Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

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    avatarSite Administrator

    Mike – I don’t see any questions here, nor any criticism seeking response, etc. In the ask albert forums – I feel a responsibility to relate to questions and criticisms. On the other hand, I can’t get into a massive open ended exchange, not that it wouldn’t be interesting – just that I don’t have the time – that isn’t, well, answering questions. So I think your recent post can be the last one in this sequence.


    Michael Ac, I would also like to say that I do not find your writing at all superfluouslly long. I myself suffer considerably from long-windedness. Concision is not my strong point. While learning to be more concise may be a worthwhile skill to harness, I would advise you to ignore your ‘critics’ and indulge yourself when writing. This exchange has been great. Screw ’em I say.

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 5 months ago by avatarJames.
    Andre Guimond

    James, you advocate that we “indulge [ourselves] when writing” – but doesn’t this depend on our purposes? I could see “indulging ourselves” when doing personal writing, of course, but if we intend for others to engage with our writing, understand what we’re trying to say, and then to respond in a meaningful way… well, then maybe we have to be careful about indulging ourselves and write with other goals in mind? And doesn’t it depend, too, on whether the communication is private, like an email exchange, where only the participants will read and respond — or if it’s a public discussion, where many people may have to wade through lengthy conversations just to feel like they’ve caught up on what’s going on and thus feel confident and able to participate themselves?

    I don’t mean to start a side discussion here; if further discussion is warranted perhaps we could move this to a different forum? I tried to message you privately but couldn’t figure out how.

    avatarPaulo Rodriguez

    Hi Mike!

    First, congrats on the new site, spiffy stuff indeed 🙂

    Since we are on the topic of ParEcon, and you seem to be on a roll, I was wondering about the following… From the whole ParEcon system , there is one part that somehow I don’t manage to fully understand, the facilitation boards and the iterative planning process.

    For some reason, this is also the only part I don’t see many questions about, which is kind of odd: since it’s supposed to fully replace markets, I would have expected more questions directed at this particular part of the economic model. Anywaysssssssss!

    If someone asked you to “flesh it out” to make it accessible , for the average person who only understands markets or central planning, how would you do it?

    Take care,

    avatarMichael Albert

    Hi Paulo,

    Glad you like the site.

    The facilitation boards are really rather trivial – but the planning procedure and logic is at least somewhat complex. The facilitation boards just provide summary information as needed by workers and consumers for their planning participation, or, for example, or to be able to do certain things in the economy, for example, find a new job.

    I think the reason you don’t see many questions about participatory planning is that to ask about it one has to immerse a bit into the topic. And I suspect for the people who do that, reading in a book, say, few questions arise.

    In other words, someone can ask an informed question or have a thoughtful opinion about equitable remuneration, balanced job complex, or self managing councils after reading a single short summary, or even just hearing someone else provide one. But the planning process is different – you can’t really ask anything other than for a recounting from scratch of the whole system, unless you look closely at a serious description, and then, after thinking about it, you have some concern you want to ask about. It isn’t rocket science, but that are enough moving parts, so to speak, and the logic of their connections is sufficiently unfamiliar, that to understand it sufficiently to have a well formed question about it – other than, tell me what it is – requires some effort.

    When I give talks, I am very brief about participatory planning because I don’t want to short change it, nor do I want to give the impression that hearing some brief summary of it one will have a grasp of it beyond knowing its very broad purposes. So I provide that kind of overarching summary, and then urge folks to read and think about their reactions – they could look at parecon: life after capitalism, say – or at one of Robin’s presentations of it, etc.

    In other words I think I have fleshed it out and made it accessible, as does Robin, I am sure, so that a person who wants to have an informed reaction can read and do so. And then if there are questions after doing so, I could try to address them – or someone could look at the extensive q/a that is online, and may well find the question there – and an answer.


    Hi Michael,

    An argument I’ve had difficulty countering in debate: as capital technologies develop they become more complex to operate which requires higher and higher degrees of specialisation. With this comes a reduction in labour mobility. Given that, the only way jobs will be able to be redesigned and balanced for empowerment is by massively reducing productivity through (1) a decrease in the consistency with which workers apply their special skills or (2) recovering labour mobility by massively increasing expenditure on training and education.

    One point I made in answer to this was that tasks would only have to vary enough to approximate the average empowerment of all jobs across the economy. So if a particular task happened to have an average empowerment rating, it could make for a one-task job—which previous questioner, Michael Acuña, would be happy to hear—and there’d be no risk of productivity loss in that case.

    Further than that, I couldn’t see my way to going deeper which leaves me with three questions:
    1. Does the creation of a parecon entail a significant sacrifice in (a certain conception of) productivity for the sake of self-management?
    2. Or do the gains of self-management offset any such loss, or even result in an overall increase, in productivity?
    3. Are you aware of studies that look at labour mobility and bode well for the idea of BJCs?

    Many thanks,




    Tongue in cheek a little here. I thought neither Michael A or Michael Ac were being
    longwinded or indulgent. I was really suggesting that Michael Acuna should write according to his own proclivities. Michael Albert often responds with lengthy comments. Yes, there comes a time when one should finish up, and yes, sometimes one could be more concise. I was actually really referring directly to the conversation between Michael Albert and Michael Acuna. Yeah, they acknowledged shortening up was required, but I did not feel Michael Acuna was being longwinded. I was thankful he wrote what he did. I enjoyed reading it.

    Yeah, everything you say is probably correct. Goals, purpose, type, etc., all affect the writing style and length. People learn but ya gotta be yourself sometimes. Go with the flow. Confidence is a two way street. Confidence to write and participate and to be able to understand what others are saying, writing etc. Most people are concise and do as you suggest. Nice to see the odd maverick however.

    avatarMichael Albert

    Hello Jason,

    First, yes and no to the premise. Certainly a complex technology can exist – that is hard to maintain, operate, etc. Say, a nuclear reactor, to give an extreme case. But other innovative technologies are precisely about reducing the complexity of tasks, etc. So it depends. But the rest, honestly, doesn’t follow at all.

    Suppose we go from a coal mine to a cold fusion plant. Great. Clean energy, safer and more empowering tasks. What is the problem? The assumption is, doing engineering, or whatever, is such that only a few can do it – so if we have those things, only a few will have to do it full time – and if we balance, we either have no one doing it, or less, etc. etc. None of this follows that I can see.

    To take the extreme case, if we replace coal mines and oil drillling, etc., with solar and even cold fusion – there is no such issue. We will have fewer people working on generating energy, I suspect. But no reason we can’t do it, and have balanced jobs.

    Suppose EVERY kind of work has great innovations, over the next fifty years, so all utilize complex technologies more than now? So? It is presumably very labor saving, the average work week is thus significantly reduced. It is presumably more empowering – great, the average level of empowerment for all, goes up. And so on.

    So, your questions –

    1. No. I don’t think there is any overall decrease in productivity per hour of labor in a parecon – on the contrary I think there is every reason to expect it to rise. Now if we include that labor will generate only socially valuable outputs, take into account the environment, not entail protecting hierarchies, etc etc., the output of socially aluable results (for people working and consuming) per hour of effort, will go way up.

    2. See one. But yes, suppose for some reason I am missing, a parecon with balanced job complexes and self management, and so on, even after eliminating worthless and harmful production – immense – still generated less that was desired per hour of effort. My reaction would be, a good trade off to gain classlessness. But, in fact, it is nice that there gains in useful productivity, not losses.

    3. No – and I am not even sure what such a study would be looking at.


    Thanks for the reply, Michael. This forum is a great idea.

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to exhaust the point and see if I understand. I agree with you about the implications of development. The other thing about the argument is that it obviously serves as a rationalisation for coodinatorism—the coordinators begin sounding like the right: “but productivity will be lost if empowering work is redistributed!”

    I suppose even if all tasks in the economy were to become more empowering, there’d still be differences in how empowering they are. So if the critic was to insist on their assumption that capital development is creating a situation where people couldn’t readily change between tasks, then BJCs wouldn’t be as viable a mechanism as they would otherwise be (without sacrificing output or increasing education and training)—is this right?

    Even with that being the case, people’s employment wouldn’t be the only source of empowerment. There’d still be an open education system, free media, cultural institutions (based on solidarity), etc.

    On the concept of the coordinator class: a criticism of the idea I cam across was that it doesn’t check out because workers and coordinators don’t represent different factors of production. Is it the case that class doesn’t have to be based on factors of production, or do you hold empowering labour to be the factor of production the coordinator class represents?

    And—if it’s cool to keep going—another question… One of Fotopoulos’s complaints about parecon is that it doesn’t define who owns the means of production. I know he misunderstands much about the parecon model but this point did lead me to wonder: would it be possible in parecon for certain workers councils to subvert the planning process by going on strike? Say a workers council felt strongly that a consumer council was being unreasonable about how much pollution they were willing to take on, could the workers council not threaten to strike (especially if the produced something fairly essential?

    Or from another angle: when Hahnel writes…

    ‘When worker councils make proposals they are asking permission to use particular parts of the productive resources that belong to everyone. In effect their proposals say: “If the rest of you, with whom we are engaged in a cooperative division of labor, agree to allow us to use these productive resources – which belong to all of us because they are part of ‘the commons’ — then we promise to deliver the following goods and services as outputs for others to use.” When consumer councils make proposals they are asking permission to consume goods and services whose production entails social costs. In effect their proposals say: “We believe the effort ratings we received from co-workers indicate that we have earned the right to consume goods and services whose production entails an equivalent level of social costs.’

    Who’s permission is being asked and what forms the basis of their power? In the Inclusive democracy model the regional units are self-sufficient in terms of basic goods, so could only be threatened with a denial of non-basic and luxury goods.

    Lastly, I came across one of your posts from June 2011, Parecon as Anarcho Snake Pit: Scene Setting. Did you end up doing the follow up to this?


    avatarMichael Albert

    > “but productivity will be lost if empowering work is redistributed!”

    If I can do surgery, and I do 40 hours a week of it, and then I switch, in a new system, to 20 hours a week of it – then 20 hours of surgery is lost. If we stop right there – then for all surgeons half is lost. Society lost half its surgery. If we consider that among the 80% of workers who have their creativity and initiative crushed – a subset would, in a society that welcomed it – become surgeons at 20 hours a week, replacing what is lost, and more, then we have a more complete picture, and the loss is eliminated. Now if we take into account all kinds of transfer from unproductive work, or work benefitting a few, to work that is productive and benefits all – productivity of benefits hugely increases. If we include as part of the output of work the well being of workers themselves, now the benefits are stupendous. And so on…

    If a critic is right that humans can only do empowering work as their full load, and if they do anything that isn’t empowering, then their productivity when doing empowering work will drop significantly, then will their productivity drop, significantly, even for the 20 hours they do? Answer, well, if we assume x, then x follows, yes. But the assumption is wrong and the additional features and implications are ignored.

    Suppose someone came along and said to a surgeon who is doing 40 hours of surgery a week, we will pay you just like now, but you only have to do 20 hours. In fact, we will pay you twice as much to do only 20 hours. Do you think surgeons would say, no way… my productivity will drop?

    The reality is productivity of that one person, per hour, would likely go up, due to being healthier, etc. etc. The reality is that the long hours of surgery – much less than 40, are precisely about maintaining the monopoly of surgeons on the activity – as well as doing tons of unneeded surgeries to jack up profits. If we include not spending time and acting in ways to preserve his or her dominance in the hospital, then I am quite sure the surgeon’s productivity per hour would go up… and so on. If we add that the health care is now oriented to – well – heath – and not to profit and maintaining the conditions of profiting, then the situation becomes, again, overwhelming…

    I don’t know what more to say – other than to suggest longer discussions in other works, or, if you find the above unconvincing, explain why…

    The subtext is worker well being just doesn’t count…patient well being, even, doesn’t count, profits and power count. So, if we ask, pursuing profits and power as the priority, would balanced job complexes diminish these, for elites, the answer is certainly yes.

    The comment on the coordinator class is similar. “Represent factors of production”? What does that even mean? I honestly don’t know. I can guess that the person means capital is a factor, labor is a factor, so you can only have two classes if we define a class as respecting one of those. But what kind of definition is that? The only sensible definition of economic class in my view would be that a class is a group that is demarcated by its position in the economy such that the difference between it and the rest are sufficiently important to understanding how the economy works, and, from our point of view, what it can and does deliver and thus, what we might want instead, that we should identify the group as compared to other groups. With that definition, one analyst might argue the only groups that matters are ones that have different ownership relations because only that difference can yield a group we should identify and think carefully about, relate to, etc. Many have claimed that. If you propose a class based on something else to such a person, say on having a monopoly of empowering tasks – the person will say, wait, that can’t be a class. They don’t own different property, etc. If one replies but their economic conditions give them different interests, views, values – rewards, influence, etc. etc., the person denying that coordinators are a class may just repeat, but they sell their labor time and don’t own capital. If the person were correct that that meant coordinators couldn’t possibly be a class, then the person should be able to say, instead, wait, that group you call coordinators may earn a little more, like unionized workers earn more than those not in a union, but it has the same basic interests, views, values, and means of garnering rewards, and influence, as all other workers. Since that is a demonstrably absurd claim – they instead repeat, like a mantra, but the coordinators don’t own property differently than other workers, so they CANNOT be a separate class. So, their reply to a claim that there is another basis for class difference, including demarcating a new ruling class, even, is simply to say, well, no, there can’t be. I have a book somewhere on my shelf that says no – so no it is.

    I don’t understand the next question, either. Workers could burn down a factory or a city and subvert economic activity. It is biologically and physically possible? Sure. Is that a criticism? No, not unless one makes a case that workers would have reason to do that that stems from the working of the system.

    Could the pilot of a pareconish airplane intentionally crash it? I mean this seriously. So could workers strike against, anything at all? Yes, unless there are rules or laws against it. Would they – for what reason, to what gain, at what loss? That is a more real question. If you think through the incentives, the rewards, the costs, it becomes clear that as soon as we are talking about people in an established, functioning, parecon, it is very nearly on a par with worrying about pilots crashing intentionally.

    The permission a producer or consumer needs to proceed comes from the whole planning process, in the form of the final plan, thus it depends on the collective overall response of those who consume what you produce, or produce what you consume.

    Yes, I found the article you mention – it should have links to the others, but it didn’t so I added them. Not sure why. I didn’t remember the piece, but I searched for anything by me with the word snake in it. That way I found the followups right off too – four pieces, beyond the one you mention, I think it was, each addressing some of the concerns.


    Just to clarify: the point about BJCs reducing productivity came up in a debate I was having with someone who dismissed the seriousness of parecon (in an open letter to Chomsky as it happens). I challenged them to give an example of something it gets wrong and that’s what was raised. As I said above, I put it to you because I wasn’t sure how best to approach it, not because I agreed with it.

    A scenario for a how a strike might come about in the context of a parecon: a worker council has been producing goods for a consumer council A for many years—maybe it has great cultural significance. It also involves consumer council B agreeing to tolerate some small amount of pollution (which they get compensated for). One day, consumer council B decides that they want to stop taking the pollution, frustrating the worker council production—forcing many of the workers to take up employment elsewhere, uproot the families, etc. Technically consumer council B is well within its rights but the worker council and consumer council A are arguably much more affected by the decision.

    Again, I don’t take such possibilities to be likely and they don’t hold me back as an advocate, I’m just thinking it through.

    avatarMichael Albert

    Where is this open letter?

    I knew you weren’t agreeing –

    Workers councils don’t produce for a specific consumer council except in very unusual cases – instead, they produce for those who want the output. Most often, that will be for consumers in a wide area, many councils, perhaps many states, etc. etc. Sometimes smaller scale makes sense – thus fewer consumers of fewer products from a particular unit. Sometimes larger makes sense.

    You get remunerated for work yielding socially valued output – not for work per se. Suppose there is a plant producing widgets. Suppose the desire for widgets drops to near zero. OR alternatively, suppose it is suddenly discovered that producing widgets gives off a deadly pollutant not previously known.

    In either case, the plant, let’s say, can no longer produce widgets. Now what? Well, first sticking makes zero sense even if the employees are anti social. You can’t strike producing something no one wants…

    What does parecon do? Well, the plant can be retooled, including by those who work, there is that is sensible. Or, over time, the workers no longer producing widgets, produce other desired outputs. That is, they get new jobs. They are compensated for costs of dislocation, if any, for downtime, if any, and so on. There is nothing they can strike for that they don’t automatically get – unless, they want to strike to produce outputs no one wants. That isn’t an option. But who in their right mind would want to spend all day producing stuff that is then simply thrown out, instead of taking some time – with no loss in income – to find new work that is socially valued?

    Eric Wind

    Hey Michael,

    I’m digging the new site set-up.

    My question is: I’ve been drawn to parecon, but one thing I can reconcile is the use of money and exchange, even if for use, in a “non-market” society. Could you expand on that a little bit more, please? I always assumed that if you have exchange, and you exchange for some kind of currency — be it gold, fiat or backed by labor-hours worked — then you have a market.

    avatarSite Administrator

    IF having exchange – according to valuations – was a market, then every economy would be a market economy. What does exist in every economy is allocation. This is determination of what is produced, by what means, in what quantities, and to whom.

    Unless one has an unknown form of economic dictatorship in which some person or group simply decides all that, with no valuations, etc. – one has exchange of the sort that is troubling you. But that doesn’t mean one has a market.

    Markets for allocation means allocation via competitive choices by separate market actors each out for him or or herself and each paying attention only to whether to enter, or not enter, a specific transaction, and so on.

    Participatory planning has prices (relative valuations to use in making informed decisions) and has income (a share of the social product for all actors), but it arrives at these in a very different way than either markets or central planning.

    Money is just a convenience – prices – the real issue – are a summary representation of how society feels about an item and all that goes into its creation and use. Exchange is unavoidable – and certainly not a negative – unless everyone simply forages for self and self only – rejecting exchange says we should all operate in isolation.

    The trick is to have valuations (necessary for making sensible choices) and to have exchange (necessary for any kind of social connection as well as sufficient output to survive and thrive) that in fact reflect true social, personal, and ecological costs and benefits, and to use them in ways that foster values one believes in – for example self management or classlessness…

    Beyond that, I would recommend taking a look at one of the full presentations of parecon. Then, if you have further questions, I would be happy to try to help.

    Eric Wind

    Okay, another question then: what is the supply chain situation like under a parecon? How are costs of production materials determined? Say you’re making cotton shirts:

    I’m assuming that land is socialized, so there isn’t a cost there itself. Let’s say that society has a seed bank where all viable seeds from last year’s production is sent there until use. This doesn’t have a cost or has very negligible cost for transporting to and from/maintaining the seedbank. For simplicity (possibly out of error, though) I’m assuming that farms are socialized and that there is no recurring cost for things like tractors or water or fertilizer or what not. This is more or less for simplicity’s sake.

    Now you’ve got to determine the labor cost, and environmental cost of growing the cotton first.

    For the labor costs of one bale of cotton, it takes, all labor considered, 85 hours over the course of a growing season. (1 bale of cotton = 1 acre of land, roughly. Let’s say it takes 10 hours to seed the acre, then another 30 hours of collective time monitoring and assuring quality of the crop, whatever that may entail, then 4 hours to harvest and 1 hour to transport/get processed at the gin. Society favors the effort and sacrifice of this work, and so tacks on another 30 hours. Let’s say the environmental costs can be valued at the equivalent of another 10 hours, due to use of machines, fertilizers and the need to recondition soil after the harvest.)

    For the transportation costs, let’s say it takes 20 hours (all things considered: 5 time, 5 effort, 5 sacrifice, 5 environment) to get from the gin to the t-shirt factory. The bale is, at this point, worth 105 labor hours by the time it gets to the t-shirt factory.

    From this point on, I’m going to assume that labor-hours = all the considerations that parecon is concerned with: time, effort, sacrifice, environmental impacts, and I’m going to make my same assumptions about the cost of machinery, etc. I can break this down, but I don’t think it’s required at this point.

    At the factory, the cotton is spun dry. Let’s say this takes a grand total 15 hours to do, all things considered, for one bale of cotton. Total cost of the cotton is now worth 120 hours. Then it has to be threaded. Let’s tack on another 5 hours for this operation, for one bale, for a total of 125 hours. Then the fabric is made, which, let’s say, takes another 5 hours for this operation. A total of 130 hours at this point.

    Then, the fabric is cut and sewn together. A factory should be able to make around 1,000 shirts out of one bale of cotton. Let’s say, the cutting will take about an hour to do for one bale of cotton. 131 hours have been spent from the time it’s been sewn to to the time it is cut into fabric. Once all cut out, each material equivalent of one shirt will “cost” .131 hours of labor-time, where the quantification of labor-time already has the parecon considerations built in. From that point on, the material needs to be sewn. Let’s say, with all considerations due, it will equal to 2 hour of labor-time to sew one shirt. So, individual shirts end up being worth 2.13 labor hours. Negating transportation costs (again for simplicity), it would be exchanged for 2.13 of someone else’s labor credits.

    Do I have that generally right, or did I get this particular issue completely wrong, in terms of how the cost of materials comes about?

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 4 months ago by Eric Wind.
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