Ehrenreich Interviews Albert Q/A 6

Ehrenreich: Have you ever tried to calculate the human labor costs of all the planning involved in parecon? Or maybe I should say “time” not dollar “costs.”

Yes, in the various books the issue of time allotment is certainly addressed. And the discussions not only look at the time it takes to plan, which is only one side of the coin, but also at the time gained due to eliminating diverse kinds of no longer needed activity when we change to a parecon.

Some people, especially when hearing a brief summary of parecon, worry that self consciously deciding on what to produce and consume by a negotiated cooperative process will take too long. I have two answers. First, no, it won’t. The planning process in a parecon is confined to a couple of weeks and only takes part time attention over that span. But, second, even prior to that answer, we have to decide what would count as being too long. That is, when someone asks me about the cost of planning in time expended, I want to try to communicate that this is at worst a trade off.

Let’s say the total time that you as a consumer have to spend thinking about and implementing your consumption choices would go up in a parecon by a factor of two, or even three or four, depending on how much time you spend now – which, I think is quite exaggerated, unless you spend very little time now. Okay, that would be a cost, to be sure.

But would it be a deal breaker? To know that, you have to look at both sides of the equation. You have to weigh the new time costs (which I deny). But you also have to weigh countervailing gains – such as having no ruling class, having equitable work conditions and income distribution, having accurate pricing, having no drive toward individualism, no poverty, no products designed to wear out, and so on, through many more gains.

Okay, let’s say someone really values time a whole lot. For this person spending extra time on consumption outweighs attaining classlessness and all the rest. Even in that case, he or she would still need to consider the countervailing implications of having participatory planning for time savings and not just its implications for new time expenditures.

For example, parecon affects the length of the workday. Where markets increase workday length by their competitive logic regardless of the wills of actors to have more leisure, participatory planning leaves the choice entirely in the hands of actors in light of their preferences for leisure versus income. Likewise, there are time savings due to the absence of class struggle, the elimination of the IRS, the end of redundant and wasteful production, the end of having to clean up the messes produced by market competition in the ecology, etc. And even regarding consumption itself, there are very substantial time savings due to actors having accurate information, and, in particular, due to sensible collective consumption obviating the need for quite a lot of individual consumption as we now know it, as well as by producing for durability rather than market-induced built-in obsolescence. All this is dealt with in the book, by the way.

So, okay, in light of all this would planning in a parecon take inordinately longer than consuming does now plus the time for other activities that parecon replaces? In a parecon, you have to spend some time over the course of a week or two entering your budget and interacting with the overall process. I suspect this won’t take longer than people now spend doing tax returns, say, and worrying about how to pay bills, or recuperating from purchases made due to false advertising, or having to do personal consumption that would be rendered irrational in a parecon, or producing or cleaning up wasteful and useless outputs, and so on. After the plan exists, time spent making adaptations as the year proceeds really isn’t significantly different than time spent nowadays on consumption or production decisions, though it is carried out very differently, with different implications.

My reaction to averting time expenditures by utilizing is therefore twofold. Markets are harmful. Even if they are utilized for one product, which isn’t what would occur, the price of that product will be wrong and that wrong price will enter in every other industry incorrectly. The workers in the market driven industry will be motivated to seek surplus and will be unfairly remunerated as compared to all other workers who are motivated by fulfilling needs and remunerated for effort and sacrifice. The marketized workplace structure will push toward class division. More, it makes no sense to have an infrastructure for “market exchange” and have only a few goods marketed. In fact, it only has sense to both consume via the participatory plan and also via markets if there are lots of things to buy on the market. But then all the associated ills of markets would be spreading — and we may as well have markets for everything and say goodbye to classlessness. And second, the purported time gain is false, in any event.

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