For purposes of exploration and debate with Libertarian Municipalism’s Peter Staudenmaier. See whole debate here.
What have we embarked on–keeping up is hard to do. And I’ve even got another debate going on, with a prominent member of ISO, about Marxism. So, apologies. I should take longer with this, to make it more concise and exact…but with everything else that’s pressing, I have to do it relatively quickly, I’m afraid. So, here goes…
You say, "We agree that councils have an important role to play in carrying out economic decisions. It is definitely not the case that I `don’t like having workers’ councils.’"
Good–but then you add, "What I don’t like is having the broad questions of community-wide economic policy settled in workers’ councils."
I agree. But why do you feel that having workers councils involved in such decisions means having them alone decide such decisions?
It is like if I said I don’t want consumer’s councils deciding, alone, broad decisions — and extrapolated to the claim they shouldn’t even be involved in broad decisions. It just doesn’t follow. Their being involved doesn’t mean they will be solely involved.
Parecon doesn’t exclude either workers councils or consumers councils, nor does it elevate one or the other unduly. In parecon broad economy-wide questions, indeed the whole economic plan, is decided not in workers councils, nor in consumers councils, but by all workers and consumers councils cooperatively arriving at decisions via an iterative process.
You say, "I think that councils are, on the other hand, a very good mechanism for making decisions specific to a single workplace. I also think that councils can be a good arena for formulating the initial versions of proposals regarding broader questions of economic policy."
So far that’s fine too. In parecon councils make local decisions — workplace and regional consumption — but regarding decisions that involve input and influence by others, they make proposals and impact the decisions. That is, they also hear others’ proposals and reactions to their’s, and then mediate and refine their own, and so on, in an on-going participatory process.
You say, "But the final say on such questions should, in my view, belong to the general assembly, which includes all the workers and consumers in a given area."
Each assembly has to make decisions specifically regarding every workplace? And specifically regarding every consumer unit? Each assembly has to pass judgment regarding every feature of the whole plan, or just on the whole plan? The former makes no sense. The latter happens in parecon, in fact, in the form of the consumers councils having to agree to the plan. Of course the workers councils have to agree as well in parecon — but that’s true in any system, at least to a degree, since, if the workers don’t agree, they don’t produce. The real question is do the workers and the consumers have a viable way to develop and express and then modify and refine their preferences in the process of arriving at the plan?
Imagine it as you are now formulating. The workers offer proposals for their plants. The assemblies do too, for their consumption. Then the assemblies look at it all. They see a need for changes in what workers have proposed. Do they just do that, by fiat? If they go back to the workers and have them make the refinements in their own proposals, and likewise give the consumption proposals back to their authors again to be reconsidered, you are rapidly converging toward a parecon.
You say, "The crucial difference, as I see it, is that a general assembly includes all people as community members (or, in social ecology’s terminology, as citizens), and structurally encourages them to approach policy decisions from this broader perspective."
In a parecon it is the combination of workers and consumers councils that decides the economic plan, and this combination also includes everyone. Moreover, it offers venues for everyone to engage with their workmates on the one hand, and with their collective consumption mates on the other hand, in developing their various preferences through the process of negotiating the plan. As to people taking into account "the community" that’s what the participatory planning process causes to occur — rather than simply assuming that it will — on the consumer side. Moreover, it also includes incentives and structures that make it in the interests of workers to listen up and respond empathetically, and not solely because they are also consumers.
You still haven’t told me why there is a problem with participatory planning. When you say it leaves out actors taking into account the community interest, I say back, that’s simply not so. These are economic decisions and, indeed, individual’s, groups’, communities’, and society’s interests are accounted for vis a vis the economic choices. When I say back that having only citizens — that is, people in locales — make final decisions reduces the impact of the insights and preferences that people feel specifically as workers, more or less mimicking your complaint about parecon back at you, but in reverse, you tell me no, it’s not so, because workers are in the assemblies. I say yes, they are in there, all right, atomistically divided from their workmates. If someone were to try the same argument with you, saying all the consumers after all are in the workplaces (let’s say those who can’t work are made voting members of the nearest workers council) so why not just have workers councils do all the deciding, you would say no, in that venue the actors don’t manifest their preferences as community residents. they are fragmented from neighbors, they aren’t thinking in that mode, and so on. Rightly, I think. But it holds both ways.
You say "Parecon’s councils, however, encourage people to approach the same decisions as workers and as consumers. I think you see this as one of parecon’s strengths, but I see it as a weakness."
Yes, you are right. I see it as bringing to the table — to the planning process — insights and preferences appropriate to that process — that is, information and feelings about workplace relations, capabilities, workloads, etc., and about consumption implications, needs, and so on, for both products and byproducts and processes in the economy. I see it as polling, so to speak, both key venues and mindsets, not one or the other. But moreover, parecon has processes, institutions, and incentives, that elicit all the information and behavior, and that provide means to act on it.
You say, "It isn’t a matter of `belonging to neighborhoods’, or even of `the insights that arise from being a citizen,’ but of the priorities and the outlook that we bring to considerations of community affairs, including economic affairs." Fine, I hear that. I agree with that, in fact, meaning I agree that this aspect of our beings needs to be developed, voiced, and manifested in economic decisions. Consumer councils are parecon’s vehicle for doing that. Parecon doesn’t ignore that input but makes it centrally critical. In what way do you think the consumers councils would fall short. More, however, I also think the priorities and outlook that people bring to and derive from workplace relations need to be developed, voiced, and manifested…and that workplace councils are a vehicle for that. Please tell me how having these vehicles in addition to consumer councils would miss or incorrectly assess some issue, or misapportion power, or whatever other failing you may detect.
I asked, “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?” and you answered…"No. Living room arrangements are not a matter of public policy, so the assembly has no say in them."
So assemblies only operate with reference to public policy? What is public policy? Is the amount of steel to be produced in some plant public policy? What about whether it gets a new technology or not? What about the number of tractors used on some farm? Every economic decision is entwined with and impacts every other, sometimes only a little, sometimes a lot. Parecon provides a cooperative procedure and associated institutions for dealing with each, giving appropriate self-managing influence to those impacted, and utilizing relevant information provided by those in the know.
You say, "But how many rocking chairs are produced in the local furniture shop, or what dyes are used in the rugs made at the local textile shop, or how big the living rooms should be in the new housing complex that’s being built around the corner, those are all potentially matters of public policy that may well fall within the purview of the assembly."
It seems to me all these are mostly a matter of the desires of those who will consume them weighed against the costs of production. In a parecon these type of issues do all fall within the purview of consumer councils (your local assemblies) at every level, and fall, also, within the purview of workers councils — the one’s directly involved and others too, as providers of inputs and utilizers of outputs. This is because such decisions really are part of an interactive tapestry. But in decisions like these, mostly it those directly concerned, for example those who desire to have the items noted or who produce them, who will have most impact. Tell me, please, in what way do you feel that a parecon mishandles any of these matters?
You say "The workers in the furniture shop or at the construction site participate in making these policy decisions, as members of the assembly, and they also participate in determining how these policy decisions are implemented, as members of their workers’ council. I don’t agree that this approach would `under-represent workplace concerns.’ It would give primary responsibility for workplace concerns to workplace bodies, and primary responsibility for communal concerns to community bodies."
Again, we are supposed to be talking about parecon here…so why not tell me what is wrong with how parecon handles the matters. As to social ecology’s assemblies…I and my hundred workmates could be in five different assemblies, which one of those assemblies is deciding the output of our plant? How do we get together to determine our shared attitudes? Once we offer those up, how are they communicated to whoever is making a decision? If those making the decision want to be democratic about it and get back to us with their reactions and seek our refinements, how do they do that? In parecon this is all built-in. You say you "want to give primary responsibility for workplace concerns to workplace bodies, and primary responsibility for communal concerns to community bodies." I say it a little differently, to get a little more exact guideline. I want to give a say over decisions to those involved in proportion as they are involved. And I notice that decisions about how much a plant should produce of course affect the entire community that will consume the output, or be affected by by products, and also affect the group doing the work. And so I want both to impact that decision considerably, others less so. Parecon does that. What’s the problem with it? How does it give, as you seem to think, to much say to workers over decisions that impact communities?
You wrote, "I agree that workers should gather in workplaces to assess the production conditions of their workplaces, but `what they would produce’ is, to my mind, a question for the general assembly to decide, not just the workers of the particular enterprise."
Why do you say "not just the workers in the particular enterprise"? No one proposes that just workers in an enterprise decide, unilaterally, anything much. Decisions are entwined. In parecon the plan emerges from a host of interactions. No decision is really taken until the plan, as a whole, is settled. Workers in a plant, or an industry, or the whole economy don’t decide anything alone in those capacities — but neither do citizens in a community, neighborhood, county, state, or the whole country. Economic decisions, in parecon, emerge in the course of the negotiation of the plan with all those affected having appropriate input.
You say, "As for `harmful implications in a parecon’ […] parecon has all of us deciding in limited groups on issues large and small, including minute details of personal consumption as well as major choices about long-term public infrastructure, all at the same time, instead of concentrating collective attention on the decisive questions of investment, public goods, and the overall direction of production."
This is simply not the case. Yes, it is certainly true that the sum total of the personal consumption choices of people is as critical to the overall economic plan as, say, the decision to develop a new dam or public highway and such. But the exact procedures for doing each are separate, though interactively dealt with. That’s as it should be. We can’t sensibly decide, in final form, on a bunch of investment choices and the like, without considering the implications they have for our workloads and consumption. And, vice versa, we can’t make good choices about how much we want to work or consume without input about others’ views on these issues, and about possible large-scale undertakings. But we can approach larger projects first, as parecon in fact suggests.
And as to deciding in "limited groups" I don’t see how you can say that. You have people deciding all politics of consequence and all economics of consequence in assemblies — I don’t know how large they are, how many levels of them there are, etc. Well, parecon has the vehicles you have (among our consumer councils) plus I suspect both lower and higher levels of consumers councils, plus workers councils. So how can parecon’s units for decision making input be called limited when they include but go beyond those of social ecology?
I think you mean the workers councils are limited because they are "just" workplaces, industries, and so on. Yes, I think that is a limitation, so we also have the consumer councils. But when I say to you that having just consumer councils (that you call assemblies) in on big decisions is limited, you don’t seem to register it. I think assemblies are probably a very good foundation for politics, and also for manifesting the consumer-side information and preferences regarding economics, but that they are poor vehicles regarding manifesting the producer-side information and preferences.
You say, "In one of your hypothetical dialogues in Looking Forward, you put this point into the mouth of a market socialist: `By forcing all decisions to undergo public scrutiny you will overload the circuits and won’t get quality deliberation about what matters most.’” (Looking Forward p. 62)
Yes, because I tried to offer up serious concerns — but I also bet that I answered it.
You say, "One of your real live critics put it this way: `Albert and Hahnel encumber the participators with the burden of enormous detail. They forfeit the potential power for focused and limited decision making on crucial issues of investment and policy…’ (Roy Morrison, “Notes on Participatory Economics”, New Politics Summer 1992 p. 107)"
On the one hand, it just isn’t true. No one has to pay attention to any more detail than they wish to in a parecon. But people will pay attention to some detail, in a smooth and efficient way, because to do otherwise would yield poor results. As a consumers, of course we all pay attention to the details of items we choose among. Is that a problem? Parecon adds that we should be concerned about the well being of the workers who produce what we consume, especially in cases of dispute. Is that a problem? As a producer we pay attention to the details of our workplace, and of the desires of those we serve? Is that a problem. What has me a little irked, is I don’t see how social ecology can raise such a point…given that by your description each assembly in social ecology — with no stated means for getting useful and relevant information or for processing it — is supposed to decide not only what you are now emphasizing, grand public projects, but the total output of every plant. In parecon I worry about planning the output of the place where I work and my own consumption. I pay attention to other matters as I need to and want to, to address my situation. In social ecology, it seems I have to worry about deciding the output of all plants in my area, and presumably the consumption of all groups too. Parecon has each participant impacting the whole plan and through it every component decision, but we don’t each have to so immerse ourselves in economics that we are prepared to urge this is what that car plant should output, this is what that bicycle plant should output, and so on, through the whole economy. Yet that seems to be exactly what you are asking of your assembly members, if I am hearing right. I don’t see that my worrying about what I produce and what I consume is asking to much of me. But I do wonder how I could possibly responsibly worry about what everyone produces, directly, as compared to impacting it tangentially due to my preferences.
In parecon workers put forth proposals for what their workplaces will output. Consumers put forth proposals (individual and collective) for what they will consume. Either is able to access the logic and information that others use, but neither has to do so or would do so, except in particular instances. A system wide negotiation occurs, with proposals being refined and altered in light of their implications for relative valuations, output levels, and so on. Prices come into accord with true social costs and benefits. Actors have appropriate input.
You say that you want people to participate in decisions, as I do. Okay, we agree people should interact in a process that yields a plan. The question now is, can we find a way for people to do this that doesn’t put undo demands on their time or consciousness and is compatible with all the other values we hold dear? Well, as far as I can see, social ecology doesn’t in any way streamline this. Instead, it has each assembly deciding all output levels, each being a decision unto itself, and thus each person in each assembly presumably having to be concerned with every workplace’s character. Parecon also decides output levels, but it does this by a process that has each of us focusing on our own involvements and consulting or considering others situations only as we are moved to and choose to, which is likely to be significant, but not overwhelming.
You say, "I also think that parecon’s council model gets the process of social negotiation more or less backward. You start out by having individuals and councils formulate proposals, which then get combined and refined through a series of anonymous and isolated iteration rounds. Only after this process is well advanced, with most of the principal questions already decided, is there an opportunity for everybody to consider comprehensive economic proposals as a whole (you describe this as `the seventh planning iteration’ on p. 104 of Looking Forward). These comprehensive proposals are only put forward for public consideration `when the major part of the plan has already been settled on. We are talking about final moves after the essential outcome is no longer in doubt.’ (Looking Forward p. 126)"
Here I think we have a misunderstanding. Right from the outset everyone is thinking in terms of their own involvements, and of the whole plan as well. Right off, for example, you have to propose your workload — which is a function, ultimately, of the whole plan. In the early stages of planning we are talking about the whole plan, but still discovering information and possibilities and refining and thereby honing in on what it will be. At the end, when we are close, we might jump steps, so to speak, at the last stages. That’s all the above material was about.
You say, "You mean this as a safeguard against potential meddling by members of the iteration facilitation boards, but the whole approach strikes me as topsy-turvy."
No, we meant the voting option at the end as an optional way to bring quicker closure to the process, is all.
You say, "Under parecon, real public contestation over broad economic priorities only kicks in after most of the substantive issues have already been decided in a fragmented and dispersed process restricted to ‘consumer’ and ‘producer’ roles."
This is totally false, and I am not sure where you got the impression. Large-scale issues of investments and the like, public goods and so on, are done first in a parecon. Nothing is fully decided until the end, arguably, but these matters are handled out front, not later. But aside from that misunderstanding, I don’t understand why you say things like "in a fragmented and dispersed process restricted to `consumer’ and `producer’ roles." What does it mean, fragmented and dispersed? As compared to central planning? As compared to dividing society into one thousand one hundred thousand person assemblies each of which operate virtually out of touch with the rest (if in touch, by what allocation system)? How is having people function as individuals, as members of families or other living units, as members of communities, or larger units like counties or states, and as individual workers, members of work teams and divisions, members of whole workplaces, and members of industries — fragmented and dispersed? And what is wrong with people acting as consumers and producers? Those are two ways we in fact do interact. It’s part of life, not the whole of it, but part of it, the economic part. Suppose I said parishoners shouldn’t interact in their churches as parishoners, it is too narrow. It would make no sense. In their churches that’s what they are.
You say, "I think it ought to be the other way around: first we decide in the public sphere on the general outlines of economic policy, via a process of direct deliberation and the contestation of alternative proposals, in our capacity as citizens. Once we’ve agreed on a basic plan, then we flesh out the subcomponents and details in smaller collectivities like our workplace or our residence, in our capacity as producers and consumers."
Well, just as it would be wrong to decide individual consumption and only then decide broad public projects, as you indicate, so is the reverse wrong. Yes, we can take up the larger scale matters first, and advisedly so, but it doesn’t make sense to fully decide them other than in a process that is fully deciding everything else, because everything is, in fact, entwined. Suppose you have people more or less saying lets have so much electricity, so much coal, so much corn, etc. as a big decision — as well as this or that big public project like a new airport or whatever — and then, after that, everyone deciding their own consumption. Notice, then, somehow my personal budget, my total consumption, and to a considerable degree the relative valuation of everything available and thus what I will wind up with were all decided without my ever even saying what I want for myself. Even central planning does better than that, because it makes clear how the planners try to determine the desires of the populace before deciding what you are calling the "basic plan."
You say, "In response, once again, to somewhat misguided criticism by market socialists, you actively downplay the role of direct, face to face discussion and negotiation within parecon, and advocate “a simple up or down vote” on prepackaged proposals rather than “a rancorous meeting.” (Thinking Forward p. 197)
Again, this is just misunderstanding, although I don’t understand how it came about. In parecon there is face to face discussion and negotiation in all the councils, of course, about many matters. But, there is certainly not face to face discussion and negotiation between me as a corn farmer and someone who eats my corn a thousand miles away, obviously. You are again using the example you mentioned above, which is merely about closing in on the final stages of a plan, not in any sense a disavowal of communication, per se.
You say "You emphasize that `rather than have delegates from federations meet to hammer out the ‘end game’ of the planning process, we proposed that after a number of iterations had defined the basic contours of the plan, the professional staffs of iteration facilitation boards would define a few feasible plans within those contours for constituents to vote on without ever meeting or debating.’ (ibid.) I consider these elements of parecon to be significant drawbacks."
Again, this is merely misunderstanding. All actors, individuals and councils, have socially worked through a society wide process to its final stages, coming near to a settled plan. We note the possibility — at that point, and we don’t emphasize it, that I remember — of quickening the pace to the end, that’s all.
The issue really is, does an economic vision have a set of mechanisms for arriving at proper valuations of all inputs and outputs, material, labor, and services, that flow through the economy? Does it give actors the right self-managing say? Does the behavior it elicits comply with values we hold dear — enhancing solidarity and diversity, for example? Do people receive appropriate shares of the output and contribute appropriate levels of work to the output? Parecon offers up balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, worker and consumer council self maangement, and participatory planning to do all this. I still wonder why you aren’t an advocate of it.
I asked, "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?”
You reply, "If you mean what they produce at work, then my answer is yes. But the point of assemblies isn’t that they are `geographic units’, but that they include everybody who is primarily affected by the community’s economic choices."
So, I am in an assembly, so are all my neighbors, and people on the next block, and the next, and so on. We are each going to get up in front of one another and "articulate our distinctive views and desires about what will go on where we each work"–hundreds, even perhaps thousands of workplaces? And we are each going to play the same role in deciding the total output of every one of those workplaces, our own and also the rest, one person one vote? Is this what you are proposing?
Economics is an entwined interactive process, and I think we can agree that all decisions must not only be taken democratically and not only correspond to true conditions and needs, but they have to mesh.
And of course assemblies are geographic units, unless I am completely missing something here too. I am a member of one, and not another, because of where I live, no? In that respect they are like consumer councils as compared to workplace councils.
I followed up by asking, “And that this group [in an assembly] should vote (somehow) on each workplace’s total output, work choices, investment projects, and so on?”
And you reply, "Yes to total output and investment projects, no to work choices." But (a) I hope it is clear from above why I don’t accept that they could sensibly alone arrive at figures for total output as you indicate, or for investment projects, but (b) even supposing they could, in fact, to do so goes a long way toward deciding "work choices" by deciding how much work must be done. I am still waiting to hear why it is better that people in an assembly (I don’t know which one, I don’t know how big, I don’t know with what information and what decision criteria) should decide what the output of a farm or coal mine or bicycle shop should be as compared to the workers councils in those units in negotiation with the consumers of their outputs, and in light of the simultaneously evolving proposals of other suppliers and users arriving at a mutually acceptable solution via participatory planning?
I asked… “What if I am in your assembly but a majority of my workmates are in another one, for an extreme case?”
You answer, "Then you’d be aware from the start that you’ll have relatively little say in the production goals for your workplace. This needn’t be an insuperable problem if your views on the topic are similar to those of your workmates, and there’s always the option of moving or switching jobs. In any case the dilemma would arise infrequently in the scenario I outlined."
First off, it seems to me it would arise virtually universally. More often than not some people in a workplace will be in one assembly, and some people in another, unless assemblies are much larger than my impression of them. But how would I have any say, or they have any say at all? That is, if one of the two assemblies is deciding the output of the plant, the folks in the other simply have no say in their own plant’s output, it seems. More, in the assembly that does have a say, the workers there from the plant have no more say than everyone else there, who don’t work in the plant. That too seems incredible to me. More, do the workers voice their concerns collectively, or even get to develop them collectively? Why do the workers in a plant abide a result that they may actually have voted, even all of them universally, against? What about consumers of what the plant produces who aren’t in the assembly–do they have any say? What about people in the next state who suffer some pollution coming from the plant, do they have a say?
In a parecon all these actors do impact the decision, essentially in proportion as they are affected by it. People do so partly as producers, doing the work directly or working on inputs, and they do so as consumers of the product, and even of other products which would be using the inputs instead. They do so also as consumers of clean air, or pollution, and so on.
I asked, “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?”
You replied, "This is, in part, what happens in the course of assembly deliberations, though not nearly in as detailed a manner as in parecon. Collective public discussion allows us to define and refine our own preferences while considering and assessing other people’s preferences. We can then work towards a general interest that incorporates and integrates particular interests to the extent possible."
It sounds nice, and indeed could be said in exactly the same words about parecon. So the devil is going to be in the details. The discussion that happens is only helpful if it has good information. I don’t see how social ecology generates good information. And nothing you have said has indicated that parecon doesn’t. It is only democratic if folks have appropriate influence over choices. I don’t see how social ecology generates that. And nothing you have said has indicated that parecon doesn’t.
I think a big hurdle in our communications is that I see in my head an economy with a couple of hundred thousand different products (final and intermediate), with consumers of outputs often benefiting from the products of firms way far away from them, with firms that have everything from a handful of workers to thousands of workers, and with consumer units that range from individuals up to millions of people (collectively consuming massive systems of highways, or clean or dirty air, and so on), and, as well, I am worried about supplies matching demands and both being generated with clear understanding of the full social costs and benefits involved in both production and consumption. In contrast, I think you are thinking about a country parceled into units that are quite small…say a few hundred thousand people, or smaller, have in mind far fewer inputs and outputs, envision mostly small workplaces, see consumers in the same locale as nearly all the firms whose products they benefit from, anticipate few if any large scale external effects, and worry little about supply matching demand or precise valuations those being thought to arise quite organically, or something. Perhaps this isn’t fair, but it is the impression I get. I have my doubts about whether social ecology’s economic vision, at least as I am hearing it, would suffice even under the circumstances I am thinking you envision…but if those circumstances have little to do with reality and shouldn’t be a goal, we shouldn’t have to figure out what could or couldn’t work for them.
I wrote, “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.”
You replied, "Agreed. Do you think assemblies are incapable of fulfilling these goals?" No, I don’t think geographic assemblies can do this, especially without enunciating any means for them to accumulate reliable relevant information. Well, wait, let me hedge that. Suppose we have a parecon economy. Suppose we have some kind of fully developed social ecology polity based on assemblies in the same society. In this context I think the assemblies could access the information that participatory planning generates and could then — though it would be redundant of what their members already did in the planning process — assess it and so on. But no, I don’t think that assemblies alone, without the planning process, could either assemble the information or apportion appropriate decision making power to actors in utilizing it to arrive at a plan, and with the planning process all that is already done, in the planning, and what is left to the assemblies as assemblies, is politics (there having done their economic tasks in the planning).
In parecon over simplifying only a little, coal mine workers look at last year’s actual data and at anticipated changes, and at their own circumstances (including, let’s say, their desires to reduce overall coal output for various reasons), and at likely over-all work levels and output (affecting average income levels) for the coming year, and propose a level of output for their workplace. The whole populace looks at last year’s actual data, at likely output and thus average budgets, at their own circumstances, and at workers’ proposals (including if they give it their attention, worker’s known desires to reduce coal output), and propose their consumption, which in turn implies a level of overall coal extraction needed. In the next round the coal mine workers notice a gap and refine their proposal somewhat, as do consumers. Simultaneously all other planning is proceeding, interactively, with mutual implications — such as other energy source investments and production choices, and so on. The planning proceeds and in time reaches an agenda of acceptably matching production and consumption. In the process the miners and consumers have both participated, both influenced the outcomes, each in proportion to effects on them. True social costs and benefits have been determined and have informed those decisions.
In social ecology, in contrast, as best I can understand, hopefully oversimplying no more than above, there is an assembly in the area of the coal mine. I don’t know, let’s say a million citizens in it. This assembly decides the mine’s output. Other assemblies in other places decide other mine’s outputs, but without any means to accommodate each of their decisions to the rest. More, the assembly decides its mine’s output, and so do the others, with no way to heed how much coal is actually desired by consumers via the things they wish to have, and no indication of true valuations of the coal’s costs and benefits. More, the miners at best have a tiny say in the assembly decision, each of them having one vote in a million if they are in the assembly at all. More, the consumers of the coal, elsewhere in the country, aren’t in on the decision at all. Worse, nor are folks far away who suffer pollution effects. If this picture is even close, to become a serious economic model social ecology would need to explain how it manages to accurately assess costs and benefits, include external effects, apportion influence appropriately, etc. I don’t see any of this. I think a quicker route to social ecologists having a positive economy in tune with their values might well be to take a closer look at parecon. I’d like, reciprocally, to myself take a quick route to having a political system to advocate via taking a close look at social ecology’s polity, though I think it needs to have more aspects clarified, for example, adjudication.
I asked, “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?”
You replied, "Social ecologists argue that regional disparities should be actively compensated at the confederal level, according to what we call an ethics of complementarity. Indeed this same principle underlies our commitment to libertarian communism. So yes, I very much agree that the collective benefits of society should accrue to all, and I recommend making this precept the basis of allocation across the board."
I have to say, this doesn’t tell me much.
You wrtoe, "I do think there are very compelling reasons for shrinking productive units, and even for foregoing the advantages of economies of scale, if doing so yields greater participation and increases the effectiveness of directly democratic self-management. Far from `reducing interactivity`, this sort of decentralization can greatly enhance interactivity."
Suppose we are choosing between having ten large plants produce bicycles for the whole country, and instead five hundred small ones, one in each assembly area. Let’s assume, and it will certainly be true for some items if not for bicycles, that it would take considerably fewer inputs, much less labor time, less planning time, and have less damaging ecological impacts as well to take the former larger-scale approach. You are then saying, and I actually agree, if there would be other social benefits outweighing those debits in favor of the decentralized model, then we should go for the five hundred firm approach. But I think that you think there probably would be those other benefits, whereas I think there wouldn’t and would have different ones in mind, anyhow. For example, I wonder whether the work in the smaller units might be more artistic and diverse. But let’s assume it wouldn’t be and that, in fact, this would be another bonus of the larger plants, being far better able to explore diverse innovations and supply varied models for different needs, and so on. So we are down to your participation issue — does smaller and more decentralized mean more participatory and more self managing? Now here is the nub of a big difference. No, for me it doesn’t. In both variants in a parecon the workers and the consumers participate directly through self-managing vehicles of the development and expression of their views and preferences, have appropriate input levels, receive just remuneration, and so on. Small is not apriori better vis a vis democracy or participation.
I wrote, “But to say that all people should always have the same influence in every decision, well, I just don’t understand that.”
You replied, "I think you mean that you disagree with it, not that you don’t understand it, but I’ll try one more time to make my position clearer."
Actually, I do disagree with it, but I meant what I wrote. I tried to explain that I don’t think anyone believes that people should have the same influence, in their practice anyhow, over all decisions, so I don’t understand how anyone can say it.
You continued, "I think that some decisions affect large groups of people, and when that is the case, I think all these people should participate in shaping the decision, if possible."
Agreed, but how much should they each be able to affect it? The decision as to what work relations we employ in our workplace is going to impact how much output there is and what inputs we use, and in these two respects, among others, will impact overall prices, which will impact everyone’s consumption choices. Now, should everyone impact this decision to the same extent as everyone else? I agree we should all impact it some, but I think some should have way more impact than others do.
You say, in contrast, "In addition, I think that for most collective decisions, everybody who participates in them should do so on an equal basis, with each person having the same degree of formal power."
I know it is what you think, but why? I can’t but feel you would want the decision reached in each situation to respect the differential effects. Suppose you and I and thirty other people work in a small plant. Suppose we are simply deciding the temperature the room we work in should be kept at. Suppose we mostly like it right around 68, some a bit more, some a bit less, whatever. Now suppose one person can’t stand it above 66. If it goes higher they will suffer extremely in their health. We may have one person one vote majority rule for this type decision, but even if we do surely you will agree that you will want the greatly impacted individual’s influence to be greater, won’t you? Okay, if so, then we agree on the idea that we want decisions to reflect the wills of those affected in proportion as they are affected. Now, you may think this is best accomplished, always, by having one person one vote majority rule but incorporating excellent dynamics for uncovering extra-impacts, so to speak, and then relying on folks to bend their voting in accord with respect for those differentials. Sometimes I think that is true. But other times I think it is better to use other voting rules because they come much closer to incorporating proportionate influence and therefore will suffer less if communication and mutual concern isn’t absolutely perfect. If we can agree on this, we may be able to leave this issue behind.
You report, "Here is how one of the more insightful contemporary theorists of democracy, Iris Marion Young, puts it in her recent book Inclusion and Democracy (p. 23): `a democratic decision is normatively legitimate only if all those affected by it are included in the process of discussion and decision-making. […] When coupled with norms of political equality, inclusion allows for maximum expression of interests, opinions, and perspectives relevant to the problems or issues for which a public seeks solutions. […] Not only should all those affected be nominally included in decision-making, but they should be included on equal terms. All ought to have an equal right and effective opportunity to express their interests and concerns.’”
This is an assertion, not an argument. In fact, for the second part, the equality of impact part, it doesn’t even bother to offer a reason.
I wrote, “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.”
You replied "The problem, as I see it, is not that such a proportional process would necessarily lead to bad results; the problem is that this approach mixes up process and results."
I took for granted that you would agree that this process would be excellent in its process implications if it could be relied on to reach excellent results, perhaps wrongly.
You continue, "With just about any decision-making process, it’s possible to get either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ results, depending on the choices made by the participants. A particular decision can be ‘wrong’ for either of two very different reasons: 1) it fails to reflect the considered judgment of the participants; or 2) it succeeds in reflecting the considered judgment of the participants, but this judgment was mistaken or misguided or malicious. I think you want to get rid of the second kind of bad decision by attempting to fix the first kind of bad decision, and I don’t think that will work."
I am a bit at a loss. You seem to agree the above approach fixes the first kind of problem, which is what I meant by I took for granted you would okay the process. You seem to be concerned that it wouldn’t eliminate mistaken or even malicious choices. Well, what addresses these is not the decision algorithm, but the means of gathering and processing information, and the incentives people have to be honest and responsible or, in the bad case, lie, etc. I wish you would tell me if you think participatory planning has either an information problem or an incentive problem.
You say views about the outcomes of a decision should impact a decision’s resolution "through deliberation and argument, not through changing the decision-making procedure. If I believe that a particular outcome is crucially important and vastly preferable to the alternatives, then I should make a strong case in favor of that outcome and try to convince my co-participants of its merits. What I should not do is try to re-arrange the decision-making process in order to make my preferred outcome more likely. I think that the proportionality principle, in the form that you have articulated it, misses this distinction."
In fact, the proportionality principle sees the distinction but comes to a quite different conclusion. That is, I agree with you that any decision making algorithm at all yields perfect outcomes if everyone involved is equally concerned with their own and with everyone else’s well being and will vote not their own interest but the sum total interest of everyone, and if all information and feelings are conveyed, and everyone can process it all brilliantly. Thus, if there is a dictator, if there is one person one vote, if there is three quarters required, it just doesn’t matter regarding reaching the best outcome if all involved are geniuses and saints. Then we get the same outcome with any of them. But that’s not reality, on the one hand. And on the other hand, different approaches put different weights on successful communication. Which methods of intercommunication and of voting we choose for different types of decision should take this into account.
I wrote, in responding to a criticism you raised of parecon’s remuneration for effort and sacrifice: “I don’t see that you explained how remunerating effort maintains a decisive feature of capitalism”
You replied, "I think that remuneration for effort is an attenuated form of wage labor."
Wage labor (I typically call it wage slavery) is people working for an owner who amasses profits in opposition to paying them higher wages. They get paid what they can bargain for, that is, a matter of power relations, and their power is generally quite limited. The only feature present in parecon that approximates to any of those features, is that the working person gets an income at all. Well, that holds in every economy, in fact, including a social ecology economy. You wind up getting a certain amount of stuff, and that is your income.
You continue, "The whole notion of individualized differential material rewards is diametrically opposed to the ethics of complementarity I mentioned earlier."
Maybe it is, but this isn’t an argument against rewarding effort or for "complementarity" which is an unknown concept to me, outside quantum mechanics, that is. In a parecon you can think of it as we all are scheduled to earn the same amount…but we are able to work longer or harder, less long or less hard, in order to earn more in the first case or less in the second. Or think of us each as having as part of our lives a combination of income (for work) and leisure. That combination is regulated to be the same for all of us (who can work). Some of us choose more leisure less income. Others choose less leisure and more income. To say we should all get the same income either says we should all also work the same amount and have the same leisure, or says we can work less and still get the same amount. The former is rigid. The latter is unjust.
You say, "Moreover, I am not persuaded of its virtues as an economic incentive. I think your theory was better off before you introduced the maxim of remuneration for effort, indeed before you made individual remuneration itself a central element of parecon."
I wish you would say what is wrong with it as an incentive. It motivates effort, the one thing we have direct control over. Remuneration is a central fact of any economy — we do get a share of the total output, and that is our remuneration. Now, what determines it is an issue to decide.
You continue, "In your early essay on “Participatory Planning” you and Hahnel wrote: `Under socialism workers will work because they understand the importance of their tasks and the ways they interrelate with other people’s efforts, because they self-manage their own labors, and because of the direct rewards of socially valuable, self-managed, collectively shared creative activity.’ (Socialist Visions p. 271) No mention of remuneration here. That was twenty years ago, of course, and I don’t know if you still agree with those sentiments, but I continue to find them credible."
I think we do work for all those reasons. But also for an income. I’d have to go back and look at the essay, but I bet it doesn’t leave out people having an income.
You continue, "It is hardly the case that a communist distribution system `destroys the capacity to make rational choices among options.’ The options are chosen collectively, in consideration of their various impacts on the rest of the economy; when shortages arise, that’s a signal that re-prioritizing the options may be in order."
I don’t know quite how to reply. The point is if there is no good measure of how much people benefit or suffer from economic things — work, leisure, and items — then there is no way to make choices among them. Should we increase the work week by five hours to get the extra output that would generate, or not? We have to be able to weigh off the benefit of the extra output against the presumed debit of the extra labor time. Should we have a new highway system and forego all the other things we could have produced with the same energy, effort, and resources, or vice versa? We can’t intelligently make the choice unless our allocation system determines values accurately for all things involved, as well as conveying this information and giving us means to make decisions based on it. An economy that functions based on shortages arising, and that’s it, is, well, not one that it would be healthy to live in. How does something new get produced, as but one of an endless number of complaints that can be raised against the image.
You write, "In parecon, when a neighborhood consumers’ council forwards its bundle of proposals (including summed individual proposals) to the ward-level or county-level consumption council or federation, the individual break-down of requested items is of no consequence for the planning process during any particular iteration round; what matters are the aggregate figures. Thus there is no planning reason why a communist distribution system at the local level would be a hindrance to rational allocation. Do you dispute this?"
I am not entirely sure what you mean. Could a family disperse items among its members any way it wants? Yes. Could a community request a bunch of stuff, given its cumulative budget, and then disperse it any way it wants? Yes. But the point is, the groups are taking from the social product a fair amount. In every case you are going to raise, I think that will hold true. Sometimes need may increase it, sure, and likewise in parecon. What I can’t understand is why you think that knowing the values of things, and thus knowing the sum of the values of all the things you are taking from the social product, and also knowing what the average amount available is per person, and knowing whether you differ in any way from average that warrants your getting more or less, are bad bits of knowledge to have. This is the information content that is generated by parecon by virtue of remunerating for effort and also employing participatory planning.