Workplace Democracy and Markets?


        [Contribution to the Reimagining Society Projeect hosted by ZCommunications]

[This article is an amended version of a piece entitled ‘Economic Democracy’ which originally appeared on www.newunionism.net]

Many on the left are intuitively suspicious of positive forms of workplace democracy, in which workers have the right and duty to participate in decision-making about what will be done rather than the negative right merely to refuse to accept some decision that has already been taken. They believe that business organisations can never do the right thing as long as the logic that drives production is profit rather than need. They believe that regardless of who is making the decisions or how they are made, the logic of competitiveness within the market economy is the same and cannot be resisted. They believe that organisational behaviour always converges on a pattern which in the long term is damaging to society as a whole and that those organisations that attempt to resist this pattern will ultimately be driven out of business. They also believe that since workers are powerless to resist the system as a whole, they are obliged to participate in the market economy.

Those who take this view argue that, for all these reasons, positive forms of workplace democracy make workers complicit in their own exploitation. They believe that any form of workplace democracy that goes beyond the right to organise and to say ‘no’ to employers actually prevents workers from resisting the demands of the market, leaving society powerless in the face of uncontrollable and unpredictable economic forces. Since ultimately the only choices available to business organisations concern the detail of how to bend to the demands of the market, it is better for workers not to be distracted by the illusion of liberty that participating in the making of these choices provides.

It’s certainly true that worker participation or employee involvement or whatever other term it goes by is frequently, perhaps usually, nothing more than a thin veneer over what is otherwise an entirely standard – entirely undemocratic – approach to management. But what I want to argue in this article is that just because this is the case does not mean that the aspiration for workplace democracy has to be abandoned or has to wait for some kind of socialisation of the means of production. I want to argue that the market economy is in principle perfectly compatible with genuine positive workplace democracy and that the market can actually be our ally in the quest for fair and sustainable productive enterprise.

In arguing all of this I want to bear in mind a crucial distinction that Michel Aglietta has drawn between the capitalism that we currently have and the market economy that we might one day be able to construct: “A market economy and capitalism are linked but not identical. The market paradigm is one of exchange among equals; it can be formalized as competitive equilibrium. Capitalism is a force of accumulation. It is not self-regulating and does not converge to any ideal model. Inequality is its essence” (New Left Review 54, p.62). So the market economy we need is not the market economy we have, but I believe that it can be built.

Deciding what to do in the market context

I’m going to make one basic assumption, which is that a decent market society – a society in which the economy is based on production for profit in competitive markets – would be one in which private enterprises consistently behaved in a politically and ethically acceptable way, whether in terms of relationships within the organisation (respect, fairness, mutuality, democracy etc), in terms of the products or services they exist to provide (quality, usefulness, aesthetics, safety etc), and in the way in which these products and services are produced, distributed and marketed (sustainability, ‘corporate citizenship’, honesty etc). Clearly, a comprehensive vision of the good society requires more than this, but I would argue that it is perhaps the most important part of the vision.

So keeping this – admittedly slightly utopian – vision of genuinely socially useful private enterprise in mind, we need to start by thinking about the relationship between organisational decision-making and the demands of the market; about how businesses go about deciding what it is they are going to do as opposed to how they are going to do it. This is important because what we are talking about is how much choice businesses actually have in how they conduct their business; about whether political and ethical choices can be fully and permanently integrated into decision-making, or whether they can only be taken into account if it happens that in some particular market at some particular time the competitive conditions allow it. So you could say that we are talking about whether workers should participate in organisational decision-making. If business organisations operating in competitive markets have no real choice about what they do, then there is not much point in worker participation. Indeed it would probably be better if employees did not get involved in decision-making so as to preserve the maximum capacity to resist the demands of the market when necessary. If on the other hand there is room for genuine choice, then the situation is very different.

The question of whether management has the capacity to choose its strategy is at the bottom of the big argument which has been running in the labour movement over the last 20 years or so – whether unions should go for partnership types of relationship or stick with more traditional bargaining and keeping a distance from management. This argument remains unresolved and will stay this way unless we can pin down the management issue. The first thing we need to think about is whether it makes any sense to talk about getting non-economic factors (human rights, ecology and so on) taken into account in business and economic decision-making at all. An argument you often hear is that industrial and economic democracy can never work precisely because it shifts the focus of decision-making away from bottom-line market factors. This will inevitably have an impact on performance and this in turn endangers the organisation and by implication the whole economy.

The academic version of this idea is that the economic sphere has become detached from the rest of society. Even if we could find some reliable way of insisting that businesses put political and ethical considerations ahead of – or at least alongside – profit, this would ultimately be no more than shooting ourselves in our collective foot. The argument is that, whether we like it or not, economic success depends on ensuring that the market is the sole point of reference for economic and business decision-making. In most versions of this theory, the accusation that this is simply another way of saying that the interests of the owners of capital are the only ones that matter is deflected by the argument that the market has to be thought of as an entirely objective phenomenon, no more a carrier of values or interests than a river valley or a rain storm. It is not simply a reflection of the interests of capital (as was commonly accepted to be the case up until the late 1970s), but as something like a force of nature. Just like water and weather, the market is assumed to operate according to a set of rules that can in principle be scientifically investigated and understood. Once we understand how the market works, we can design rational courses of social and organisational action, such as interest rate changes, subsidies, tax breaks, labour laws and so on. But unlike other types of policy decision-making, these reasons are (supposedly) entirely independent of any social values we hold.

Going back the other way, this means that if we try to make decisions about economic action that are informed by political and ethical factors then we are likely to end up with action that is not as well-adapted to the business environment as it could be. Since it is the organisations who are most exposed to market demands, the ones which insist on giving a place to social or ethical concerns will be the first that are edged out of business.

Many people still argue that the only real solution to this problem is to take wages and working conditions out of the ‘business’ decision-making equation. If every organisation has to pay the same going rate, and if businesses are simply not allowed to compete by cutting wages or speeding up production, then workers don’t suffer from competition, but on the other hand – the argument goes – no one business would end up at a disadvantage. Early British writers on industrial relations Beatrice and Sidney Webb called this ‘the common rule’. In many ways it’s a good argument, but the problem is that it limits trade union and worker action to those few basic contractual items that can be reliably specified, even without thinking about the extraordinary difficulty of organising a global common rule. The other thing is that the common rule approach has no bearing on crucial things like environmental damage, production and distribution strategies, marketing models, and every other potentially damaging aspect of capitalism. If you cordon off certain areas of business decision-making and accept that they are the exclusive preserve of management – as was the case in traditional types of union-management relationship –  then you obviously leave yourself no opportunity to influence decision-making in these areas. But what has become very clear over the last 15 or 20 years is that there is a need to democratise all areas of corporate decision-making, not just the day-to-day organisation of production. The truth is that there are no areas of business decision-making that have no effect on employees or on the rest of the world.

The obvious question that arises at this point is, why not just bargain about everything? Why should unions not get involved in negotiating about things like corporations’ CO2 emissions or labour standards in supplier companies abroad? The problem with bargaining about anything, though, is that you end up with a compromise that reflects the balance of power between the two sides involved at the point in time at which the negotiations are conducted, together with the skill with which the negotiators play their respective cards. What you don’t get is any serious consideration of what’s good for everyone involved in the long term, still less any thought about what’s good for society as a whole. This is bad enough when bargaining is limited to simple things like pay and conditions, but when issues like global warming or working conditions in the developing world are involved, it seems to me to be madness to decide what is to be done on the basis of the best deal that can be struck between unions and management at a given moment. Do we really want cutting CO2 emissions to depend on whether there’s enough room for manoeuvre on pay or work organisation to cut a deal about it? Do we really want unions to have to make bargaining concessions to get something that their companies should be doing anyway, or (the other way around) to put unions in the position of having to put a price on worker cooperation with corporate measures to cut emissions?

But simply because bargaining on these issues looks unlikely to lead to reliably positive outcomes does  not mean we can leave corporate managers to decide what to do on their own. The fact remains that a large and increasingly important chunk of our world is simply not accessible to democracy. The vast majority of us simply don’t get any say at all when it comes to deciding what multinational corporations do, and yet they are directly responsible for a great many of our most urgent social problems we face. I’m talking about such things as child labour in developing economies, the ‘working poor’ in the west, and global warming. Because the economy is treated as a separate world, with its own laws, we don’t get any kind of a vote on these issues. And yet these things affect us all, and they’ve long since become urgent.

It could be argued that the real question is how sorting this out ever fell off the political agenda in the first place. We have to ask what the left and the labour movement are for, if not getting these areas under democratic control. Although that might be the goal on paper, the trouble is that it’s not what they seem to be about in practice. Many people, including most politicians on both the left and the right, have adopted a view of society and the economy that I call ‘the corporate theory of society’. They appear to think that business and the economy are not integral parts of society. They see them as operating by a completely different set of rules that we the people have no power to change. Or at least, if we try to change them we’ll only end up damaging the economy. The best we can do, we are told, is to regulate the broad social limits within which businesses operate. What we cannot and must not do is interfere inside those parameters. Decisions about how to act within a market economy cannot possibly be taken democratically. They have to be taken by people who know what they are doing – people who have the training and the experience that provides an appropriate technical appreciation of how business works, and how the economy will follow along. I’m talking here about corporate executives and managers, of course. The fact that the corporate theory of society is so convenient for them is one of the things that makes it so difficult to get a handle on whether there’s any truth in it. But an even bigger problem is that so many people see the economy in this same mystical light. The corporate theory of society has a lot of believers. The result is that people find it difficult to get away from thinking about social control over the economy solely in terms of setting the boundaries of the space within which it operates – in other words, in terms of regulation.

Now I certainly don’t want to argue that there should be no regulation, but what I’m trying to suggest is that the most important kind of regulation is that which comes from within. We can think about it as if we were talking about social order in general. Societies are organised according to rules, and breaking those rules has consequences for those who break them. But if the penalty attached to breaking a rule was the only thing that made people obey it, then society would either break down, or turn into an incredibly repressive police state. Rules need legitimacy. They need to be recognised as valid and worthwhile, regardless of whether you’re likely to get caught if you break them. This was an intuition of the sociologist Max Weber, who wrote that

“An order which is adhered to from motives of pure expediency is generally much less stable than one upheld on a purely customary basis… But even this latter type is in turn much less stable than an order which enjoys the prestige of being considered binding”.

What Weber meant was that a set of rules and regulations (an ‘order’) which people don’t think about too much, and fall in with simply because that’s what they’re used to, is more likely to remain in place than one which people obey because they recognise that it suits their particular interests to do so.  But the best, most stable kind of rule system is one where people think that the rules have a real moral value, and that they should be kept because keeping them is the right thing to do. This last kind of system is the kind in which it doesn’t feel like the rules are reducing our options. We don’t think: “I want to do this and I don’t see why I shouldn’t, but the rules won’t let me.” Rather, we take on the rule and make it our own because we recognise that it’s the way we should behave anyway.

It might be objected here that corporations just do what the market dictates and so the idea of behaving according to some internal ethical standard makes no sense. Giving up on the idea of external regulation, then, might seem like a big risk to take. But it seems to me that there is no reason why the social, values-based input into corporate decision-making cannot come principally from inside the corporation and that it would be better if it did. As things stand, there are only two ways to get any kind of democratic input into corporate action, and both of them are essentially negative. One is legislation, the other is collective bargaining. The problem with legislation is that it inevitably comes with procedures to be followed and documented, reporting and compliance requirements and all the other ‘burdens on business’ which corporations spend so much time complaining about. These ‘burdens’ arise precisely because we assume that corporations cannot be trusted to comply with external regulation in the absence of elaborate monitoring and enforcement procedures. And this in turn is because we assume that the only rule that corporate managers see as legitimate is the rule of the market.

Although in principle collective bargaining is a more flexible form of regulation, capable of supporting positive worker interventions and participation in management, in practice it’s not much more effective. Collective bargaining usually comes down to saying one of two things: ‘no’ and ‘we want more’. Now both of these things can be incredibly important and valuable, and they are arguably the first steps on the road to more positive forms of participation, but they remain external restrictions on corporate action. They do nothing to change the internal decision-making processes of enterprises. Precisely for this reason, union organisation and collective bargaining can be painted as a distorting factor in the normal run of businesses, much like ‘excessive’ regulation. This is one reason why unions and workers’ rights remain vulnerable to attack by employers and right-wing governments. At best they’re viewed as an optional extra for corporations who want them. They are certainly not critical factors in integrating society and the economy, as the optimists of the 1960s and 1970s had us believe.

So we want unions to look beyond collective bargaining, and to push for worker involvement in decision-making, but we still have to answer a series of big questions. The biggest of all is exactly how to get the kind of ethically-focused decision-making we’ve been talking about inside corporations. How, for example, do we avoid the danger that if unions and workers participate in management then  they’ll simply end up adopting the management perspective? What is there to say that they won’t lose their own ethical compass in the face of market pressures? This is probably the most fundamental question, the one that’s at the root of this entire discussion. The answer I want to give is that the market itself can serve as a moral and ethical compass for corporations, on the condition that we believe that that’s what it’s for. This demands some explanation.

The ethics of economic exchange

We have to start by thinking about economic exchange. Cut down to its essentials, exchange or trade is a perfectly reasonable social practice. If you have more of some useful thing than you can use, and your neighbour doesn’t have any at all but could use some, then there are two things you can do. You can either just give your neighbour your spare goods (cherries, let’s say) or you can trade them for something. The two ethical questions that arise are these: when it is okay to trade as opposed to just giving, and what makes for a fair trade? The answer I want to suggest to both questions – and it’s a more complex answer than it might sound – is that it depends on the circumstances. If your neighbour has had a bad year in the garden and doesn’t have a surplus of anything, then the obvious thing to do is just to give her some cherries. You and your family can’t eat them all yourselves and if you don’t eat them they’ll just rot. The ethical question is a very straightforward one. On the other hand, if next door they’ve had a fabulous year for carrots, then that gives your neighbour the opportunity to pay you back for the cherries and to avoid feeling obliged to you. In fact, if your neighbour didn’t give you some of her surplus carrots, but took your cherries anyway, you would probably feel hard done by.

There’s an expectation of reciprocity that arises here. If fulfilled, it puts a kind of social seal on the relationship. By exchanging comparable amounts of carrots and cherries, you and your neighbour have done the right thing by each other. Other members of your society are likely to look positively at your relationship. The major qualification on this is that this kind of direct reciprocity is not always a reasonable thing to expect. It depends on the circumstances. If your neighbour was elderly, and was finding it difficult to keep up her carrot patch, then it would clearly be unreasonable to stop bringing her cherries. On the other hand, if she had plenty of carrots but gave none of them to you then you would be unlikely to carry on giving her cherries. The point here is that trade always takes place in the context of a social relationship, and the ‘rightness’ of trade reflects the rightness of that relationship; of your situation as compared to their situation. The exchange of carrots for cherries is saying that you are both grown-up, independent people who are prepared to treat each other as such. The trade reflects a relationship of equals, with no-one either condescending to anyone or trying to get one over on anyone. Most importantly, the relationship takes into account the fact that you and your neighbour are able to make a similar physical or material contribution to the relationship.

This idea of what you are able to contribute in a material sense is why your relationship with your neighbour embody the same kind of dignity and mutual respect even if she is unable to grow enough carrots to exchange for your cherries. Through no fault of her own, she just can’t make the same material contribution to the relationship that you can, but her need for and enjoyment of fresh fruit and vegetables is as great as it ever was. So you bring her the cherries because it’s the right thing to do, and it doesn’t even occur to you to resent the fact that you’re getting nothing back. Your neighbour will undoubtedly be aware of this, and may try to repay you in some other way, like feeding your cat while you’re away, or baking you a cake. Or she may simply accept the fruit, and be grateful that she has a good neighbour.

The point I’m trying to make with this example is that the most basic ethical arguments seem to suggest that trading (as opposed to simply giving something away) can be the right thing to do, but only under certain circumstances. The social value of trade can’t be determined simply by considering what goods are exchanged. You also have to look at the material circumstances of the traders. It is not simply a question of finding some acceptable equivalence between cherries and carrots (or between cherries and cake or cat-sitting), but of ensuring that the wider relationship (of which the exchange is one aspect) is itself socially acceptable. A fair exchange has both a material and a social component, and I would argue that most people have an intuitive grasp of what that means. Most people will recognise a fair exchange when they see one, and will appreciate that the fairness of it all is not just to do with what you’re exchanging, but who you’re exchanging with.

So, what I’m trying to do here is suggest a plausible explanation for why some exchanges are fair while others are not. And I think it’s 100% implausible to suggest that it’s only to do with the quality and quantity of what’s being exchanged. To get away from the barter analogy, what I’m saying is that a fair exchange is not just about the price.

Certainly, what you get in terms of quality and usefulness, and how much of it you get is important, but it’s only part of the picture. There are a whole series of other questions that arise about your circumstances, those of the seller, and indeed those of other potential buyers and sellers. For example, demanding a high price for something that you have a great quantity of, simply by virtue of luck, but which you have absolutely no use for, is pretty obviously unfair. But if the thing that you have is very useful or desirable to other people, and if the reason you have it because you worked harder or smarter than other people, and if there is no reason why other people could not have worked in the same way if they had wanted to, and if the people who want the thing are in a position to pay a high price for it, that makes the situation rather different. In this case you could argue that a high price is a fair price, because you are not exploiting any advantages that you have by virtue of your position in society. So the fairness of an exchange depends on how your situation compares with everyone else’s situation. This is what I mean when I say that exchange has a social component.

What is not immediately obvious is the relationship between this kind of informal bartering and the market economy as we know it, but the connection (perhaps surprisingly) revolves around statistics. Remember what I said about society looking at the cherry-carrot deal and congratulating you and your neighbour on your impeccable relationship? Well, think of the economy as a pool of this kind of social knowledge about exchange relationships. Let’s say that you and your carrot-raising neighbour are well known in the area as talented gardeners likely to raise decent produce, and as generally fair and reasonable people, able to look after themselves and likely to treat each other with respect. Once the word gets out about your root-fruit deal, then it might well be used as a point of reference by other gardeners looking to exchange cherries and carrots. The gardeners in your town recognise that the value you agreed was not arbitrary. Rather, it was fair because it was based on a healthy social relationship.

Because of this it can act as a standard for other deals. After all, it’s relatively simple to make adjustments based on perceptible physical differences between the goods in the standard exchange and those in some later deal. So someone swapping parsnips for cherries might agree to accept fewer cherries for them than you handed over for your carrots, because even though the two kinds of vegetables are otherwise very similar, not nearly as many people like parsnips as like carrots. In any case, the fairness of the original deal is passed on through subsequent deals as long as everyone continues to behave reasonably. Once a certain point is passed, your original standard deal gets lost to view amid the plethora of fruit and vegetable swaps that are going on, and instead the standard becomes all the deals that have recently taken place. Or rather, the standard is a kind of average of all of these.

We’re still talking about bartering, though, and of course we need to talk about money instead. Money is crucial in all of this because it is a medium of exchange. It’s a kind of universal translator for the value of material goods. If five hens are worth two piglets, and a piglet is worth 5 kilos of cheese, then a hen is worth 2 kilos of cheese. But you could just as well say that cheese goes for €5 a kilo, hens cost €10 and piglets €25. It’s not just a question of convenience, though. Money is more important than that. Probably the two most important things about money are that it makes the range of people you can trade with much wider, and it makes getting a grip on the available information about exchanges a lot easier. First of all, if you want carrots and have cherries, you don’t have to find someone who has carrots and wants cherries. All you have to do is find someone who wants cherries and someone who has carrots. They no longer have to be the same person. Secondly, instead of a confusing record of swaps involving relationships between different quantities of different kinds of , the information you get from the market (which starts up when someone uses an existing fair exchange as the standard for agreeing a second exchange) is just a series of prices for a given quantity of each thing. It becomes very easy to understand what each product is worth in relation to other products that are available.

While all this might be fairly plausible as an explanation of how markets come about, it’s more difficult to see how we can say that deals are fair or not fair once a market exists. Markets make relationships of value between different commodities very easy to understand, but how are we supposed to know anything about the people we’re dealing with so we can judge whether the price they want (or the price we want) is fair? It’s not like exchanging a neighbour whose life you know about it some detail. In a typical market transaction, we only know about the price (and how that price relates to other prices, whether of similar or different goods) and about the product (it’s usefulness, desirability etc). We know nothing about the way the product was produced, about who else was involved, or about whether anyone got a bad deal somewhere along the way. In most cases, the situations of the individuals involved and the social processes that led to some product or service arriving on the market are entirely hidden, so how do we judge whether an exchange is fair or not?

According to conventional economics the question simply doesn’t arise. One of the most basic but most unrealistic assumptions of conventional market economics is that partners in an exchange are equally ‘free to contract’, that is, that there is no existing imbalance of power and wealth that could distort any deal that they might reach and make it unfair. It’s not so much that market economics openly claims that every exchange relationship is already fair. Rather, it ‘brackets out’ the possibility that differences in wealth and power might affect exchange. The science of economics is based on trying to work out the consequences of individual choices and it takes no account of social relationships other than exchange. Insofar as people come into the equation, they are assumed to be isolated individuals whose only goal is satisfying their own preferences and who are uninterested in everyone else except in so far as they have something to sell.

This is partly to do with the basic thinking about society that underpins economics – most economists believe that individual choice is the main driver of social behaviour and that other factors are simply noise – and partly a question of keeping things simple. If you start by assuming that the decision to buy something or to take a job is a complex process influenced by a multitude of factors it makes it very difficult to predict how people’s behaviour might change when one of those factors changes. But if you assume that in practice there’s only one factor involved – how good a deal is available – then it is relatively easy to say what might happen if the price of some product goes down, or if a better-specified competitor product arrives on the market for the same price.

The problem is that this idea that price is in effect all that matters, which started as a purely hypothetical assumption in a discipline that was aiming only to analyse certain kinds of social relationship, has been turned into a political goal – price has become all that should matter. In your typical piece of neoliberal market economics, the basic assumption is that if the buyer and the seller can agree on a price, then logically their relationship will be fair. Neoliberal market economics is a political project not because of the hard sums, but because it insists that we behave as if this assumption were true – that we consider only price when involved in exchange – even though we know full well that in many cases the price that is demanded (and the subsequent distribution of profits) is arguably not a fair reflection of the work that has gone into producing the thing in question. The Friedmans and Von Hayeks of this world argue that intervening in markets to improve their fairness gets in the way of their proper functioning.

The moral market?

This is where the idea that the system of exchange can itself be a moral and ethical compass comes in. The market is supposed to improve the distribution of material goods. It’s supposed to make work and investment as efficient and effective as possible. But it would be absurd to say that the ways things are is the best way they can be, just because most types of production, distribution and exchange are organised in markets. There are any number of ways that markets can be unfair and market actors can behave unfairly. The mere existence of a market is no guarantee of fairness, and we certainly have very little reason to believe that big corporations will scrupulously try to ensure that they do nothing but good. So we need to keep a grip on what the market is for. We need to ask whether money and time are getting invested in useful, sustainable ways, and whether (as a consequence) the world is becoming fairer. If it is not – for example if only a tiny proportion of the price the consumer pays for a product ends up in the hands of the people who do most of the work to get it there – then the market is getting it wrong. Somewhere along the line, someone is taking a profit they don’t deserve.

However rather than throwing up our hands and saying that our exchange system doesn’t work, we can use records of exchange to pin down where that excess profit is arising, why it is arising, and how to fix it. Are the people who work in the factories free to offer their services to another business? Are they free to negotiate their pay and conditions with the businesses they work for? Are companies that own brand names using their monopoly power to screw down prices to such an extent that their suppliers’ labour standards go out the window? Are there government subsidies to producers in certain countries that mean that producers in other countries can’t exchange fairly? Are international trading rules being settled on the basis of what works for everyone, or are they the result of the geopolitical jostling and lobbying of multi-national corporations? What all this comes down to is one simple question: is our exchange system really free?

It may be that part of the solution to all of this is better regulation, especially at international level. But external regulation is clearly inadequate in itself. There’s no way that we can regulate the kind of decision-making that needs to be regulated from the outside. You can have all the labour standards and corporate codes of conduct you like. There is no doubt that these help. But if your main customer is putting pressure on you to cut prices again, and you know that they can shift production to another country, then investing in better factory conditions won’t be top of your list. You can’t regulate who people buy things from, or how hard they bargain about the price they pay. Big corporations throw their market weight around and say that things will work out fine, just because the assumptions of neoliberal market economics say they will. Every time businesses make decisions, whether about contractual relationships, internal organisation, product development, marketing or anything else, there has to be an assessment of whether all the effects of those decisions are fair in the light of the existing relationships between shareholders, workers, suppliers, consumers and the world in general. There is no way that this kind of assessment can be left to management alone. It involves making judgements about ethics, politics and morality, and that territory belongs to all of us. It’s not just a question of a technical assessment of what the market requires, but of judging whether the market is requiring something reasonable. If society is not already reasonably fair, then it’s likely that the direction given by the market will need adjusting. This adjustment will make our system of exchange work better. It compensates for the distortions caused by uneven economic power and points back towards the kind of fair exchange that is the evolutionary root of economics.

So what I believe is that workplace democracy actually makes economics work better, as long as we all accept that the point of exchange is to make the world a fairer place, rather than making money for people who already have it.
 

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