What Do We Want? How Do We Get It?

We don’t want capitalism with its soul-deadening commercialism, markets, corporations, inequality, hunger, profits, and wage slavery. Goodbye to all that.


We also don’t want an economy like in the old Soviet Union or Yugoslavia - with their regimented state ownership, central planning, markets, corporate workplaces, decision and surplus mopolizing elites, and subordination for working people. Goodbye to all that, too.


So what do we want?


Well, as a worker and as a consumer I want to control my own economic life and cooperatively determine what the economy will produce, in what amounts, with which people getting how much, and with which workplaces doing how much. And I want no worker or consumer subordinate to anything other than his or her own democratic institutions.


In other words, I want…democratic, self-managing worker and consumer councils.

  • people paid for the amount of socially worthy effort and sacrifice that they expend at work, and not for property, power, or even output.

  • jobs defined so everyone has a fair share of empowering and of rote tasks, and so that no small group monopolizes decision making opportunities and skills but, instead, everyone has circumstances that help them participate fully and with dignity in influencing decisions in proportion as the decisions affect them.

  • a decentralized and cooperative approach to workers and consumers collectively negotiating who produces how much, by what means, and arriving at what destinations.

And I think these are the features that embody the aspirations of modern anti-corporate, anti-globalization, and pro worker and consumer movements all around the world. 

Worker and consumer councils. Remuneration for effort and sacrifice. Balanced job complexes. Self management. And participatory planning. And they are also the features of an economic vision called participatory economics, or parecon for short.



Parecon is an alternative to capitalism. It is also an alternative to what has gone under the label socialism but has really elevated a planner/manager/intellectual class to dominance. And parecon embodies the grass roots aspirations of all countries’ progressive and radical workers’ movements. So what about parecon, as a goal for Argentina?


Parecon is a full, carefully reasoned, international proposal for a better economy, as part of a better world.


Parecon has institutions that produce equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management, while of course producing products to meet needs and fulfill potentials.


In a parecon, in each workplace each worker still has a job composed of many tasks, of course. But instead of some workers having all the empowering and more pleasant and fulfilling tasks and other workers having only rote, tedious, and disempowering tasks — each worker in a parecon has a balanced mix. Each worker’s day on the job in a parecon has a comparable quality of life effect and empowerment effect on them as any other worker’s day on the job. The parecon division of labor, what we call balanced job complexes, instead of producing class division and class rule, produces equity, solidarity, and the preconditions for self management.


We don’t have managers and assembly line workers. We don’t have surgeons, nurses, and custodians. We don’t have financial officers and stock boys. A parecon has to get all the worthy tasks that need doing done, of course, but in a parecon we divide them up so that each person has a mix of responsibilities and tasks that, on average, is like that of others regarding quality of life and empowerment effects. If you do something that is highly empowering, part of the time – then part of the time you will be doing other things that are quite rote and tedious, and vice versa, in a fair mix.


We no longer have a society in which 80% of the population is taught, in school, to endure boredom and to take orders, having their greater potentials squandered so that they might fit in a subordinate class position. In a parecon, instead, everyone learns and develops both in school and at work the capacity to participate, as well as to do dignified work of diverse types.


In a parecon, in each workplace each worker is remunerated for the effort they expend. You don’t get more pay because you have better tools, or because you are bigger, or because you own some property, or becuase you happen to be producing something very highly valued. You get a higher income only if you work longer or harder, or if you work at worse conditions (though in a parecon this last possibility doesn’t apply when everyone’s overall job is balanced for quality of life impact).


In a parecon, workplaces and consumers connected to one another not by competitive markets or central planning, but by a system of cooperative negotiation of economic choices called participatory planning. The participatory planning procedures arrive at accurate valuations of the full social costs and benefits of the production and consumption of all goods. They take account of collective and individual effects on workers and on consumers, on the ecology, and on social relations. They arrive at choices with each actor having proportionate say.


The above very brief and hurried description can only barely introduce parecon’s features. How does parecon both deliver the goods and generate solidarity, equity, diversity, and self-management efficiently, getting the most out of society’s assets, not wasting anything, meeting needs, developing potentials? All this is described in much more detail in various books and essays, but also on the internet at http://www.parecon.org.



So, okay, if we think it through, if we examine the whole system and refine it to suit our agendas, and if we decide that we want Participatory Economics (or something more or less like it) for our economy, how do we get it?


Well, owners won’t easily give up their control of the economy. Nor will the rich deliver equity. Nor will the powerful celebrate real self management. These gains must be won, of course. New institutions must be built, step by step, even while we operate within the confines of the past. The chains of old institutions must be weakened from within, then cast off–again, step by step.


Winning a parecon, requires winning lots of demands for changes each of which leaves those who are seeking change better organized, stronger, and wanting to win new gains.


Winning a parecon means winning higher wages while arguing that income should be a function of effort and not property or power. It means winning more power for direct workplace councils over the definition of work life, including over how fast work is done, over what tools are used, with what methods, while arguing that in the end there should be no rulers over workers, but only worker’s self management. It means winning changes in the definitions of jobs and in the rights and responsibilities that people have at work, while arguing the need to ultimately attain balanced job complexes rather than retaining corporate hierarchies.


Winning a parecon means winning restraints on the market and curbing its vile priorities – in the form of redistributive taxes on property and income, laws against polluting and against mistreating workers, a shorter work day, a say for consumers over prices and products, democratic control over national budgets, all while arguing for participatory planning and slowly conceiving and building its infrastructure via the creation of workers and consumers councils and means for their mutual communication.


Indeed, winning a parecon revolves very depend cnetrally on creating and trying to strengthen workers and consumers’ councils, the former in workplaces, the latter in communities. It depends on having those institutions begin to address economic decisions, for units and for the whole economy. Consumers councils struggling to redesign neighbors, to gain control over rent and housing, to share incomes and organize purchases of collective goods, to win control over local, regional, and national government spending, to define the pace of work and allocation of tasks in workplaces, to challenge and alter payment scales, product definitions, and investment choices, all in the context of arguing for a whole new economy, as the ultimate goal.


In the end, winning a parecon means councils taking over workplaces and communities, and negotiating with each other what they wish to produce and consume, in what manner and quantities, paying attention to full social costs and benefits involving impact on workers, on consumers, on neighborhoods and regions, on the ecology, and on social relations, while constructing the institutions of a new economic life.





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