ParEcon Questions & Answers

Next Entry: Kinship?


Crime and Punishment in Capitalism and Parecon

This material is excerpted from the book Realizing Hope and adapted – minimally – into a q/a form…

vvWhat is the connection between capitalism and crime?

About 30 years ago I was at a dinner party with a bunch of leftist economics faculty and grad students, and I posed a hypothetical question to engender some dinner debate. If you had only two choices, I asked, would you open all U.S. prison doors and let everyone out, or would you keep everyone right where they are?

To my surprise there wasn’t any debate. Only I was willing to entertain what everyone else saw as the utterly insane, ultra-leftist notion that opening the doors might be better than keeping everyone incarcerated with no changes. I then added the option of giving everyone who was let out a job and ample training, but still there were no takers.

Years later, would the result of such a query to leftists be the same? As context, our little experiment might best be undertaken in light of the oft-quoted notion that it is better to let ten criminals go free than to jail one innocent person. Of course that may be just a rhetorical put-on for gullible law students, but it is supposed to communicate that there is something utterly unthinkable about innocent folks festering in prison.

Okay, this implies some calculations. For example, what is innocence and what is guilt, and how about letting one innocent person fester in order to jail twenty, or fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand malevolent psychopaths who would otherwise run amuck hurting and even killing way more innocent folks? On the other hand, what if the calculus is the opposite? What if the real question is should we keep one criminal in jail along with five or ten innocent folks, or let them all go free?

The crime rate in the U.S. is approximately the same as in comparably industrialized and citified Western Europe. The number of inmates per hundred thousand citizens in the U.S., however, is as much as fifteen times greater than in Europe, depending on which country we choose for our comparison.

The rate of incarceration in Spain is a bit more than England is a bit more than France is a bit more than Germany is a bit more than Turkey…and Norway and Iceland are relatively crime free by comparison. The U.S. rate of incarceration is about fifteen times Iceland’s, twelve times Norway’s, a bit over eight times the Turkish rate, and a little over six times Spain’s.

The high U.S. rates began spiraling dramatically upward about thirty years ago in tune with politician and media exploitation of a largely manufactured public fear of crime.

Political candidates–Reagan being the game’s most effective but not its sole star player–would drum up fear and then utilize it to propel programs for warring on drugs, expanding the number of prisons, extending minimum mandatory sentencing, and imposing three strikes you’re out innovations.

When everyone from the cop on the beat, to the police chief, to the crime beat reporter, to the DA, to the judge hears nothing but an endless litany of lock ’em up and let ’em rot rhetoric, they all become predictably aggressive. Thus, between 1972 and 1998 the number of folks in prison rose by over five times to 1.8 million.

As Manning Marable reports, “The terrible dynamic unleashed against prisoners of social control has expanded into the normal apparatuses and uses of policing itself. There are now, for example, approximately 600,000 police officers and 1.5 million private security guards in the United States. Increasingly, however, black and poor communities are being ‘policed’ by special paramilitary units, often called SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams. The U.S. has more than 30,000 such heavily armed, military trained police units. SWAT-team mobilizations, or ‘call outs,’ increased 400 percent between 1980 and 1995. These trends reveal the makings of what may constitute a ‘National Security State’–the exercising of state power without democratic controls, checks and balances, a state where policing is employed to carry out the disfranchisement of its own citizens.”

Most of the increase in U.S. incarcerations, unsurprisingly, has been due to jailing folks for nonviolent crimes such as possessing drugs, whereas in Europe such “crimes” rarely lead to prison. So in the U.S. we jail five, six, seven, or even eleven or fourteen folks who would be seen as innocent enough to stay out in society in Europe, for every one person we jail who the Europeans would also incarcerate.

In other words, if we opened the doors right now, a horrendous proposal in most people’s eyes, for every person the Europeans would have us jail, five to ten who they would deem innocent would be set free. This is rather sobering. If we would rhetorically let out ten guilty inmates to free one innocent one, surely we ought to happily let out one guilty inmate to free five to ten innocent ones? And then we ought to refigure our approach to laws, trials, and especially punishment and rehabilitation as well.

The data and most of the ideas above, by the way, did not come to me by way of a dinner party with radical leftists. Instead, I borrowed this material from an article in Scientific American, August 1999. The author, Roger Doyle, was examining some facts to see their numeric implications. Being honest of course means looking at facts and reporting them truthfully. Being left means looking a little deeper to find institutional causes and then extrapolating from the causes one finds to proposals that further egalitarian and humanist values one holds dear.

Doyle went on in his Scientific American essay to point out that (a) a key difference between young whites and (disproportionately jailed) young blacks was that the whites are more likely in our current economy to get jobs enabling them to avoid the need to steal or deal, (b) income differentials are vastly greater in the U.S. than in Europe and, (c) reading only a little into his words, that incarceration may be seen as a tool of control against the poor so that “high U.S. incarceration rates are unlikely to decline until there is greater equality of income.”

Kudos for Scientific American’s honesty and even radicalism, but what about our hypothetical leftist dinner party? If the difference between the U.S. and Europe isn’t that Americans have genes causing them to be anti-social but, rather, that Americans and particularly black Americans are put into circumstances by our economy which virtually require them to seek means of sustenance outside the law, and if, to be very conservative, half the inmates in the U.S. are arrested for victimless “crimes” that would not even be prosecuted in Europe, doesn’t it make sense to ask whether this entire U.S. prosecutorial and punitive legal apparatus is, in fact, utterly counter productive in its current construction?

Finally, this doesn’t even broach another radical question. Why are some leftists sitting around a table, whether thirty years ago or today, or why is anyone at all, anytime, for that matter, more worried about the occasional fearsome anti-social or even pathological thug/rapist/murderer who is caught and incarcerated going free, than they are by (1) the violent and willful incarceration of so many innocent souls who have worthy and humane lives to live if only enabled to do so; or (2) the gray flannel businessmen walking freely up and down Wall Street who preside over the misery of so many for their own private gain, each businessman a perfect biological incarnation of willful, self-delusional, and largely incorrigible anti-social behavior that operates at a scale of violence which the worst incarcerated thugs can never dream to approach, or (3) the government, which, on behalf of those gray flannel businessmen wrecks massive mutilation and devastation on whole countries, then calling it humanitarian intervention so that they can avoid the fatal injection death penalty our society prescribes for murder of any kind much less for murder most massive such as they commit?

Our jails are ten to fifty times more crowded than the number of people a humane legal system would have to incarcerate and/or rehabilitate because ways to diminish that gap would entail reducing income differentials and improving the lot of society’s worst off. Businessmen won’t tolerate that, at least not without a fight.

Why does a capitalist country produce crime in greater numbers than genetic endowment and equitable social conditions might entail? Consider this little joke from Groucho Marx, “The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you’ve got it made.” Sinclair Lewis, the great novelist, offers this description of one of his most famous characters: “His name was George F. Babbitt, and … he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay.”

We live in a society in which to win is paramount and even in legal transactions winning mindsets are barely discernable from those of fraud and theft. That people excluded from legal means of survival or prosperity might in considerable numbers consider illegal means seems hardly surprising.

Here’s is Al Capone the famous and in some respects lionized American thug on the subject: “This American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will, gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it.”

First capitalism produces poor and poorly educated people on one side, and rich and callous people on the other. In the U.S. upwards of thirty million and indeed many more people worry about falling into or already suffer socially defined poverty. More frequently even larger numbers periodically find themselves unexpectedly desperate. Over the course of a lifetime, as many as a hundred million will suffer unemployment or fear of it at some point. At the same time a few million have so much wealth and power they virtually own society and determine its course of development.

Then capitalism imposes non-stop economic transactional requisites that are little different from invitations to lie, cheat, and otherwise fleece one’s fellow citizens as in price gouging, dumping pollutants, paying lowest possible wages, etc. Next, largely to maintain a degree of order and, in particular, to protect the property and safety of the rich and powerful as well as to provide a context of control over all others, capitalism elaborates a system of laws even as draconian as three strikes and you are out. A largely callous and often corrupt police apparatus and jurisprudence system is added to the mix. And the result is not just massive generally unproductive and very often unwarranted and aggressively dehumanizing incarceration rates with abominable prison conditions, but crime galore, plus rampant fear and hostility. Since it all persists with barely a nod to improvement, presumably it is what those at the top want and are satisfied with, from behind their gated communities.


ffWhat about Guns?

There are roughly 30,000 gun related deaths in the U.S. per year, plus a huge number of lesser violations ranging from minor wounds to lasting disabilities. Gun control of diverse sorts could hugely diminish these losses, yet U.S. gun control is ineffectual.

On one side are gun manufacturers plus roughly 40 million U.S. gun owners. On the other side, are 240 million potential victims plus millions of people who have already suffered from the death of a family member or close friend.

Domestic guns have violently killed more U.S. citizens since JFK was murdered then all wars in this century. That’s right, more U.S. citizens have died in the last forty years from gun shots administered by other U.S. citizens or by themselves than have been killed in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars, and all other military engagements this century combined. And, for that matter, traffic and work-related fatalities occur at an even greater pace than gun fatalities and could each also be dramatically reduced by simple social policies.

Given that putting guns in the hands of abusers, maniacs, and criminals, and making them fireable by children and other non-owners is socially insane (as are the U.S. transport system and corporate ownership relations), and given that we understand that the prime defender of all this social insanity is the relentless elite pursuit of profit and power, let’s look beyond all that at the activist equation that we ourselves are part of.

In short, year after year how come gun advocates so badly beat gun critics?

There is no need to focus here on the gun companies. They have their agenda and their power and we know about that.

There is no point bemoaning here the cravenness of media or democrats, or judges. We know about that too. That’s all business as usual.

The issue to highlight here to broach another dimension of comprehension is the relative mobilization of people on the two sides. Why does more passion, commitment, and money oppose gun control than supports it?

Of course, in the U.S. we have guns for toys and our country celebrates war as a national pastime. But even given that, in the broad public shouldn’t the pro and anti-gun activism ratio be the reverse of what it is?

How is it possible that paranoia about having all guns outlawed (which no one proposes), plus philosophical and emotional attachment to “gun rights,” plus whatever else fuels pro-gun passion, trumps fear about being shot to death (which is warranted), plus philosophical and emotional attachment to sane interpersonal relations, plus whatever else fuels anti-gun passion?

Is it really true that gun advocates who hunt care more about easily buying guns able to fire 40 armor-piercing, body-shredding bullets in seconds, than gun opponents who buried a loved one care about avoiding further gun tragedies?

Can it really be that there is more passion for having unlimited access to guns in homes, than there is passion for having barriers to ownership by criminals and abusers, even when guns in homes are fifty times more likely to kill spouses or children than to have any effect on intruders?

Why do gun advocates muster so much more clout than those advocating gun control? Why does one side rally vigorously, while the other side mostly yawns?

One answer to this question is that it is just too hard to answer this question. Let’s write a book about the machinations of Time Warner or of Remington or of the National Rifle Association. We can be accurate about all that.

Let me be a blunt about this. I think we need to answer the subjective question about popular passions and motivations far more than we need another scholarly tome analyzing what is wrong with war, poverty, racism, or even corporations. And it isn’t because those structural analyses aren’t valuable. Of course they are valuable. It is because figuring out what prevents people who abhor oppressive realities from actually doing something about those oppressive realities would be even more valuable.

Naturally, this isn’t only about “gun rights.” Consider “rights” to own factories and hire and fire wage slaves. Those who protect rights of capital against infringement have near infinite passion and commitment. Those who worry about consumers and particularly about workers can barely mount a concerted campaign at all. Shouldn’t 250 million people be moved sufficiently by desires for participation, for dignity, for a fair share of output, for fair conditions, for a say over our labors, and even for survival, to be able to muster more passion, volunteerism, and donations than people seeking a third million, or a thirtieth million, or even a third billion in their income?

Returning to the gun example, suppose you are choosing who to vote for, or what group to send a few bucks. You grew up in a family that had target shooting or hunting as a pastime and you now have a couple of guns yourself. You know that many people hate guns but you like them. You feel, as well, that your gun options could conceivably be revoked.

Right wing politicians offer to defend your gun rights and praise your life style preferences. They argue that any regulation is a slippery slope to having no guns at all. You are working class and you have no trouble discerning that the pro-gun organizations and politicians have zero regard for your well being in other respects. But you also know that they don’t diss you personally, and you know that they do offer to protect this one thing that you care about.

On the other side, you see that Democrats and also progressives and radicals don’t like guns, gun culture, or gun preferences, and broadcast it personally and socially. These gun control advocates clearly have attitudes about health care, housing, income distribution, and work conditions more in accord with your working class interests and welfare, but their manner says that they don’t much like you personally. They say they only want to make guns safe, but you wonder, wouldn’t they really rather just entirely outlaw them?

So why do you decide to ally with the right wing, ultra rich, born with a silver spoon, gouge out every last penny in profits, Bush/Schwarzenegger type, though doing so contradicts your broad interests? Why does single issue gun advocacy trump your other values?

And, on the other hand, if you are a member of the far more numerous group of people who hate gun violence–about 80% of the populace in U.S. polls–how come you contribute so much less on behalf of reducing gun violence than gun advocates contribute on behalf of asserting gun rights?

God comes to visit. God says that she is going to have a vote and act on the results. You can vote to have free access to any gun and gun product from now until eternity. Or you can vote to have free health care, dignity in work, pollution controls, excellent and effective schools, and so on. Is this vote, held with this guarantee, in doubt?

Or, suppose that the choice is only that you can have virtually unlimited gun access plus 30,000 gun-related corpses and 100,000 disabilities per year, as now–or you can have serious gun controls that forbid military type weapons, prevent access by criminals and abusers, and block use by non-owners including the 10-20 children who die daily in gun related shootings, and that in that case the 30,000 people per year will survive and prosper. Is even this vote in doubt, with these guarantees?

Gun control is weak and gun advocacy is strong not because people like guns more than they hate corpses, and not because of any confusions or complications of the actual issues involved, but because gun users believe they can win their agenda regarding guns, and believe that no one can do much of anything about the other things impacting their lives, and believe that the corpses will pile up anyhow, and because gun opponents ironically also ultimately believe corpses are just the way it is, and believe reductions in violence much less enlargements in justice and equity are pretty much impossible and therefore think that anti-gun activism is not worth much more than lip service to display one’s proper moral stance.

In other words, a working class voter who votes Bush or Schwarzenegger because these candidates pose with a rifle and implicitly advocate people being able to own submachine guns, and who ignores the entreaties of democrats and progressives about gun control and also about schooling and health care and all the rest, is really saying–on this one gun issue I can have my way and on the rest of the issues I can’t, so I will choose based on the gun issue. The war corpses and economic violations will pile up regardless.

And similarly, the gun opponent who says I hate the piles of corpses and mounds of injustice and I favor gun control, but I have no time or energy or money to put behind my gun control advocacy, is saying–what’s the point? I can’t win anything that really matters, so I might as well not try.

If this picture is accurate, then the overwhelming obstacle to progressive and revolutionary victories is skepticism. Most people don’t take progressive much less revolutionary potentials seriously. We don’t hear about a possible campaign and think to ourselves about the myriad benefits that would accrue from winning it. We think instead, reflexively, immediately, morosely, about the myriad reasons why victory can never be ours. We always see the glass half empty and leaking, rather than half full and expanding.

I not only see this defeatist perspective operating globally all the time, for example in the line up of energy, commitment, and resources for or against gun control, or for or against restraints on capital, or for or against capitalism itself–I encounter it in my own local work, as well.

I do an alternative media web site called ZNet, for Z Magazine. Roughly 300,000 people a week use ZNet. About 150,000 people get free mailings from ZNet a few times a month. This is not NBC or BBC scale, but it is a lot of folks, who, if they acted coherently, could have tremendous effect.

It is my job at ZNet not only to deliver useful information, analysis, vision, and strategy to our users, and not only to try to cohere amongst them some degree of mutual respect and solidarity, but also to provide reason and means for them to collectively marshal energy and resources to good ends, including keeping ZNet going and expanding ZNet and alternative media more generally.

Of course some of these many folks are very peripheral users of ZNet, which is fine. Some aren’t too concerned about alternative media, they have other priorities, which is also fine. But most ZNet users, I think, do care a lot about alternative media, and do regard ZNet’s operations with considerable respect. For many people, ZNet and Z’s other operations may be their primary link to alternative information and vision able to promote the growth of alternative ideas and practices. And yet, like the left’s relative incapacity to galvanize support for gun control or to rally workers against capital–it is exceptionally difficult to rally ZNet’s users on behalf of ZNet itself, much less alternative media per se.

I suspect the difficulties involved in all these levels of galvanizing involvement or even just attention have to do with a reflex assumption of incapacity. Why should I give my time, energy, or finances, regardless of how much I agree that gun control would be good, or that restraints on corporate owners or even attaining a whole new economy would be good, or that more and better alternative media would be good? My contributions will not yield much, so why bother making them?

Skepticism about prospects and I suspect perhaps also a kind of embarrassment to be seen as naively thinking that one can make a difference curtail even easy, low cost commitment.

Our good will and humane values don’t repeatedly get trounced because we cannot, in fact, win change. Conditions and possibilities are not insurmountably unfavorable. We fail to win, instead, most often because we think we cannot win.

I have offered this somewhat out of place exploration of guns and media and people’s motives to make a broad point. It isn’t just that capitalism tends to generate diverse horrible outcomes like those mentioned in other chapters and here, as well. It is that capitalism tends to pound its citizens in a way that diminishes their likelihood of being angered by these outcomes, much less trying to alter them.

This sad situation must be reversed both in the large, regarding the institutions of our societies, and also compositely regarding our local campaigns and operations, such as gun control and also ZNet and the expansion of alternative media and other similar domains. How do we improve confidence and thereby in turn increase involvement? Or put differently, what have guns got to do with alternative media? These are question worth our time, I believe, and I think part of the answer has to do with creating shared and inspiring vision, which brings us back to our main topic.

Capitalism breeds crime via its disparities in wealth, reduction of people’s solidarity, impositions of insecurity, propulsion of a mindset that winning is everything and ought to be pursued by any means necessary, creation of a climate and context in which getting away with crime is commonplace, in which crime is profitable, in which repression of crime is not only profitable but an excellent means of control, in which distribution of tools of violence is profitable and even feels empowering, and in which conditions of cynicism impede rational judgments about policies and practices, so that we abide an absence of anything remotely resembling rehabilitation celebrating, instead, punishments and incarceration that spurs more crime.

To figure out an appropriate approach to discerning crime, to determining guilt or innocence, and to administering justice for victims and perpetrators and for society more broadly in a good society will be no simple task. But to see some of the broad implications of capitalism for crime, as noted above, and for parecon for crime, as noted below, is much simpler.

Okay, what about parecon and crime

It is often said that how a society treats those it punishes graphically displays how civilized and humane it is. If we look in the prisons and specifically at how criminals are treated we see a portrait of a society’s moral soul.

It might also be said, look in the prisons and specifically at the numbers and basis of incarceration to see whether a society produces more solidarity or  contestation, equity or desperation, dignity or self hatred.

Does society increase crime by making it necessary or at least viable and attractive? Does it disproportionately impel some sectors to crime and others to legality? Or does it deter crime by making a lawful life worthy and fulfilling and by confining crime and particularly long term incarceration to only sociopaths of diverse sorts?

In this chapter, to investigate this question from the angle of capitalism and crime, we come at the problem from two angles a  bit different than our approach to other topics in this book.

In a parecon there is no impetus to reduce wide disparities in wealth by cheating because there are no such disparities to reduce. People are not uncertain, unstable, unsettled, and facing destitution, with crime as a way out. People are not choosing between a criminal career and jobs that are debilitating and dignity defying.

It is not solely that conditions of poverty that induce crime to survive or to care for loved ones are absent. So too are conditions of great advantage which instill callousness and a belief one is above society.

Likewise, no one profits off crime. There is no industry which benefits from crime control or punishment. No one has a stake in larger and larger prisons, police budgets, and arms sales. If there are still workplaces producing guns, no one connected with them has any interest whatsoever in anyone owning them for anything but socially desirable purposes. There is every reason for citizens to rationally and compassionately consider the well being of themselves and of all citizens and to pursue policies in accord rather than settling for personally and socially counterproductive policies in a cynical belief that nothing else is better.

So, in a parecon equitable social roles and the socially generated values of solidarity and self management plus stable and just conditions all militate against trying to aggrandize oneself via crime. For cases of pathology, on the one hand, or just for social violations stemming from jealousy or other persistent phenomena on the other hand, there is no desire to have anything but fair adjudication and sensible practices that continually reduce rather than aggravate the probability of further violations.

But there is another feature as well that is quite interesting and instructive, insofar as we are talking about crime for personal material gain–as compared to criminal pathology (crime for pleasure) or about crime for passion or for revenge.

How does a thief in capitalism operate? You might engage in fraud or deception, or you might literally grab items that belong to others. You then either directly have more purchasing power, or you have items you have grabbed which you add to your possessions or sell to then have more purchasing power. You live at a higher standard, as a result. You climb the ladder of material well being and in so doing you appear to have been the beneficiary of high pay, or a bonus, or gambling, etc.

Now what about in a parecon? We don’t know what kinds of criminal justice system it has, though we know it will incorporate balanced job complexes, of course. But we do know that people can still be fraudulent, grab what isn’t theirs, etc. The question is, what happens next, assuming they succeed? How do they enjoy the material spoils of crime?

If the spoils are tiny, as in one has connived or stolen a very little bit of wealth, okay, its consumption won’t be particularly visible. But the kind of booty that sparks real crime is substantial. We become criminals pursuing the kind of booty that means one’s income has gone way up. How does one enjoy that in a parecon?

The answer is, one pretty much can’t, save perhaps in one’s own basement, if one has stolen actual items, say paintings. Any visible consumption of significant criminally acquired income will be visible to others. But how does Joe or Jill criminal have all that income? In capitalism there are all kinds of ways for people to have hugely disparate incomes. But in a parecon that isn’t the case. If you don’t work much longer or harder–and there are limits there to what is possible, then the only way you can have extra bounty is illegally.

In other words, parecon creates a context of income distribution that makes it impossible for anyone to benefit greatly, publicly, from crime, thus both reducing its attractiveness and making its discovery in many respects trivial.

So in diverse ways the desirable economy, parecon, reduces incentives to steal, conditions that breed crime, reasons for needing crime, inclinations in people’s consciousness consistent with or conducive to engaging in crime, and prospects for success at crime.

But, before we close out this chapter, we should note what some readers will be wondering about–that parecon also adds another possible avenue of crime, and so we need to see about that, too.

In any economy, operating outside the norms and structures of acceptable economic life is criminal. In capitalism, it is criminal to own other people as slaves, for example, or just to pay sub minimum wages, or have overly unhealthy workplace conditions. Likewise, in a parecon, it is criminal to open a workplace and hire wage slaves using  unbalanced job complexes, or even just to operate outside the participatory planning system so as to accrue excessive income. Have we reduced some avenues to crime in a parecon, only to open up others?

This is actually, unlike almost all other issues raised in this book, overwhelmingly an economic question. The reason is because the economic dictates of parecon establish a context in which each of these types of violation are so difficult and so un-lucrative that even without considering penalties they would be unlikely to attract interest.

Take opening a workplace and hiring wage slaves. It is certainly possible to open a workplace, of course. It entails, however, establishing a workers council and receiving sanction from the related industry council and then the planning process to participate and to receive inputs and accreditation, so to speak, to earn income.

One cannot, therefore, employ wage slaves openly because there would be no acceptance. Can one claim to be a parecon firm openly, publicly, but privately behind the closed doors have one or two people entirely running the show and the workers receiving full incomes as provided in the plan but then turning over large parts to their bosses?

Even if we ignore the difficulty of turning over purchasing power, the image is, of course, absurd. Why would any worker submit to this sort of condition when the whole economy is full of balanced job complexes, self managing positions, and, even more, when the merest whisper of public revelation of the situation would immediately cause the workplace in question to be revamped into pareconish shape?

Similarly, suppose there is a participatory economy in some country and an overseas capitalist decides to open an auto plant inside its borders. He brings components and builds the plant–this is already quite impossible but let’s ignore that–and then advertises for workers. Suppose he could pay so much beyond the country’s average income level and he promised good enough work conditions that there were takers, which is also hugely implausible (rather like people now agreeing to be literal slaves for a Saudi entrepreneur opening a shop in NYC due to being provided luxury accommodations in the slave quarters). Still, even assuming workers are ready to sign on, it is an impossible picture because the planning process will neither deliver electricity, water, rubber, steel, etc., etc., nor buy the cars produced – even without considering penalties for this anti-pareconish firm.

Obviously the above applies identically to violations of parecon short of wage slavery, such as skewed remunerations or unbalanced job complexes inside a particular firm. But another more private scenario has to be assessed as well.

Suppose I am a great painter, or a great cook. I work in the art council or cook’s council in my city and have a balanced job complex and get pareconish remuneration. But I am really good and highly admired and well known for the great quality of my creations and I decide I want to parlay my talent and learning into higher income.

I paint or cook in my spare time, in my home–figuring, as well, that in short order I can leave the pareconish job and work only out of my home. I decide to make the output of my private labors available also in private, via what is called a black market, to augment my income. This is extra-legal behavior that violates the norms of parecon but what stops me from doing it?

Well, first, if it so chooses the society can have penalties just like it has penalties for fraud or theft or murder, say. But, in addition, even  if there were no penalties, I would confront considerable specifically economic obstacles.

To ply my private trade in any great degree I have to have quite a bit of inputs–for the painting, cooking, etc. But, it turns out this isn’t conclusive. It would be a terminal impediment for many other pursuits, but in this case, I can forego some other consumption to get all the ingredients–assuming that is, that I keep my pareconish job so I have a pareconish income with which to consume. That being the case, hobby tools are enough to do the producing, and my tremendous talent guarantees the results will be worth much more than the cost I had to endure to get the inputs. So far, so good, unlike, say, if I was a great tennis player giving lessons on the sly (needing private tennis courts, etc.) or a great pilot wanting to give private flights, etc.

But there is still the problem of people “buying” my meals or paintings. How do they incorporate consuming this illegal black market bounty into their plans? And how do I get purchasing power out of it? I can’t. They have to give me materials in kind, for my output, which is also delivered in kind. They give me a shirt for a meal, or a piece of furniture for a painting, and so on.

But to top off the complications, in addition to the great cumbersomeness of the whole endeavor, and the risk of being caught and at the very least suffering ignominy, how do I enjoy my bounty? I can’t enjoy it, except entirely in private. I can’t accrue a whole lot of payment in kind and then waltz around wearing, driving, and otherwise visibly consuming it, as that would be a dead giveaway that I was crooked. I have to take my bounty to my cellar, for private consumption.

So the whole picture is that I have to over-consume ingredients, produce on the sly outputs I could be remunerated at a good level and highly admired for producing in the real economy, find people willing to illegally and cumbersomely barter for what I produced even though they could get essentially the same goods in the economy legally and without hassle, and then enjoy the fruits of my deceptions in private.

Even this easiest of all possible types of violation is in a parecon made structurally onerous and of limited benefit, in addition to being illegal. The point is, where capitalism breeds corruption and theft via creating poor people who need it to survive or to garner a little otherwise entirely absent pleasure and generates wealthy people who need it to maintain their conditions against collapse, and also via creating conditions of anti sociality that make similar behavior and mindsets typical, and also via making crime’s rewards exhorbitant, and via making revelation even for public violation unlikely–parecon makes similar behavior unnecessary for survival or for gaining pleasures, eliminates rich people needing to preserve their advantages, creates conditions of solidarity that make criminal mindsets personally abhorrent, minimizes crime’se rewards, and makes revelation for anything but the most secretive violation virtually inevitable.

The bottom line is that parecon tends not to produce crimes and would certainly be compatible with desirable ways of dealing with crime control and treatment in a new and improved society.

 Next Entry: Kinship?


Leave a comment

Skip to toolbar