From Here to ParEcon

The method by which we develop and understanding of society, and of social change is, basic; but that doesn’t mean the process is simple. We do it in steps, but each step is rather complicated. Let’s look at this method as it applies to economic change — and here we are assuming some affinity for the parecon model. We’ll look at how we became attached to the participatory economics vision, and what we do now to implement it:

  1. we have articulated our shared values, as we understand them (solidarity, self-management, equity, diversity);
  2. we’ve assessed the present economic system and determined it is wholly inconsistent with our stated values;
  3. we’ve developed a vision of an alternative economic system which is not only acceptable in that it fulfills our values, but is also practical — that system, or some variation on it, will likely work if we can implement it.

While certainly the discussion is not finished, and the ideas thus far presented as "the parecon vision" are ammenable to further conclusions, the ground we really haven’t covered at all sufficiently regards how we proceed from here. How do we, as activists not just visionaries, begin to work toward the achievement of a participatory economy? At this point:

  1. we need to develop a strategic framework, the general methods by which we will establish our visionary goals — the path to be followed in the time ahead;
  2. we must formulate tactics, specific actions meant to achieve our "strategic goals," various points along the path outlined in our strategy.

And so we are faced with the very common and quite reasonable question, How do we get from here to there? In teaching or discussing parecon, inevitably, and quite rightly, we are expected to present options and ideas for activists to mobilize around in the present. Indeed, we all face economic problems in our day-to-day lives, when not as consumers, as workers, activists, citizens. To the extent we can act in accordance with our values, we should; this alone promotes participatory economics by prompting us to apply parecon’s concepts to our "daily routines," in some cases altering those routines. Unfortunately, however, what we do as individuals has a decidedly slight impact on society, and very little impact on social structures. So the implementation of parecon, by its very definition consisting of radical social changes, cannot be brought about by behavioral changes alone, be they on the part of one individual or the vast majority. Further required is attention to, and alteration of, economic institutions at all levels, from home and neighborhood to workplace to industry to society at large.

And to make matters more complicated, also by definition participatory economics is a system which can only be brought about and maintained by a society which is undergoing various other social transformations, most notably in cultural, kinship and political relationships and institutions. That is, unless dramatic changes are made in the ways we relate to one another as individuals; as families and friends; as cultures, races, ethnicities; in the ways we organize our moral affairs and our relationships with other societies — unless changes are made on all these fronts, a participatory economy will be impossible to implement. The demand for economic self-management relate directly to questions of democracy — questions we aren’t even able to deal with in our political affairs, nevermind our production and allocation of materials. We have yet to successfully grapple with pressing issues of cultural tolerance, much less diversity, so why should we expect those values to translate into our workplaces and consumption practices? At the same time, radical changes in our economic lives must come about in order for active transformations in the spheres of kinship, culture and politics to occur.

Those are the prospects with which we are faced, and by now the implication should be rather obvious. We are talking about a broad, holistic revolution in the most thorough sense of that word.

Still, accepting that, we do not have to accept the connotations typically associated with the idea of revolution. The social changes I have so briefly outlined are both intricate and sweeping; and however radical they may be, the changes must come about as a process, most likely a rather long one at that. As we might expect of processes, there will be stages to this one, on all fronts: economic, interpersonal, cultural and political.

For our purposes, because we will be discussing some rather specific ideas here, my presentation will be restricted to strategy and tactics for engaging the process of economic change.


ParEcon Strategy

There are basically two fronts on which we need to struggle for social change in any sphere, including economics. The first is the objective front: we have to change conditions in society — social structures, organizations, institutions, relationships– so that they yield optimal results, are consistent with our values and vision. Second is the subjective front, our individual and "collective" understandings of the world around us, our beliefs, etc. It might seem that this second front should be listed first, but in truth neither front precedes the other, not in priority, not in movement chronology. Which is to say, subjective change is as dependent on changes in social structures as those structural changes are dependent on the changing of people’s minds. Again, we are back to looking at this in terms of steps instead of fell swoops. We change some minds, we change some institutions, those institutions help change more minds, those minds resist oppressive institutions and develop liberatory ones. And the process continues until we have changed a "critical mass" of institutions and minds.

When I refered above to the process of radical economic change toward a participatory economy as a "transformation," I was speaking in a general sense, which applied to strategy might be misleading. Really, there are three separate, though not necessarily distinct, types of change to be dealt with. First, it is true many existing institutions will be transformed from their current structures into liberatory alternatives. But we will also need to dismantle some existing institutions, as well as create many alternative institutions from scratch. It isn’t as though every aspect of our present economy is in some wauy ammenable to social metamorphosis from within or without.

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