13. Economics and the Rest Of Society
What is it then makes people happy? Free and full life and the consciousness
of life. Or, if you will, the pleasurable exercise of our energies and
the enjoyment of the rest
which that exercise or expenditure of energy makes necessary to us. I think that is happiness for all, and covers all the difference of capacity from the most energetic to the laziest.
Now whatever interferes with that freedom and fullness of life, under whatever species guise it may come, is an evil;
is some thing to be got rid of as speedily as possible.
It ought not to be endured by reasonable men
[and women], who naturally wish to be happy.
Aparticipatory economy produces, consumes, and allocates to meet peoples needs and develop their capacities. It also promotes equity, solidarity, diversity, and self- management. Its central features are workers and consumers councils, remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning. Yet, however high we may rate a parecon economically, a good society needs more than just a good economy.
Gender and the General Issues
Women will not simply be mainstreamed into the
polluted stream. Women are changing the stream,
making it clean and green and safe for allevery
gender, race, creed, sexual orientation, age, and ability.
128 THINKING FORWARD
Imagine a society with a participatory economy but sexist kinship institutions that subordinate women to men. What happens?
Parecon economic structures would violate a sexist household hierarchy by not subordinating women to men and by giving women and men expectations contrary to male supremacy. Sexist kinship arrangements would violate balanced job complexes by apportioning tasks unfairly in the home and by giving women and men expectations contrary to universal equity. The parecon would produce equitable expectations that the kinship sphere would violate. The kinship sphere would impart expectations of female subordination that the parecon economy would violate. But if an economy produces people who dont fit their households and households also socialize people who dont fit their economy, turmoil will follow and the economy or the households must change.
In light of this, suppose a feminist movement favors genderless parenting instead of mothering and fathering. Or maybe it rejects patriarchal marriage and the nuclear family. Whatever its preferences may be, a new feminist vision would certainly require that a compatible economy not violate kinship values. Likewise, a compatible kinship vision would have to respect parecons economic requirements.
Once we understand this reciprocity, we see that building a participatory economy impacts building a feminist kinship sphere and vice versa, so the two efforts need to be accommodated or even made to enhance one anothers logic. And similarly, for a good economy to fit with desired innovations in education, or the state, or culture, or international relations, it must incorporate structures that respect the new aims of those other realmsand vice versa. This is the logic of economics and the rest of society and here are some further indicative examples.
THINKING FORWARD 129
This crippling of individuals I consider the worst
evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system
suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive
attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future.
- Albert Einstein
Consider these two perceptions of the role of education:
1) Education should convey information and skills suited to each individual meeting their own agendas. Be the best you desire to be.
2) Education should convey information and skills suited to people filling available roles in the society. Be what society needs you to be.
For ideal educational institutions, we would want these two aims to be mutually consistent and supportive. In a good society, education for people to be what they desire should be precisely whats needed to also prepare people for positions that the society will willingly remunerate. In a good society, education that prepares people to fit the societys roles should also be education that furthers peoples fulfillment and development. A good society, in other words, will offer people diverse role options that are in tune with and extrapolate from their true desires and inclinations.
Capitalisms institutions, however, need from most people regardless of their natural desires and inclinations, compliance, passivity, and a willingness to obey orders and endure boredom. Thus capitalism violates education for human fulfillment and development. Capitalist schools dumb most people down rather than preparing them to be the best they desire to be. Parecon, in contrast, needs schools that educate people to deal well with information, to make reasoned and informed decisions, and to utilize their special talents and capacities as they prefer. Parecon not only doesnt conflict with good educational priorities, it fosters them.
130 THINKING FORWARD
The world is big. some people are unable to comprehend that simple fact.
they want the world on their own terms, its peoples just like them and
their friends, its places like the manicured patch on which they live.
but this is a foolish
and blind wish. Diversity is not an abnormality,
but the very reality of our planet. The human world manifests the same reality and will not seek our permission to celebrate itself in the magnificence of its endless
varieties. Civility is a sensible attribute in this kind of
world we have; narrowness of heart and mind is not.
- Chinua Achebe
What a parecon imposes on race relations is that they not elevate one race above another regarding decision-making expectations or inclinations, income, or wealth. The parecon will violate racist inclinations in the economy, and compatibility will preclude them elsewhere. This, of course, is to the good.
In reverse, we can imagine that a good society would welcome great racial and cultural diversityethnic, religious, regional whateverproviding space for each to pursue its own approaches to celebration, linguistic usage, interpersonal identification, and so on, so long as each operates consistent with the norm that their choices should not impede any other communitys having equal freedom in its cultural pursuits.
Does this entail implications for the economy? It certainly could. For example, there is a question of working on holidays, or perhaps having the room at work to engage in certain practices that are culturally quite welcome and dont impinge on others, and so on. A participatory economy, celebrating diversity, would have no problem with such externally generated desires so long as they not impinge basic defining features such as dignified work or just rewards for all.
THINKING FORWARD 131
The private ownership of the planet by elite strata must be brought to
an end if we are to survive the afflictions it has imposed on the biotic
world, particularly as a result of a society structured around limitless
growth. Free nature,
in my view, can only begin to emerge when we live
in a fully participatory society literally free of privilege
and domination. Only then will we be able to
rid ourselves of the idea of dominating nature and
fulfill our promise for acting as a moral, rational,
and creative force in natural as well social evolution.
The relationship between parecon and the environment is subtle. Any economy says about addressing ecology, fine, but do it consistently with business as usual. A market system thus says to those concerned about ecology, fine, worry about ecology, but dont distort ecologically unsound market prices, or curtail ecologically unconcerned market transactions, or otherwise disrupt ecologically dismissive market logic.
In contrast, participatory planning properly values resources and ecological diversity in terms of their impact on human well-being and development. Pollution and unsustain- able implications of all kinds, are accounted for by the intrinsic operations of a parecon. But beyond this structural aspect, some people might also value various species or even natural formations independent of the implications valuing these has for humans. And in response, a parecon can accommodate rules about impact on other species, but it will do so only if compelled to by outside constraints.
By its intrinsic logic, that is, a parecon values economic choices in terms of their implications for humans. It automatically accounts (as well as existing knowledge permits) for resource depletion or pollution or extinction effects or other ecological outcomes, insofar as these in turn impact human well-being and development. Additionally, in response to an external advisory, a parecon can also avoid displacing or killing rhinos, snail darters, smallpox bacteria, or anything elseeven if displacing or killing rhinos, snail darters, smallpox bacteria, or anything else would benefit humans. In other words, when society deems an extra-economic ecological constraint desirable, its imposition on a participatory economy will not disrupt the economys logic or efficiency.
132 THINKING FORWARD
But what about influences in the opposite direction? How does a parecon impact peoples independent ecological concerns and sensibilities? First, a parecon communicates to people focusing on ecology a strong impetus not to ignore the human dimension. Indeed, it literally compels all actors, including those who are primarily motivated by ecological priorities, to account for the human implications of their economic choices. And second, a parecon requires that ecological goals be realized without compromising balanced job complexes, remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, council self- management, and participatory planningin effect, it says to those concerned about sustainability, these are components of sustainability too.
What do you suppose will satisfy the soul
except to walk free and own no superior.
One implication of parecon for the state is that political functions will be enacted in balanced job complexes and be remunerated only for effort and sacrifice. For any vision of adjudication, legislation, and political implementation, this means that whatever political values we seek, they must not violate pareconish economic values. Thus we wont have politics elevating some people to disproportionate power, rewarding some with unbalanced job complexes, or giving some unjust income. Nor will the ideological or behavioral implications of political institutions obstruct producing and consuming in a pareconish way.
THINKING FORWARD 133
The legal system of a society is one typical political component we might consider. Currently in the U.S., attorneys for opposed parties do whatever they can get away with to win. Neither is primarily seeking truth or justice, yet truth and justice are supposed to emerge from their competition. This may remind us of the even more ridiculous but quite similar idea that economic buyers and sellers, each being greedy anti-social individualists, will maximally promote just economic outcomes. In any event, I suspect that a serious political vision wont dispense with adjudication or policing but will, instead, define these functions more sensibly and find ways to accomplish them that also meet broader political, economic, and social priorities. Do we get rid of police or court trials and have everyone in the society do whatever policing is called for and resolve their disputes only informally or locally? I doubt it. I suspect we will instead recognize that like piloting planes, or doing medical operations, or handling a big crane, some folks being specially trained in police and courtroom functions with other folks not having to prepare for or worry about these particular tasks, will yield better skills and better utilize them than having everyone do these tasks without specialization, not to mention that the former approach enhances diversity. But however we come to understand police and courtroom or other political responsibilities, if we also favor parecon, we will require balanced job complexes and participatory self-management for those doing them, of course.
Capitalism is the astounding belief that
the most wickedest of men will do the most
wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.
-John Maynard Keynes
134 THINKING FORWARD
If we aspire to a parecon nationally, the consistent international economic goal seems pretty obvious. Why should a child born in a country with fewer resources or with a history of being dominated by colonialism have a worse life than a child born in a resource-rich country or a country that has colonially exploited others for decades? People born in different parts of the world should not suffer (or benefit) due to accidents of geography or past history. Thus a particular society with a parecon should deal with other nations in ways that reduce unjust differences in average income and circumstance as rapidly as possible without disrupting lives so much as to do more harm than good.
That said, there is nothing in the structure of a participatory economy per se that militates toward one or another approach to other countries, other than, of course, the way in which each parecon produces in its populace a sense of generalized solidarity and justice. Still, we might expect that a minimal but important step would be that in trading with other countries not yet parecon in structure, a participatory economy would favor whichever pricethe international market price or the parecon valuation within the parecon societythat most benefitted the worse-off trade partner. Beyond this, it could offer various forms of aid, etc.
Thus, if a pareconish U.S. is entering into a trade relation with some other poorer country and the international market price for the good is $10 per unit, but the U.S. parecon indicative price for the good is $13 per unit, when the country says you can have what you request for $10 million, the U.S. says, thank you but here is $13 millionand, we would hope, says as well, here is aid, tools, equipment, etc. to redress differentials that have no moral or economic reason for persisting.
Other questions arise. How much of their living standards can we expector should we hopepeople in much wealthier societies would give up when doing so can be translated into improvements in circumstances for those worse off around the world? And thus how much aid would they decide to offer, subtracting from domestic innovation and consumption to make it possible? Well, who knows? Different people will have different views on this matter, as on most others, of course. Parecon is a vision for an economy and doesnt prejudge what is consumed, how much is allotted for investment, or how much is allotted for international aid. On the other hand, insofar as countries join the international community of parecons, there is presumably great pressure to steadily equilibrate incomes and conditions so that across all countries the values of solidarity, diversity, self-management, and equity are steadily pursued and attained.
THINKING FORWARD 135
The Bottom Line
We are at war, and that war is not simply a hot debate between the capitalist
camp and the socialist camp over which economic/political/social arrangement
will have hegemony in the world. Its not just the battle
over turf and who has the right to utilize
resources for whomsovers benfit. The war is
also being fought over the truth: what is the truth
about human nature, about the human potential?
- Toni Cade Bambara
Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary
is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic
revolutionary without this quality. This is perhaps one of the greatest
dramas of a leader, [to] combine an impassioned spirit with a cold mind
and make painful decisions without flinching one muscle... In these conditions
one must have a large dose of humanity, a large dose of a sense of justice
and truth, to avoid
falling into dogmatic extremes, avoid falling into cold
scholasticism, into isolation from the masses...
Above all, always be capable of feeling any injustice
committed against anyone anywhere in the world.
That is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary.
136 THINKING FORWARD
Obviously the above discussion is limited. Yet, nonetheless, many readers will easily agree that a good society should have equity of circumstance and income between men and women, respect for diversity of sexual and social choices, freedom for cultural communities to exist without fear of penalty and a general social respect for diversity, full political participation and full dissemination of information and skills essential to universal participatory self-management, respect for the natural environment as it affects humanity and also in its own right, and a steady equalization of wealth and circumstances internationally. But I suspect many readers would also easily agree that to answer the question what do you want and sufficiently to inform our strategic choices, we need more detailed and convincing descriptions of positive cultural, kinship, political, ecological, and international values and institutions.
The limited point of this chapter, therefore, is that if these new visions are to be compatible with parecon, they must not abrogate and ideally will even help promote parecons economic priorities and norms. Likewise, if parecon is to be compatible with these necessary new visions, parecons economic implications must not abrogate and ideally will even help promote their kinship, sexual, cultural, political, ecological, and international priorities and norms.