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2. Do we really want negotiations to replace markets and hierarchies? – Yanis Varoufakis, 4th December 2021


 

Note: This is the second entry in an ongoing debate
between Michael Albert and Yanis Varoufakis titled:
Envisioning a postcapitalism worth striving for.
Each entry will be 500 words or less.
Each will appear as a stand alone ZNet article, but each will link
as well to a cumulative essay containing all the submissions at ZNet’s
Cumulative document and at Meta’s Cumulative Document

 

At the very heart of a heartless (and distinctly irrational) capitalist world lies the curious idea that the crushing majority who work in the corporations do not own them while the minuscule minority who own them can very easily not even know where they are located, let alone work in them. This gross asymmetry is the source of exorbitant power in the hands of the few to wreck the lives of the many, as well as of the planet. And it is not just a matter of unfairness. It is more a matter of wholesale alienation, as even the capitalists are condemned to live like sad bastards resembling guinea pigs running faster and faster on a treadmill, going nowhere.

So, it is a great relief that, here, I do not to have to argue about the need to terminate capitalism. That Michael and I are embarking from a common belief that capitalism must end in order to debate the type of feasible postcapitalism we want.

Michael traces the source of illiberty, inequality and inefficiency in the private ownership of productive means, which lies behind the elevation of profit to the only motive and begets the soul-crushing division of labour within a company as well as within society at large. Spot on! He is also right to propose a ‘productive commons’ and to point to the importance of a decentralised system of decision-making (extending beyond the workplace to the community, the neighbourhood etc.). Lastly, I agree wholeheartedly with the principle of participatory planning as a replacement of the power of bosses (capitalists or any type of ‘coordinator class’) to decide “who does what to whom”, to quote Lenin’s famous words.

But here begin our differences. Michael employs two words that ring alarm bells in my head: “equitable”, which he links to the remuneration of work (especially of ugly or dirty tasks); and “negotiation”, which he proposes as the basis for consumers and producers to decide, together, what must be produced and in what quality/quantity. My alarm is due to a deep conviction that both words are wolves in sheep’s clothing, hiding the prospect of new forms of domination and oppression.

Take “equitable”. Who decides what it is fair to pay you to go down the sewers, to maintain them? I suppose the answer is: the collective. Does the collective have the right to specify that you must go down the sewers for that wage without your consent? I hope not. But, if your consent is required, then the wage setting is not much different to a market mechanism, where the collective is your employer.

Take “negotiation”. This implies consensus. Which implies huge social pressure on a dissident to acquiesce to the majority’s view; e.g., to their rejection of a weird but potentially wonderful idea that the majority cannot wrap its mind around.

Personally speaking, I find suffocating the prospect of having to reach via negotiation a common understanding of what I must do and of what an equitable reward is for me to do it.

Before I suggest an alternative to negotiations, I felt the need to express, early on, this feeling of suffocation. And to ask our readers: Am I alone in feeling that authentic freedom requires not just the end of capitalism but also a degree of autonomy from the collective?

4 Comments

  1. avatar
    fernando_santamaria February 8, 2022 11:52 am 

    The only important thing is how do you take hold of Parliaments, get consensus enough, anywhere, to establish new rules. If you ever want to put in practice theories,

  2. avatar
    Philip Ganchev December 23, 2021 7:12 am 

    I do not understand Yanis’s jump from “Who decides what … to pay you to go down the sewers…?” to “Does the collective have the right to specify that you must go down the sewers for that wage…?”.

    “if your consent is required, then the wage setting is not much different to a market mechanism, where the collective is your employer.” It is different because there is information about your effect on others and a mechanism (the principles of cost setting) to ensure solidarity rather than competition.

    “Take “negotiation”. This implies consensus.” No. Consensus is an ideal outcome, but a “consensus process” is not ideal in all cases (though it might be in some). Michael Albert has stressed this. In any case, the economy requires an exchange of information about how much each person wants a given category of product and how much that costs to produce (with respect to the well-being of the workers and the environment). It also requires weighing the utility against the cost. What would you like to call this process instead of a negotiation?

    “I find suffocating the prospect of having to reach via negotiation a common understanding of what I must do and of what an equitable reward is for me to do it.”

    Choose your trade by yourself, as you do now. You will work with other people, as almost all of us do now. This involves negotiating with them. This is based on the premise that value is collectively created.

    As for reward, why?? Any economy weighs the costs and benefits of your economic activity (and your reward for it). A market does it with little information about the effects on others, so it fosters selfishness. And it’s inefficient, short-sighted and unstable. Planning is a much more rational way to do it. Some negotiation is needed to make it just.

    If you reject these ideas, I think you have to reject collective creation as a premise and justice as a goal.

    • avatar
      Philip Ganchev December 23, 2021 7:20 am 

      “I find suffocating the prospect of having to reach via negotiation a common understanding of what I must do and of what an equitable reward is for me to do it.”

      As opposed to what? You mean working completely alone? Or you mean first producing something (possibly with other people, and ignoring social and environmental costs) and then letting consumers estimate its value? Can you be more specific?

  3. avatar
    James December 8, 2021 3:30 am 

    Authentic freedom???

    Is it not always some balance between the two…collective/society and individual?

    As far as the other question goes, the way Yanis frames it sounds exhausting…emphasis on ‘having’ and ‘via negotiation’ and that the whole thing makes him feel he can’t breath.

    Seems to me this whole debate revolves purely around the idea of markets or no markets and nothing much more. Always easier to side with the devil you know, markets, rather than embrace a “potentially wonderful idea that the majority cannot wrap its mind around”, such as participatory planning.

    I sometimes wonder, in these kinds of cases, whether after such a debate, there will be some consensus, some clear and coherent collective decision, about an alternative economy and subsequent strategy to implement it. Not sure if it comes down to actual substance, say whether markets or planning is better, or just how persuasive either debater can be. Ordinary folk struggle with this stuff. We ain’t economists.

    Suffice to say it’s probably easier, and therefore a little disappointing, for most to side with something one knows than something one has no clue about. And that’s regardless of the very fact that markets have always forced my hand and suffocated me, squashing, inhibiting and smashing my own desires or “authentic autonomy”.

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