Reply To: Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

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

Michael Albert

Markets are markets – buyers and sellers competing and prices being set by the clash and jangle of their choices. You have not indicated even one thing about markets that you find good, desirable, and that you think participatory planning would not do as well or better. Your defense of markets is that we can mitigate their ills, at least somewhat. But it seems to me that you simply ignored my analogy to mitigating the ills of dictatorship being not a bad thing per se, though the dictatorship would constantly fight against the restrictions, but falling horribly short of replacing dictatorship with a better system.

In a capitalist context, with markets each unit tries to maximize profits for owners. The rest of those involved get what they have the bargaining power to take.

If we remove owners, then the units are trying to maximize surplus, or else markets won’t even do what they can in fact do, with the surplus presumably divided among all involved, with no owners to siphon off most, but, with markets, there will be a corporate division of labor, a coodinator worker division, so there will be very unequal power between these two classes, and thus unequal shares. This alone is more than enough reason to try to replace markets, to put it mildly.

In either case, with or without owners, but with markets, of course a government can try to impose rules. And doing so can be progressive and positive. Such rules, however, will run up against the pressures of the market, and the elites who most benefit from the absence of those rules, and will be constantly fought against and dodged, and typically, if they are not structurally strengthened by eliminating markets, they will in time be neutered or rescinded. Still, you are certainly right that while in force, such rules can help mitigate some problems. But that is all they do.

Now take your first example, the government imposes rules, like the EPA does currently, to regulate choices by firms in an effort to reduce pollution. It can happen – the government can try to do that. But if the economy has a ruling and an obedient class – the former will have very great power and will want to reduce the play of those rules, prevent their enforcement, get them ignored, and so on, side step them, rescind them, because such rules will impinge on its freedom to gain. Thus the constant battle.

You can’t just posit x, in this case rules, you have to show why x can exist and persist. So even when we are talking about modest limits on behavior by those at the top who are benefiting in a market system and elevated by it, we have to realize that there will be opposition to those rules and it will come from the strongest elements in society. Even Swedish social democracy – largely restrictions on markets and rules to mitigate the most vile inequality – has of late largely succumbed to those pressures.

I agree that if we make child labor illegal, and it is enforced, then there is no point talking about the effects of child labor in that system. We might point out, however, that elites will try to circumvent the rule/law whenever it is to their advantage to do so – which they do, now, even regarding child labor, and that is important. In contrast to child labor, you can’t make pollution outright illegal – it is inevitable. You can try to limit it, and you can try to have those who cause it pay, etc. But all this is like having rules against arbitrary use of authority in a dictatorship. It is better than not having those rules, but far far less than simply replacing dictatorship with a different political system.

There are more problems, too. For example, who figures out what rules are needed, and designs them, and prosecutes them, and so on – well, it will be elements of the elites, typically, that are benefiting from the absence of rules. This too wrecks havoc with even modest gains from such rules.

You are wrong about all market abolitionists objections being irrelevant to the system you mention. Not only is the presence of pressure against restrictions on harmful market behavior germane, because your envisioned system, supposing it could be won in the first place – and this is another problem, you want to beat owners and other elites into a new system, but the one you propose will not sufficiently motivate the rest of the population, I suspect, to wage the battle – but you seem to ignore that which, apparently, you think is not important. For example, you ignored comments about the impact of markets on consciousness, the skewing of production away from collective public goods, the mispricing of all goods, not just the most gross impingements on the ecology, though those too – and these are not relevant only regarding some goods, but all goods. Competitive markets – and that is the only thing that is a market, also totally warp motivations and income distribution. This too would be more than enough reason to prefer a different form of allocation that would not have these faults, and what not have its benefits continually under attack by society’s strongest sectors.

You aren’t saying there are comparable or worse problems with participatory planning, and that is what I find confusing. If someone says I prefer system a to system b because a has all these virtues that b lacks, and, by the way b doesn’t just fall short of doing good, it does incredible damage due to its intrinsic logic and structure. It seems to me, the best reply defending b, which in this case is markets, would be to show that it doesn’t have the problems at all, it does do good comparably to a, and that a has problems of its own, even more damning than those of b. All you are doing, instead, is saying it is possible to have some regulations that limit that worst impacts of b… Now I think you exaggerate that, and its stability, but mostly, I don’t think it much matters to the overall case, because alone it is just like saying something godawful which we can replace with something that has many missing virtues, could have some of its worst faults reduced a bit.

I do not know the person you reference, but there is simply nothing much in common between anything typically called communism and parecon when people are critiquing communism, and parecon.

Again, I am not going o write a book here. The above comments of mine about participatory planning are all claims, not compelling arguments with evidence. But the latter is available in many longer pieces. So, okay, if you want to make a case for markets as being a better option than participatory planning, fine. Take a look at the longer discussions of markets, and of participatory planning, by myself and others, and make a case why market allocation isn’t subject to our criticisms – skewing prices, distorting motives, alienating decisions, perverting personalities, mis pricing not only all public goods, but everything, generating class division, and so on. And make a case that participatory planning is as bad, or worse than markets on these indices, and perhaps on others you come up with as well.

I wonder what you mean by you are afraid of ideas proposing comprehensive planning. If planning – which is just deciding economic outcomes – is self managed, if there is equity, if it is classless, etc. etc., what are you afraid of? I would wager that whatever it is, however warranted the fear might be for it occurring in parecon – and I can’t know what I think about that until you tell me what you are afraid of – I would bet dollars to donuts, even before knowing, that whatever it is, I can make a case it is happening now more even than you fear it might conceivably happen in a parecon. Of course I could be wrong about my being able to do that – but it is my guess…