Reply To: Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

ZSplash Forums AskAlbert Asking About Parecon/Parsoc Reply To: Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

Michael Albert

I am going to try to shorten things up a bit… and we really do need to do that…

Thinking inside the box that is current experience, in current contexts, is, in fact, arguably the primary difficulty in thinking about a better system. We often tend to evaluate and extrapolate based on current experience – when the essential step is to conceive alternatives…and evaluate in the alternative context.

“My concern was primarily directed at the notion of people being forced to be proficient in a wider variety of tasks than they would otherwise prefer.”

What you are saying, in context of balanced job complexes – is, as best I can understand it, that you fear that if all available jobs were balanced, lots of people would wind up with a job they would not want, given the chance to have a job that was unbalanced instead (which option would not exist)…

Okay, if we ignore a sense of social responsibility, if we ignore a sense of justice, if we ignore concern about the broader ill effects, and we focus just on an individual – then, yes, Joe might very well prefer a job with only empowering tasks, to any balanced one. I rather doubt, however, that there are any Sarahs who would prefer a job with only disempowering tasks, to any balanced one. So I would say, even if we ignore the larger implications, there is nothing much of concern here – UNLESS one believes that the roughly 80% who do only disempowering tasks in their jobs, do so out of preference and would be seriously oppressed if they had education, training, confidence, etc., and had only balanced jobs to choose from.

“With that said, you have convinced me that the benefits that would accrue as a consequence of implementing balanced job-complexes outweigh whatever discomfort it may cause individual workers.”

This is the core point, yes… though I don’t buy claims about discomfort…

“Regarding the feasibility of the proposal, I do believe that by providing the entire populace with publicly subsidized higher education, the number of skilled workers (doctors, engineers, etc.) will increase. Whether that expansion will prove significant enough for society to afford to have, say, surgeons participate in disempowering labor as often as the rest of the workforce is an empirical matter.”

Some things are really iffy – some are not. Take the two current constituencies – 20% coordinator class, 80% working class. In the former are all the doctors, as but one example. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, they all do 40 hours of doctoring a week – which they don’t because they do paper work, other stuff, golf, etc. But suppose they do. And let’s suppose it is highly empowering. Now suppose, to get a balanced job complex, they would have to cut to 20 hours. I have no idea, but suppose so, to make it easy. So we just lost half their output – let’s say.

Okay, now we have a pool of four times as many people. How many of them have to become doctors, in a new type society, to make up the difference? If there were 1 million doctors – reduced by half, we would need precisely 1 million new doctors to replace their medical labor, lost because the old doctors are doing balanced job complexes. So the question is, if we take the 80% and provide education, confidence, comfortable circumstances of upbringing, etc. etc. will there be enough people able and also eager to doctor – one fourth as many per 1000, as in the pool of 20%? Well, I don’t know how to say this gently and be honest. To think not, is makes sense only if one believes, even if only implicitly, that the 20% dominate and the 80% obey because capacities and preferences that cause that outcome are wired into their genetic make up. The reality is, there may be some very modest “meritocratic” effect in current societies – but I doubt even that. I suspect the pool of medical capacity among 1,000 randomly chosen members of the coordinator class pool, and 1,000 selected from the working class pool is very close. So, in fact, we can not only replace the lost medical work, but add to the total if that is what society needs and desires, even as we also reduce the amount of rote, obedient, repetitive work by innovations and eliminating needs for control, etc. I won’t even bother to talk about the increased effectiveness of medical work when the back biting hierarchies of welath and power are removed, not to mention the profit seeking pressures and motivations.

Go back sixty years and make the two constituencies we look at men and women. There were the same debates. Men thought, and many women agreed, that the differences were genetic and women didn’t doctor because they couldn’t and wouldn’t want to in any event. A very few feminists, at first, contested the view. The prevalent beliefs were utter nonsense, of course. Assertions of working class incapacity and disinclination seems to me to be the same kind of nonsense, honestly. Sometimes it is believed due to classist habits and views. Sometimes it is believed because it is such a widely held viewpoint.

“Well – those who adhere to more hereditarian views (which includes approximately half of the psychologists currently involved in intelligence research) would probably be more pessimistic.”

They would have no reason to be. Unless they literally think that if a person has capacity, then in our society they will grow up to be in the coordinator class – so if no one in some constituency does, then n one in that constituency has the needed capacities – a claim so utterly absurd that I think no serious person could possibly believe it, if they thought about it. Of course innate capacity, is, well, largely innate – though requiring, also food, nurture, training, and so on. There is no debate about that. Training, disposition, etc. etc., are critical, and occur on top of what is wired in, so to speak. So? Is the distribution of wired in substratum capacities lower by any significant degree – much less enough to preclude doing a balanced job complex, for all those in the current working class compared to all those in the coordinator class? Or is there a spread of innate attributes essentially alike in working class and coordinator constituencies just as in male and female constituencies?

You add, “But even if, for whatever reason, the percentage of the population endowed with the potential to acquire the requisite skills isn’t adequate enough for balanced job-complexes to be a viable option for each collective, I still don’t believe it would prove detrimental to the rest of the parecon model. We would simply have to resign ourselves to the disappointing realization that, for the time being, some workers would be immune from having to rotate tasks as often as others.”

It isn’t rotating tasks. It is doing a mix. The pace of moving from task to task has nothing much to do with it. When you say for the time being, well, yes, there is a transition, of course.

But, again, imagine years back, imagine someone saying the same thing about women and men, as almost everyone did. Can you see how it would be considered by the few who saw reality better as being horribly sexist?

You juxtaposition of onerous and empowering mixes apples, is something onerous – and oranges, is it disempowering. And it is apples, is it pleasing or displeasing, empowering or disempowering to an individual – and oranges, what is its social characterization.

“The careers people consider desirable vary throughout history. Recall that in ancient Rome jobs related to entertainment (acting, music) were considered humiliating, whereas today they’re revered. In class societies people primarily judge the relative attractiveness of a job by its rate of remuneration, which helps explain those variations in time and place. And since ice cream vending yields very little in terms of monetary compensation today, it doesn’t command much respect. In a classless society, as a result of resource distribution being fairly egalitarian, I suspect humanity will evaluate professions in an entirely different manner.”

Everything will be different, of course. But your particular claim, here, arises because you assume classlessness can exist even if we have unbalanced jobs. I think it can’t.

Consider a workplace. The workers take over – perhaps the capitalist left, maybe the capitalist got thrown out, whatever. Now the employees run the place. They equalize wages – maybe, initially, they even pay the person standing in front of a furnace more and the person in an air conditioned office less. And they also establish a council/assembly and have monthly or perhaps even weekly policy meetings with democratic votes. One analysis of these steps says, hooray. The workplace is classless. Payments are equitable. Democracy is in place. This is great – we just need to have it throughout the economy.

Another analysis says, hold on just a second. Every step so far is in a positive direction and very important. But have they retained the old division of labor, or balanced job complexes? And how is allocation occurring, markets, central planning, or something else – participatory planning? The analysis continues, if they have the corporate division of labor, or markets, or central planning, much less the former plus one of the latter, in time those with empowering work will dominate the councils/assemblies, will increase their own pay, etc. etc. Class division and rule will arise. The best desires and plans of the workers will be trumped by institutions they have allowed to persist.

Now I think there is an intrinsic reason, at the level of each individual, and due to the merits of a sense of participation, justice, equity, etc. – of circumstance, and not just income, that makes balanced job complexes essential. You may feel, well, at that level, no, if we remunerate to offset disadvantages in conditions and circumstances, and we have participation and democracy in an assembly, etc., then it is great.

If so, you are saying the parecon analysis is wrong that markets, central planning, and/or corporate divisions of labor impose class division and class rule even if people want equity, democracy, etc. etc. Perhaps – but I think the analysis is right, so that is the place you would need to apply your criticisms. If you accept the analysis, then it makes no sense to say an unbalanced job won’t be as oppressive in a classless context – because, while true – the context will not be classless if we have unbalanced jobs – ditto markets and central planning. I have argued these matters at great length, many places. I think at this point, if you have doubts – fine – write something assessing the claims about the institutions, in an essay, or something.

The main issue may be that parecon is a whole system. Each part has merits, sure, but taken alone, or in combination with features that would annihilate those merits, makes no sense. So the problem is that in talking seriously about a part, one typically has to address the whole.

I wrote: “About Gintis, if you could send me anything he wrote about parecon, that would be nice to see. I am guessing that Herb, who really is very very smart and capable, did not, in fact, address it carefully, but rather just threw out the usual kinds of scare terms – impractical, impossible, etc. etc – without saying why… ”

You reply: “Sure. On one thread he wrote “I am not a reactionary at all. I am just an economist who knows the literature – a lot better, I might add, than Michael Albert.” (The literature he’s referring to concerns workers’ self-management.) “I love Michael like a brother,” Gintis goes on, “but he has a blind spot when it comes to reality.”

This is a text book example of what I predicted. It rejects nothing substantively, makes no mention of any argument I make, or of any view I hold, or of any feature of parecon, even. To my eyes, it parades erudition as if that constitutes an argument, which it certainly does not. I looked this passage up – and I did find it in an Amazon chat session – but nothing more about me or about parecon. He parades that he has no axe to grind, he loves me like a brother – which is nonsense – we were friends for a time, decades back – and then he buries the axe: “he has a blind spot when it comes to reality.” What does Michael has a blind spot mean?

It means, assuming he doesn’t think I am generally completely out of touch, which he doesn’t, and because he believes I am very smart and logical, etc., which he does, and because he knows I believes things he rejects, which he is correct about, that he deduces that in this case I am so wedded to beliefs in parecon that I ignore the serious problems with it that reality makes abundantly evident to him, and should make equally evident to me, if I wasn’t blinded. Okay, if so, then he should state what those problems are. Anytime in the past thirty years or so. He hasn’t, at least that I am aware of. It could be true. But what I always find interesting is that those who resort to such formulations – so and so is delusional, out of touch, etc. for believing something I find ridiculous – rarely go the next step to show the trivial errors that the delusion and out of touchness imposes, and why it is an error. And, as well, they rarely if ever entertain that if they disagree with someone who is highly logical and reasoned, etc., maybe, just maybe, it is they who are letting their views be clouded…

If you are in contact with Herb, tell him I would very happily debate him about the merits of parecon as compared to the merits of whatever economic institutions he favors – I guess, nowadays, some form of capitalist system with various reforms….but I am not sure.

As you noticed, “he proceeded to describe the difficulties he sees inherent in a socialism consisting of worker-owned, self-managed firms – none of which especially pertain parecon.”


But then you write: “The comments he has made that are of consequence to parecon are as follows:”

“If the contribution of workplace democracy to social welfare were sufficiently great, perhaps some of these severe problems could be overcome. But in fact, workplace democracy and popular ownership of capital are not fundamental values, but rather are instrumental values. Of course, in the minds of truly committed socialists they become ends in themselves, but I do not think such an idea can be sustained, even using Sen’s notion of capacities.”

This is not a criticism of parecon because the severe problems he has in mind, have nothing to do with parecon and do not apply to it, I would wager, and in any case, he has not suggested that they do. He just assumes them for parecon, if in fact he thinks he is talking about parecon at all, which I doubt. Then to dismiss the offsetting benefits of participation, etc. he resorts to discussing calling something a fundamental value, or an instrumental value, without explaining why that is relevant, or even what it might mean.

He might want to say, look, self management, participation, democracy, etc., are of worth insofar as they deliver other ends that are more fundamental (in his view) – equity, efficiency in producing valuable outputs, or whatever he may have in mind. Therefore if we can get the latter ends, without bothering to have the former means, and if the former means have any deleterious effects, especially on the latter ends, but also on anything else, then we can do without the former means. Of course this is true in that abstract, but if was true in this case, it would justify an argument in favor of having a supreme leader make all decisions absolutely brilliantly – which, I suspect, Herb would reject, not least because he does value democracy, participation, etc., in their own right – as well as because he would say having a supreme leader won’t yield good results.

Okay, I value self management, participation, etc., in their own right, and, in addition, I believe having authoritarian decision making, unbalanced job complexes, markets, etc., also preclude getting other good results.

Again, if you are in touch with him, tell him I would be quite happy to debate….