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This compact guide to an economy without bosses presents Parecon, a genuine alternative to the current broken and toxic economic system. Written in Michael Albert’s usual poetic and compassionate style, the book envisions a better world free of the ills of capitalism and starts us on the path for getting there.
He doesn’t dwell on existing problems. Enough has been written about those and we’re all too aware of them. Navel-gazing about them doesn’t take us out of our predicament; it only tells us how clever we are at analysing our predicament. In No Bosses, there’s no navel-gazing, no retreading of the predictable, no doomism. This book is optimistically and exclusively future-orientated and solution-focused. But in abiding in the realm of solutions for the future, Albert goes further than simply announcing the aims of his proposed alternative economy. His model is fleshed out with detail, starting with values and arriving at the defined features of institutions within the economy. And this is really what makes his work stand out from pretty much everyone else who inhabits this arena.
In the earlier chapters, the book proposes a model for a new kind of workplace, with not a boss in sight, going far beyond what today’s co-operatives offer their worker-owners. It puts forward a framework that, if applied, has the potential to create a truly equal and just workplace and economy: non-ownership rather than ownership; self-management in decision-making rather than authoritarianism; pay based on effort and sacrifice rather than reward for property or power; solidarity rather than cut-throat competition; diversity rather than uniformity and conformity; ecological sustainability rather than extraction and exploitation; collective ownership through consumer and worker councils rather than private ownership; internationalism rather than war-mongering; balanced jobs which have a fair mix of the rote and empowering work rather than jobs with the typical division of labour we’ve come to accept.
And when it comes to the thorny subject of allocation, a central component of any economy, No Bosses goes straight for the jugular, rejecting outright the market and central planning, and calling out their inherent flaws. Often, models for an alternative economy stop short of doing this. They don’t envisage a future without markets, believing that we’re stuck with them, and instead propose ways the current market model can be tweaked or altered to make it less rapacious, less callous, a little bit kinder to the huddled masses and the planet and giving us some crumbs from the table. There’s no such resignation from Albert. He snaps us out of the myth that we have no alternative to markets or central planning, and provides us with a radically different other way: participatory planning, a hands-on approach which requires negotiation between councils of consumers and workers. This is fresh thinking that’s worth serious consideration, especially in the face of climate and ecological crises.
The penultimate chapter of the book does something rare. It gives an analysis not of the present but of the future, specifically of the Parecon vision for the future. It gives practical advice to those of us who want fundamental change, discussing how we can win reforms while not being reformist; how we can organise to achieve those reforms and plant the seeds of the future in the present; and how we can to go beyond the sentiment of “fighting the good fight” that so often dampens our belief that we can realise progressive change. In this chapter, Albert manages to instil in his reader a confidence that we can and will win.
By the end of the book, we come to understand that Parecon is just one part of a wider vision for an entirely participatory society called Parsoc, which brings the same egalitarian principles into our political systems, into our gender, sexual and familial functions, into our culture and communities, into our ecology and environment.
Read No Bosses and you will be changed. Read it and you will have hope. Read it and you will want to live in a Parsoc world. Read it and you will ask yourself, why aren’t we doing this already?
Bridget Meehan is a left activist and writer, and is co-founder of the Northern Mutual campaign for a mutual bank in the north of Ireland and of Collaboration for Change. She is a member of the Collective20 group of writers. She gave a presentation on her mutual bank project at the Feasta/CEF event Banking on the Community, in April 2021.