14. Q&A: Economics
If we do not now dare everything,
the fulfillment of that prophesy,
recreated from the bible in
song by a slave, is upon us:
God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
no more water, the fire next time!
Womens Work, or Other Labor
If household functions were deemed work in a parecon as Wages for Housework advocates might prefer, then they would be part of the planning process, allocated in balanced job complexes. All questions of equity, control, diversity, solidarity, etc. would be handled as with any other kind of work.
On the other hand, if household functions were deemed, lets say, kinship activity, and not part of the economy per se in a society with a parecon, then the determination of how they are done and in what relationships would depend on the values and structures of the kinship sphere of life (as opposed to the economy).
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However, just as the economy has to be compatible with the cultural/community sphere of life, the polity, and kinship, so vice versa. Thus, if kinship says male and female have very limited implications for life choice and human capability and inclination, the economy cannot have a sexual division of labor. And if the economy says people must respect equity of circumstance and empowerment, the kinship sphere cannot allocate its kinship activities in a non-equitable fashion re fulfillment or empowerment. Thus, if rearing children, etc., is not deemed first and foremost economic activity, still in a parecon it will have to be handled equitably if the kinship sphere and the economy are to be compatible.
It isnt that the parecon system doesnt account for current conditions of child care and home work, it is that a visionary model isnt a description or plan for how to attain and create the vision. It is just about the established good economy.
If home work and child care isnt deemed economic, then everyone has to do a full share of economic work, in a balanced job complex. The home and childcare work would have to be equally shared or women would be exhausted, as now in many instances. But it wouldnt have to be planned in the same fashion as production in typical workplaces. It would be, instead, a part of consumption or other dimensions of social life.
On the other hand, if homework and childcare is part of the economy, then the dictates of parecon guarantee equitable and just allocations for men and women, and for all those involved. In any event, I agree with you that a parecon requires a different kinship sphere than we now haveone that doesnt produce patriarchy, for example, or commercial class attitudes either.
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This I dont quite follow. It is one way to proceed but by saying that it is the only way, it seems to assume that however much child care and home-based work occurs, it must inevitably occupy women more. Why is that? It seems much more likely to me that it will be shared, handled collectively, in various kinds of new living arrangements. Indeed, it seems to me that our vision for kinship relations will probably require this for reasons that have to do with eliminating hierarchies of power and other unjust phenomena among men and women, not simply for the reasons that a parecon would require it.
There is also a good case to be made that home-based work is a rather private and personal affair, the volume of which is to a considerable extent a matter of ones own choosing, not subject to an economic plan, and the output of which is for oneself, not for others in the economy. This is what makes consideration of it a bit complex.
For example, suppose you and another person live together and opt for a very fancy house arrangement that takes a whole lot of work because you like the elaborate layout and floor plan and floral arrangements and whatnot, which entails all this work. Should all the work that you do on this stuff count toward your economic contribution to society and should all the inputs not go against your incomes, even though you and your partner are virtually the only beneficiaries of the excess household labors? It may well be more just, in fact, to say that we are all responsible for our own living arrangements, cleanliness, and so on, using our incomes and energies as we choose, in addition to whatever is the average workload that society has settled on for the economy (presumably much reduced from now). That seems preferable to me, at any rate. But I think good values and insights on these issues depend, in considerable degree, on a powerful, compelling, and liberatory vision for kinship institutions in generalwhich is why we dont get into it too much when discussing parecon as an economy, feeling we dont have the insight to do so.
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Government and Parecon
What we call political institutions todaylocal, state and national governmentsactually perform both political and economic functions. This is because our present economy consists of a market system, and markets will lead to the production of few if any public goods, and because there are certain public goods whose non-production is so unacceptable that every market economy has got to substitute some other decision-making mechanism for the market mechanism regarding these public goods. In our economy local, state, and national governments therefore have to double as economic institutions for the purchase of minimal amounts of certain public goodsfor which they collect taxes.
But as much as the economic decisions of todays political institutions dominate their time and our interest in them, they do debate and decide other more political things as well, like war and peace, whether drugs are legal or not, what the rules and procedures of the criminal justice system will be, whether America the Beautiful or the Star Spangled Banner will be the national anthem, immigration policy, etc. My ideas about what kinds of political institutions and procedures would be best for making these kinds of political decisions run along democratic, participatory lines. What are the most desirable political institutions and why? How should we accomplish political functions such as legislation, adjudication, and implementation in ways that not only achieve our political aims, but also further values we hold dear such as solidarity, equity, self management, and diversity? These are really the same questions as led to developing parecon economic institutions, only transposed to the political realm.
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Is no state a slogan that captures what is needed? I dont honestly think so, though I respect the anti-authoritarian impetus. Of course we want no authoritarian state, no apparatus that is above and separate from the populace, imposing outcomes on the populace against our own interests and desires. But that doesnt mean that all political functions just disappear. Saying we want no state may have some subtle meaning for a few folks, but to most it sounds like saying we want no polity. It conflates bad political institutions with all political institutions, saying that we dont want the former but sounding like we dont want the latter. Saying we dont want a state, meaning (or even just being taken to mean) we dont want any kind of political institutions, is like saying for the economy, we can do without it, we can have everyone produce and consume whatever they want, as if there are no complicated issues that require institutions and thus serious thought about the structure of those institutions. We cannot forego political institutions but instead need a political vision with specifically political institutions to accomplish political functions in ways we desire, just as we need an economic vision with economic institutions to accomplish economic functions desirably.
Ecology and Parecon
Perhaps, perhaps not. Take instead for a minute some animal with no relevance whatever for human well being and development. Say a species that people dont see, interact with, or get anything from, as far as anyone knows. Suppose this species, in part, exists in places where humans might clear land for use. If society wants to preserve the species it would need to pass a law, as you say, imposing restraints on the economy which might otherwise just wipe the species out. The point is, economic calculation of true and complete human and social costs and benefits wouldnt even include reference to this particular species so unless there was a law protecting it, there would be no gainsay it wouldnt be wiped out.
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But the logging case is different. The trees do have great value, one presumes, for human well being and development, and so the cost of their use climbs immensely as they are treated in a manner that would make them irreplaceable. So, the economy actually prices the trees to take into account true social costs and benefits associated with using them...as best it can. Whether you would need rules on top of that or not isnt clear. I doubt it, but it could be done, no problem.
Go back to the peculiar species. The law preventing its decimation wouldnt cause the social costs of clearing the land it lived on to go up and therefore wouldnt affect the indicative price. Economic actors might want to do it, as they rightly should, being motivated by human well-being and development. The law would simply prevent their doing it. In the case that you describe, the economic system would rightly perceive the social cost implications of the cutting. An additional law wouldnt be needed, unlike the species case above.
Now, lets say that consumers want all these wooden products, and are not discouraged by the high price. They cant all have them. How would this conflict be resolved?
I think you may be asking two questions. First, if the price doesnt stop the clear-cutting, but the society wants it stopped, then what? A law. Second, if something is scarce, who gets it? First come first served, presumably. This can happen, as well, when something innovative takes off. Suppose peoples plans say so much of item a is needed in the economy for this year, and the third month into the planned year something happens that makes item a much more desirable and many more people want it, so the firm producing it cant keep up. Well, there are adjustments that would increase output, but perhaps much less than demand, for some items. Then not everyone who wants it now (wants to change their consumption request for this item), and can afford it now, gets it now. Why? Because the price doesnt climb to preclude buyers. This is also a phenomenon in centrally planned economies and is why there are queues there rather than rising prices which reduce the length of the line until there are only as many people as items to be had.
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Pollution is part of what is counted into the social costs and benefits associated with production and consumption. So the price of products reflects the pollutionand the cost of cleaning it up. For example, suppose a plant produces something for a national audience, and, given the social costs and benefits there is a lot of demand for it. And suppose pollution leaves the plant and congregates above a local community, primarily affecting its citizens.
What is the just approach? It isnt automatic. It involves assessment of social costs and benefits, and available options. Suppose it is a relatively unimportant product and the local environmental effect is devastating. Then, by the principle that those affected have a say proportional to the effect on them, the price should climb much higher, due to the high effect on the community, not to mention the potential buyers, who wouldnt want the relatively minor product, priced out of desirability. The same plant located somewhere where the human impact of the pollution is nil, however, might be fine.
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Suppose instead the product is absolutely critical and there is no way to have the plant be anywhere else for the coming year. Now what? Well, maybe the community of people needs to be moved, if it is suffering that greatlyor protected somehow. But the plant continues.
Now what kind of economic system can measure the desires and benefits and negative and positive impacts of production and consumption so as to provide indicative prices reflecting them properly, and so as to levy fees so that such clean-ups and the like can be done humanely. Parecon is, I believe, the answer.
In Neoclassical economics there is a whole subdivision of analysts that tries to figure out how you modify markets to address such matters. Some of these folks are just tinkering in the interests of capital. But some take the problem seriously, albeit accepting markets as inevitable. When you take their quite technical answers and you recognize the ubiquity of external effects (which they dont) you get a pattern of alterations and reforms, which, quite interestingly, leads rather inexorably to an inefficient and clumsy version of what parecon does rather smoothly. Take a look at the South End Press or Princeton University Press books on the topicLooking Forward or The Political Economy of Participatory Economicsif your interest is that great, for how the production units are charged for their costs of production, including pollution clean-up, etc. The logic is here, the details are there.
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Think of two parecon societies. What is the relevant index difference if we were to compare? Well, regarding the economythere may be many non-economic differences, of coursethe first thing to look at would be the balanced job complexes in each society. Is one superior in its qualities to the other? The second thing would be the per-capita consumption bundle. Is one better than the other? In assessing this, of course, one has to include how long people work.
There is no moral justification I can think of for one country having better circumstances than another, so I think a pareconish attitude in this realm is to have exchange rates, which, over time, facilitate equalization. There are many ways to envision trading between two such countries, even in accord with this norm (which could be pursued more or less quickly) or between either and a non-parecon country, for that matter.
Two parecon countries could, in essence, treat each other as large units in a single larger economic entity. They could, alternatively, be quite independent and trade items with the valuations being that of either one country or the other, or set by some agreed standard, or according to the international rate of exchange, for that matter. The rule could beI like this onethat such trade occurs at valuations of the country whose valuations yield better outcomes for the economy that is less developed. A similar rule could exist for trade with non-parecons. Thus, the parecon trades at the going international exchange rates, or at the prices of the trade partner, or at its own indicative prices, whichever benefits the nonparecon economy.
This is one problem of parecon, I suppose. If you draw the border around a rich region, then it will have high incomes and wonderful job complexes. A poor region will be the opposite. The commitment to equalize life conditions and opportunities is just that, a commitment, not a structural imperative, even with parecon. There is no system I know of that does better, however. Maybe someone can come up with one. I dont know anything about the areas you mention, and cant even hazard a guess.
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