Reply To: Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

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

Michael Albert

Sorry my last message said it was from admin – I wear both hats and sometimes, whipping through tasks, I forget to change…

As far as where to look – the book parecon, or robin hahnel has a couple of books, then there are older ones – the princeton univ pol econ of parecon book, and the sep book… in all cases, it would be chapters on participatory planning. This stuff is all over…not hard to find.

Labor hours, honestly, is mere rhetoric, most often, when all is said and done. You can measure in terms of anything – ears of corn, pounds of potatoes, particular automobiles… pretty much just like you can use meters or inches for height – think of it this way. Imagine an allocation system has settled on prices for everything, in dollars. So we decide, well, let’s see what the prices are in terms of labor hours – average labor hours, or average potatoes. Well, if an average labor hour was $20 in this allocation system, then everything is one twentieth of what it was in dollars, now in labor hours. But that doesn’t mean that something that was a dollar has three minutes of embodied labor, it would instead mean it is simply valued the same as twenty minutes of labor.

The point of using labor hours is to say – wrongly – that you can just count them up, as you were doing, to get prices. But that is wrong – horribly wrong in capitalism because bargaining power is very much at play – much less wrong in parecon – because (a) labor hours are far from uniform in how they are remunerated due to variations in effort and conditions, so you would have to be counting up average ones but you wouldn’t know what an average one is until you had a full plan, and b) values are not equal to total embodied labor hours even though you can write them in terms of labor hours, like doing so in terms of potatoes, in any event and c) embodied hours just don’t measure value accurately. Take a surgeon working an hour on a brain. Is it one hour of value – is it one hour plus, what, some tiny fraction of the accumulated time in all the surgical equipment, in all the training, etc. etc. In some economic contexts, and ironically not capitalism, you can make a kind of a case after the fact – but you can never count up from scratch to get a total. Some things have value for other reasons than congealed effort and/or depreciation of equipment, and the like – such as scarcity, the impact, and so on, then literally embodied labor hours.

Take watching lebron james play basketball. It is nonsense to say its value to the population is the number of hours james does it. Thus, for a game, about as much value as the same three hours spent picking oranges – even if we include in by some magical means a count of the hours in the stadium, electricity in the lights, the tvs, etc. etc. People value watching – a lot. His labor hours are worth more to society than mine – simple fact. Or, the embodied labor hours of james playing varies only minimally, sometimes more, sometimes less, from the embodied hours of some average player, playing. In no sensible economy would one say that james’s product is equal or less value to society, all its consumers, than some average players product. Likewise a brain surgeon’s time doing brain surgery also doesn’t tell us the value, to society, of this product relative to someone driving a rig. In parecon this doesn’t mean they get remunerated for the value of their output – but the value of the output is real.

I can’t explain at great length here – it is more or less like this.

Actors say what they want – then moderate their requests, or alter, or add, in light of what others are saying, and thus how in light of how relative values are emerging, etc., and of course also in light of their preferences, and their anticipated budget and anticipated final prices. This proceeds for many rounds, at the end of the process there are prices for everything, everyone knows their income, and people have indicated what they want, and producers what they will provide, with all of it matching up sensibly. The prices emerge from the process – a general overall result of many factors – not from counting up just hours of labor, or anything else.

That last phrase is true of any allocation system – some simple – the bosses/planners set the price though having to take into account technologies, avoiding rebellions, etc., some less so – owners dictate and or actors compete with differing bargaining power in ways such that prices emerge, or actors cooperatively negotiate and prices emerge.

Again, to see the whole thing the best bet is to read about it…

I suspect you want, an answer that matches your expectation of the importance and even the centrality above all else of labor hours. That isn’t an answer I would ever give, or parecon would ever give – because it would mislead most people and in any event, ultimately be barely more instructive than saying that prices are a measure of congealed potatoes…