Answering Anarchist Critics: Part 3


Addressing previously assembled anarchist concerns about participatory economics turned out to require too much space for one essay so I broke it into five parts. This is part 3. Please skip around however you like. 



The institutions parecon deems necessary for a fulfilling, free, informed, self managing and classless association of workers and consumers, are:


  • workers and consumers self managing councils in place of private ownership and top down decision making
  • remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work (plus need when medical or other reasons warrant) instead of remuneration for property, power, output, or only need
  • balanced job complexes equalizing the empowerment effects of jobs instead of corporate divisions of labor that include monopolization of empowering positions by a few
  • and participatory planning (or cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs) instead or markets, central planning, or combinations of the two, for allocation



Too Capitalist?


Criticism: One small branch of anarchism called primitivists, condemns Parecon for including work and workplaces, inputs and outputs, production and allocation and takes for granted the continuation of industrial civilization.


Response: Of course parecon takes for granted that human societies will continue producing goods and services and that there will be work in workplaces with inputs such as resources, intermediate goods, and labor – but also people and social relations. And also outputs in the same categories, including produced goods and services – but also people and social relations, waste, and pollution. 


Parecon takes these things for granted because not having these things would kill most of the world’s population and leave the few who survive with horribly restricted existences. 


Work, workplaces, and inputs and outputs accompany social life of all types. To escape alienation, oppression, and ecological degradation by doing away with industry and workplaces – much less all institutions – is to solve one problem by creating even more extreme problems, including a gigantic graveyard of unnecessary corpses. Is it possible that one day the technology will exist so that all the food and other material needs of human beings will be instantaneously available without an ounce of human effort needing to be expended? Who knows? But at a minimum it is true that such technology will not exist for a very long time, that until that time we will need to provide for these human needs, and that there are various ways to do so: most of these ways are oppressive, unequal, undemocratic, and non-participatory. Parecon is offered as a way that has the opposite characteristics.




Criticism: Wages imply wage slavery. Remunerating for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work is capitalistic and thus morally decrepit. An anarchist economy would implement, instead, the maxim that we should all work according to ability, and consume according to need. Parecon, with its incomes and budgets, is capitalism in disguise. It is not a system that elaborates mutual aid.


Wage slavery exists when you sell your ability to do work for a wage determined by relative bargaining power and where the buyer must try to extract as much actual labor as possible. Slavery, for example, is not wage slavery. In slavery you are sold, rather than your selling just a number of hours of your ability to do work. 


Parecon is not wage slavery either. And in parecon it isn't simply that there are no owners of workplaces, and thus no one to buy your ability to do work. It is also that after freely becoming part of a workplace, your level of work, your intensity of work, your character of work, and your manner of work, are all under the control not of some grand authoritarian buyer – but of yourself and your peers whom you work with. Likewise, the income you get for your work is not a function of power, but derives from a just norm that applies universally to all who work, as well as from how your particular workplace implements that norm. 


Suppose you work in a participatory economic firm. You, therefore, have a balanced job complex, as does everyone else. Suppose you work for the social average of (let’s guess) thirty hours a week, at average intensity, and that due to empowerment balancing, your job is also, overall, of average onerousness. Then, assuming the firm is producing outputs sought by others in the economy, you will earn the average income for society. You could earn more, or less, however, by working more hours, or more intensely, if your workmates agree that there is extra work for you to handle. You could also work less hours or less intensely, if workers agree with that choice for you, or maybe someone else wants to work less intensely, or for fewer hours, for example, so it is agreeable to workplace harmony that you work more, making up the difference, or vice versa. 


Now the anarchist critic, echoing a slogan of long lineage and wide appeal, says two things. First, the remuneration approach of parecon is capitalistic, and, in any case,  both morally and pragmatically flawed, with the latter due to perverse incentive effects. And second, the time honored idea that people should work to their ability and receive income based on their needs is a better norm for anarchists to advocate. It gets the job done, and with less dangers. So to reply to these matters, let's consider these two views, in turn.


First, is remuneration for duration, intensity, and (socially determined) onerousness of socially valued work (and of course according to need if one cannot work or has other special health needs) morally sound, and is it also sound for the incentives it offers, or is it flawed on either count? 


The moral question is not factual. It depends on one's preferences. But here is the issue at the heart of assessing equitable remuneration’s moral merits.


Two people work at the same balanced job complex in their workplace, which is at the social average so they need not have any tasks outside their main workplace. Suppose also that the average weekly duration of work in society, and in their workplace, is 30 hours. 


Suppose one of the two says I would like to work 40 hours this week, 10 hours more than average, and, indeed, I would like to do this every week for as long into the future as I can. I want to earn one third more because I really want to purchase a new violin. 


The second, in contrast, says I already have more stuff than I need, but I would like some more free time: I would like to work 20 hours a week, now and for as long as possible into the future, and get a one-third lower income. 


Would it be morally okay, assuming it was acceptable to the whole workforce in the sense of not disrupting other people's situations, to have these two people granted these changes?


What parecon says is that it is not only acceptable but morally warranted and correct that a person who works longer, harder, or doing more onerous tasks, one week, and less long, less hard, or at less onerous tasks another week, should earn more for the former than for the latter. On the other hand one should not earn more – which means one should not be able to take more of the social product for oneself – because one has property, or power,

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