Back to ZNet
Back to Parecon: Life After Capitalism Book Page
Buy Parecon: Life After Capitalism in print

 

 

Chapter 2 

Economic Values

 

There is nothing so absurd that it has not been said by philosophers.
—Cicero 

True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar;
it comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.
— Martin Luther King Jr. 

 

We know that an economy needs to produce, allocate, and consume as people wish. But whose wishes matter? What opportunities to express their wishes should people have? How do people produce, allocate, and consume, and with what impact on their life prospects? What are our preferred values regarding economic outcomes and how do particular economic institutions further or inhibit them? 

When examining and evaluating economic systems, there are four main questions about values we must address: 

1    Equity: How much should people get and why? 

2    Self-management: What kind of say over their conditions should people have? 

3    Diversity: Should paths to fulfillment be diversified or narrowed? 

4    Solidarity: Should people cooperate or compete? 

Our first step in envisioning a new economy is to address these four areas of concern. 

 

 

Equity 

Nearly everyone favors “equity.” But controversy arises because different people mean different things by the term. We want fair income and fair situations, but fair in what way? 

 

Equity 1: Income 

Regarding income, four distributive norms summarize available options for how people should be compensated for economic activity: 

  • Norm 1: Remunerate according to the contribution of each person’s physical and human assets. 
  • Norm 2: Remunerate according to the contribution of each person’s human assets only. 
  • Norm 3: Remunerate according to each person’s effort or personal sacrifice.  
  • Norm 4: Remunerate according to each person’s need. 

Of course, historically the most frequently actualized norm is that people should get what they are strong enough to take, but virtually no one morally advocates brute force bargaining power as our preferred criterion for payment. No one thinks this common approach is ethically superior. No one thinks it is efficient. The idea that society should enrich the thug for being thuggish, though it is typically the rule that markets and many other systems impose, is no one’s stated ideal. For that reason it doesn’t require treatment in a book about economic vision. So, paying attention only to the four norms that people do advocate, let’s first consider norm one. 

The rationale for rewarding people for the contribution that their private capital makes to output is that people should get out of an economy what they and their productive possessions contribute. If we think of economic goods and services as a giant pot of stew, the idea is that individuals contribute to how plentiful and rich the stew will be by their labor and by the non-human productive assets they bring to the kitchen. If my labor and productive assets make the stew bigger or richer than your labor and productive assets make it, then according to norm one, it is only fair that I eat more or more delectable morsels than you eat. Since I brought greater assets to the kitchen, I deserve greater reward. You own a hoe and I own a tractor. This makes me more productive than you and enables me to make a greater contribution to society’s total food output. It is only fair, therefore, that I be better remunerated than you. 

Though this rationale has intuitive appeal to many, norm one’s advocates have the “Rockefeller’s grandson problem” to deal with. According to norm one, the grandson of a Rockefeller should eat 1,000 times as much stew as a highly trained, highly productive, hard-working daughter of a pauper. And this is warranted, says norm one, even if Rockefeller’s grandson doesn’t work a day in his life and the pauper’s daughter works for fifty years providing services of great benefit to others. The grandson has inherited property that “works” for him since he “brings it to the kitchen” and by norm one we credit the contribution of productive property to its owners. Bringing a tractor or 100 acres of Mississippi bottom land to the economy increases the size and quality of the stew we can make just as surely as having another person to dig or peel potatoes does—only more so. Therefore, if we inherit a tractor or land, then along with this inheritance comes a stream of income that we need do nothing whatever to “earn.” On the other hand, the fact that we have done nothing whatever to earn it makes it self-evident that we don’t deserve it morally due to some meritorious action on our part. There must be some other explanation than our being “morally deserving” for why we ought to have it. 

And, indeed, a second line of defense for norm one is based on a vision of “free and independent” people, each with their own property, who, it is argued, would refuse to voluntarily enter a social contract on any other terms than benefiting from that property’s output. We need norm one, in this view, if these people are to freely participate in the economy. But while those who have a great deal of productive property would have a good reason to hold out for a social contract rewarding them for their property, why wouldn’t those who have little or no property have a good reason to hold out for a different arrangement that doesn’t penalize them for not owning property? And if this is true, then how come those with property get the norm they want, and those without property do not? 

The historical difference is that those with property could do quite well for themselves (including buying enforcement of their wills via legislation) while waiting for agreements to be reached, whereas those without property could not avoid catastrophe if they had to wait long for an agreement. Requiring unanimity of all parties drives the bargain to favor the propertied. The unemployed eventually have to give in and seek work even under the conditions that profits will go entirely to owners. To do otherwise leaves them destitute. But that means norm one is established not due to moral desirability, but because of an unfair bargaining situation in which some are better able than others to tolerate failure to reach an equitable agreement (and therefore better able to coerce submission and defend their holdings). Thus, the social contract rationale for earning on property loses all ethical force and has its weight only due to contingent, unbalanced circumstances.  

This analysis is nothing new, by the way, though it isn’t meant to be publicly discussed by those without property. Consider, for example, Adam Smith’s pithy formulation that “It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of valuable property ... can sleep a single night in security.” Or consider this old anonymous aphorism: “The Law locks up the hapless felon who steals the goose from off the common, but lets the greater felon loose who steals the common from the goose.” 

A related insight is that unless those who have more productive property acquired it through personal sacrifice, the income they receive from owning the property is unjustifiable on equity grounds. Basing income on private property is not equitable and must be rejected if we determine that those who own more productive property did not come to it through greater personal sacrifice. Pursuing this line of assessment in tune with the views of the advocates of norm one, we must now ask how property is acquired? 

Acquisition of productive property through inheritance obviously entails no sacrifice by the heir. Consequently, we deny the would-be heir nothing that she has a moral claim to if we prohibit inheritance of productive property. But what about the rights of members of the older generation who wish to bequeath productive property to their progeny? Suppose (against all odds) that those who wish to make bequests came by their productive property in a manner consistent with a worthy conception of economic justice. That is, suppose they sacrificed more than others by working longer or harder, and rather than eating prodigious portions of caviar in the twilight of their lives, they prefer to pass on their hard-earned productive assets to their children or grandchildren. To deny them the right to do so would seem an unwarranted violation of their personal freedom to dispose of their legitimate rights to economic benefits as they wish. It certainly does interfere with this right. 

But what about the right of members of the younger generation to equal economic opportunities? If we permit inheritance of productive assets, some young people will start out with advantages and others will be debited—all due to no failures of their own—a disparity that could grow from generation to generation. If members of an older generation when exercising their freedom of consumption have the right to pass along productive property, then they will have created for a younger generation unequal economic opportunities that violate the rights of the latter. On the other hand, if members of the younger generation are to be protected from this inequitable result, their elders must be precluded from dispersing their assets as they choose—a result that also seems unfair. 

What do we choose? The right to bequeath means of production should be denied because the right for all generations to equal economic opportunity far outweighs the right of some of the members of one generation to bequeath income-generating wealth to their offspring. While some freedom of consumption for the older generation to acquire property and pass it on is certainly sacrificed by outlawing the inheritance of productive property, doing so is necessary to protect a more fundamental freedom of the younger generation to equal economic opportunities. More generally, con- freedoms of this sort are common in economics and other aspects of society as well, and rather than settling such conflicts by abstractly awarding a property right to one party or the other, thereby elevating the notion of property as the arbiter of difference, the goal should be to give every actor decision-making input in proportion to the degree that person is affected by the outcome, thereby elevating true democracy as the arbiter of difference. In other words, economic self-management—defined as having decision-making influence in proportion to the degree that one is affected—is a far superior norm than that of economic freedom based on the right to do whatever one chooses with one’s property. 

In these terms, since the younger generation would be much more seriously affected by unequal economic opportunities than the older generation would be affected by limiting their freedom to pass on productive property, it is justifiable to limit inheritance rights. While the conflict between freedom of consumption for an older generation to bequeath their property and the right to an equal economic opportunity of a younger generation is only one of many conflicting freedoms in capitalist economies, it is a particularly important one. Awarding the property right in favor of inheritance is a particularly egregious violation of the principle of economic self-management since it permits those who are little affected (the ones making bequests) to greatly affect the lives of many others. These others, as a result, must start their economic lives with serious handicaps relative to a few of their privileged peers. 

A second way—beyond actually sweating for it—that people in capitalism acquire more productive property than others, is through good luck. Working or investing in a rising or declining company or industry involves good or bad luck. Pursuing some line of industry and benefiting from ancillary activities of others or from changing global or domestic boom or bust dynamics involves good luck. Distributions of productive property that result from luck hardly reward sacrifices on people’s part. There is therefore no moral justification on their behalf, obviously. 

A third way that people come to have more productive property is through unfair advantages such as differences in circumstances and human characteristics. For example, arbitrary factors could allow you to accumulate more productive assets than I because you have information that I do not have, or you operate in a town or country enjoying advantages that my locale doesn’t enjoy. Arbitrary differ- ences in human characteristics could mean that you have greater innate intelligence, strength, or dexterity than I do, all through no fault of mine and due to no greater effort or sacrifice on your part, and these could lead to your acquiring more property. And though these differences may seem unlikely to be too large, even slight initial inequalities in ownership of productive property will grow aggres- sively more unequal in economies where owners are paid for the contributions of their property. The initial advantage enlarges itself, providing the means to acquire still greater property. If the initial difference is unjust, still greater differences that result from ensuing accumulation are unjust as well. 

But what if some people accumulate more because they work longer or harder than others? Or, what if some people consume less to accumulate more productive property? Most who argue for norm one as equitable would have us believe that this is how inequalities in the ownership of productive property usually arise. And, indeed, if someone accumulated more productive property through more work or less consumption in the past, then greater consumption (or leisure) commensurate with the greater past sacrifice is warranted. But this conclusion is a direct application of norm three—to each according to his or her effort or sacrifice—as long as “commensurate” compensation is the quantity required to compensate for greater past sacrifices, thereby making everyone’s burdens and benefits fair over time. It does not justify norm one, with its implications of remunerating for property even when it exceeds what effort and sacrifice warrant. 

Most political economists accept that in capitalist economies the differences in ownership of productive property that accumulate within a single generation due to unequal sacrifices are minuscule compared to the differences in wealth that develop due to inheritance, luck, unfair advantage, and profit-making. That was what Proudhon meant when he coined the phrase “property is theft.” All evidence about the origins of differential wealth at the end of the twentieth century support the opinion Edward Bellamy voiced (in 1888) in his famous book Looking Backward: 

You may set it down as a rule that the rich, the possessors of great wealth, had no moral right to it as based upon desert, for either their fortunes belonged to the class of inherited wealth, or else, when accumulated in a lifetime, necessarily represented chiefly the product of others, more or less forcibly or fraudulently obtained. 

A turn of the twenty-first century TV ad for the brokerage house Salomon, Smith, & Barney provides a delicious example of ethical doublespeak about property income. A man of obvious taste devoutly informs us that the brokers at Salomon, Smith & Barney believe in “making money the old-fashioned way, earning it.” What he means, of course, is that brokers discourage clients from the temptation of high-gain, high-risk strategies, and recommend instead expanding wealth more slowly but with greater certainty— precisely without earning a penny of it. As Ricardo noted: “There is no way of keeping profits up but by keeping wages down.” And in the typically pithy words of Groucho Marx: “The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you’ve got it made.” 

Norm two for remuneration is less straightforward to assess than norm one: Why not reward each according to the value of the contribution of only our human capital, that is, of only what we ourselves through our own efforts bring to the kitchen? While supporters of norm two generally agree with the case made above that property income is unjustifiable, they hold that we all have a right to the “fruits of our own labor.” Their rationale for this is at first review quite compelling. If my labor contributes more to the social endeavor, it is only right that I should receive more. Not only am I not exploiting others if I get more, but since I put the extra amount in the pot myself, they would be exploiting me by paying me less than the value of my personal contribution. 

But the obviousness of the claim is a function of its familiarity and not of hard thinking about it. Careful thought shows we must reject norm two—rewarding personal output—for the same basic reasons we reject norm one—rewarding ownership of means of production. 

Economists define the value of the contribution of any input (whether labor or machines or some resources) as the “marginal revenue product” of that input. If we add one more unit of the input in question to all of the other inputs currently used in a production process, how much would the value of output increase? That amount is the marginal revenue product. But this means the marginal productivity, or the contribution any input makes, depends as much on the quantity of that input available and on the quantity and quality of complementary inputs, as on any intrinsic quality of the input itself. In other words, the amount that my extra hour of labor can add to output depends on how many prior hours I work, and also on how many other hours others are putting in, and on the quality of their contributions, and on the tools we all use, and on the items we produce and their attributes, and so on. This fact alone undermines the moral imperative behind any “contribution based” norm, such as both norm two and norm one. 

To reward differences in the value of personal contributions as norm two warrants is to reward differences due to circumstantial and personal factors beyond any individual’s control. When young people flock to the profession that you have labored in for twenty years, your marginal revenue product declines although you may work as hard as ever. When your employer fails to replace machines that other employers upgrade, your marginal productivity suffers even despite there being no decrease in your efforts. 

Suppose we set aside or somehow account for the fact that the marginal productivity of different kinds of labor depends on the number of other people in each labor category and on the quantity and quality of non-labor inputs available as well as on technological knowledge. The “genetic lottery” constitutes another circumstance largely outside an individual’s control that can greatly influence how valuable one’s personal contribution will be. No amount of eating and weightlifting will give me a 6-foot-9-inch frame with 300 pounds of muscle so that I can “earn” the salary of a professional football player 50 times greater than the salary I “earn” now. The noted English economist Joan Robinson (1903-1983) pointed out long ago that however “productive” a machine or piece of land may be, that doesn’t constitute a moral argument for paying anything to its owner. And we need only extend this insight to individual human characteristics to realize that however productive an IQ of 170 or a 300-pound physique may be, that doesn’t mean the owner of this trait deserves more income than someone less productively endowed who works as hard and sacrifices as much. 

 Luck in external circumstance and in the genetic lottery are no better basis for remuneration than luck in the property inheritance lottery—which implies that as a conception of equity, norm two suffers from the same flaw as norm one. If a person has the fine fortune to have genes that give her an advantage for producing things of merit, or if she is lucky as regards her field of work, there is no reason on top of this good luck to provide her with an exorbitant income as well. 

In defense of norm two, its advocates frequently claim that while talent may not morally deserve reward, employing talents requires training, and therein lies the sacrifice that merits a reward. Doctors’ salaries are deemed compensation not for some innate capability the doctor has, but for the extra education they endure. But longer training does not necessarily entail greater personal sacrifice. It is important not to confuse the cost of someone’s training—which consists mostly of the time and energy of teachers who impart the training and of scarce social resources like books, computers, libraries, and classrooms—with personal sacrifice by the trainee. If teachers and educational facilities are paid for as a public and not private expense—that is, if we have a universal public education system—then the personal sacrifice the student makes consists only of his or her discomfort during the time spent in school. 

Moreover, even the personal suffering that one endures as a student must be properly compared. While many educational programs are less personally enjoyable than time spent in leisure, the relevant comparison is with the discomfort that others experience who are working at paid jobs instead of going to school. If our criterion for extra remuneration is enduring greater personal sacrifice than others, then logic requires that we compare the medical student’s discomfort to whatever level of discomfort others are experiencing who work while the medical student is in school. 

In short, would you rather be in medical school or slinging hash? Only if schooling is more disagreeable than working does it constitute a greater sacrifice than others make and thereby deserve greater reward, and the additional reward it would then deserve would be commensurate to that difference, but not more. 

So to the extent that education is born at public rather than private expense, and that the personal discomfort of schooling is no greater than the discomfort that would be incurred by working instead during the same time frame, extra schooling merits no extra compensation on moral grounds. And if one pays for one’s education, then that marks the reward warranted, and no more. And if one’s education is onerous and demanding compared to working, that difference marks the extra compensation warranted, and no more. 

The problem with the “I had to endure school so long” justification of norm two is the “doctor versus garbage collector problem.” How can it be fair to pay a brain surgeon, even in the unlikely event he puts in longer hours than most other workers, ten times more than a garbage collector who works under miserable conditions forty or fifty hours a week? Even if medical school is costly, and in fact even if it is more debilitating and harder than collecting garbage during the same time (which is a ridiculous claim), surely it would warrant far less than a lifetime of much higher pay to compensate the doctor for that temporary sacrifice, particularly since the subsequent job—brain surgery—has exceptional social and moral rewards of its own. The moral basis of norm two collapses. 

So what about norm three—remunerate according to each person’s effort or personal sacrifice? Whereas differences in contributions from people’s labor will derive from differences in circumstance, talent, training, luck, and effort, of all these factors people control only their effort. To reward and punish people for things they cannot control violates the same basic tenet of social justice that says it is unfair to pay differently according to race or sex, for example. By “effort” we simply mean personal sacrifice or inconvenience incurred in performing one’s economic duties. Of course effort can be longer hours, less pleasant work, or more intense, dangerous, or unhealthy work. Or, it may consist of undergoing training that is less gratifying than the training experience of others, or less pleasant than the time others spend working. The underlying rationale for norm three is that people should eat from the stew pot according to the sacrifices they made to cook it. According to norm three no consideration other than differential sacrifice in useful production can justify one able-bodied person eating more or better stew than another. 

Even for those who reject contribution-based theories of economic justice like norms one and two, there is still a problem with norm three: the “car crash problem.” Suppose someone has made average sacrifices for 15 years, and consumed an average amount. She is hit by a car. Medical treatment for crash victims can cost a fortune. If we limit people’s consumption to the level warranted by the effort they expend, we would have to deny hurt or sick people humane treatment (and/or income while they can’t work). 

Of course this is where another norm comes in, norm four: payment according to need. But as attractive as norm four is, it is a norm in a different category from the other three. It is not really a candidate for a definition of economic justice. Instead, it expresses a value beyond equity or justice that we aspire to and implement when possible and desirable. It is one thing for an economy to be equitable, fair, and just. It is another thing for an economy to be compassionate. A just economy is not the last word in morally desirable economics. Besides striving for economic justice, we desire compassion as well. Thus we have our equity value, norm three, and beyond economic justice, we have our compassion, to be applied via norm four where appropriate such as in cases of illness, catastrophe, incapacity, and so on. And those are our aspirations for income. 

Of course we know that it won’t be worthwhile to attain equity of income and even compassionate humanity about income, if in doing so the total productive output plummets or other nasty side effects cost us considerably in our broader lives. But that is a matter that we address when we assess whether we can institutionally implement our norms for economic reward in ways consistent with other values we hold dear. We shall investigate that as we proceed. First, there is another dimension of equity to consider. 

 

Equity 2: Circumstances 

Why should one person have an economic condition at work that is fulfilling and pleasant, and another have a condition that is debilitating and depressing? What justification can there be for this difference? On what moral grounds should Anthony enjoy better economic circumstances than Arundhati? 

Arguments regarding income carry over virtually without alter- ation. Surely it cannot be owning property that justifies Anthony getting better work conditions and circumstances than Arundhati does. Nor can it be due to some innate quality, nor to training. If Arundhati actually suffers a worse work situation than Anthony, we can certainly offset it by giving Arundhati a larger income to make the income/work package equal for her and Anthony.  

The point is, in thinking about equitable economic conditions, we have to think in terms of not just equitable remuneration but also equitable circumstances. The only real justification for differential allocation of circumstances is if this benefits output, and in turn everyone. But surely, even if this were the case one would then offset the situation for the party who was suffering worse conditions with a higher income, while the party benefiting from better circumstances would receive a lower income. 

This attitude toward making circumstances equitable is already inherent in the discussion of income and in the choice to remunerate according to effort and sacrifice, but it is worth pointing out on its own account for clarity’s sake. We will return later to the implications of equilibrating not only the quality of work in different jobs, but also how different jobs empower workers. But for now we consider the next area of concern about guiding values. 

 

Self-Management 

The fourth area of great concern we set forth is power and participation: To what extent should economic agents affect outcomes? As with remuneration, here too we have a particular controversial value we favor, so we need to make a careful case on its behalf. What should be our norm for the influence any actor should have over economic outcomes? Three primary options exist.  

1    Vest most power in a few actors and leave the rest very little say over decisions that affect them. 

2    Distribute power more equally, with each actor always having one vote in a majority-rules process. 

3    Vary the way power is distributed depending on the relation of each actor to specific decisions. Sometimes you get more say, sometimes I get more say. The issue then becomes defining the criteria that determine how much say any of us have in one decision as compared to another. 

The first option—giving the most say to a few people—is generally and rightly labeled authoritarian because it gives to the few disproportionate power over the many. In the political realm we call it dictatorship or oligarchy and generally reject it as being incompatible with respecting the rights of all humans. But if it is wrong to have a political elite decide our political conditions because we should each have some say in this, then surely it is also wrong for an economic elite to decide our economic conditions—on the same grounds that we should each have some say in this. 

The second option, one-person-one-vote majority rule in all things, is often called democracy. But consider me as I was typing this page. Should you have had a vote on what computer I used, or on whether I turned the light on at my desk, or on whether I had my window open? No, I should make all those decisions myself, authoritatively, just as you should decide when and whether to turn to the next page of this book or to instead set this book aside and read something more entertaining, or to take a bath, for that matter. 

It doesn’t take but a minute of unconstrained thinking to realize that praising one-person-one-vote decision-making says little about a general norm for decision-making. To invoke majority rule universally ignores that out of the wide diversity of decisions that arise in social interactions and economic life only a relative few are properly handled by giving everyone a single vote and tallying the results. Should the workers at GM and Boeing and those at the corner grocery have an equal vote on whether workers at Ford take a lunch break at twelve noon or a half hour later? Obviously not. 

What emerges is that to have a sensible decision-making norm requires that actors have a range of decision-making influence, from very little to overwhelming, depending on how greatly decisions in turn affect them. But how do we determine where on this broad range one’s power should fall for any particular decision? 

Suppose that you have a desk in a workplace. You are deciding whether to place a picture of your child on that desk. How much say should you have? Or suppose that instead of a picture of your child, you want to place a stereo there and play it loudly in the vicinity of your workmates. How much say should you have about that? 

There is probably no one who wouldn’t answer that as to the picture you should have full and complete say, but as to the stereo you ought to have limited say, depending on who else would hear the music and therefore be affected by your choice. And suppose we then ask how much say other folks should have? The answer, obviously, depends on the extent to which the decision would affect them. 

The norm we favor is thus that to the extent that we can arrange it, each actor in the economy should influence economic outcomes in proportion to how those outcomes affect him or her. Our say in decisions should reflect how much they affect us. That’s the only norm that treats all actors with equal respect and that accords all actors the same claims on power without reducing decision-making to a mechanical process divorced from the logic of its implications. If an alternative norm is different, then it must be saying that some people should sometimes have disproportionately more say and other people should sometimes have disproportionately less say in decisions that affect them. What moral justification can there be for regarding different humans with such disparity? 

But is there a plausible pragmatic argument against our norm? Of course there is. Take a very young child. Do we think that this child ought to have overwhelming influence on decisions that affect her overwhelmingly? Or do we say that due to the child’s incapacity to understand and make judgments, a parent must make decisions for her? We all therefore easily recognize that one reason for abrogating the norm that each actor should influence decisions in proportion to how the outcomes of those decisions will likely affect him or her is that someone may be incapable of doing this in his or her own interest and in light of his or her own needs and with an effective understanding of the dynamics involved. As to whether this paternalistic caveat has any bearing on economic evaluations, we would like to wait for specific cases in later chapters. The point here is that if we can describe institutions that allow people to have input into decision-making in proportion to how much they are affected while maintaining the quality of economic functions, then we will have attained a desirable result in everyone’s view. 

 

Diversity 

For reasons of vicarious benefit as when we enjoy other people doing things we can’t do or don’t have time to do, and also as a hedge against placing all our eggs in one wrong basket, everyone easily agrees that diverse and varied outcomes are generally better than homogenous ones. We don’t want to create a massive investment project ruling out all other possibilities without exploring and even being prepared to create parallel endeavors in case we were in error about our priority preference or in case there are diverse preferences not met by the preferred option. We don’t want to regiment life in any respect, cultural or economic. 

People vary, on the one hand, and thus benefit from varied options. And on the other hand, without diversity there is a huge probability we will make egregious mistakes, traveling down a single path that turns out to be inferior to others that we failed to explore. Thus, assuming equal attention to other values, surely one economy will excel above another if in fulfilling its functions it also promotes and supports greater rather than lesser diversity. Homogenization of tastes, jobs, life conditions, material outcomes, and thought patterns is not a virtue. 

 

Solidarity 

We endorse solidarity. It is better if people get along with one another than if they violate one another. In two economies that equally respect and fulfill all other values we favor, would anyone deny that attaining more solidarity is better than attaining less? 

To care about one another’s well-being as fellow humans is surely good. To view one another as objects to exploit or with other hostile intentions is surely bad. No one who is at all progressive would disagree. So clearly an economy that enhances solidarity by entwining people’s interests is better than an economy that yields precisely the same outputs and allocations, but creates hostility by pitting actors against one another. 

 

Efficiency 

Of course, in addition to solidarity, diversity, equity, and participatory self-management, there is one more evaluative norm we must keep in mind. It will not do, for example, to have economic institutions that promote all our economic values but do not get the economic job done. It will not do, that is, to have an economy that does not meet expressed needs, or that does so to a limited degree though delivering fewer or less desirable outputs than would have been possible with more efficient operations. 

But that said, having these five values—solidarity, diversity, equity, and participatory self-management, plus meeting-expressed needs without waste—gets us a long way toward being able to judge economies. If an economy obstructs one or more of these values, to that degree, we do not like it. On the other hand, if an economy furthers these preferred values, that’s very good, though we must still look further to see if there are any offsetting problems. 

In other words, the values enunciated in this chapter take us not quite all the way to a full resolution regarding evaluating economies. They can help us pinpoint severe failings that should cause us to label economies inadequate. But though these values mean to be encompassing and critically important so that not furthering them is a damning criticism, there are many other values—such as privacy, personal freedom, artistic fulfillment, or even something specific like the right to employ others for personal gain—which might (or might not) also merit attention. And we can imagine that our favored values could come into conflict with one or more of these other values in certain contexts—for example, more solidarity might reduce privacy, or more self-management might reduce quality of outputs—in which case someone could argue that one of our values should be somewhat sacrificed to attain conflicting desirable ends. 

The only effective way to assess these complicating possibilities is with more specificity. We must judge the merits of specific economic institutions or whole economic types. Our judgments about economic components and whole economies will reveal the particular valuations that we favor, and readers can decide for themselves whether our conclusions are worthy or not. To start, we will utilize as guiding values solidarity, diversity, equity, self-management, and efficiently meeting needs and developing capacities.