Albert Rejoinder to Monbiot 2


About your first point: A parecon is workers’ and consumers’ councils inside a country. Having a parecon would remove class differences, make incomes equitable, eliminate economic alienation, deliver economic self-management, attend to true social costs and benefits, and produce in accord with needs and potentials, in that country. It would respond infinitely more easily and receptively to pressures from international institutions than a capitalist economy would. So your saying that a U.S. parecon couldn’t respond to the people of Bangladesh directly through its participatory planning system is true, but it is not, I think, a criticism of parecon. It does point up the value of having parecon globally, however.

Your second point – indeed, the rest of your essay — urges that human nature, because it is greedy and cunning systematically produces capitalism. Parecon, in contrast, you argue, requires a population of angels to work properly, and since we’re not angels, we’re stuck with capitalism.

You are right that we have different views of human nature, but it is not that I think people are angels. Instead I know that people can be social and caring as well as greedy and cunning. Thus, I don’t simply assume, as you do, that people will invariably be greedy, regardless of the incentives of the institutions under which they live. In fact, even though capitalism rewards greed and cunning and punishes solidarity and decency, nonetheless, almost everyone expresses decency and solidarity every day.

Parecon’s citizens consume from an income they get for expending effort in socially useful labor. Negotiated cooperative planning settles on prices that reflect true social costs and benefits. Workers and consumers self-manage economics without class differences. In a parecon the reason you will care about other people could be that you are good-willed and haven’t had your social inclinations obliterated by an economy which instills callousness – but even if you are greedy and uncaring, there will be powerful pressures and incentives on you to act in accord with other people’s interests because to do well in a parecon you must make choices that treat others well. Your overall work conditions improve if and only if society’s average work conditions improve. Your share of the social income increases if and only if your share of the effort and sacrifice increases. You have proportionate influence, like everyone else.

You ask, “Are you…proposing to alter human nature? If so, how?” People in parecon have the same genes as we have now, but parecon’s citizens encounter different “incentives, rewards, options, and possibilities.” They can’t sell their labor time for a wage. They can’t amass bargaining power to enlarge their income. They can’t corner market share to get wealthy. They can’t hire wage slaves. They can’t dump pollution on communities to benefit at other’s expense. They can’t have more than proportionate voice in decision-making. Parecon makes all these possibilities not only socially but also personally counter-productive.

You say, the underlying problem with parecon is that “it takes no account of human cunning, human greed, the human appetite for power.”

If you said – this feature of parecon (maybe the remunerative scheme, or the job complexes, or the planning system) yields an “opportunity for power and exploitation” that parecon ignores, which leads to these horrible consequences — I would have something to react to. But you haven’t discussed any property of parecon, much less revealed a negative trajectory that parecon would suffer due to “human cunning, human greed, the human appetite for power.” 

You say, I “dismiss the lessons of history with a flick of the wrist here, a flick of the wrist there.”

Some things arguably deserve to be dismissed – but certainly not the lessons of history such as that if you have markets, you will have valuations that trash the environment. If you have corporate divisions of labor, you will have a coordinator class dominating a working class. If you have central planning, you will violate self-management. If you remunerate output or property, you will have economic inequality that will be parlayed into class division.

I reject markets, central planning, corporate divisions of labor, and remuneration of property, power, or output, precisely because of the lessons of history. I opt for balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, council self-management, and participatory planning also because of history’s lessons. If an economy’s institutions reward greed or power and permit their aggrandizement, you are right that violent rulers will subjugate restrained subjects, but parecon doesn’t have those properties.

You think human proclivities to accumulate and dominate will cause people to produce markets and class division within a parecon. Okay, that’s your intuition from your reading of history, but you can’t just proclaim it and expect me to assent. Saying something has existed doesn’t, by virtue of that, permit you to assume it always will. If your intuition is correct, you should be able to show it is correct.

For example, if you said inside a parecon here is where a market will form and how it will imperially expand to replace the participatory planning system and reintroduce class divisions, I would have to show that you were wrong or toss in the towel. But instead, you merely assert that there will inevitably be a market and based on that assertion you pay no attention to parecon’s non-market institutions and its claims that no market and no class hierarchies would emerge.

You ask, “what is an institution of exchange if it is not a market?” The question evidences confusion. Exchange is items changing hands. It exists in any economy. A market is a particular type of allocation in which competition between buyers and sellers sets exchange rates. Markets are a possible means of exchange but so is central planning, which is not a market. Participatory planning is another non-market means of allocation.

Thus, in a parecon relative valuations arise from cooperative negotiation, not competition. No units seek to maximize sales, not because people are angels, but because no one’s personal income is tied to increased sales. Workers do not sell their ability to work, not because people are angels, but because there is no labor market, just as there was no labor market under feudalism, where people also weren’t angels. Items are not bought and sold by buyers who try to buy cheap and sellers who try to sell dear — there is no incentive to do either. You can save in a parecon…but you can’t earn inordinate income. You can consume, but it will not include means of production. There is income and prices, but there is no profit and no market competition. Money is different in a parecon than in capitalism – as it is different in capitalism than in feudalism.

The reason cheating in a parecon is minimal is not only that people have desirable income and conditions but also that they have virtually no way to cheat, there is little to be gained by cheating (unless we are talking grand theft), and there is almost no way to enjoy the fruits of cheating because any inordinate consumption would be a dead give-away.

A parecon has a political system. The surrounding society undoubtedly has laws. You can’t steal my shirt, or beat me up, or kill me, and so on. I envision that some people will do such things and am quite happy to have a polity to deal with it. But for the economy, much more goes on. You can’t hire wage slaves not only because it is illegal, but because you would then have no self-managing councils so the participatory planning system wouldn’t relate to you. You can’t try to trick an audience into buying more to increase your income not only because you have no means to do it, but because how much you sell doesn’t increase your income and the planning system won’t provide inputs for non-socially worthwhile output in any case.

Without going through every “cunning” variation – here’s the one that comes closest to working. If you have a remarkable talent – let’s say you are a great tennis player and others love the sport — you could arguably go outside the participatory planning system to sell “black market” lessons to people who greatly want to get on the court with you. They can’t pay you because non-planned financial transfer isn’t part of the economy, but they can give you stuff. If they give you a lot, if you enjoy it publicly everyone will know you are violating social norms. To cheat significantly you therefore have to not only hide doing it and hide the transfers, you have to hide the gains too. Even with a jaundiced view of people, this is not a slippery slope to class division.

If you think that in a parecon there is some way to amass illegitimate and especially excessive wealth or power that I am missing, please point it out. If you think someone can even just improve their lot by being anti-social, show me how. But short of your doing that, I think it is actually you who is doing the assuming…not only that people suck but that the only possible outcome of human behavior is class hierarchy so that now and forever into the future we must and will inevitably have institutions which foster and reward class difference and as a result there is no point in even looking at any system that claims to be classless, since by assumption, such a system just can’t persist.

You write, “Unless you can show how you have taken the endlessly-demonstrated, endlessly-repeated instances of human cunning, power and greed into account and how you will counteract them, you have simply written a prescription for the tyranny of the cunning, the powerful and the greedy.”

What you mean by taking it into account is rewarding it, I think, which is an odd way to reduce it. What I mean by taking it into account, calls for the opposite approach, which parecon embodies.

George, you think there will be some very greedy, cunning, people who will stop at nothing to get ahead of the rest, and who will succeed and thereby impose hierarchy and class division on any parecon. Okay, fine, Let’s give one of these spoilers a name – Moneybags. Tell me what Moneybags is going to do to subvert parecon.

If you say he is going to rape, pillage, and murder, then of course he is going to be arrested – so I assume you don’t mean that. For this to be a serious argument you must mean that in the interstices of a parecon Moneybags is going to find ways to accumulate wealth and power to the point of disrupting its logic. But how?

He has to work at a balanced job complex because that’s all there is. He is remunerated for effort and sacrifice at socially valuable labor or he goes hungry. There is no road to riches or even inequity there. He works in some industry or industries, participating in workers’ councils where he has proportionate say, or else he is living in the forest by himself. So what does this greedy, cunning fellow do? Does he tell others he is so smart they should come work for him as wage slaves? Even if he improbably mesmerized an acolyte, the category wage slave doesn’t exist. And there are no profits to be had.

I find it strange that your critique of parecon does not involve any consideration of remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, workers and consumers councils, self-managed decision making, or participatory planning, either in the large, or in their possible particulars. You say you want to be convinced a classless economy is possible, but in that case you should not impose an a priori condition that if an economy doesn’t reward greed and cunning it cannot work – so that by definition, even without looking at its particulars, you can assert that any non-capitalist classless system will fail. 



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