4. Self-Management 

... all authority is quite degrading. It degrades
those who exercise it, and degrades those over
whom it is exercised....When it is used with a
certain amount of kindness, and accompanied
by prizes and rewards, it is dreadfully
demoralizing. People, in that case, are less
conscious of the horrible pressure that is being
put on them, and so go through their lives in a
sort of coarse comfort, like petted animals, without ever realizing that they are probably thinking other people’s thoughts, living by other people’s standards, wearing practically what one may call other people’s secondhand clothes, and never being themselves for a single moment.
—Oscar Wilde 

Any economy of course involves many decisions, from the far reaching to the relatively narrow. Who decides? How much say should each actor in any economy have over decisions in that economy? We believe the answer ought to be that each actor should have decision-making input proportionate to the degree he or she is affected by outcomes, or what we call “self-management.”  We prefer this to the more typical answers that we ought to favor “economic freedom” or the right to do whatever one wishes with one’s person and property, or to everyone having equal say over all economic decisions all the time, or to giving the more knowledgeable or successful more say than those who are less knowledgeable or less successful. What is the logic of preferring self-management as our decision-making goal? 


Decision Settings 

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest shall have the same opportunities as the strongest. . .No
country in the world today show any but patronizing
regard for the weak. . . True democracy cannot be
worked by twenty men sitting at the center. It has to
be worked from below, by the people of every village.
- Gandhi 

Imagine a worker in a plant has his own work area. Suppose also that he wants to put a picture of his daughter on the wall. How much say should he have? More to the point, how much say should I have about his daughter’s picture if I work across the plant in another division, or even across town? 

Suppose another worker wants to play Punk Rock or New Age Jazz all day long in her area. How much say over that should she have? And how much say should I have if I work just a little way up the floor from her, well within the “hearing zone?” Or what if I work across town? 

Suppose a work team in some workplace is deciding a shared schedule. How much say should each member have relative to the others, or to other workers in the plant? What about folks who use the group’s outputs in another part of the plant? What about folks who consume the plant’s products across town or on the other side of the country? 

Or suppose you live near my plant…what say should you have relative to me about the noise emanating from my plant into your neighborhood? You consume products that I help produce. How much say should you have about what the plant produces, about our choices for organization and output, and about my work situation? 

These are all very serious and germane questions. There is no single answer, of course. It can’t be that in every one of these cases the person should have full say or no say, equal say or less or more say. The cases differ. It can’t be that one-person one-vote majority rule is always optimal, or three fifths, or consensus, and so on. They differ. But perhaps there is at least a single norm that covers all of these cases and all other economic decision-making as well. 


Self Management 

It is an abuse of words to apply the same term “discipline” to such unrelated concepts as the mindless reflex motions
of a body with a thousand hands and a thousand legs,
and the spontaneous coordination of the conscious political acts of a group of people. What can the well ordered
docility  of the former have in common with the
aspirations of a class struggling for its emancipation?
-Rosa Luxembourg 

Why should workers agree to be slaves in a basically authoritarian structure? They should have control over it themselves. Why shouldn’t communities have a dominant voice in running the institutions that affect their lives?
- Noam  Chomsky 

Clearly, a worker ought to have dictatorial say over the picture of his daughter on her desk. She decides, I have no say from my cubicle next door. But from that next cubicle, I should have a veto over my neighbor worker’s option to play punk rock in her area all day. Similarly, a work group should have most say about its operational choices, but groups that consume its product should have some say as well, in proportion to the extent they are affected. Once one takes the time to express these simple points, the obvious lesson is that: 

1)    Decisions often differ in how much they affect different individuals or constituencies. And, 


2)    As a result, one-person one-vote majority rule, or two-thirds rule, or consensus, or dictatorship, or any other particular decision-making approach is merely a tactical option for implementing some more general norm in a specific context, rather than an end in itself. But then it also follows that: 

3)    To enshrine a single decision-making method as always applicable —whether one-person one-vote, or consensus, or dictatorial say for one person—ignores that different approaches to allocating decision- making influence fit different situations, even if we are trying to accomplish the same favored norm.  

So what we really need is not to elevate one decision- making method over all others, but to choose our decision-making methods based on how appropriate they are to best accomplish a preferred norm in the specific context we confront. 

But what norm should we regularly aspire to? Assuming we respect everyone involved, when we spontaneously decide how to make specific decisions in daily life, we automatically try to give each actor a say proportionate to the degree they are affected. We don’t have one friend among many decide on a movie for all to see, nor do we just count up votes. All friends have input, and if someone has seen a movie or has some other pressing need, they may get more say about that. And while we can’t always perfectly attain a level of self-management wherein everyone has decision-making input perfectly proportionate to the degree they are affected by outcomes, we intuitively know in our personal lives that any deviation from this means at least one person is having excessive impact while at least one other person is denied their fair share of impact. 

Certainly there are sometimes reasons to violate proportionate input for all. Suppose there is a sudden announcement that a tidal wave is heading our way. One of us is a tidal wave survival expert, the rest are city-folk who know nothing about the matter. A quick shift to dictatorship is prudent. But does this insight abrogate our natural inclination to advocate decision-making input in proportion to effect as our guiding norm for a good economy? Does it suggest we ought to instead adopt, as many would advocate, decision-making input in accordance with relevant knowledge and the quality of decisions we might expect a person to arrive at? Let’s see. 


Knowledge and Decisions 

That reorganization will depend, first and foremost, on the thorough familiarity of labor with the economic situation of the country; on a complete inventory of the supply, on exact knowledge of the sources of raw material, and on the proper organization of the labor forces for efficient management.
-Alexander Berkman 

Relevant knowledge for decisions comes in two forms. 

1)    There is knowledge of the character of the decision and its context and of its most likely implications. And 

2)    There is also knowledge of how each person feels about those implications and specifically how they value the various options. 

The first type of knowledge is often quite specialized, as in the case of the tidal wave hero who has a complete monopoly on it. But the second type of knowledge is always dispersed, since we are each individually the world’s foremost experts regarding our own personal valuations. I know best that I don’t want to drown. I am the world’s foremost expert regarding my valuations of situations impacts on me. You are regarding your own. Shawn, Sally, Sue, Sam, and Samantha are regarding their own. Now it may be that Sally is also the world’s foremost expert on some situation’s likely properties and possibilities…but that is different than how either she or I feel about that situation’s likely effects on her or on me. 


So whenever the conclusions of specialized knowledge about implications can be disseminated sufficiently that each actor can assess the situation and arrive at their own view of how they are affected in ample time to express it for the decision, each actor should have impact proportionately to the effects they will endure. Whenever that’s impossible for some reason and the costs of making a mistake would be high, then we may need to temporarily function according to a different norm that temporarily cedes authority, though in ways that don’t permanently subvert our prior self-managing aim. Obviously, the burden of proof is on deviating from what is most desirable, and the implication for needing to distribute knowledge to permit self-management is evident. 

In short, the fact that you are a chemist and understand the chemistry and biology of lead paint on walls and what effects it can have, whereas I am a painter or an auto-maker, and do not understand the involved chemistry, but only the implications that you convey, doesn’t mean that you get to decide disproportionately whether my walls have lead paint or whether our whole community permits or rejects lead paint. It does mean, however, that my fellow community members and I should listen to your expert testimony before making a decision. You are a valued source, by all means, but in the decision-making per se, you become like everyone else. In promulgating information, you are an expert, but in the decision itself, you have a say proportionate to the effect on you, just as we have a say proportionate to the effect on us.   

Councils and Other Implications 

Thus council organization weaves a variegated
net of collaborating bodies through society,
regulating its life and progress according to their own
free initiative. And all that in the councils is discussed  and decided draws its actual power from the understanding,
the will, the action of working humankind itself.
-Anton Pannekoek 


Listen, Revolution, We’re buddies, see—Together, We can take everything: Factories, arsenals, houses, ships, Railroads, forests, fields, orchards, Bus lines, telegraphs, radios,
(Jesus! Raise hell with radios!) Steel mills, coal mines,
oil wells, gas, All the tools of production, (Great day in the morning!) Everything—And turn ‘em over to the people
who work. Rule and run ‘em for us people who work.
- Langston  Hughes 

So the self-management goal is that each actor influences decisions in proportion as he or she is affected, any deviation being understood to give some actors too much say and others too little. To achieve self-management and have the decisions be good ones, each actor must have easy access to relevant assessments of anticipated outcomes, and must have sufficient general knowledge and intellectual confidence to understand the assessments and develop preferences in light of them. Society’s organization should insure that sources of analysis related to decision making are unbiased, diverse, and well tested. Thus for self-management, each individual or group involved in a decision must have organizational means to arrive at and make known their desires, as well as the means to tally them sensibly, with their well-informed input having the proper proportionate influence.  

In an economy, to achieve this informed self-management, we need various institutions (which we call different sized workers’ and consumers’ councils) to serve as decision-making vehicles for different size collectives of workers and consumers. Thus, work-group, division, workplace, industry, and living group, neighborhood, community, and county councils are needed as vehicles for those affected by decisions to express individual and group preferences about those decisions, voting their preferences, implementing results, etc. We also need information dispersal that provides the knowledge necessary for informed judgments about economic interactions by all those affected by them. It’s also necessary that each actor has personal confidence and is sufficiently empowered that they feel comfortable arriving at, expressing, arguing on behalf of, and voting for their preferences. And finally we need means of allocation, workplace organization, and other institutional interactions that respect and promote the self-management norm and fulfill the requirements of open information dispersal and worker empowerment.  


There are many institutional implications of striving for decision-making influence in proportion to the extent one is affected, and discerning even the major implications of this norm takes some doing. But the norm itself is straightforward. Next chapter we offer a program of demands and actions aimed at fostering economic self-management. Further chapters address additional features that bear on this aim, such as workplace organization and how allocation occurs.