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Judging Participatory Socialism


 [This is the fifteenth (and longest) essay in a multipart series addressing the surge in interest in and support for socialism, what the surge means, what it seeks or will seek, where it might extend, and how it might unfold.]

Regarding this socialism series, for those who prefer live video to text, here is a short video responding to an interviewer seeking a brief summary of participatory economics, also called participatory socialism. And here is a much longer video, from a talk in Spain, presenting participatory economics at a scale more like that of the current essay series. Various books by myself and Robin Hahnel explore the issues much further.

The 14 essays in this series so far, like the above videos, should not alone convince you of the worthiness or the viability of participatory socialism. First, the essays are not fully enough argued. Second, they and even longer treatments, can’t possibly have addressed all the concerns that you yourself may personally have. I can recommend two paths forward for those who have read these essays and feel, roughly, “this seems like it may be valid but I want to know if it is.” 

The first suggestion is to pursue some in-depth presentations of the views. This is easy enough via search engines and more directly on the website ZNet. The second suggestion, ultimately more important, is to challenge and explore the ideas in your own way. You might write down your doubts and investigate where they lead. You might debate the ideas with friends or workmates. You might convey the ideas to others and see how that fares, perhaps in an organization or project you relate to.

The point is this. The recent surge of interest in and support for socialism in the U.S. and elsewhere is an incredibly positive sign in difficult times. For the short run, let’s say through 2020, that most people involved in the surge can’t yet answer what they favor for a whole economy is only a modest lack, if it is even a lack at all. But beyond the short-term, to achieve new fundamental social relations we will need shared vision that is compelling and convincing enough to provide and sustain hope, to inform our actions, demands, and ways of talking with others, and to enlighten how we structurally organize ourselves and our projects to maximize our collective impact and plant the seeds of a desired future in the present.

But what if after reading these essays you aren’t convinced that participatory socialism may have merit? Then, perhaps one last summary that considers participatory socialism in light of the values we initially set out will make that case and motivate further attention. To that end, what follows covers a lot more ground than any prior essay in this series and also goes more deeply especially into previously under-treated facets of participatory socialism’s implications. For those who have felt prior brevity was too extreme, the following fifteenth entry in the series will hopefully provide a welcome increase in depth and detail, albeit still addressing only some aspects, only in summary. For those who prefer shorter essays, we provide subheads to break up the flow below. But at the end of the day, we are, after all, talking about a whole different way of conceiving and organizing economic life, a topic that one might tweet about, of course, but that ultimately requires much more than tweets, and more even than a bunch of essays.

Participatory socialism’s institutions are remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor in place of remuneration for property, output, or power; balanced job complexes in place of a corporate division of labor; self managed workers and consumers councils in place of authoritarian capitalist and/or coordinator top-down decision-making; and participatory planning in place of competitive markets and or authoritarian central planning.  Can these institutions make participatory socialism a desirable, workable, economy?

Evaluating the participatory approach to income

Consider equity. If one thinks correlating income with duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor is just, one will favor participatory socialism‘s approach to income. If one instead thinks that rewarding a deed to property, or luck, talent, or training insofar as they contribute to output is just, or that rewarding bargaining power is just, one will instead favor capitalism’ or coordinatorism‘ s approach to income.

Participatory socialism has no mechanism to personally accrue property or bargaining power and no means to use either to increase income. It has no way to translate luck of genetic endowment, better tools, or even more valuable product into greater income. It has no way to enjoy better circumstances and not have income reduced, or to endure worse circumstances and not have income enlarged. 

In short as elaborated at some length earlier in this essay series, by providing more income for more time worked, more intense work, or work under more onerous conditions, participatory socialism offers appropriate incentives to elicit steps that are, in fact, under the worker’s control to do. By ensuring that a worker wanting to earn more than the social average can do so only by arranging to work longer, harder, or doing more onerous tasks, and a worker wanting to have more leisure by working less long, or less hard, or doing fewer onerous tasks, can do so only by arranging that reduced load and accepting proportionately reduced income, participatory socialism ensures that the labor/leisure trade-off is fair for all and that income differentials are modest and just. 

It follows that if we adhere to the same equity standard with which we rejected capitalism and coordinatorism earlier, participatory socialism succeeds admirably. In a participatory economy not every person will get precisely his or her due from the overall social product all the time, but deviations will occur only due to errors of judgment or sometimes even idiosyncratic spite, and not due to system-induced differentials. Deviations will not be systemic or enrich any one sector at another sector’s expense. 

Evaluating the participatory approach to social ties

Considering a second highlighted value, solidarity requires that individuals respect one another’s circumstances and well-being as part of economic life. Solidarity requires that economic activity promotes empathetic social ties. Participatory planning explicitly seeks solidarity. Each person gains increased income only by exerting more effort or by everyone’s base income increasing at once. No one can increase their income by taking a share that would otherwise go to someone else. We do not increase our income by diminishing that of others, but only in concert with others. And similarly, we improve our conditions of work if our balanced job complex improves, but if my average job complex improves, by definition everyone else’s improves as well. When one person gains, everyone gains. My well being is a condition for your well being and vice versa.

These attributes are already so singularly different from typical capitalist or coordinator dynamics as to provide an overwhelming argument for participatory socialism. But if we look deeper than in prior essays, will the gloss fade? 

Consider trying to make a choice among various investment proposals in your workplace or in the economy as a whole. What criteria do you use to judge whether one innovation is better than another? Let’s suppose you are a greedy individual with no concern for others. In that case, you will consider solely the impact of the innovation on your own job and income. But with our participatory approach an innovation will affect your income only via its impact on the overall social product and thus the average social product per person. Even to cast a greedy ballot, you have to assess the social good. People may disagree about which choice will have a better social impact, and mistakes will certainly be made, but in a participatory economy the mode by which we all advance is inexorably mutually supportive. What about job circumstances? The logic is identical. Ultimately, an innovation in your own workplace is not more valuable to you than an innovation elsewhere if the distant one has a better impact on average job complexes than the near one. We each gain when the overall average improves, so to seek gain we must each pay attention to the average.

The bottom line is simple and striking: in market systems if compassionate people wish to get ahead they are compelled to ignore or even trample the well being of others. The system creates anti-sociality. In a participatory economy, even antisocial people, if they want to get ahead, must do socially positive things. Markets breed instrumentalist, competitive attitudes that destroy solidarity even among those personally inclined to be empathetic. Participatory planning plus equitable remuneration creates solidarity and empathy even among otherwise egocentric, antisocial people. Those who prefer rat racing to personal gain while trampling others will favor market capitalism or market coordinatorism to participatory socialism. Those who favor collectively benefiting in concert with others will favor participatory socialism.

Evaluating the participatory approach to social options

Regarding diversity, which we gave very little attention in earlier essays, we should of course have diverse economic options for us to choose among to enrich our lives. But additionally, our choices among diverse options shouldn’t be narrowed by pressures contrary to our inclinations. So there should be great diversity not only in available options, but also in what different people consume or in the jobs they opt for from among available options. We should have a diversity of outcomes that reflects our diversity of preferences. Each person should encounter many options and remain a unique individual in selecting among them, making choices that reflect his or her own unique dispositions, talents, and inclinations, not some homogenizing pressure from without.

In a society fostering diversity, that is, we anticipate there would be no pressures causing large numbers of people to settle on just a few options, arriving at similar situations not because they all have similar personal preferences, but because they all caved in to similar overriding pressures. We all drink water and that is certainly not a sign of conforming to external constraints. It reveals, instead, a fundamental similarity that derives from our natures. We all wear clothes, and that too is not a mark of onerous homogenization but of benign common history and conditions. But if many of us wear a uniform not out of unbiased agreement on its aesthetic or practical appeal, but to indicate that we are like others wearing it because to do otherwise would be to suffer a loss, we suffer diminished diversity due to homogenizing pressure. Or, if out of all possible genres of music the population divides into those who like country, those who like classical, those who like rap, and those who like rock, and if what a person likes can be predicted by attributes that have nothing to do with their actual freely developed musical tastes but instead reflect only the impact of structurally imposed class, gender, or racial allegiances having literally nothing to do with music, then we can reasonably deduce that a homogenizing effect has diminished diversity by limiting individual choices. Diversity is a subtle matter, but not entirely impossible to assess.

Another dimension of diversity is that in decision-making attention should be paid to the possibility for error and therefore diverse alternatives should be explored alongside preferred choices even after a preferred option is chosen, or should at least be kept open for future exploration. This is done to preclude all actors from becoming embedded in an irreversible trajectory of choice that limits future possibilities or diminishes the quality of future outcomes. Put colloquially, we should rarely put all our eggs in one basket. So how does participatory socialism score in terms of diversity?

Relative to other economies, some causes of difference are certainly removed, which could be seen by some as reducing options and therefore reducing diversity. A participatory economy does not have capitalists, coordinators, and workers, but only economic actors. Class differentiation therefore disappears. Likewise, in a participatory economy, you cannot choose to hire wage slaves nor to sell yourself as a wage slave. These options too are gone. In a participatory economy you cannot have a job that is overwhelmingly only empowering or only disempowering. You cannot parlay productive genetic attributes into greater income or power. So there is a sense in which these changes taken alone reduce diversity since, for example, we have gone from having three classes to having none, and to ruling out certain kinds of jobs and personal enrichment. But in our view this is like the sense in which instances of capitalism reduced diversity by removing the option to own a slave or to be a king – gains, not losses. 

Looking deeper, in the participatory case, it is not only a matter of removing bad options, there is also an offsetting increase in good options. That is, if a society has classes, each actor is part of a group that has interests contrary to those in other groups. This collective confrontation, and the commonality of internal class conditions together lead to homogenization within classes even as they force competition among them. If we hold up babies in the hospital and report about them merely what class their parents are in and we then ask people to predict what tastes and preferences the baby will have later in life, under capitalism we will guess right in a remarkable proportion of cases about a remarkable number of life choices. This means that being in a class narrows the range of outcomes that a person winds up with. It makes some outcomes highly probable regardless of all other attributes of each baby – whether innate or due to unfolding (unbiased) life experiences. In the participatory case, with no classes, the homogenizing effects of class membership are gone.

The scorecard for how diversity is upheld in a participatory economy is positive on other counts as well. Not only are class homogenization effects eliminated, but participatory socialism self-consciously favors respect for minority positions and gives defeated views of minorities every opportunity to persist to insure against majorities making mistakes. This is built into participatory planning, by preserving past data and by checks on indicative prices that qualitative information and the initial phases of each new round of planning provide. 

In contrast, a central but rarely discussed failure of markets is that because they ignore the fact that people’s preferences are affected by economic circumstances, if a population is confronted by offerings for which some prices are set too high and some are set too low relative to actual social costs and benefits – then in a market system preferences will bend toward the latter and away from the former. This inaccurate bending of people’s true desires will in turn further propel the incorrect prices in the wrong direction, and thereby engender a snowball effect. The key point is that this market phenomenon is not random. There is always a systematic mis-pricing of goods with positive or negative external effects on people who are neither buyer nor seller, because markets don’t account for those effects. As a result, people in market economies become increasingly individualistic due to increasingly favoring private consumption over consumption of goods with public benefits beyond what a true comparison of personal and collective benefit would warrant had there been proper initial pricing. Because market systems promote pursuit of profit, not of social well-being, there is no pressure for anyone to notice and curtail such developments. Capitalists see profits to be had producing mis-priced goods and follow that path mercilessly. People’s consumption preferences become skewed in accord.

Participatory planning, in contrast, impedes such phenomena in the two ways mentioned earlier. First, it properly values items by taking into account all social and individual factors. Deviations from proper pricing derive from honest mistakes and not systematic biases built into the allocation system. Second, participatory planning re-calibrates valuations and behavior with every new planning period precisely to guard against prices snowballing away from what they should be due to past errors persisting into future periods. It synchronizes tastes and behavior consistent with independently presented preferences. The goal is social well-being and not private profits. 

A participatory economy cannot, of course, guarantee perfect adherence to diversity. For one thing, it is critical that other sectors of society also promote diversity, especially a society’s cultural institutions. For another thing, no system precludes all biases, much less all errors. But what we can say about the participatory approach is that the most egregious contemporary economic pressures for conformity are removed. No more class conformity, no more prices snowballing away from true representation of preferences, and no more profit-seeking that takes advantage of any opportunity, however socially counter productive. In their place participatory economy elevates diversity to a central value, employs decision-making that permits and even welcomes attention to minority views, properly values economic products, recognizes economic impact on consumer and producer preferences, and self-consciously avoids irrational pricing trajectories. 

Evaluating the participatory approach to decision-making

How does participatory socialism fare regarding people’s degree of influence over the decisions that affect them?

Participatory decisions are made by whatever method best allows each person to affect each decision in proportion to how much the outcome of the decision affects them. Can this be done perfectly all the time? Of course not. But does the participatory approach provide context, information, and motivations in accord with this aim? We shall see.

Workplaces involve two broad kinds of decisions. The first involves establishing plans for the unit. Should we invest in improving our workplace? How much output, produced by how many people, should be our goal? The second involves how we accomplish each month, week, and day what we have set out to do.

Consumption decisions are similarly broad: what do I want collectively for the groups I am part of, and what do I want for myself, individually? And having received what I wanted, what do I do with it?

Allocation decisions are broadly about what level of work and output should be enacted, what exchange rates should exist among items, and therefore what relative amounts should be produced, who should get what income, and various choices of implementation such as those concerning participatory planning’s facilitation boards.

So let’s briefly, but more than in prior essays in this series, consider each domain in terms of its rating vis-à-vis self-management.

Workplace decision-making

In the workplace we have councils that vary in size from work teams to industries. This facilitates people’s interactions at each level of individual or collective involvement. If a plant decides together on some action that delimits aims for a specific work team, decisions for how that team then accomplishes those aims may be over-whelmingly its own affair. If so, the team will make decisions internally but adhering to the previously agreed norms that guide the whole workplace. But within a whole workplace, division, or team, how does each participant make such decisions?

There is no single answer for all workplaces or even universally within each given workplace. Decisions have different spectrums of impact. For one thing, most of our work decisions affect not only our workplace and those in it, but everyone who will consume our products. Our production utilizes inputs that could have been used to produce other things that might meet other needs, so consumers need a degree of say in what goes on in production, just as producers have an impact, of course, on what consumers can opt for. Should consumers of VCRs have some degree of say even over what a peanut factory produces? Yes, because if the peanut factory makes soy nuts, chicken farmers have less soy feed, which increases beef output, which affects leather production, which reduces some plastic production, which reduces economies of scale in plastic production, which raises the price of VCRs. Mediating the complicated interrelations of production and consumption is allocation – in our case participatory planning – and we will assess the self-management implications of such planning below. For now, assuming (while acknowledging it is a big assumption) that consumers and workers elsewhere have appropriate input into decisions in a specific workplace, what about workers in that specific workplace themselves?

Some decisions overwhelmingly affect only me. Some affect only you. Some, after larger decisions are made, affect only a specific work team and each member equally; some affect that team, but each member unequally. And there are the same variations for projects, divisions, a whole workplace, or even a whole industry. The point is, there is no single decision-making process that can universally deliver influence in proportion to impact for every person, every time. What is needed is instead what parecon delivers:

1.  The organization of all actors into appropriately defined subgroups, from the whole down to individuals.

2.  Giving each subgroup an appropriate amount of say.

3.  Allotting decisions to various subgrouos using appropriate processes at each level, sometimes one-person one-vote with majority rule, sometimes two-thirds majority, sometimes each actor having a veto…etc.

4.  Giving suitable time for advance preparation for decisions, for assessment and reassessment, and for minority voices to delay final choices or to experiment with parallel choices.

All in all, we can’t say that a participatory workplace will perfectly succeed in properly allotting influence over every production decision. What we can say, however, is that there is no structural impediment to doing so and there is every possible admonition and structural pressure on behalf of doing so. For example, a participatory workplace does not have corporate hierarchies that essentially subordinate typically 80 percent of the population to having little or no say over their work, giving about 20 percent considerable say over everyone’s work. Participatory workplaces instead facilitate proportionate say, allow the redress of mistakes, and balance both empowerment and income properly. It is hard to see how a system without workplace councils, balanced job complexes, and remuneration for effort and sacrifice could do better in providing participatory self-management to its workers – assuming that the workers not only have this flexible array of conditions in their own workplaces, but also have proper input into broader allocation decisions, which we assess below. But first, what about consumption?

Consumption decision-making

Consumption is an economic activity that has inputs and outputs and that is, in this respect, abstractly the same as production. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the participatory self managing decision dynamics of consumption are similar to those of production. Again, we have layers of councils designed to group people with shared decision-making affinity such as individuals, families, neighborhoods, and counties. Again, decisions are apportioned to these councils and within them in accord with impact on the group or the individuals involved. As with production, consumers collectively establish appropriate processes for different types of decisions within the appropriate level of consumer council, having only the norm of self-management in common. The system is not perfect, but there is no systemic obstacle to everyone involved having proportionate say, and as in the production case, consumers have every incentive to seek proportionate say up to not spending too much time trying to add the last dimple of accuracy to every accounting as against getting on with life.

In a participatory community, each individual largely determines his or her own personal consumption, and the impact of each person’s preferences registers in the continually refined prices that contextualize all choices. Each collective, such as a family or neighborhood, has nearly sole say over what they propose to collectively consume, though if there are significant effects on wider constituencies, not already accounted for in wider decisions, the proposal will have to be reviewed at the affected higher level as well.

There are two ways in which personal or group choices can affect others even after wider influences, for example on product prices and availability have been accounted, and why others should therefore be able to further influence some final personal or group decisions. On the one hand, there is the obvious implication that if I am going to consume a bicycle, someone must produce it. My choice is not without implications for those who do the work of producing it. Likewise, if I consume it, then the inputs needed to produce it aren’t available for producing some other product that someone else may have wanted. If we assume, for the moment, that allocation proportionately accounts for the mutual impact of different production and consumption decisions, and that consumption councils likewise accurately apportion influence over the consumers’ share of each such decision, what about the less tractable fact that once I get my consumption items and decide how to consume them, there could be effects on others from that as well, so that perhaps others should have had a say in whether, indeed, I got them in the first place.

Suppose I ask for not much milk or juice, but so much brandy and vodka that quite obviously I am or will become an alcoholic (or a dispensary), but even so the total volume of brandy and vodka sought by our council is fine in the view of producers. This is not a problem for producers, but my choice will likely adversely impact my family, my neighbors, and my community. The same would hold if I was about to purchase lots of firearms, say, or an outdoor sound system appropriate for a stadium but not for my backyard that abuts many other backyards. It is good that the prices of these items reflect their broader social implications, but perhaps not good enough. These choices could all be okay from the broad standpoint of allocation writ large, for example, abiding broader, prior, choices – yet not okay viewed more locally.

The point is, consumption has diverse external effects and those effects can be globally small and well accounted, yet simultaneously locally large and adverse and not well accounted. Some effects, that is, are broad and general and accommodated by the participatory planning system most broadly. The overall price of alcohol reflects its average social and health impacts, as does the overall price of products that pollute. But with some products even with proper valuation in the large, specific apportionments can still be horribly adverse due to contingent local effects. So participatory planning should include a provision that consumption council members can collectively assess individual consumption orders, indicating their concerns about specific ones that have potentially harsh negative external implications, and seeking remedies that may require additional expenses, and in the extreme case even collectively precluding such options from being met, when appropriate.

In other words, a neighborhood could see a private order for huge quantities of alcohol, guns, or a raucous outdoor sound system, and, even though the neighborhood’s citizens are not over consuming in total, and even though producers are ready to supply the products in the quantity requested, and even though the people making the orders are within their budgets, nonetheless the neighborhood could intervene and first ask for an explanation (maybe the alcohol is medicinal or for household chemistry experiments, or maybe the guns are for an abstract art display, or maybe the sound system is for parts that are going to be put to an entirely different and benign or even very positive purpose), and then, if the explanations are found wanting, literally forbid these types of purchases within these units. This is comparable to contemporary zoning laws saying that you cannot disturb the peace, for example – but in our participatory case it is democratic and without profit-seeking, and the details are organized to reflect the recognition that those impacted by decisions should influence them proportionately. Moreover, the specific individual consumption requests and the dialog about them can be anonymous. (Importantly, also, the people involved in decision making at all levels are living lives of dignity and well being, harboring no systematic socially buttressed biases or fears.)

All in all, therefore, as with production, similarly for consumption: Organization into councils facilitates appropriate levels of self-managed oversight and influence. The system urges self-managing decision processes and it provides means to continually reassess and improve them. But what about allocation? Does allocation matter to self-management? If so, why and how? 

Allocation decision-making

Consider having workers’ and consumers’ councils plus all participatory socialism’s admonitions about attaining self-management, but on top of that employing markets for allocation. Markets would not provide proper valuations or qualitative information that would enable workers or consumers to develop and decide on agendas. Markets would compel workers and consumers to make competitive choices regardless of or even against others’ interests and even their own inclinations. Markets would require firms to win market share and thereby maintain or increase their workers’ incomes even at the expense of their own quality of work life. Markets would apportion influence over decisions in accordance with income levels, and income levels would deviate from a just distribution due to luck, circumstance, tools, genetic endowment, and bargaining power, and while none of these factors have much to do with how much someone is affected by a decision, they would nonetheless largely determine how much say each person gets. Markets only consider the impact of a decision to buy or sell on the buyer or seller (in proportion to their relative bargaining power) ignoring the impact the decision would have on others due to production or consumption externalities. For all these reasons, markets would psychologically, behaviorally, and materially subvert self-managing tendencies even of council organization.

But what about participatory planning? What level of influence does participatory planning afford each actor in each decision?

First we should note that participatory planning reverses each of the above-mentioned failings of markets. Participatory planning provides accurate valuations by properly accounting full personal, social, and ecological costs and benefits and providing appropriate qualitative information for regularly re-calibrating indicative prices with qualitative data. It ensures that workers and consumers pay attention to one another’s conditions and allows each to advance only in accord with others advancing by making sure incomes and conditions deviate from social averages only for mutually agreed equitable reasons. It permits workers to assess their own conditions and pay attention to these in their decision-making by having workers input their preferences via their councils and with no need to maximize anything but their own and other’s well being rather than having to subvert their own interests and those of others to stay in business. It apportions income in accord with effort, and, in any event, does not force or even permit people to try to maximize profits, surplus, or even revenues. It incorporates attention to all social costs and benefits of transactions, including externalities, by means of the planning procedures, accounting modes and facilitating tools, and levels of self managing council structure.

Still, while it is good to remove markets’ various critical impediments to sensible allocation-related decision-making, this is not the same as having positively accomplished truly democratic decision-making. Does participatory planning give producers and consumers proportionate say over each type of decision as well as possible?

There are two main issues. First, does participatory planning create a context that is consistent with or that propels people to have appropriate impact in non-allocation workplace and consumption decision-making? Or does it differentiate among individuals such that even beyond allocation their differences adversely affect their capacities to,participate and inclinations? Second, regarding allocation itself, does each participant have input in proportion to how they are affected?

For the first point, participatory planning requires of buyers and sellers attention to decision-making in general, instills expectations that each person will influence decisions and not be subordinate or domineering, draws out the personal traits commensurate to involvement, and introduces no advantages or disadvantages to any group of people that would interfere with their proper participation in non-allocation interactions in workplace councils, neighborhoods, or anywhere else.

For the second point, regarding specifically allocation decisions, each person participates at every level – personal, group or team, unit, industry, neighborhood, county, etc. – by means of council structures that have appropriate influence at that level. Each person manifests his or her individual or collective preferences in ways identical to everyone else with as much intent and energy as their level of concern impels. Each registers desire or not, and more or less, to do some production or undertake some consumption, or oppose either, thus affecting that production or that consumption, in accordance with their own desires and without inappropriate power due to inappropriate income or workplace authority. 

Consider the level of production of bicycles. Each consumer influences this in accord with their desire for bicycles (how much they are affected by them) as does every other, including concerns about the implications of bicycles. So does each bicycle worker impact this decision in accord with how they assess their involvement, and the effects of bicycles, and the workers have roughly the same overall impact in the outcome as the consumers, each group in essence negotiating with the other. But what about those consuming other goods that are affected by the number of bicycles to be produced, or who are producing other goods needed for bicycles or replaced by them? As you can see, this is a generalized problem of intersecting implications and impacts. It is one of those cases where a mathematician can provide a very subtle and detailed analysis, requiring pages upon pages of arcane formulae demonstrating the result – or where we can arrive at at least a tentative opinion more quickly and intuitively. Which factors cause/facilitate impact on decisions? Only factors equally possessed by every actor, and which each actor will manifest up to the socially designated influence of their decision-making unit and their own level of preference, each with the same rights and opportunities that others have. It will not always occur perfectly, of course. But it is hard to see how one could attain the desired goal of appropriate self managing influence more closely, overall, and on average.

Evaluating the participatory approach to class

What about class relations? We have indicated the participatory approach believes in three primary classes in modern societies, not two. Participatory socialism therefore eliminates class division by removing not only property but all work-role differences that empower some actors and weaken others, that enrich some and impoverish others, or that pit some systematically against others. The key class-related innovations of the participatory approach are that:

1.  There is no private ownership of means of production. All actors have the same ownership relations to economic assets as all others.

2.  There is no longer corporate organizational structure. In its place balanced job complexes eliminate systematic differentiations bearing on power or income due to a division of labor. 

3.  There is remuneration according to effort and sacrifice. While some people may exert more in their labors and others less, so that people have different incomes, there is no competition for income, no exploitation of some people by others, and there is a limit, in any case, on how much more effort anyone could possibly exert and therefore earn.

4.  Allocation by participatory planning abets all the above.

In participatory socialism there is no class of owners that occupies a level above others – no capitalists. There is no commanding class above others – no coordinators. There is no obedient class beneath others – no working class. This is the case because there is no privately held capital, no monopolization of empowering circumstances, and no group that occupies a position subordinate to others in the economy. It means that in participatory economics, there are only people who contribute to economic output and who by virtue of doing so have a just claim on items in the social product (or who physically cannot participate but have that claim by virtue of being human). There are only people who all have the same ownership condition in the economy, who all toil at balanced job complexes (or for health or age reasons cannot, but receive full income nonetheless), and who are all therefore without any class differentiation.

What has been called twentieth century socialism, centrally planned socialism, market socialism, state socialism, or deformed socialism, are all better called coordinatorism. For while the things named may differ in having markets or central planning for allocation and in whether the political system operating alongside the economy is authoritarian or at least somewhat democratic, they are the same in elevating a class of empowered employees above a class of disempowered employees.

Having discussed many facets  of what the current surge in advocacy of socialism might mean for what we come to want for future economic relations, what about its implications for nearer term efforts to attain that future? Next essay we consider some strategic implications for their actions, should movements decide to ultimately seek participatory socialist economics. 

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