Reply to Steps Related Comments on Infohop

I just had a look at the many comments here bearing on participatory economics. It is good to see the interest and discussion. I uploaded my reply to Steps, a few moments ago, and in this post I offer some brief responses to (only the) critical comments that appear here.


Anarcho writes… “Personally, I think [parecon] will never work, although it does contain some good ideas. It will be bureaucratic and not that libertarian in practice.” It is hard to reply, since no reason is offered, nor am I clear what “bureaucratic” means here. Does the writer mean there will be hierarchies of power that violate self-management? If so, I would very much like to hear where Anarcho sees those arising, and why. If it is true, it would be a horrible flaw indeed. But if the writer means there will be structures and social relations and institutions and that people will operate in context of those – though self-managing them – well, yes, that is the case, but it is not a flaw. We are social creatures and each person’s freedom and liberty depends on that of others and extends only so far as it doesn’t obstruct others having equal freedom and liberty.


Anarcho continues “I think that we should think about the future society, but avoid writing blueprints (like Parecon).” Well, I think we should avoid blueprints too, but parecon isn’t one. Rather, it is a description – I hope a compelling and viable one – of just a few key defining institutions which also shows some of the implications these institutions would have. In my view to not know what kind of workplace, consumption, and allocation we want – or, in the political realm, what kind of adjudication, collective implementation, legislation – and similarly for core features of other realms, leaves us hamstrung. Without institutional vision – not blueprints — we lack orientation than can inform our activism so it takes us where we want to wind up, and we don’t wind up elsewhere. And without institutional vision we also lack compelling ways of describing our aims and motivating effort for change – addressing people who feel that oppression sucks, but that resistance is futile because there is no alternative.


Anarchos finishes: “Any revolution will develop in its own ways, based on the organisations it throws up in the struggle. beyond basic ideas, we cannot predict the future. Nor should we.” In fact, of course, revolutions do have ideas and visions at the core. Their efforts in struggle tend to reflect those underlying commitments, and where they arrive does too. This has led to horrible outcomes all too often – and to have different aims than in those cases, truly classless and libertarian aims, shared at the base and throughout social movements, seems to me to be an essential step to avoiding repeating past problems.


ChuckO says, “I’ve always looked at Parecon as a shameless rehashing of basic anarchist economic theories with a dose of centralizing planning thrown in.”  I would be interested in seeing where in parecon there is any central planning. Certainly the intention is to transcend central planning along with markets. Instead there is participatory planning in which each actor has a say in decisions in proportion to the extent the actor is affected by them. As to rehashing old views – to a degree that is true, but in a long list of writings the sources are enumerated. What is new in parecon, I think, is balanced job complexes and participatory planning. Remuneration for effort and sacrifice is largely new, or refurbished, you might say, and putting these together with council self management into a picture of basic relations is new too – at least as far as I am aware. But, suppose I am ignorant and there are much to my surprise numerous books in the anarchist heritage, or elsewhere, that propose and advocate these institutions. That would be all the better, and can you send me some references, please?  


APerson writes “I’ve visited Albert’s site with interest. Sadly, I get the impression the very “coordinator class” he’s trying to eradicate would emerge.” Well that would be contrary to all intents, of course…but there being no reason given, it is hard to reply to. This coordinator class exists by virtue of having a relative monopoly on empowering tasks and conditions. It is eliminated in a parecon by having an entirely new workplace organization, including a new division of labor – not corporate, but balanced job complexes. With markets also gone, I am ignorant of how a coordinator class would even exist much less rule a parecon. I await further comment.


YesMaster writes “This is a good critique of Parecon, the biggest problem with it is that it is incredibly managerialist.” If this means in parecon there are managers who decide our work and consumption lives – well, no, in fact there aren’t. Parecon simply has no managers. If it means there are choices and options of all sorts in a parecon that are decided – that is certainly true enough. More, some are large scale, some more local, etc. But they are decided by those impacted, not by a class of managers.


Someone, I don’t know the name, writes “this article does not insist enough on the fact that Parecon does not include a critic of work.” Well parecon’s literature certainly does contain a critique of how work is done under capitalism and coordinatorism – but not a critique of work per se – that is correct. Rather, productive work undertaken in contexts of self management is seen as both essential to our freest and fullest development and a component of it. I please guilty of this charge, I guess.


Regarding comments about remuneration – in a parecon the remunerative norm is payment for effort and sacrifice undertaken for socially useful labor. Of course if a person is unable to work their income is assured, and medical needs are met, etc. This means if a person who is able to work wishes to work longer or harder, they can thereby earn somewhat more. If they wish to work less long or less hard, they each somewhat less. Arguably a person might so value leisure that they choose to work only halftime, say…or perhaps even less. To work not at all, though perfectly able, would imply valuing leisure so much you want nothing but leisure, even at the cost of not having any income at all. That would be an odd choice. Could a parecon opt to provide a guaranteed minimum income even to capable people who simply refuse to do any work in support of themselves and their fellow citizens? Yes, it could. Could another parecon have a different level, or have no guaranteed income for those who want to not work at all? Yes.  This is dealt with further in the reply to Steps…


Someone, again I m not sure who, writes: “I think Parecon is interesting and helps explain cooperative/participatory economics to average working people. I’m just skeptical about it being turned into an ideology.”


If we mean by “ideology” a dead or a sectarian body of claims, defended regardless of reason or evidence, sure, that would be horrible. But it is not horrible, I think, for movements to have large amounts of shared understanding of the world and shared aims too, so long as people remain oriented to continual refinement and improvement of their views, growth of their insights, etc.


Cemendur writes “I find it suiting that Albert uses the example of producing nuclear missles in a parecon” and I can only reply that I have no idea what Cemendur is referring to. He or she adds, “People in a parecon are remunerated for the effort and sacrifice they lay out.” Not what your Parecon can do for you, but what you can do for your Parecon. This is an odd turn of phrase. Actually, the sitution is more accurately described as what we can each and all do for one another, all benefiting justly. He or she concludes, “Under capitalism people are transformed into consumers and workers. Under Parecon, the opposite is true.” In any society human beings will, in fact, need to consume for survival – and will also benefit by consuming beyond basic needs. Thus, people will produce to be able to consume – and more, I think people even need to produce, beyond the benefits of the material outputs thereby generated, for the expression of their capacities and desires. So, I plead guilty on this charge too – as long as we note that being a consumer or a worker is an entirely different thing in a parecon than in class divided and ruled economies.


APerson writes “I can’t shake the impression that a “coordinator class” would still emerge from the worker and consumer councils, despite Albert’s assurances.” How? If your impression is borne out, we would have to reconceive our visions so their basic institutions don’t foster that. I await more indication.


Ilan writes “Instead of “from each according to ability – to each according to needs” come a the allocation to each according to hir contribution.”

This is actually wrong as parecon rejects remuneration for output, instead remunerating only effort and sacrifice. But it is true that it doesn’t remunate “needs” thought it meets needs. Perhaps llan will tell us who gets to determine what my needs are and therefore how much of society’s output I am entitled to, in his preferred formulation. And for that matter, how do I know how long I should work, and why I can’t choose simply not to work at all.


Someone writes “Albert is clearly against direct democracy of recallable delegates, based on grass root communities as the organizing principle.” I am not sure what this is about. Parecon isn’t a political vision…and certainly does have direct democracy over economic choices, though it is based on workers councils as well as consumers councils – the latter extending from individuals through living unit and then communities, and more widely.


pr writes “I just don’t ever want to work again period – let the machines do it.” If pr said, I don’t ever want to work for a boss again – to be a wage slave again, etc., I would join the senitment. And I haven’t done that in a long long time, as a matter of fact. But I do work, a whole lot, very hard, and don’t wish to stop. I think that work, freely undertaken, self managed, socially useful, is not only necessary but also in itself desirable. This is a sentiment you will find thoughout anarchist literature, by the way.


Someone, again I am not sure who, writes “i think the main reason why many people are unreceptive to and uncomfortable with Parecon is not because people oppose “vision”. i don’t think people are opposed to the ideas in Parecon either. rather i think most anarchists are uncomfortable with the way Parecon was developed and presented. i get the strong impression that many others are more sensitive to and more turned off by proprietary behavior in this area than i am. i get the feeling that many others are likewise more sensitive to and more turned off by self-aggrandizement than i am.”


This is a bit confusing to me. The history is, roughly, that parecon emerged from a few decades of personal involvement by a variety of people, plus, of course, attentiveness to lessons going way beyond that – in both space and time. Its ideas were experimented with in real practice. It was written up in diverse venues, always as clearly as we could manage. Debates and discussions were fostered as much as humanly possible. Now, after many years, many more people are involved. In other words, practice and experience and analysis led to writing and speaking, which provoked slowly spreading views and reactions, and now finally attracting more advocates. I am not sure what other path could have been followed. The fact that a couple of folks first wrote about it is true, and irrelevant, I should think. Ideas stand or fall on the merits, not on lineage – no? As to how such ideas are identified, that may be more a problem of the beholder, and I would imagine that its simple solution is more and better advocates.


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