8. Q&A: Dignified Work
Now, as to occupations, we shall clearly not be able to have the same division
of labor in [our workplaces] as now: vicarious servanting, sewer-emptying,
butchering, letter carrying, boot-blacking, hair -dressing, and the rest
of it, will have come to an end; we shall either make all these occupations
agreeable to ourselves in some mood...
or we shall have to let them lapse altogether. A great
many fidgety occupations will come to an end: we shant
put a pattern on a cloth or a twiddle on a jug-handle to sell it, but to make it prettier and to amuse ourselves and others.
In a participatory economy (1) remuneration is according to effort and sacrifice, (2) jobs are balanced for empowerment and desirability, and (3) democratic councils of workers and consumers propose and revise what work and consumption they will do until other workers and consumers agree that the proposals are equitable and make efficient use of societys resourcesthrough participatory planning.
A balanced job complex is a collection of tasks within a workplace comparable in its burdens and benefits, and in its impact on the workers ability to participate in decision- making, to all other job complexes in that workplace and across the economy. Workers have responsibility for a job complex in their main workplace, and often for additional tasks outside to balance their overall work responsibilities with those of other workers in society.
76 THINKING FORWARD
Parecon opts for balanced job complexes to promote equity of circumstances, yes, but also because balanced job complexes are an essential choice if we want actors to be prepared and able to participate in the decisions that affect them.
It would be materially and socially just regarding the allocation of tasks and rewards to do as you say. If someone has an odious and deadening job, and another person has a delightful and enriching one, pay the former person more than the latterin accord with effort and sacrifice. But if we ignore the empowerment effects of workplace roles we will permit a class division between coordinators (monopolizing tasks that impart power and knowledge) and workers (delegated tasks that disempower), which division would in time yield a redefinition of norms of remuneration until the coordinators had both the desirable work and the higher incomes.
Also, even in lieu of this large-scale effect, if you dont balance for empowerment you cant have participatory self-management because different sectors of people are differentially able to use formally democratic means of influencing outcomes. Think of a bunch of people sitting around to make a decision with equal formal saybut suppose some of them have circumstances that give them required knowledge and skills relevant to decision making, and others are just exhausted and deadened by their circumstances with no time to assess options or develop agendas. The latter folks are left choosing among options that the former folks advocate, on the basis of arguments the former folks offer...at best. This is the heart of the logic of balanced job complexes: full justice needs job complexes balanced for empowerment plus remuneration according to effort and sacrifice. You can also have balance for quality of life effects (which will equalize wages for equal hours at a balanced job complex) or not, in this analysis.
THINKING FORWARD 77
Two issues. Years of schooling. And boring. Schooling, like working, is part of ones complex assuming it is socially beneficial, once one is beyond the basic graduation age. So that is no problem. If schooling were horribly onerous, it would be remunerated accordingly, but of course that is generally nonsense as schooling is generally much less onerous (and certainly would be in a good society) than the less desirable work tasks that need doing. Give anyone the option of going to grad school for living wages, for example, or working the same period in a coal mine fordouble, triple, or even five times as muchand their choice is pretty obvious. But, however society turns out to assess these options, so it goes. As to boring and onerous and dangerous, those attributes are remunerated more highly due to requiring more effort and sacrifice.
In a parecon, if these types of work (altered as they would be in such an economy) are horribly onerous, fewer people will be doing them because there will be much less demand for the high priced output. I would have preferred when I was a student, to develop my mathematical and scientific talents, not something for which I have no talent. And I think this is rather typicalthat is, that people would usually (not always) like to do what they are good at, assuming that in later life they could make use of that learning, etc. Another factor is what you can get to do, and its worth to you, later. This can be a quality of life assessment, a service to the community assessment, or an income assessment (in economies other than parecons, anyhow).
78 THINKING FORWARD
In making ones choice in a parecon, there is no way to make a financial killing. And if you would prefer to develop fewer of your talents, or develop them less fully, so it goes. There is nothing to prevent it.
As to now, I would wager that there isnt a coordinator class person around who would switch to an assembly line job, say, even if offered a higher wage than their current one. Not one. But please consider, what makes more empowered jobs boring and rote and unrewarding, to the extent they are? Isnt it in large part their still limited say (capitalists still rule, not them) and on the other hand the pains associated with the power over others that they have, as well as the often inane character of the things they produce for anothers profit? All this changes in a parecon, of course.
So I believe that you are right that a great many people occupying what I call coordinator class jobs are currently horribly distraught at their circumstances and activitiesfor example, think of high paid and self-governing art directors who produce idiotic ads. But I think they also recognize that compared to folks with rote jobs, less status, and even less power, they are quite privileged.
The main thing is that the causes of the alienated character of work at every level, disappear in parecon. Some things are still onerous, of course, but nothing is alienated, nor is there unfair remuneration. In this context, people will utilize their skills and capacities because it is fulfilling of their natures to do so and because there is pleasure to be had in contributing at a higher level to the social product (by choosing to work where one has most ability); but you are right that they wont earn more for doing it.
THINKING FORWARD 79
It depends, as always, what you mean by efficiency. For Mozart to do unskilled work instead of writing music costs humanity every time it occurs far more than for me to do unskilled work rather than, oh, whatever I may do that is skilled. This is true enough, due to his amazing genius and its irreplaceable productivity. And that could be true for some exceptional surgeon, too, I guess.
The question is what happens when we talk in terms of large numbers of people, and also what is at stake beyond merely the material or service product of each persons labors. Thus, for whatever losses society incurs for some people spending some time not utilizing their greatest and most revered talentseven in the case of geniuseshow much is gained by the release of new talents and genius from constituencies previously dumbed-down to fit rote work slots? More, how much is gained, in a social sense, from attaining equity of circumstances and empowerment? It is pointless to look at one side of a trade-off without attending to the other side.
In parecon, the point is that each actor occupies a balanced job complex of his or her or choosing, from among all those available that he or she is qualified for. To prepare for this balance, each actors education needs to leave them capable of informed and effective participation in decision-making. As well, the economy can only benefit from all actors using, as they choose, their educational experience to enlarge their potentials and capacities, and from the education system promoting this result for everyone. This is quite the opposite from now. In capitalism, by contrast, the economy needs workers made suitable to the available job offerings (this much is always true, in any economy) and since capitalist offerings are highly skewed, requiring that most actors are accustomed to boredom, have no expectations of controlling their circumstances, have no related skills or knowledge, and so on, school must dumb them down. In other words, the economy needs the school system to dumb people down in order that they can be shoe-horned into its limited role offerings. In parecon precisely the opposite obtains. People are fully educated, and the role offerings continually alter in accord.
80 THINKING FORWARD
So, even if we ignore the increases in justice and sociality gained from having balanced job complexesthe question over output becomes do we lose more by the fact that Mozart and some great surgeon have to spend time on tasks that are onerous or boring than we gain by the fact that (a) there are many more Mozarts and people of great surgical talents discovered due to a school system and culture that promotes excellence in all its citizens, and (b) across the board we are getting more capacity-enrichment and utilization from everyone who was previously dumbed-down and consigned to have their talents hidden and made dormant if not killed altogether?
This is not the right question. The answer is no, quite obviously, they wouldnt be available; but still it is not the right question. Why wouldnt enough output be available? Because no one would choose to do onerous and debilitating tasks if told, for example, these are not necessary, they dont have to be done, there is no reason or need for you to worry about their being donethe only reason for you to even think about doing them is if they happen to fit your personal, singular, desires so that you would enjoy doing them even if the outputs were redundant.
Now in reality, mature and thinking folks would apportion themselves to those tasks, I think, rather than seeing everyone suffer. But that is unfair because in that case the childish and/or anti-social deadbeats get a better existence for no morally justifiable reason. And there is another problem, as well, even if everyone is trying to be responsible. Suppose, that is, that everyone is mature and thinkingnot deadbeat. How do they manage to apportion the onerous work fairly among themselves...rather than haphazardly? As soon as you seek fairness and justice, you are back to balanced job complexes (and pareconish remuneration and decision making) because without these features people have no way to know what is fair and just, nor any way to act on the knowledge. So a good society doesnt leave justice to chance. Instead, society develops, over time, a set of jobs incorporating needed tasks in a balanced way.
THINKING FORWARD 81
So now your person in a parecon has only one big choiceto participate by working at some available balanced job they like, or not.