Michael Albert’s ‘No Bosses’: A Review

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Source: Common Dreams

No Bosses, Michael Albert’s latest—and perhaps best—attempt at communicating his vision for a new and just economic system addresses key questions around ownership, decision-making, jobs, pay, and allocation in sometimes stark and strangely poetic but always accessible language. In addition to seriously tackling these central issues, this short book also manages to explore the impact this vision for a new economy has on other areas of society and life, the strategic implications for winning this new economic system, and a brief account of the origins, history, and prospects of the vision. In short, No Bosses tackles most, if not all, of the major topics that concern anyone serious about economic justice with substance and efficiency.

Unlike many of the more pretentious offerings of leading left thinkers, Albert’s general approach to discussing economic justice has great commonsense appeal. This comes as a much-needed breath of fresh air for those who are sick of the more pompous intellectual tendencies on the left. This is not to say that the book is in any way anti-intellectual. On the contrary, it is full of great ideas and practicable solutions to real-world problems.

For example, the first chapter deals with values, which we might think of as the ethical foundation for Albert’s model for a just economy. In this presentation, seven values are identified and defined in a straightforward manner. This, as Albert puts it, “will give us an agreed standard to organize our thoughts.” More precisely, the values will be used to guide and inform the development of new institutions and social systems that, together, constitute a desirable economic vision. Or, as Albert succinctly puts it, they will function as “key vision-orienting values”.

No Bosses presents arguments for rejecting existing arrangements for ownership, decision-making, jobs, and pay, while also presenting ethical alternatives. Resting on that ethical foundation, these new institutions might be thought of as the four main cornerstones of what Albert calls “participatory economics” or “parecon” for short. Characteristically, Albertseems uninterested in the superficial question of which label to use, instead focusing on the actual substance of the proposed institutions and their social logic. As he points out, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet—and a thorn by any other name would hurt as deep”. Adopting an open and inclusive position, Albert asks, “Rose or thorn? You decide”.

The book focuses deeply on the allocation of goods and services. As Albert points out, this economic function “typically occurs in today’s world by way of either markets or central planning or a combination of the two”. It addresses the question, “Can our proposal for a new economy retain one or the other?” The author argues that both markets and central planning are incompatible with the values of participatory economics. Inevitably, this conclusion leads to the necessity to develop a new mode of allocation. This novel form of allocation—called participatory planning—is one of the features that makes parecon a genuine alternative form of economic organization for the 21st century.

Albert posits that the left is in crisis, and as a result, is lost and confused. More precisely, the left is suffering from a crisis of identity, a crisis over the meaning of what, historically, has been its official alternative to liberalism. Unless and until we address this fundamental problem, the likelihood of the left winning even minor reforms, let alone “another world”, is minimal. No Bosses attempts to rise to this historical challenge and, in doing so, makes a very important contribution to offering direction and clarity for social justice activists and organizers in the 21st century.

After reading No Bosses you will come away with a very different idea of what it means—or could mean—to be on the left. Instead of just being “anti-…” this and “anti-…” that and constantly reacting to the disastrous antics of the right-wing and liberal establishment and being caught on our back foot, the clarity of thought that Albert presents means that we have the potential to adopt a much more pro-activist stance, putting our front foot forward and organizing to win.

As Albert points out, such an approach to organizing allows us to plant the seeds of the future in the present. If you read this book and feel inspired to get involved in organizing for the kind of economy and society that Albert envisions, then you will be very pleased to see that No Bosses finishes with a list of resources that includes some websites (including: https://www.realutopia.org/) that focus on organizing for a participatory society. I look forward to organizing with you.

Mark is based in Birmingham, England. He has worked in healthcare for nearly 20 years and is currently training to be a counsellor/psychotherapist. Politically, he identifies with the left-libertarian tradition and is an advocate for a participatory society. He is currently working on an online information and community center for those with similar politics. Related interests include health equity and trade union revitalization. 

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