The Political Economy of Participatory Economics - by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel


I am an invisible man.... I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids--and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

-Ralph Ellison

If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time!

-James Baldwin

In chapter 1, we explained why traditional economic solutions are incompatible with participation and equity. More specifically we explained why private enterprise, hierarchical production and consumption, and markets and central planning subvert selfmanagement and solidarity and bias the conditions of economic choice in ways that lead to increasing inefficiencies.

So a participatory, egalitarian economy must consist of nonhierarchical production and consumption relations and nonmarket, noncentral planning allocation.

Following this injunction, in chapters 2 and 3 we described procedures for making production and consumption participatory and equitable. We explained the importance of democratic councils, balanced work complexes, and participatory workplace and consumption decision making, noting the information that allocation procedures would have to provide to make these institutions viable. Specifically, we argued that participatory economics requires:

1. Councils that foster economic democracy within each workplace and consumption unit.

2. Balanced work complexes and egalitarian consumption opportunities.

3. Workplace and consumption decision making norms emphasizing the wellbeing of producers and consumers alike and promoting solidarity.

And we argued that none of this was incompatible with an efficient use of productive potentials or with incentives needed to elicit effort.

In chapter 4 we described participatory allocation including iterative bargaining, rules for converging, procedures for updating plans, facilitation boards, and how the "communicative tools" of prices, measures of work, and qualitative information would be utilized. In chapter 5 we demonstrated that a formal model of our participatory economy converges to an efficient plan under far less stringent and more realistic assumptions than traditional alternatives. We also explained why realistic versions of participatory planning could be expected to better approximate the performance of its formal model than realistic versions of market or central planning approximate the performance of their formal models.

This allowed us to argue the superiority of participatory economics, subject to concerns about the viability of its practical implementation. Finally, in chapter 6 we presented a methodology for simulation and policy "experiments" that might further substantiate our claim that participatory economics is a viable as well as desirable economic option.

We believe we have made a prima facie case for further examining a participatory vision. For those who would like to live in a better world, the implications seem clear. Quoting Noam Chomsky, "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."

Return to Index