15. Participatory Economic Program
would you tell me please
which way we should go from here? [Alice]
That depends a good deal
on where you want to get to. [The Cat]
It is necessary with bold spirit and in good conscience
to save civilization.... We must halt the dissolution
that corrupts the roots of human society. The bare and barren tree can be made green again. Are we not ready?
Participatory economics is a set of institutions for accomplishing production, consumption, and allocation while meeting peoples needs and furthering their development; a set of institutions designed to propel equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management; a set of institutions centered upon democratic councils, remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning; a set of institutions that answers the question: if not capitalism, what do you want?
Participatory economic program is a set of demands meant to win improvements in peoples lives in the short run while laying the basis for more gains and eventually winning a participatory economy in the long run. It includes demands for
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All the above has been discussed in the foregoing chapters and now one final step concludes the argument.
Suppose we adopt a participatory program encompassing all the above. What do we then highlight as our central demand? What feature becomes the lynchpin of our efforts, the element that produces public visibility and widespread support? What is our version of abolish slavery, get the vote, end the war, free my people? What current demand within the broad program can best:
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The reasonable man adapts himself to the world;
the unreasonable man persists in trying
to adapt the world to himself. Therefore,
all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
- George Bernard Shaw
Iam going to hazard a guess about which demand might best encapsulate these goals very loosely and broadly, and pending more evidence.
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This work reduction and income-altering scenario releasesI thinkmore income than it hands out, assuming any resultant lost output is confined to useless and pointless products. But does the freed income (equal to one quarter of the current wages, bonuses, and profits of the top quarter income earners in society) fall short of the costs of the job program plus the costs of training? Perhaps, and if so, we then demand that the government reduce defense spending and spending on the prison industrial complexand thereby free appropriate people to work in the real economy making up for lost hours and funds needed to handle program expenses.
What would all this do?
Well, by reducing everyones work time commitments by 25% it would greatly empower the public to have time to develop agendas of change and to fight for them. People can do this with their newfound time either through the social programs by which they can also get additional income, or via volunteer movement activism.
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The demands would also dramatically redistribute income. Even before derivative impact on bargaining power changes wages further, the top quarter earns wages at the same rate as before, though losing a quarter of their profit income and of course a quarter of their wages and bonuses due to reduced labor time. Yet even this group can be addressed about the benefits of the program not only in moral terms regarding the well being of others, but also because through the changes they will get more free time and will also enjoy many of the social benefits such as reduced hostility in society, increased public goods, and so on.
The next half of the population has a one-third hourly pay rate increase so that they earn the same amount as before but for three quarters the time spent at work. They therefore benefit from reduced work time, from an increased hourly pay rate, from the social spending, and also from the changed balance of power between societys classes due to newfound security, etc.
The bottom quarter of the population also spends three quarters the time spent before at work (though the unemployed of course increase their time at work), but now they get a quarter more total pay than before, which is a two thirds hourly pay increase. They also benefit most from the new social spending and changes in the balance of power among societys classes.
Obviously the program immediately improves the condition of societys worst off, but, more, it diminishes and perhaps even eliminates unemployment, thereby securing the weak against job threats by the strong, further empowering workers to win still higher wages as they solidify their new strength. The redirection of much labor to social programs also not only benefits the poorest constituencies in society directly, due to new schools, housing, etc, it also greatly empowers them, leading in turn to new demands for better wages and conditions and other social improvements. Likewise, efforts to replace highly skilled labor allotments reduced by a quarter for such jobs, uplifts other workers, eliminating barriers to entry to better tasks at work.
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The supremely strategic aspect of the program is, I think, that at its heart is a core demand to work fewer hours, something that people at every level of our society think is warranted and desirable and which no one will be able to argue against powerfully. The rest of the program flows logically from the desire to reduce hours in ways most beneficial to the worst off while improving the overall quality of society, rather than enriching only the powerful and already privileged. In addition the program opens doors to issues of remuneration, power, job definition and allocation, and budgeting and broad valuations. The program, in other words, wins terrain that leaves folks not only immediately better off, but also more empowered and ready to struggle on.
When thinking about what might be a lynchpin of an economic campaign that would galvanize broad and deep support, I gravitated to demands about length of work time and associated income because my experiences suggest that time pressure is greatly felt, greatly despised, and a great barrier to radicalization and therefore a great target for a massive campaign. The whole project just embellishes demanding thirty hours work for forty hours pay, and, I admit, even that simple demand, all by itself, even without the diverse pareconish caveats and improvements, would be a wonderful centerpiece for a parecon movement. Embellished more or less as above, however, seeking a quarter less work time looks to me like a wonderful lightning rod, lynchpin, and foundation for struggle.