Its a poor sort of memory that only works backward.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease, Ring out the
narrowing lust for gold; Ring out the thousand
wars of old. Ring in the thousand years of peace.
-Alfred North Tennyson
Great social movements need long-run goals for inspiration and guidance and need short-run programs for immediate orientation and agenda. This was true for the abolitionist movement to end slavery in the nineteenth century, for the movement for womens suffrage at the turn of the century, for the labor movement that led to the CIO in the 1930s, for the civil rights, student, and peace movements seeking to expand justice in the 1960s, and for the womens liberation movement in the 1970s. It will be no less true for a 21st century movement to replace greedy competition with equitable cooperation.Movement for a Participatory Economy hopes to help a new economic movement settle on needed long-run goals and short-run programs by highlighting four areas of visionary and strategic concern:
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About a third of this book describes institutions to accomplish these functions consistent with desirable moral and social aspirations. Another third explores demands for non- reformist reforms that can improve our lives today and which will also propel our future goals. The remaining third uses an informal question and answer format to elaborate the picture. The thirds are not sequential, but intermixed. For each main topic addressed we provide visionary argument, question and answer, and program. The result, I hope, is a vision and program to reduce economic hierarchies of wealth, income, and influence to a minimum, or none at all.
The name of the vision is participatory economics, or for short, parecon. It is an economy based on remunerating people according to effort and sacrifice, council democracy, what we call balanced job complexes, and allocation via participatory planning. Beyond producing and distributing to fulfill human needs and expand human capacities, the values pursued are solidarity, equity, self- management, and diversity. Below we provide a brief introduction to these issues preparatory to the chapters to come.
Hear me people: We now have to deal with another racesmall and feeble
when our fathers first met them,
but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they
have a mind to till the soil and the love of possessions is a disease with them. They take their tithes from the
poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.
-Chief Sitting Bull
In any economy people get income that in turn determines how much they can consume relative to others. But how much should each person get in a desirable economy? Or, more formally, what should be our norm for remuneration? According to participatory economics
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But why should we want Bill Gates to lose his vast wealth and then earn income only for for how hard the actual work he does is, but not for having contributed to the creation of a vast and profitable enterprise? And why should we want surgeons and coal miners or hospital orderlies to earn only for the time they work and for how hard they work and how much sacrifice is involved, but not for the number of lives they save or for the tons of coal they extract or bedpans they deal with, much less for the power they are able to wield in negotiations?
Chapters one through three make a case for reward based only on effort and sacrifice, consider how to institutionally implement such a condition in a new economy, and discuss how we can get to that point. As near-term program, they explore enhancing affirmative action; increasing taxes on profit, property, wealth, inheritance, and income; undertaking job actions for increased wages; and winning a full employment program, minimum wage supports, increased social wage payments, and reverse income taxes.
Power operates only destructively, bent always on
forcing every manifestation of life into the straitjacket
of its laws. Its intellectual form of expression
is dead dogma, its physical form brute force.
Economies involve countless decisions that affect peoples lives. Who should make such decisions, with how much say, and by what means? In contemporary societies corporate owners and other corporate leaders and high government officials have vast economic power. Remaining citizens simply follow orders, having little impact on major outcomes. Participatory economics seeks, instead
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But why remove current power differentials and seek self-management in their place? Why shouldnt we instead aim for economic freedom that gives everyone the right to do whatever they wish with themselves and their property? Or why shouldnt we give everyone equal say over all economic decisions? Or why shouldnt we give the more knowledgeable or more successful more say?
Pondering these questions, chapters four through six defend self-management as our decision-making goal, propose institutions to achieve it, and explore strategic ways to achieve those future institutions including strategies to create workers and consumers councils, ideas for changes in workplace decision-making procedures, and demands to replace private decision-making over collective consumption with democratic procedures that increase consumers power.
Wonder each morning how youre going to hold
on till evening, each Monday how youll make it to
Saturday. Reach home without the strength to
do anything but watch TV, telling yourself
youll surely die an idiot ... Long to smash
everything... once a day, feel sick ... Because
youve traded your life for a living; fear that
the rage mounting within you will die down
in the end, that in the final analysis people are right
when they say: ah, you can get used to anything.
Nowadays some folks suffer harsh unemployment, not working at all. Others suffer degrading conditions and have no say in what they do. Still others have plush jobs, uplifting conditions, and overwhelming say about their own work and even over how other peoples work is defined and done. If that distribution of work isnt fair, what should we seek instead? What should be the distribution of tasks so that each actor has a fair job situation? What constitutes dignified work?
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Chapters seven through nine argue that every worker should enjoy comparable quality of life and empowerment effects in their worka balanced job complexfor the sake of equity and self-management. Dignifying work means giving each worker a fair mix of uplifting as well as deadening labor to eliminate class division between those monopolizing empowering work and those isolated from decision-making options. These chapters counter fears that such a choice will reduce output by diminishing expertise, and they present demands to improve conditions now and lead toward balanced job complexes in the future, including compensating those with less desirable work with time off to get further schooling to attain better circumstances, requiring those with more desirable jobs to spend compensating time doing onerous work, and changing workplace relations to reduce disparities in desirability and empowerment between different jobs by reallocating tasks among them.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure
nineteen pounds and six, result happiness
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditures
twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
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In any conceivable economy, different groups of workers make different products and some procedure for coordinating their activities with each other and with the desires of consumers is required. This procedure, called allocation, determines how much of each input and output is used or produced and where it winds up. Partly allocation depends on decisions that Tom or Jane make to do this or that. But partly allocation depends on the information, communication, and behavioral roles that impact what actors can even conceive to want to do.
Currently allocation is overwhelmingly based either on markets (for example, between corporations and between producers and consumers), or on top-down planning (for example within corporations and in the government sector). In the market interactions, producers and consumers relate to one another as adversaries. Competitive pressures drive them to take advantage of one another or be replaced by those who will. In the planned interactions, orders come from on high, authoritatively, enforcing obedience from below.
Why do people accept that acceding to the economics of competition and greed with markets or to the economics of authority and subordination with top-down planning, are the only ways workers and consumers can coordinate related activities and enjoy the advantages of a division of labor? Instead, why cant we consciously and democratically plan our efforts while cooperating equitably and efficiently?
In response to these questions, chapters ten through twelve explain how workers and consumers can allocate scarce productive resources and distribute valuable goods and services without markets or central planning. Participatory economics
These three chapters summarize the advantages of participatory planning over both markets and central planning, explain why fears that such participatory planning would prove inefficient or limit legitimate freedoms are misplaced, and discuss demands for restricting the influence of market forces and expanding the role of equitable cooperation, including banning involuntary overtime, reducing the workweek, imposing tax and budget reforms, and expanding public influence over investment and budget decisions.
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We Dont Live by Bread Alone
The planet hasor rather hada problem,
which was this: most of the people on it
were unhappy for pretty much of the time.
Many solutions were suggested for the problem,
but most of these were largely concerned
with the movements of small green pieces
of paper, which is odd because
on the whole it wasnt the small
green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
Economics is not the only social function important to social interaction. Among other central facets of social life are how we define cultural communities and their identities, how we accomplish kinship related functions having to do with the birth and socialization of the next generation, and how we accomplish political functions of legislation, adjudication, and implementation and enforcement of collective agreements. A desirable economy must, of course, mesh with our ways of organizing the rest of social life. Likewise, how we organize other parts of social life must mesh with whatever choices we make for our economy.
In chapters thirteen and fourteen, we address this two-way requirement and explore some implications of favoring participatory economics for other domains of life. We look specifically at education, race, gender, ecology, the state, and international relations.
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Participatory Economic Program and Vision
The task for a modem industrial society is to achieve
what is now technically realizable, namely, a
society which is really based on free voluntary
participation of people who produce and create, live
their lives freely within institutions they control, and with limited hierarchical structures, possibly none at all.
Movements need a broad and varied program, but also centrally highlighted campaigns. In chapters fifteen and sixteen we discuss a campaign that could become a programmatic centerpiece for a Movement for a Participatory Economy in the twenty-first century. The focus includes demands for a short work-week with wage and income features that maximize the benefits. We explore the demands implications for immediate improvement in peoples quality of life, but also for consciousness-raising and organizational gains that would empower new movements to win further advances in the future.
Motivating Vision and Strategy
True compassion is more than flinging a coin
at a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice
which produces beggars needs restructuring.
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Incapacity of the masses. What a tool for all
exploiters and dominators, past, present, and future
Demands we choose in the present and tactics we employ to try to win them should of course reduce current suffering but they should also move us toward long-run goals, augmenting our strengths and reducing those of our opponents. Todays efforts should increase the number of people seeking change, increase the understanding and commitment of advocates of change, strengthen dissident organizations and means of outreach and struggle, and generally win gains that not only improve the lot of suffering constituencies, but also empower them to win further gains and become ever more committed and capable tomorrow. These simple norms are central to social strategy. Having visionary goals and relating our programs for action to them can help highlight current injustices, spur our motivations, and orient our actions toward achieving a more equitable and free society.
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Nonetheless, many advocates of social change feel that offering institutional vision and strategy can hurt activism. Not wanting to ignore such views about the undesirability of this books agenda, to close this introduction we briefly offer a hypothetical critic of elaborating vision plus a pareconist reply.
Dialogue On the Value of Vision
Just now I want to tell you why the worker does
not take the burglar by the neck and kick him out:
that is, why he begs the capitalist for a little more
bread or wages, and why he does not throw him off
his back altogether. It is because the worker, like the
rest of the world, has been made to believe that
everything is all right and must remain as it is; and
that if a few things are not quite as they should be,
then it is because people are bad and everything
will right itself in the end, anyhow.
On this issue of human freedom, if you assume
that theres no hope, you guarantee there will
be no hope. If you assume that there is an
instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities
to change things, that hope is possible, then hope
may be justified, and a better world may be built.
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CRITIC: A blueprint approach to winning change has fared badly over and over in history, leading repeatedly to unjust and inequitable ends. We shouldnt have a blueprint, because blueprints lead to bad ends.
PARECONIST: Who is suggesting a blueprint? At present, we dont even have a generally shared workable outline of what we desire. When we are asked what we want to replace capitalism, we have nothing constructive, worthy, and viable to offer. So it isnt a nuts and bolts blueprint we are advocating, but a broad understanding of new institutions to inform our dissent, guide our demands and actions, and provide hope for what we can attain.
As to the blueprint approach having fared badly, Im not sure what you mean. Every country with movements against capitalism that has sought a vision and won significant change has in fact got what they sought. So having a vision didnt preclude arriving at what the vision outlines. Quite the contrary, it makes that highly likely. Having a vision doesnt make one ineffective, though I agree that having a bad vision yields bad outcomes. If the people holding a vision arent the whole movement but are only narrow elites, and if the vision they hold serves them but not the broad movement, then, yes, I agree thats a serious problem.
CRITIC: But no one can possibly know the future well enough to provide vision beyond mere guesswork or wishful thinking.
PARECONIST: I agree that no one can draw a detailed picture of of some new society or economy. But we can conceive viable, desirable, alternative institutions with positive implications, and struggle to implement those. And in fact, having that much vision is the only way to build movements that arent purely reactive, reformist, and/or vague, and that incorporate the hope and clarity essential to long-term commitment.
CRITIC: But it is hard enough to agree on short-term reform demands in our movements. It would be impossible for us to agree on a blueprintand since were nowhere close to agreeing, why gnash our teeth over it, wasting time that could go to constructive organizing work?
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PARECONIST: But what if one reason it is hard to agree on the short-term is because we have little clarity about the long-term, not a blueprint, but a viable vision? And what if it will actually be pretty easy to agree on a broad workable and desirable goal, once we actually try to do so, and that having arrived at one, the context and orientation it provides will make it easier to arrive at effective short-term preferences?
CRITIC: Okay, maybe we need something, but why not just our values as compared to capitalist or market values: solidarity, democracy, participation, liberty, diversity, egalitarianism, people over profit, protecting the weak. Why cant that be our glue and our source of hope and direction? Why bother with institutional details?
PARECONIST: Values are crucial, of course, but without advocating associated institutions that implement them, values tend to become rhetorical. For example, Clinton can espouse the values you listed, even people over profits. And certainly Leninists and other advocates of authoritarian outcomes can mouth the values you listed, with great and sincere feeling. Without institutional substance, the values alone dont get us far, and the populace is astute enough to know that. Any value you care to enunciate can find its way into a Madison Avenue jingle overnight. But an institutional vision that precludes the existence of Madison Avenuethats another matter.
So I agree with you that we want egalitarianismbut does that mean people get paid according to output, or according to effort and sacrifice, or what? And how is the payment to be accomplished? And why should anyone believe that it can be accomplished, supposing we do describe a method?
And I agree that we want participation and democracy, but does that mean we have a typical corporate division of labor with a two-party government, or do we have workers councils with markets or with central planning, or do we have something very different, such as self-managing councils with balanced job complexes linked by a new kind of allocation? And how does what we seek actually operate? With what impact? Values support and inform vision, but they are not its entirety.
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CRITIC: This is all so abstract. You have logical answers, sure, but ultimately the vision stuff just doesnt interest me. Its just not relevant to my real life.
PARECONIST: I am not sure what you mean by not relevant to your life. You want to win change and a better world. So isnt the vision stuff relevant to your life if it could help you do that, and not relevant if it cant?
On a more immediate and personal level, is your life impacted in some way by some project or institution of the left? If so, does that project or institution have a corporate structure or does it have a participatory structure? Wouldnt it be relevant to you if a movement advocated egalitarian, participatory structures in substantive institutional terms, not only for society, but for its own institutions?
Before the womens movement, lots of people argued that feminism wasnt relevant for most activists. But when women made redefining the social relations between men and women part of what being on the left meant, feminism became directly relevant to everyone involved in social change, not just in terms of goals and broad strategies or demands, but for how movements are organized nowfor their culture, their decision-making, the lives of men and women in them. In other words, the espousal of feminist vision and aims impacted not only the broad agenda of the left, but also the daily life situation of activists. Similarly, an economic vision worthy of support will impact not only broad left goals and strategies, but also how our current institutions handle money, divisions of labor, and decision making and allocation, and thus how they impact our activist work, whatever its form may be.
CRITIC: Social struggle has to begin with acting in the world and to continually arise from that. It shouldnt involve going off in a study group to figure out what youre for.
PARECONIST: Why does developing and espousing goals violate the notion that our thoughts should be based in experience? Nobody is suggesting that we should have utopian goals divorced from reality. Of course every new experience is valuable, but how long does one have to engage in direct actions before one advocates a vision that ones direct actions are supposed to lead toward? Do you have to be an activist for one, ten, thirty, or two hundred years? If thirty or less, then we are there already, even just personally. If its a hundred or more, then the movement is there, as a collective entity.
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CRITIC: But if you argue theres nothing you can do but overthrow capitalism, then since everyone can see that the overthrow of capitalism is far off, youre basically telling them theres nothing they can do.
PARECONIST:: Well, we dont know how far off it is, do we but why does having a goal imply there is nothing one can do but win the full goal by overthrowing capitalism? We dont think any such thing. Instead, there is plenty to be done now, of course, but having a goal facilitates being able to develop and organize around effective short-term program.
On the other hand, if you rage against profits and injustice indicating that the problem we all suffer is capitalism, but then you have no answer for what comes after capitalism, you implicitly legitimate the capitalists claim that there is no alternative. By forgoing institutional goals, you imply that capitalism is permanent. The lesson many people will take from your lack of answers for what you want beyond capitalism, will be that resilient capitalism will swamp any social victories we may temporarily attain.
But there is no such problem if we clearly and accessibly say here is what would be much better than capitalism, and here are things that can be won today and that can improve our lives now and that can also be part of a sequence of changes that lead toward this new system. Then we can have a long-term goal that sustains and gives us hope and orientation, plus a short-term program to fight for now.
CRITIC: It sounds nice, the way you hope for it to happen, but in practice enunciating long-term goals leads to a kind of religious movement, disconnected from reality. I wont be strategic due to its rigidity and will suffer all kinds of sectarian splits because its focused on rhetoric without consequences.
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PARECONIST: Can that happen? Sure. Is it horrible? Yes. But does it have to happen? No. So to prevent it we shouldnt dispense with something that we need, but should instead formulate vision that explicitly guards against arrogance and sectarianism and is publicly owned by everyone in the movement, and couched in clear language so everyone can understand it and make it their own, including adapting and improving it. Without that, it isnt that there wont be visionbut that the vision that does exist will be held by narrow elites and service only elites, not everyone.
So we have a great irony: The only way to have vision that is non-sectarian and anti-elitist, isnt for good people who are concerned about these abuses to foreswear vision so that people who arent concerned privately generate and later implement harmful vision. The solution is for people with good concerns to articulate vision in a public dialogue so it arises from and is possessed by those most in need of change, and is imbued with desirable values. This process is not divorced from reality, as you fear, but will instead have profound immediate implications. For example, sharing the economic vision in this volume, activists would agree that left institutions should be participatory and democratically restructured; they should have balanced job complexes, just remuneration, self management, etc. This internal change would profoundly affect the class attitudes, policies, and consciousness of our movements, and their membership composition as well.
It is no longer enough to point out what we dont like,
we have to work out what sort of society we do want...
Books can convey information, arguments, logic, and evidence, but cannot facilitate back and forth exchange. Nowadays elements of such exchange are possible and even easy, due to new technologies of communication and we welcome readers to please visit the Participatory Economics web site at http://www.parecon.orga component of ZNetwhich is at http://www.zmag.org. The parecon site has much additional information, exploring matters raised here and other issues as well, including some books online, many essays and debate exchanges, plus a way to pursue direct debate and mutual communication with the authors and with other people interested in participatory economic vision and movement in what we call online forums.
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