Parecon Question and Answer

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Consumers Councils and Parecon?

 And what about consumers? If there is self management, they have to have a share in decisions making too, don’t they?

As with workers, the principal means of organizing consumers in a parecon is consumer councils. Each individual, family, or other social unit would comprise the smallest such councils and also belong to its larger neighborhood consumption council. Each neighborhood council would belong in turn to a federation of neighborhood councils the size of a city ward or a rural county. Each ward council would belong to a city consumption council (or perhaps a borough and then a city council), and each city and county council would belong to a state council, and each state council would belong to the national council (or maybe to a regional and then to the national council). This nested federation of democratic councils would organize consumption, just as the nested federation of democratic workers’ councils organizes production. 

Participatory economies incorporate this nesting of different consumers’ councils to accommodate the fact that different kinds of consumption affect different groups of people in different ways. The color of my shirt concerns me and my most intimate acquaintances. The shrubbery on my block concerns all who live on the block, though perhaps some more than others. The quality of play equipment in a park affects all in the neighborhood. The number of volumes in the library and teachers in the high school primarily affect all in a ward. The frequency and punctuality of buses and subways affect primarily all in a city. The disposition of waste affects all states in a major watershed. “Real” national security affects all citizens in a country, and protection of the ozone layer affects all humanity—which means that my choice of deodorant, unlike my choice of shirt color, directly and primarily concerns more than just me and my intimates. 

Failure to arrange for all those affected by consumption activities to participate in choosing them not only implies an absence of self-management, but, if the preferences of some are disregarded, also a loss of efficiency in meeting needs and developing potentials. It is to accommodate the full range of consumption activities, from the most private to the most public, that we organize different “levels” of consumption councils. As to how consumers get necessary information about product availability and indeed influence the choice of what is made available, and as to how they then make their own choices, with what budget, and in what ways—for both individual and collective consumption—we must wait until we have described more of the overall structure. But what we can say now is that once we recognize that consumption activity, like production activity, is largely social, we must insist that consumption decision-making, like production decision-making, be participatory and equitable. In that event it is reasonable to conclude that consumption councils will be one valuable component in the mix that accomplishes that aim. 



Workers and Consumers Councils

Excerpt from the summary chapter in Realizing Hope


Workers and consumers need a place to express and pursue their preferences. Historically, when workers and consumers have attempted to seize control of their own lives in tumultuous times, they have invariably created as the venue of their debate and decision making, workers and consumers councils.

In a parecon, within workers and consumers councils essentially like those that have historically emerged in past struggles, there is an additional commitment to using decision making procedures and modes of communication that self consciously apportion to each actor about each decision a degree of say proportionate to the degree he or she is affected.

Votes to make decisions in councils could be majority rule, three quarters, two-thirds, consensus, or other possibilities. They are taken at different levels, with fewer or more participants, and using information dispersal and discussion procedures as well as voting norms that depend on the particular implications of the decisions in question.

Sometimes after due deliberation a team or individual makes a decision pretty much on its own. Sometimes a whole workplace or even an industry, or a neighborhood, county, or country would be the decision body and special mechanisms for getting relevant information to all members and deliberating possibilities are employed. Different voting and tallying methods would also be enacted as needed for different decisions.

Consider, as an example, a publishing house. It could have teams addressing different functions like promotion, book production, editing, etc. Each of these might make its own workday decisions in context of broader policies decided by the whole workers council. Decisions to publish a book might involve teams in related areas, and might require, for example, a two thirds or three quarters positive vote, including considerable time for appraisals and re-appraisals. Many other decisions in the workplace could be one person one vote majority rule of the primarily affected workers or could require slightly different majorities or methods of accounting and challenging outcomes. Hiring might require consensus in the workgroup that the new person would be part of due to the tremendous effect a new worker can have on a group that he or she is constantly working with.

The point is, in workplaces workers decide both the broad and the narrower decisions, both the norms and the methods for decision making, and then also the day to day and more policy-oriented choices in groups of nested councils, teams, etc.

The reader may note that for full self management, however, it must also be the case that by some means the decisions of a workplace regarding what to produce are also influenced appropriately by all the people affected by its production – which turns out to be not only those who wind up consuming the workplace’s books, bicycles, band-aids, or whatever, but also those who don’t get some other product because energy, time, and assets went to the ends in question and not to some other ends, plus those affected by by-products such as pollution. But this is all a matter of allocation, not of workplace organization, and it enters our discussion just a bit later where we will also see how consumers councils fit into the picture. For now, we have self managing councils.

Next Entry: Self Management

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