed for good choices, you have to have a means for it to arise in practice.
On another matter, you say "What I had in mind with my proposal for `a continual voluntary rotation of jobs, tasks, and responsibilities’ is more or less the same thing as your notion of balanced job complexes, as I understand it." That’s very good to hear. If we can agree on balanced job complexes, it is a big step forward. But the idea isn’t that a doctor sometimes rotates into being an assembly worker, which is why I don’t use the word rotate anymore. It is that everyone has a job which incorporates a range of tasks and responsibilities that on balance are comparably empowering as for all other jobs. We don’t just keep switching professions or jobs–we have balanced ones. Rotation is a vague term. It can mean that I am a manager or surgeon and once a month I do a day’s stint on the line or cleaning bed-pans. That isn’t sufficient. It is good to hear that we agree here.
On remunerative norms I asked if the social ecology norm is to remunerate for need, then “how do we [each] know how much to seek such that we don’t ask for more (or less) than the amount it is appropriate for us to receive?”
You reply, "I think those are two questions wrapped into one: the first concerning estimates of aggregate consumption, the second concerning personal consumption choices."
Okay, sure, though each depends on the other, of course.
You say, "On the first question, total consumption of every category of goods will obviously be a central variable in any proposal for broad economic policy brought before the assembly. Since assembly members know that they have to produce the goods they hope to consume, and since each main proposal will be accompanied by detailed information on its various impacts and analyses of its ramifications, assembly members will be able to form their own opinions on the desirability of each palette of options, and then collectively debate which ones make the most sense for the community as a whole. If I think there wasn’t nearly enough cheese available during the last budget cycle, then I can argue for giving dairy production a higher priority."
I’m sorry Peter, but even ignoring that there are a few hundred thousand products in a developed economy (many of which are consumed only by workplaces) and you are suggesting that each one of them is individually discussed — for any one of them how do I in fact have any idea at all what the total output will or should be? I can’t make any kind of judgment about that unless I have information about what the producers of that output think about their new conditions and workload, and what every potential consumer of of it would like — and both of these are very dependent on everything else being decided in the economy, given the implications of all decisions for relative valuations (prices). This is what I mean by assuming a can opener. I think we may not be far apart in aspirations, but you are intent on a particular geographically based structure for reasons that have nothing to do with economics, I think, but only politics, and it seems to me to be interfering with arriving at workable economic ideas.
An economy decides overall gas production, coal, wind — it has to determine crop yields for the whole country, and wider, and so on, as well as production in each unit of each of these, and consumption by each actor of each of these, and all the inputs, and so on. You have these assemblies — I don’t know how large they are, I don’t know if there are layers of smaller units too — and you seem to be saying that somehow they have indicative prices, which presumably reflect true social costs and values, but I don’t see how they get them or how such prices arise, or how they move from being estimates to being final. You want democracy and participation, as do I, but we can’t just have that, we must also have good outcomes, well informed, efficient as to the use of our time, and so on.
The next issue in your rejoinder was remuneration. you proposed it be for need, I questioned how that would lead to actual choices that weren’t beyond what society could provide or less than it ought to provide, and you noted that "under a libertarian communist system everybody knows how much of a given item is available within their local community and can judge their personal consumption accordingly."
This, again, assumes the can opener. No one knows any such thing before an allocation system has arrived at such results. You can’t assume we know it before we deliberate about it. How do I know what the total amount of apples available will be? And do they only come from my little neighborhood? What if apples don’t grow in my climate? Do I then get none? If I get them from far away, how do I impact whether the far away workplace produces enough to meet my desires? If I get lots of apples, how much less other stuff does that mean I am entitled to?
You say, "Yes, we do expect people to be able to make such judgments responsibly, on the whole."
I don’t think that is an answer because it doesn’t say how. To make a judgment of how much total I should get, and to then know as I select shoes and food and books and bicycles and so on what my selections sum to so I can compare that total to my responsible allotted total and seek more or cut back, as need be, requires knowing both what I deserve and also the relative values of available items. That is what allocation settles on. You can’t assume that we know these things before the fact. What is the process that yields these valuations of all items? What are the properties of the valuations — do the valuations reflect full social costs and benefits? And is the basic measure of my warranted income (some total value of products I receive) determined by my output, by my age, by my effort, or what?
You say, "We want to move beyond merely articulating needs — collective or personal — toward actively and deliberately shaping our needs."
Well, in fact, we always both articulate and also mold our needs by our choices, in any economy The problem is that in some economies the pressures we endure force to mold our needs in ways that are antithetical to our broader interests, as when, in market economies, we steadily erode our social inclinations and enlarge our private ones. Yes, a good economy should promote solidarity, for example, creating a context in which we become ever more empathetic and social, as well as developing our personal capacities. We agree on that but saying that much isn’t the same as describing institutions that actually do it.
You say, "We want to suffuse needs, economic and otherwise, with conscious choice. In Marx’s terms, we want to eventually move from the realm of necessity toward the realm of freedom, even in our daily lives, even while collectively creating and enjoying social wealth. I think that a communist distribution system holds the possibility of one day realizing this goal, while a system of determinate remuneration makes it much more difficult."
What you seem to be saying is that if we decide our incomes in terms of all qualitative human concerns, like say happiness and fulfillment, etc., rather than in terms of any "determinate" norm like effort and sacrifice, we are operating more humanely. Perhaps that is so, but it doesn’t provide an argument that we could do it, successfully, in a society, without employing any more "determinative" norm as part of the process. Parecon permits and makes possible varying people’s income in special cases in accord with needs and all other possible factors, but it also gives us a grounding in terms of effort and sacrifice. Without having that grounding, i think the economy lacks means to make rational assessments of relative worth and we each lack means of regulating our intake and our efforts socially responsibly and there is no mechanism for knowing what directions to move the economy in with investments.
You want us to be able to decide to work more or less, to consume more or less, and so on, freely. None of this is lost in a parecon, and what is gained is an actual viable infrastructure for facilitating these choices. Suppose in social ecology you want to consume something really major. Do you just do it? No that wouldn’t be socially responsible. Do you just forget about it? That also makes no sense, you want it. I think you put in to work more so as to have a larger budget, so as to be able to afford it. But how much more? I think, again, parecon is an economic system, with no assumed can openers (I hope), that social ecologists should find congenial.
I wrote, earlier, "I just don’t think saying that local assemblies are going to be deciding economic outcomes offers a serious explanation of how these fine values are to be attained while also orienting production to meet needs and fulfill potentials.”
You reply: "I’d say this is an open question; we don’t have enough practical experience with either of our respective visions to give a definitive answer yet."
Well, of course we can only put forth a vision and test and try it, and so on, refining as we proceed. But a vision has to answer the question, at least, it seems to me, to be saying enough to be able to be evaluated and to be a touchstone for strategy, etc.
And you add, "But it isn’t clear to me why you think that assemblies are structurally incapable of deciding economic outcomes, if that is in fact what you’re getting at. You seem to be saying that the same group of people (namely, all the workers and consumers in a given locality, in your terms) will be able to decide economic outcomes and orient production if they do so via the mechanism of councils, but not if they do so via the mechanism of assemblies."
I am saying all actors need to engage in a complex process of arriving at all inputs and outputs of workplaces, consumer units, and individual consumers — and that this process spans all regions and involves people in different roles bringing to bear the knowledge and the preferences they develop in those roles.
Suppose your assembly was for an area with ten thousand people. At some higher level there is some kind of federation covering 1ten million people. Suppose I said hey, we don’t need the lower level ones. Let’s just go with the big one, since, after all, everyone in the lower ones are in the big one too. It wouldn’t make any sense. Some issues are best discussed in the lower one. Some decisions are best made there. Moreover, other decisions, though ultimately the province of the big assembly — which really means of the negotiations among all the little assemblies in it — are best thought about and assessed for the emergence of diverse views, in the smaller assemblies, with the smaller ones arriving at viewpoints that clash and jangle with one another into a larger decision. I think we agree in all this. I don’t see why the same reasoning doesn’t lead you to see the efficacy, indeed primacy, of people meeting about economics decisions — little and big — not only where they live, but also where they work.
I think we can also agree that it would make no sense for a geographic assembly to decide my work day schedule in some plant. But why not? Well, on the one hand the assembly wouldn’t have the relevant information — or to amass such information would be grotesquely wasteful, at any rate of most people’s time in the assembly. And on the other hand, the decision about my schedule ought to be overwhelmingly mine, as long as I operate consistently with other broader contextual decisions that I need to abide.
Now let’s take the decision about how much my workplace is going to produce. Well, what are the variables? On the one side our equipment and conditions and how much the workers want to work as well as how many of us there are. We know best about these things, as well as about the product and its virtues and faults, for that matter. We have to generate and provide this information, and we have to, presumably, make many related decisions. On the other side, the desires of consumers for our outputs are a big factor too, of course. They know best about their wants and tastes, but it is important to realize that on both sides everything else that is going on in the economy is also a factor. How much I want to work is impacted by the overall output of the whole economy, by average work levels, and so on. How much the plant can provide is impacted by the costs of our inputs. How much a consumer wishes to have of a plant’s outputs is affected by their overall budget and by what else they can get for their expenditures. And so on.
In central planning workers send information to planners who send back instructions. This is authoritarian. In social ecology, workers would have to send information to assemblies — but to which assemblies is totally unclear, presumably all of them, each of which would decide the outputs and somehow all these decisions would match — and would then get back instructions. I think this is authoritarian in the same respect as is central planning, as well as (ironically) less viable. You reply, no it isn’t, the workers are in the assemblies. To me this isn’t the same as but is rather similar to the central planners saying no it isn’t authoritarian since it is a workers’ state. The workers in each plant can’t possibly have appropriate input into their plant’s operations if the large contextual decisions are taken in some assembly (which one?) without the workers form the plant acting together as a main participant with a whole lot of impact in that decision, as compared to being scattered in the assembly and having no more say than people who don’t even work in their plant.
What I don’t understand is why you have no problem agreeing with this in reverse but not as above. Suppose I said let’s have decisions made only in workers’ councils, or only in industry councils — or whatever corresponds to the scale you have in mind for assemblies. And then I add to that, hey, I know some people don’t work, so they will be incorporated into the nearest workplace council to their home. Now we are all in workers councils. So I say, why can’t they each decide what all consumers will get as well as what all workplaces will produce? It would be absurd because how do they know each other’s situation and, even more damning, how do they know consumer’s situations? If we answer they don’t have to know the former because they operate largely separately, that is just ignoring the reality of complex societies. If we say they know the consumers preferences because the consumers are present to tell them what they are, in the workplace council meeting, that’s nonsense too. Obviously not all the relevant consumers are there, and for them to each indicate their preferences in a meeting would be idiotic. Workers in councils wouldn’t be thinking effectively as consumers, in any event, but as workers. I think you see all that, not only because as workers people have different orientations than the same people as consumers, but also because of the logistical, informational, and representational difficulties, and while the analogy isn’t exact, i don’t see why you can’t see that similar problems exist for having just geographic assemblies make the main decisions.
You say "I think this boils down to our basic disagreement over economic roles and structures within a liberated society: you want us to make such decisions in our capacity as workers and consumers, in the context of specifically economic institutions. I want us to be able to transcend our roles as workers and consumers, when it comes to making choices about community-wide policy, and I want us to integrate economic functions into a broader project of collective self-management, of communal direct democracy."
The two are not even slightly mutually contradictory, as I tried to indicate earlier. We can make our economic choices as producers and consumers, and we can make our political choices as citizens, and we can also subordinate the former to dictates from the latter and arrive at them in context of the latter, and also contextualize the latter in terms of the former’s valuations. What’s the problem?
You want actors to make economic choices (as well as political ones) in light of full personal, social, and ecological implications, and I agree. Parecon provides an institutional structure which gives everyone an interest in and a means to do precisely that. In fact, it creates a context in which doing anything else is counter productive to the people involved. I hope social ecology arrives at a political vision that I can adopt, to go with parecon. And so far, I think parecon offers an economic vision that social ecologists can adopt as they further evolve their political one.