Parecon and Society: Pareconish Intellectual Agendas

Here is still another draft chapter for a new book about participatory economics and the rest of society that I am working on — this one is for near the end of the book…and shorter than most.


New ideas have intellectual value largely revealed by their impact on further new ideas beyond themselves. Does an innovative idea open new doors or does it lead nowhere, sitting dormant?

Of course the main new doors for innovative social ideas to open are practical, in our case striving to attain new institutional relations. But we can also ask whether pareconish insights embody any intellectual agenda. Do they raise any new questions to explore further? How does parecon fare by this standard? What intellectual tasks arise from parecon’s claims?

One type of intellectual extension of pareconish insights will be exploring each new concept or claim it makes about existing capitalism more deeply and fully. For example, one can imagine a deeper look at markets to discern the details of their various parecon highlighted attributes – their anti-social impact on personalities, distortion of public/private consumption ratios, constraining of the trajectory of investments, snowballing mispricing of items with external effects, coercive imposition on work length and intensity, coecive imposition on work organization and divisions of labor, and coercive implications for class definition and rule.

Or one can imagine similar extensive explorations of capitalist workplaces and their divisions of labor and modes of decision making. For example, what is the relation between different modes of conveying and assessing information in decisions and the influence various actors have on their outcomes in capitalist firms? Or what is the relation between different corporate decision tallying methods and actor influences? In turn, what impact does the choice of decision making hierarchy and corporate division of labor have on capitalist technological innovations and work methodologies, and what effects do those implications have on profit seeking, quality of output, waste of talents and of resources, and so on.

One could also imagine explicitly examining the implications of the existence and agendas of the coordinator class for capitalist dynamics. How do coordinator agendas impact profit-seeking, competition, workplace organization and decision-making, and the interface between workers and owners? What typifies relations between the coordinator class and the capitalists above them, on the one hand, and between the coordinator class and the workers below them on the other hand? What consciousnesses, preferences, and interests emerge in the respective classes, and how do these affect life in society, everything from economic motives, income distribution, and consumption patterns to family relations, schooling, sports, culture, and so on?

Another broad route for extrapolation of pareconish insights bears on parecon itself. We can explore further the properties of parecon or of possible extensions and variations of it.

We don’t want to make either of two mistakes: 1) thinking that all parecons will be alike and that by naming/describing a possible feature of a parecon we are naming/describing an actual feature that must always be present in all pareconish societies. Or 2) thinking that we have the means and information to closely read the future, or, for that matter, that there is any good reason to want to try to do so. We don’t need blueprints. The details of future economies and societies will of course emerge from the now unpredictable choices of their citizens, not from prognostications much less instructions developed in advance. People will do what they want to do.

But, that said, to further explore the logic and implications of the key broad defining institutions of parecon, both intellectually and in practical experiments, and to use the resulting insights to both improve the vision (without over-specifying the future) and to refine our comprehension of it and thus our ability to advocate it effectively, are valuable undertakings.

So, for example, what more can we say about the specifically economic implications of workers and consumers councils, self managed decision making, balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, and participatory planning? The issue isn’t trying to foresee tenth order or even third or perhaps second order impact. The issue is to further elaborate and comprehend the main very broad defining implications of these structural choices for liberating people’s options, behaviors, consciousness, and fulfillment and development in order to see and test and investigate the worthiness and the viability of the broad features.

A third broad area of further parecon informed research and intellectual innovation involves elaborating on what has been loosely discussed in this book which is the interface between economy and the rest of society, first regarding capitalism itself and then regarding participatory economics.

For example, what are the deeper and more detailed ways that the “field of force” emanating from current capitalist economic institutions impacts other realms of current society including gender, race, politics, ecology, international relations, education, science, art, and so on. And, what are the effects back, in the reverse direction, between other realms of society and capitalist economy?

How do capitalist markets, the corporate division of labor, and the three class economic structure imposed by capitalism impact the definition of family life, education, cultural communities, political parties, science and technology, and art and music?

Are families seriously constrained and textured by the processes of market participation and competition? Do they deeply embody class consciousness and if so, in what respects for each class? Do they even internally replicate, in some degree, economic structure such as divisions of labor or class relations? Do they produce adults without economic categorization or do they produce members of classes? Is sexism that exists alongside capitalism and that is impacted by capitalism different than sexism per se? Is it molded and constrained due to class pressures, market pressures, etc.?

How, more exactly than we have in this book argued, does education in a society with capitalist economics reflect economic influences and constraints? Does the pedagogy, methodology, and roles of those who teach and learn embody imprints of economy? Does the subject matter? Does the distribution of educational opportunities? And so on.

Are racial, religious, and ethnic communities internally differentiated differently than they might otherwise be due to existing in the field of influence of capitalist economics? Do they show a significant impact of market competition and commercialization? Do they internally abide, reproduce, or incorporate class divisions? Do their modes of self definition, celebration, and mutual interaction embody features imposed by capitalist competition, class division, or remunerative logic?

Do the structure, role offerings, and program of political parties and the roles and practices of the state reflect the pressures of capitalist competition, profit seeking, accumulation, and class division and rule? Does the state contradict the existence of classes, accommodate the existence of classes, or actually reproduce the class hierarchies of capitalism? Do its internal methods embody corporate norms and logic?

Is the structure of science and technology impacted in both the processes employed, the roles available, the discoveries made and especially emphasized, the insights gleaned and communicated, and the products researched, conceived, designed, and especially widely implemented, reflect impositions from and connections to economic relations of the market, corporations, profit seeking, and so on?

Is the production and enjoyment of art and music different than its intrinsic qualities would dictate by virtue of impositions from the economy? Are the artist’s work conditions and well being impacted? Is the choice of focus? Is the remuneration and the dissemination? Are the music tastes of people freely arrived at or does peoples’ position in the economy, their class, tend to bias their preferences?

And what about the reverse dynamics to those noted above? In particular, how does the sexist field of force, the racist field of force, and the politically authoritarian field of force that emanate from those spheres of social life as they are currently constituted contextualize, constrain, contour, and even define features of capitalist economy?

Are workplaces to some extent like families or cultural communities, or like political states in their operations, structures, and role offerings? Are classes impacted by gender, race, and political divisions? Does the way corporate divisions of labor play out vary in the presence of influences from other parts of society? Are there counterparts of men and women, or mothers and daughters and fathers and sons in workplaces? Is there a racial community dynamic in work’s roles and products? Does market competition get contoured and constrained by the state’s intrinsic political logic? And so on.

Just a little thought reveals all kinds of examples of mutual implications – and many different schools of radical thought have of course tackled questions like those raised above, and indeed their insights have in many respects provided the impetus for the inclusion of the questions here. But perhaps more study which in particular includes pareconish insights and modes of thought can discern additional features and especially patterns and dynamics that provide explanation and, most important, have strategic implications for activists seeking change.

And finally, in accord with the intellectual priorities of the rest of this book, all the above issues bearing on the mutual relations of capitalist economics and forces emanating from other dimensions of life apply also to the future. That is, a pareconish intellectual agenda includes further exploring the relations discussed in this book between pareconish economic innovations and existing dynamics in other parts of contemporary life – the implications of parecon for racism, sexism, political authoritarianism, unconstrained growth, and vice versa, but, more, it also includes the further elaboration of vision for other spheres of life and then the exploration of the interface between revolutionized other aspects of life and parecon.

That is, a big pareconish intellectual agenda item is for activists and movements to generate a compelling vision for other parts of society, and in particular for kinship and gender/sexuality, for community and race/religion, for politics and the state and citizenship, and for relations to nature and relations among societies.

One possibility bearing on this desire, indeed, is that the path of conception and advocacy of parecon is more or less repeatable. Perhaps we can set out key values, refine them for each new sphere of life we address, and then seek to conceptualize and comprehend new institutions for that sphere that get its key functions accomplished in accord with the values.

For example, a feminist intellectual agenda influenced by pareconish commitments might say something like the kinship sphere is concerned with procreation, sexuality in all its dimensions, nurturance, socialization, and the handling of associated daily life relations. It might posit as guiding values solidarity, diversity, equity (meaning in this case that people should have kinship related conditions and responsibilities commensurate to their age and biology but with zero other group differentiation – thus no gender, sexual, or age social hierarchies), and self management. And it might then seek to describe feminist living and sexual arrangements – obviously celebrating a great diversity of types but perhaps also including certain key defining structures able to accomplish the kinship functions while advancing the guiding values.

Or, similarly, anti racists and others concerned about cultural and community liberation might note that community is about self definition, communication, celebration, etc., and might posit values such as solidarity, diversity, equity and security (in this case for cultural communities), and self management, and might then conceive and advocate multicultural (or perhaps it might be called intercommunal) ways of communities defining and mutually interacting with one another to accomplish cultural functions without generating hierarchies of community security, status, or power.

Similarly, anarchists and others concerned about political relations might note that politics is about legislation of shared norms, adjudication of disputes and violations, and implementation of collective projects and programs, and might pose as values solidarity, diversity, and equity/justice (meaning some kind of desirable distribution of accountability and responsibility), and self management, and might then conceive and advocate liberatory new structures to accomplish political functions consistent with enhancing our political values.

Finally, in all these cases, as for the economy, another task will be to pose strategic implications of the visionary insights and to test and continually refine methods in practical work…which activity we at least introduce in our next chapter.

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