12. Seeking Participatory Allocation 

Now the problem arises of how to unite freedom and organization; how to combine mastery of the workers
over the work with the binding up of all this work
in a well-planned social entirety. How to organize production, in every shop as well as over the whole
of world economy, in such a way that they themselves as parts of a collaborating community regulate their work.
-Anton Pannekoek 

Participatory planning is the allocation component of participatory economics. Producers and consumers organized in councils cooperatively negotiate labor, resource, and output allocations. The procedure organizes economic choices and simultaneously fosters participatory self-management. Production and consumption come into accord via a cooperative give and take among individuals and their councils, in which actors have proper influence and benefit in unison with (rather than in opposition to) one another. That’s the vision, but visions result from long years of organizing, educating, and fighting for short-range demands that embody the vision’s basic principles and that bring us incrementally closer to their realization, eventually amassing enough gains in consciousness, militancy, and organization to win the whole sought-after alteration, 

So what short-run demands can foster participatory planning? Eight broad areas of change stand out. 


Council Infrastructure and Knowledge Base 

His name was George F. Babbitt, and …
he was nimble in the calling of selling houses
for more than people could afford to pay.
-Sinclair Lewis 

Participatory planning stands on two primary pillars: democratic participatory councils and wide dispersal of all information relevant to economic decision-making. Thus, to establish or strengthen workplace or consumer councils or to enlarge access of all producers and consumers to relevant information is to support participatory planning. For example, efforts to win workers’ rights to meet and/or convene their own on-the-job, rank-and-file organizations are very positive. And likewise efforts to “open the books” in a firm or in government economic institutions are also part and parcel of developing norms and consciousness conducive to participatory planning. 

Improved Pricing via taxation and subsidies 

A touch of dishonesty is part of the very existence of private merchandising. When a peasant buys a horse, he runs it down in every possible way. If he sells the same horse
a year later, it will have become younger, better, and stronger... One’s own commodity will always be the
best-the other person’s the worst. Deprecation of one’s competitors-a deprecation that is usually devoid
of all honesty-is an essential tool of one’s business.
-Wilhelm Reich 

One reason to favor participatory planning is that it gets prices right. Rather than over-valuing goods with negative public effects or under-valuing those with positive public effects, parecon properly accounts for impacts “external to the buyer and seller” by specifically accounting for the full social impact on all workers and consumers and on the environment. 


So to intervene in markets to move prices toward true valuations is to promote participatory planning. For example, demands to tax goods with bad environmental or human by-products such as cars, liquor, or cigarettes, or to subsidize goods with desirable impact external to the “buyer and seller,” such as health care, parks, low-income housing, and education, are all “pareconish.” 

Qualitative Descriptive Information 

The trouble with the rat race is even if
you win, you find out you’re still a rat.
-Lily Tomlin 

One of the methods parecon employs to ensure that its indicative prices reflect true social costs and benefits as well as guard against alienated behavior and mechanistic ignorance of the human dimensions of economics, is to incorporate into planning not only quantitative indicators, but also qualitative information about what goes into producing goods and what their consumption means to people. 

It follows that demands about honest and comprehensive labeling and advertising, particularly to include information bearing on the conditions of workers or impact on broader social relations, can also foster the values and mindsets of parecon, contributing to preparing for its full implementation. Imagine honest labeling and advertising—truly honest labeling and advertising… 

Sharing and Solidarity 

While there is a lower class, I am in it.
While there is a criminal element, I am of it.
While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
- Eugene  Debs  


One of the ills of market exchange is that it presses all actors toward individualist rather than collective consumption, even when this is harmful not only socially but to the direct participant. Parecon, in contrast, is as able to offer collective as private solutions. For example, are private autos better than decent public transit for inner city travel? On a smaller scale, does it make sense for everyone in an apartment complex to be almost totally isolated from everyone else, getting no benefits from sharing collective goods? Does it make sense to pay for the tremendous redundancy of everyone having their own instance of every imaginable commodity? 

Workers’ councils aren’t the only place where citizens can usefully conceive and fight for worthy demands. Not only can consumer movements fight about prices and the provision of qualitative information, as indicated above, and about government budgets and related matters, as indicated below, they can also locally conceive how their members might benefit from pooling their resources and sharing purchases collectively. This kind of thing already happens, in fledgling form, in consumers’ cooperatives, of course. The only struggle in this instance is with old mindsets but the resulting increase in social interaction, fulfillment, and solidarity is certainly part of building a pareconish mentality.  

Human Needs not Profitability 

I confess that I am not charmed with the ideal of life
held out by those who think that the normal state of
human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each
other’s heels, which form the existing type of social
life, are the most desirable lot of human beings.
-John Stuart  Mill 

In parecon, unlike capitalism, collective consumption and investment are handled within the general planning process that gives each person proportionate input. This leads to collective consumption and investment interactively oriented toward the well-being and development of all actors. Thus, demands which seek to put people above profit in government economic choices are pareconish, whether we are talking about reducing war spending and curtailing sops to corporate power, or expanding social spending on housing, health, welfare, education, social infrastructure, or art.  


Democratize Budgets 

How can a rational being be ennobled by
anything that is not obtained by its own exertions?
-Mary Wollstonecraft 

One way to affect government budgets is to agitate on behalf of better choices, as above. Another way is to alter the processes by which budgets are proposed and then decided on. 

Demands that increase public involvement and empowerment, particularly via fledgling council structures that could grow into parecon institutions, can improve our lot in the present and also lay the groundwork for a preferred future. The demand isn’t for input into an unimportant subset of the budget, of course, but into how options are proposed throughout the budget, and into making decisions about proposed options. 

More Leisure, Less Labor 

A society that gives to one class all the opportunities
for leisure and to another all the burdens of
work condemns both classes to spiritual sterility.
-Lewis Mumford 

Markets intrinsically pressure actors to work longer hours and enjoy less leisure. Competition does this nasty job by generating strong incentives to overwork and ensuring that if a few people do raise their labor hours, all others in related endeavors must do so as well, lest they suffer irreparable losses. Think of current high-powered law firms to see how this occurs even against the desires of powerful people. The lawyers are pushed into endlessly raising their billable hours, taking on as many new clients as can be had, even beyond their own manic personalities and greed. If they relent, some other firm may become more powerful than they are, gobbling up market share, and the non-manic firm runs the risk not merely of having less income due to opting for more leisure (which its members would prefer), but of losing their firm and thus income entirely. Thus we see an upward spiral in work hours per week and a decline in vacation time even as people grouse about no longer having lives to lead. And this occurs despite increasing productivity that could sustain high output without excessive labor allotments. Comparing 1960 to 2000, we could have the same per capita output now, but work literally half as much, say a four-hour workday, or two weeks off every month, or a year on and then a year off, alternately over our lifetimes, for example. 


Parecons generate no such pressure to expand work hours regardless of growing productivity. The choice of upping output without limit (not to mention with most people not sharing in the enlarged product) or of having a life, is not biased to the former by continual fear of being out-competed. 

Thus, demands over workday length, length of the work week, vacation time, and time more generally are not only good ways to redistribute wealth, they are also means to get at this leisure-destroying feature of our economy, and to propel pareconish calculations and aspirations. 

Participatory Allocation in our Movements 

It all depends, as you see, on what your purpose is, what you want to accomplish. Your aims determine the means. Means and aims are in reality the same: you cannot separate them. It is the means that shape your ends. The means are the seeds which bud into flower and come to fruition. The fruit will always be of the nature of the seed you planted.
You can’t grow a rose from a cactus seed. No more can you harvest liberty from compulsion, justice from dictatorship.
-Alexander Berkman 


As with every dimension of economic or other focus of movement struggle, it is necessary to incorporate in our own efforts the aims and structures we propose for the broader society outside. What can that mean in this case? 

There is no allocation in each movement project and organization other than what we have mentioned in earlier chapters regarding remuneration or allocation of tasks. But what about allocation among our projects and organizations? What currently determines how many resources go to left print versus left radio versus left video, or to particular efforts in any of these left media? What determines how many resources are at the disposal of struggles around police violence and matters of race, or reproductive rights and matters of gender, or international relations and matters of war and peace, or domestic or global economics and matters of class? And what about allocations for local as compared to regional or national projects?  

In the broad progressive or left community there is often no self-conscious “allocation planning” of any sort at all, much less any participatory planning. Allocation issues most often aren’t even openly raised, much less democratically decided. In fact, a key determinant of current left allocation is competitive fund raising and essentially market- and power-defined dynamics. But just as having a parecon movement implies that within each institution we should seek balanced job complexes, just rewards in accord with effort and sacrifice, and participatory self-management, shouldn’t it also mean that we attempt to imbue the left project as a whole with elements of mutual aid and sharing and social planning? 

As with other internal innovations, incorporating participatory allocation features in our movements won’t be easy, nor will it be accomplished overnight. After all, at the moment progressive and left operations, projects, organizations, and “businesses” are barely more entwined and socially planned than are their corporate counterpart institutions in the mainstream. At a minimum, then, without prejudging precisely what can and ought to be done, it seems fair to at least suggest that there is considerable room for innovation and improvement regarding movement “planning” and mutual benefit.