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 shan’t
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.
-William Morris 

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 society’s resources—through “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 worker’s 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. 


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 latter—in 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 don’t balance for empowerment you can’t 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 say—but 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. 


Two issues. Years of schooling. And boring. Schooling, like working, is part of one’s 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 for—double, triple, or even five times as much—and 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 typical—that 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). 


In making one’s 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 isn’t 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? Isn’t 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 another’s 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 activities—for 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 won’t earn more for doing it.