17. Participatory Economics 

[We seek] a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master’s man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain-sick brain workers, nor heartsick hand workers, in a word, in which all would be living in equality of condition and would manage their affairs unwastefully, and with the full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all—the realization
at last of the meaning of the word commonwealth.
-William Morris 


Participatory economics is a completely revolutionized economy. Steps we might institute along the way to this goal, ranging from creating workplaces that embody our values to winning better conditions, more power, better information dispersal, better job allocations or other innovations in existing workplaces, are reforms. Reforms can be reformist, when they accept the basic institutions of society and are ends in themselves, with no greater overarching aim in mind. And reforms can be non-reformist, when they seek improvements in current relations, but exist also as self conscious steps in a larger trajectory of on-going change. This book has proposed participatory economics as an economic goal, providing some description of its key features, logic, and virtues. It has answered at least some questions that arise for people on hearing about these new ways of organizing economic life. And it has proposed various programmatic demands and projects which could be strung together as at least part of an agenda of a movement for social change. 


A program to attain a participatory economy will inevitably have two broad aspects. One will seek to win innovations within existing institutions, moving them toward pareconish norms and values and providing improvements in people’s lives now, as well. The other will seek to create new institutions that are self-consciously implementing as much of the parecon goal as possible in the present, providing schools for understanding and refining our aims, exemplars of those aims, and, again, to better people’s lives in the present.  

In other words while some people work to create par- econish institutions within the current system, others will work to win changes in power relations and norms within existing institutions, a bit at a time. No one can know in advance what mix and balance of these different methods will ultimately win. My own inclination is to think that building new institutions in the innards of the old is very important for teaching us, raising hopes, keeping our vision clear and forefront, and making us live up to our aspirations, while fighting for changes inside existing structures in ways that build larger and larger movements, increase consciousness, and better the lives of huge numbers of people, is at the heart of organizing. Creating pareconish structures in the present keeps movement building oriented to a worthy future. Movement building for winning non-reformist reforms keeps the creation of vision in the present in touch with the lives and needs of real people. Each provides, or should provide, content and muscle for the other. There is no need for prioritization, nor for competition between the two paths. 

This same attitude of mutual solidarity and support should exist as well, as movements develop, between those oriented primarily around economic aims, such as parecon, and those oriented around matters of race, gender, sexuality, political structures, international relations, and ecology. For each particular effort to mature and succeed, they should all be seen as interactive components in one large project for full social justice. 


As to the worth of parecon itself and what to do next, the words of Martin Luther King Jr. provide an excellent measuring rod: 

“Works are of value only if they give rise to better ones.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered people have torn down, other-centered people can build up..
...human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable....
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of NOW.
In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.... this is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action “