Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

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    avatarMichael Albert

    If we kept old institutions I suppose local would counter, in some cases, some of their horrible attributes. Though I think even that is questionable. It would be quite interesting to discover whether work inductions are on average worse in smaller or larger units. But, whatever the answer may be, the whole point is to not keep old institutions.

    Matt Grantham


    avatarPhilip Ganchev

    An argument often given for localizing production is the environmental cost of transporting raw materials and products. Market incentives externalize these costs, not including them in prices. Similarly, central planning *can* externalize costs. Does a parecon structure ensure that (known) environmental costs are internalized? Or does this depend on societal values or any other factors? And why is it more likely than with central planning?

    avatarMichael Albert

    First, decentralized production is actually nt necessarily better ecologically. In some cases it will be, in others it won’t.

    Consider bicycles. The argument would be if you make bikes in 10,000 plants each serving a local area with a population of, say 20,000, that is better than doing it, say, at just a handful of plants because you would then have to ship the bikes to the 10,000 communities.

    It seems true but it overlooks something that really ought to be evident. Where do the 10,000 small plants get the steel rubber and so on that they use to produce the bikes locally? What if the few plants where each near one of a few plants providing rubber, steel, etc. in one scenario yu ship the finished bikes. In the other you ship the steel, rubber, etc. we have left otr many other differences in the two scenarios, but even this was the only thing that mattered, it is nt obvious to me which would be more co logically sound…

    Yes, parecon claims to take into account full social and ecological cost and benefits, as well as generating equity and conveying self managing influence. How?mby way of what is called participatory planning, in context of other compatible institutions. I can’t describe in full how it works here, but it is described I the book I did, parecon life after capitalism, and I some others as well, the oldest by robin Hahnel and I, and the most recent by Robin alone.

    avatarPhilip Ganchev

    Thanks Michael. I know about participatory planning. It still seems to me that conserving the environment requires that be held as a value by the society practicing participatory planning. Parecon provides a mechanism for reflecting societal values in the economy, and it builds in solidarity. But it does not *guarantee* conserving the environment to any arbitrary standard. Not that it should, or that other models do. If I’m wrong about the guarantees, what parts of participatory planning make that guarantee?

    avatarMichael Albert

    If we are talking about, for example, protecting owls, say, not for benefits to people,, but for benefits to owls, you are absolutely right. The economy doesn’t do that, and can’t. That is a political decision, that is I posed on the economy. If we are talking about taking into account ecological effects due to implications for people, parecon does do that.

    There is nothing that prevents ignorance from trumping desire, though. If yu have participatory planning but no one understands the implications of using some chemical in some process, nothing can cause that to be properly accounted.

    Matt Grantham

    Michael- A point or two in regard to your discussion with Phillip Gan. My suggestion is that there can be an incentive for locals to want bicycles, or whatever industrially produced mechanism, which are more durable and are amenable to local repair than cheaper and less repairable ones. Yes much of this depends on the so called mindset of the individuals or communities involved. It may also depend on what kind of economic analysis you wish to do in terms of value for higher priced higher quality items over the long term in establishing a baseline cost benefit analysis in the first place. It is likely we still disagree about the basic tenet that localities can have a different set of economic incentives if they choose to examine economic frames in terms of being a distinct local unit. But here is one example nonetheless, if the mindset is based in terms of some established sense of value for the local economic unit then people may have more reason to be willing to share bicycles or to make sure they are given to others after the given individual is done with them. Now you can make an argument that any enlightened individual, or system, would also make such accommodations, but in my opinion that circumstance is less likely in comparison to a local based mentality. Another aspect to this is that the international marketplace seems to breed a sense of limitlessness that the local does not.

    I am no expert or 3D printers, but it seems their reality will soon be impacting the equation as well. If they do lend themselves particularly well to local production then bicycle production at least may indeed be able to occur at the local level. Raw materials may still be an issue, but that will be a case by case concern

    • This reply was modified 7 years, 5 months ago by Matt Grantham.
    Matt Grantham

    One more point which you may or may not be interested in. My experience in trying to work in this area which is called something like local resilience based on local production in food, health, energy, etc. The groups and leadership involved in this work seem to be highly centralized and often removed from contact with the general public. at a minimum most of them demand compliance to their particular format, and struggle to be inclusive and interdisciplinary. I mention this because I believe there is a void out there is not being met. I probably do not understand the mission of Parecon well enough to comment on how your organization might fit with at least some aspects of this movement. From a personal perspective I have always wanted to introduce some of your work on cooperative work arrangements as part of a learning process here at the local level


    Hi Matt,

    Two your two posts…

    Of course if bikes cane made locally that are superior, that is a reason to do, just as the reverse would be true – and I honestly think far more likely. That is, having 10,000 plants with equipments and tolls and what not is probably far far more costly, even prohibitively so, than equipping far fewer plants with what is needed for the best product in line with people’s tastes.

    Whether something is locally repairable or not, I suspect has little to do with where it is produced – but yes, it could be an issue. the point is, there is no virtue for local other than the same kind of virtues that can apply to non local approaches – ease of production, utility and non wastefulness, quality, comfort and fulfillment of the workers, and so on.

    I am not saying local is bad, or small is bad – I am saying sometimes local is better than non local, and sometimes small is better than large – but also vice versa. And the actual asseessment is not along the axis of small large, local non local – but the kinds of things that are actually relevant to individual and social fulfillment – ecological impact, character of the work roles. etc.

    So what does parecon have to do with any of this – answer is, it claims to be an economy that would allow people to decide local or distant small or large in light of implications for full individual, social, and ecological costs and benefits, without prejudging all cases based on some supposed, but unreal, generalize virtue of one compared to the other.

    Corvis Raven

    My son, who is both brilliant and a bit of a slacker (he gets both from me) came up with an argument against paying people to become educated: Career students.

    But we think we have a solution: After a change or perhaps at most two changes of majors (say one during undergrad and one during post-grad) a person should have to pay for her next career change out of her own pocket, even if that means working for a couple of years mainly doing an onerous but lucrative task such as janitorial work. It shouldn’t be impossible to switch careers repeatedly during a lifetime and obtain the education to do so, but it shouldn’t be free after a certain point either, much less paid for by society. Because some of us would simply never leave school!

    Also, would people have to audition or take some sort of career test before embarking on that paid education part of their lives? Because I would make an awful opera singer, but if someone paid me to go to school to become one and didn’t bother to find out I can’t carry a tune in a bucket with the lid on first, well,I’d have a lot of fun for a year or two giving it my best shot! And would educational opportunities be restricted by the needs of the society/community at any given time? Or would the most needed career educational paths reward students more than others to entice more people to enter those fields?

    Another issue we discussed was overproduction. When people are finally paid what they’re worth based on their hard work and long hours, they’re going to be highly motivated to produce a lot of stuff. Eventually the market aspect of Parecon (If I’m understanding it correctly) should balance this out because there is only so much demand for all that stuff, but at first there could be a boom in production that taxes planetary resources. Any thoughts on reining in the early enthusiasm so we don’t strip our resources further than we already have?

    Also, a nitpick: Doctors should not be the example used for cushy jobs. Many are up to their elbows in guts 12 hours straight with no bathroom break trying to save a life. It’s stressful and dirty and can be physically taxing. Accountants and professors on the other hand have it pretty darn good. I’d take a lifetime of teaching at a university over digging around for a spleen in a car accident victim’s torso any day.

    Finally, what about jobs that mix skilled labor with onerous and sometimes dangerous labor that also requires independent thinking and decision making, such as being an EMT? Should EMTs also be required to put time in scrubbing toilets and/or doing administrative tasks, or do their jobs cover both spectrums sufficiently that anyone who wants to can devote every work hour to simply being an EMT?

    • This reply was modified 7 years, 2 months ago by Corvis Raven.
    Corvis Raven

    One more: Let’s say the USA switches to Parecon before the rest of the world. And we end up having to decide whether or not to go to war with a country hostile to us. Soldiers are the ones who should have the most decision making power on whether or not we fight because they’re the ones who have to go do the fighting. It makes sense. But should they also have the power to decide not to end a war regardless of what the rest of the population decides based on this same philosophy? And how will we decide matters of security in this society? Some secrecy at times might be required, yet if we turn over any power to a handful of experts or whatever we wish to call them and let them decide such things for us, aren’t we right back where we started if not worse off? Yet these situations could come up.

    avatarMichael Albert

    Apologies, but since I am teaching courses in WISC on all this, I jus don’t have a lot of time for these forums as well…

    Sp. very briefly remuneration is for socially valuable labor – thus, yes, one has to be competent at one’s work. Cannot be a singer for income – because no one would want to listen, and ditto for other things I, or anyone, cannot do well enough for it to be a contribution.

    Similarly, remuneration isn’t for output and no workplace okay longer hours or high intensity effort for people to get extra income, if it would be overproduction, not wanted at the cost. It is not a market, in any sense, but it does rule out that kind of thing.

    As to balancing jobs, well, it will be what it is, when it happens. But I certainly think being a doctor, surgeon, or what have you – is highly empowering, not disempowering. That is the axes on which balancing occurs.

    A war affects everyone, albeit not all equally. One would help there would not be any, of course, but supposing there was, the decision to do it, is one thing – the decision do I go fight in it or not, is another thing.


    I have some philosophical questions about Parecon rather than technical ones. They’re all heading in a particular direction, as I try to express something difficult here. So here goes.

    Firstly, do you think of Parecon primarily as an ideal (that is, something really good that we should make happen because it is objectively better than the current non-ideal predicament) or as a historical latency (that is, a dialectical potential developing inside the world as it actually is)? Is it both somehow perhaps?

    Secondly, do you think one could characterise history as a series of attempts by humanity to ‘get it right’, trying different things on to see which one fits, making mistakes along the way and learning from those mistakes? For example, in your opinion, did workers in the Soviet Union make a kind of historical or ideological error by allowing Leninist centralism and a coordinator class to usurp their power in the 1920s? Should they have opted for workers’ councils even back then? Were the anarchists not just morally right but practically right as well?

    Or do you believe there is some secret to the present which could make a participatory economy, with collective planning and so on, viable and sustainable, even imminent and necessary, in a way it has not been before and was not so a hundred years ago?

    I guess there is something that has never sat right with me about Parecon, even though it would seem like precisely the kind of work the hour requires. Please don’t get me wrong. All power to you. I am glad you are doing what you do. I am just trying to get at Parecon’s historical content which is still eluding me. I believe this element is important for many reasons, including nitty gritty technical ones

    avatarMichael Albert

    I of course think participatory economics is a system for accomplishing economic functions that could be used by societies – why else would I advocate it, seek it, etc.?

    At may turns in history alternatives could have occured and did not. To take a major example, somewhat different events and we might all still be in the dark ages, or something like pahronic Egypt – which, after all, lasted for thousands of years….

    Nothing too consequential of foreordained. Change – particularly change that gets it right, requires people with awareness and means working to bring it about. Yes, I think the Russian experience could have been different, to the advantage of subsequent humanity.

    Could there have been a participatory economy even then, I think probably yes. Don’t see why not. Other than that there was no massive movement to make it so. Could that have existed – I have no idea.

    I don’t know what this historical element is that you think is missing. Parecon is a vision for key institutions for a different type of economy. They are certainly technically possible. They are humanly possible. I believe they are worthy. So the real question is, can we generate sufficient desire and awareness and means to being them about – answer…no way to know for sure other than to try.

    Your concern, if I am reading it right, makes no more sense to me, and equally as much sense to me, as if someone said to someone fighting against slavery, can you guarantee victory?

    I think maybe you are wondering, is there something about our situation, as compared to the situation of others at other times, that makes parecon more likely to be sought, to be won, to succeed, now than earlier. Well, that it exists as an idea, that it has growing support, that wider and wider circles of people are coming to the conclusion that there will be barbarism (already is, actually) or change, and so on.Nothing definitive, lots that is indicative.

    But the real issue is, will you become aware of it, understand it, perhap refine it, seek it. If yes, then that is another good sign. IF not, then not.


    Thank you so much for your reply so soon. You really have put your soul into this. Your commitment has been superb all these years. Not that you you give a damn about such accolades anyway.

    I am finding it very hard to explain what I mean. To people actually involved in practical work, this might seem like a obscure question, this historical element stuff, but it feels important to me.

    I remember being a young anarchist twenty five years ago or something reading Gregory Maximov’s The Guillotine at Work and physically raging about how the Bolsheviks could have gotten away with stealing and destroying such a potentially beautiful thing as the Russian Revolution (just like the same people appear to have screwed up Spain and so on). I remember going out with mates and hassling Trotskyites. “What about Kronstadt? Hey? What about Kronstadt?” Of course, anyone listening but not involved in the close little circle of left politics would have thought we were all a bunch of loonies.

    However, something changed in me at some stage. Still a loony to be sure, but maybe some equanimity sank in in the face of history. When I was done being indignant I wanted to understand, not just the phenomenon of Marxist Leninism, but also a whole bunch of other things like the survival of capitalism.

    Funnily enough, the best methodology for working stuff out for me turned out to be in Marx himself (anarchism, postmodernism and the rest being to my mind pretty useless as ways of reading history). Anyhow, the key to it seems to be this dialectical notion of the productive forces and the social relations. Because people live in bodies as well as minds, and make choices accordingly, people are not free to construct new social relations in a vacuum. The underside, the productive forces, need to be pushing up in the same direction and will indeed ultimately shape things to their own ends, regardless of ideals or the existential fortitude of individuals. This explains much about both the revolutions of the last century and their fate as well as for that matter their, by and large, non-existence in The West.

    This may smack of economic determinism but I would put it a different way. It is about the nature of choice. For ordinary people, real historical choices are not merely abstract intellectual propositions but questions of, complex negotiations with physical necessity.

    With regard to Parecon, two things:

    A revolution has occurred within capitalism in relation to the means of communication. With full respect to folks like Antonie Pannekoek, it is only under these circumstances that that part of my brain which does not give a damn about ideals, only about whether my kids can eat, have decent shelter over their heads, sound education and medical care, is reasonably confident that we can do this thing. Sure, I would have been in there trying in 1917 and 1936 but, anarcho-propaganda aside, I might have had secret nagging doubts, being human, cased in this mortal shell and a father. Decisively, multitudes would have shared similar doubts and would have been far more equivocal to boot about the way they came down.

    At any rate capitalism has lately released massive new productive forces through the expansion of the means of communication. These are beginning to push the realm of the possible beyond both private exchange and central planning as the only entirely plausible long-term bases for secure economic existence. I see Parecon as, in part, an expression of this.

    Second thing: capitalism despite itself has the tendency to create the very thing its high priests pretend do not exist: social productive forces. Perversely, capitalism has created an ever growing interdependence amongst those under it, not just in resisting it but also in production itself (and this relates also to climate crisis if we think of the biosphere as the mother of all productive forces). Despite the fact that these forces do not yet have full political expression in most places – less so than ever perhaps in much of the world – they are I believe at an all time high as a latency. This latency, were it to ever realise itself, would be the life-blood, the inner flow that would make transformations like Parecon happen, overcome obstacles and sustain themselves. All the technical tinkering in the world could never mean much beside this.

    I still don’t know whether I have got there but maybe a bit closer. Thanks for reading anyway.


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