Albert Refoinder 1


Your first question: “But what if [some] people affected by [its] decisions are not members of [that] community?”

Suppose I am thinking about my consumption. I decide on some of this, some of that, up to my expected budget. If all my stuff is produced, other items are foregone. You might have wanted one of those other items. Likewise, perhaps one of the things I receive generates side effects when I consume it or when it was produced, impacting far away. Or suppose I work in some plant and we propose a technology innovation. If we get it, the productive potential is utilized our way, not some other way. It improves conditions in our plant which affects us locally, but it also affects the people who consume what we produce. How can everyone’s will possibly be proportionately manifested in all choices?

It happens because we each indicate what we want in our planning proposals as workers and consumers, receive back information about other people’s preferences and product availabilities, modify our requests, receive new information, and modify again, until a plan is settled on.

When we offer initial preferences, how do we know what to request or offer? The planning process starts off utilizing last year’s relative valuations of goods and services. I know my preferences, and have a good estimate of my likely income, and so I can propose my consumption. Likewise, I and my workmates know how much of our product people wanted last year, broadly know changes in conditions, broadly know our own preferences, see the starting valuations, and can offer an initial production proposal.

All these proposals are summed and summarized and we get back improved estimates of final prices (valuations) and income, and also indications of how out of whack the demand for each item is relative to the supply, plus relevant qualitative information. We re-enter new proposals and each new round is called an iteration. Over a bunch of iterations the (indicative) prices move toward accurate measures of true social costs and benefits while supply and demand converge.

My preference to settle on some amount of nuts and a new bicycle and to replace my computer, and so on, reflects true social costs of these and all other items and my income level. The overall planning process socially determines all these. The whole thing is a “general equilibrium system” wherein every part influences all other parts.

Parecon’s incredible claim is that my impact on valuations, production, and income, gives me an appropriate say over the amount of each good being produced. My say is greater where I am more affected, and less where I am less affected – as evidenced by the tenacity or the malleability of my preferences responding to disjunctures between supply and demand.

If you actually dissect the final agreed plan, you discover that what we are all producing and consuming has been influenced by what everyone else is consuming and producing with the right intensity. I don’t want to exaggerate this – the real world isn’t a mathematical model – but deviations are not systemic. They result from inaccuracies, ignorance, etc. and don’t bias in any direction or to any constituency’s advantage.

If the price of an item climbs, I have an incentive to no longer request the volume I previously desired. The price rises when the preferences of other producers and consumers compels it too, by virtue of them seeking to fulfill themselves just as I am seeking for myself. And please note, this is not a market. No one is competing. The prices emerge from negotiations in which actors do not get ahead at each other’s expense.

You ask: “…what if the choice is being made in Chicago, and those affected by the pollution live in Bangladesh?”

The assumption is that participatory planning operates within a country. If workers in Chicago propose a new technology for some firms there, and if that technology spews pollution that impacts Michigan, then the desires for clean air in Michigan in turn appropriately impact the choice. This occurs because both consumption and production are handled via the councils that encompass the constituencies affected. You are right, however, that if Bangladesh is operating with a typical market system, the desires and preferences of people there will not appropriately influence the decision. The cost of the items coming from Bangladesh, or going to it, or being dropped on it, won’t be registered accurately and the consumers there will have unequal means of manifesting their desires.

The solution is for a parecon to trade with poorer nations using the prices the nation suggests or the prices that the parecon feels are accurate indicators of true social costs and benefits, whichever benefits the poorer nation most. Beyond this, a parecon would easily accommodate desirable institutions of international exchange – optimally seeking to extend pareconish norms internationally.

You are right that “most parecon communities will not be self-sufficient.” Most get many items from a distance, and likewise many workplaces will provide outputs to places quite distant. The choice between a community producing an item for itself or importing the item from some distance relies on weighing off the real relative benefits and costs in ecological impact, social relations of the work, assets utilized, and consumption fulfilment. Small and local is sometimes but not always beautiful.

You write, “We all know that some communities…face conditions so desperate that their immediate self-interest is met by selling cheap in order to find a market. So what is to stop communities with high purchasing power from exploiting them?”

This raises two questions, one about relative communities inside a country with a parecon, the other about the international situation. In a parecon, could some regions exploit others? No, because there is no such thing as a rich locale and a poor one inside a parecon, at least regarding living conditions and incomes. Everyone who does socially useful work has an average income (or a bit more or less due to longevity or intensity). Income levels of citizens are not correlated to an area’s natural resources, fertility, etc. Income is also not correlated to volume of product. I don’t earn more if more people want my workplace’s product. I have no incentive to induce people to consume my product beyond what will truly benefit them. No one competes for market share in a parecon.

Regarding a parecon and another poorer capitalist economy, the parecon can be generous about abiding the parecon’s or the poorer nation’s prices, but justice beyond that requires international institutions.

You ask “where is the mechanism for distributing wealth between communities?” Suppose you live in a resource rich region and I live in a resource poor one. Since we each work at a balanced job complex, and each happen to work at the average work week length and intensity, we earn the same. The fact that your workplace is generating more valuable output doesn’t enlarge your income. The output ends in consumer’s hands. How much income a community earns depends on its population’s size and the intensity and duration of socially useful work they do (plus remuneration of those who can’t work).

Finally, suppose your area has lots of dilapidated workplaces, and my area has new ones. That my areas workplaces are more productive doesn’t cause me and to earn more. But don’t I at least enjoy better work conditions? No, because we all have balanced job complexes. (And if for a time we can’t attain balance, those with worse conditions earn more income to offset their sacrifice). Investments improve harshest conditions first, as that best improves everyone’s balanced job complex.

You ask, “What prevents members of a community from cheating, and thus secretly exploiting everyone else?” You have an income determined by your work level. You can only consume up to that income and doing so isn’t cheating. Cheating might be stealing, or faking illness and earning while doing so, or trading personal assets for income on the side. Obstacles are multiple. Even before mentioning laws, you can’t amass great wealth visibly because then everyone knows you are cheating because there is no other route to that kind of wealth.

But, let’s say you will be content hiding your gains in a deep cellar where you will put the goodies you accrue. Maybe you are a great tennis player and you sell lessons on the side, bartering for as much as people will give. One problem is they would have to pay in goods, not cash. So, if you can line up students willing to pay your high rates (and if they aren’t high, you aren’t getting anything you couldn’t get by just working longer hours), and if you can give the lessons on the sly (on what courts?), and if you are willing to take the toasters or furniture or whatever they barter to you and hide it all, you can have a go at it.

The point is, cheating is very difficult. It is against the social grain of the system – unlike now — and yields little benefit. The cost of being caught is whatever the polity decides to impose. This goes for theft too. You can’t steal large quantities of cigarettes and then sell them. You could steal Rembrants and admire them in your basement, but again the penalties are whatever the polity decides, of course.

You ask “if someone wants more of something than they have been allotted by the resource-use decision of the community, what stops them from purchasing it, and what prevents those with the ability to produce it from supplementing their official income by supplying it?”

First, the amount I get isn’t decided by the community, but by the entire planning system including myself, the producers, etc. And the amount of everything that I get is the amount I requested at the final true social costs. Some workers council decides they are going to moonlight and produce extra bicycles and sell them on the sly. Why? They already had desirable income and conditions and more would be hard to conceal. There is no cash that they can pocket. They don’t have inputs to use to actually build the bikes. There is no audience to buy the bikes, no place to sell them, and so on. Even if they managed it all, their income would be what it was before – unless the extra work they do is, in fact, part of the legitimate economy and therefore tallied as socially useful labor.

I appreciate that you are taking lessons from history and seek to determine if they create a problem for parecon. But it is important to realize that parecon is a very different animal than prior economies. Incentives, rewards, options, and possibilities are all dramatically transformed.

Your next concern is “how we get from here to there,” and you rightly note there are powerful forces that will defend the status quo.

We attain parecon by building massive movements for social change, and by winning reforms that leave movements structurally stronger and desiring more gains rather than satiated and dissolved. Ultimately movements become not simply a dissident force, but the dominant agency in society. Worker and consumer councils administer communities and finally take hold of workplaces. There is no reason to think capitalism, or any other ism that we currently endure, is forever. But attaining parecon implies that our movements should nurture solidarity, teach and develop self management, and develop the infrastructure of the new society (councils, etc.).

You say, if some country has such a transformation, or a few do, “will not the owners of property be mustering their forces to seize back what they believe is theirs?” The answer is yes and no. If parecon is attained in Cuba, Guatemala, Burma, or Malaysia, undoubtedly elites around the world would seek to destroy or suffocate it, and perhaps succeed. If parecon comes into being in England, France, or Australia, etc. – if there were not massive restraints on the U.S. imposed by movements here, intervention would also likely occur. But, if the change were underway in the U.S. and also in many other places in the world, prospects are different.

Of course owners will try to preserve their advantages. But, in time, via the amassing of moral authority and great numbers, plus the power of strikes and other manifestations, a trajectory of non reformist reforms can steadily erode elite prerogatives and enlarge ours, up to the final fateful switch from our being an opposition to our being in possession of our society/economy. Of course there will be struggle and strife. There is right now, everyday, all over. The scale it reaches will depend on how successfully movements create conditions that limit the effectiveness of the use of force, on the one hand, and that recruit the police and military agents of force, on the other hand.

You are right that “there is no net profit” in  parecon, but it is because that category simply doesn’t exist. Production generates the GNP. People make claims on that due to the longevity and intensity of their work at balanced job complexes. Some part of the output is allotted to investment, and to support those who cannot work or who have special health needs, etc. So the whole product is utilized, equitably. No one profits. We all earn.

You say, “What is to prevent those with saleable skills from leaving the parecon communities to earn much bigger incomes in the capitalist communities?”

If the U.S. is pareconish, and Britain is capitalist, a person who does surgery and various unempowering tasks in the U.S. would have reason to go to Britain to be a surgeon there avoiding the dull labor and earning way more. On the other hand, the person would lose the benefits of living in a just and equitable society. The reverse situation also holds. Doctors in other lands might wish to come to the U.S. to escape alienation, indignities, and so on. I think a sensible parecon will say good riddance to those who wish to leave, and will do fine replacing them from the 80% of the population who had previously been held back. And this is without even discussing improvements in efficiency and focus of healthcare, improved social conditions, etc. Even for economies that are far less desirable than a parecon…say the Cuban economy… the flight of the highly trained was limited and was more than compensated by education of the domestic populace.

You ask, even if “the entire planet instantaneously converted to parecon. What prevents the young and independent, the ruthless and the greedy, from gaining advantage over the elderly, dependent, less ruthless and less greedy, by re-inventing capitalism?”

Why not say, what now prevents folks from going down the street and ripping off every elderly person they can scout out? Or what now prevents people from reinventing slavery, or monarchy, or feudalism? In a parecon, you would need to tell me what some greedy ruthless slug could do that would lead in the direction you indicate.

Your suggestion is, “What prevents them from breaking away by trading among each other, and with those weaker people foolish or frightened enough to do business with them?” Like people breaking away now to set up a slave plantation? What are they using for electricity in their workplaces and for other inputs to produce whatever they are exchanging? Who is going to be their wage slaves?




Leave a comment