I have been asked to write an essay that presents the origins and heritage of participatory economics, explains the logical basis for its components, presents and addresses peoples’ problems with it, and finally makes a case for why diverse people with diverse agendas should care about it. Even seeking brevity, this will require three parts, this being the first.
What is Participatory Economics and where did it come from?
Participatory Economics or Parecon, is a proposal for life after capitalism. The first labor strike was reputedly undertaken by Egyptian slaves angered at a Pharaoh who moved from requiring six days slaving a week building pyramids to requiring seven, and from providing lunch to providing nothing. Participatory economics owes every essay, speech, and book, and every activist project and movement struggle since then, or even earlier, that has shed light on the meaning and practice of classlessness. Kropotkin, Rocker, Bakunin, Luxembourg, Pannekoek, Goldman, Ehrenreich, and Chomsky are among its major inspirations. In accord, in a participatory economy no owners and no other class dominates other participants.
Participatory economics in its current form was fertilized in the late sixties and born in the early to late seventies. It gained clarity when Robin Hahnel and I set out our and other new leftists’ reactions to various schools of anti capitalist activism in various books and endeavors through the seventies and eighties. It became a well defined proposal by way of a book titled Looking Forward about twenty five years ago. Hahnel and I, echoing many others, addressed economic vision with a commitment to classlessness plus four values that seemed to us likely to be very helpful in organizing and disciplining our thought: self management relating to decision making, equity relating to distribution of benefits and responsibilities, solidarity relating to people’s connections, and diversity relating to range of options. Hahnel and I used the four values, later adding ecological balance, plus a desire for classlessness and economic and social success, to orient ourselves as we sought to describe a worthy and workable economy beyond capitalism.
People sometimes told us that we sounded like we were discussing an idea that existed only in people’s minds. Other times, people said we sounded like we were talking about a system that already existed out in the world. This wasn’t confusion, but accuracy.
Parecon names a specific economic model, which is in turn a free creation of the mind that, however, aims to describe essential features of a future classless economy. It tries to specify how to have classlessness, self management, equity, solidarity, diversity, and ecological, economic, and social success.
Parecon is, however, also an economy that will someday exist in which real workers and consumers will produce and consume real goods and services. That future parecon has properties like a place that we haven’t yet visited. We think about it, guess the properties, and finally establish and thereby verify or alter them.
Those who seek a participatory economy don’t offer the intellectual model for entertainment, nor to exercise their minds. They are not seeking a resume of publications to get a job. They offer the model to aid seeking a new economy. They offer it to help overcome cynicism and to inform current efforts.
Parecon’s Defining Features and Breath of Variation
The central features which parecon’s advocates feel are the minimum required to have a classless, self managing, and otherwise successful participatory economy are:
- workers and consumers self managed councils
- remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor
- balanced job complexes
- and participatory planning
These four institutions define participatory economics in the same way that private ownership, remuneration for property, power, and output, corporate divisions of labor, and market allocation define capitalism.
We know capitalism can dramatically differ from one instance to the next and that the diversity of capitalisms is not due solely to countries having different populations, resources, levels of technology, history, or differences in other parts of social life. Additionally, countless variations in the implementation of capitalism’s key economic features and in the implementation of endless second, third, and fourth order economic features distinguish one instance from others. And the same will hold for actual participatory economies.
Thus, different instances of participatory economy could differ in how labor is measured, how jobs are balanced, how councils meet and make decisions, and the details of how participatory planning is carried out, much less, beyond that, in all manner of less central features.
Indeed, it would be a debilitating mistake to seek an inflexible, unvarying, and comprehensive blueprint for a classless economy. People have often accused participatory economics of doing just that, despite that it has never come remotely close to such a stance. Parecon is neither inflexible nor unvarying and it no more specifies the details of all future participatory economies, or even of one possible future participatory economy, than any broad description of capitalism’s defining features tells us everything about the U.S., Sweden, Chile, or South Africa, much less about all of them.
The participatory economic model describes central defining features that its advocates believe necessary to attaining classlessness and delivering self management, equity, solidarity, and diversity while successfully meeting needs and developing potentials in an ecologically and social worthy way.
The Logic underlying Parecon’s Defining Features
Self Managed Councils
Why do advocates of participatory economics see self managed workers and consumers councils as essential for an economy to be classless?
One of the pivotal tasks of defining a post capitalist economy is to establish within it appropriate decision making. For an economy to eliminate unjust distributions of power and influence, it must promote each worker and consumer participating with an appropriate level of influence in the decisions that affect their lives. If no person is to occupy a more privileged position than other people occupy, then each person must have the same broad relation to decision making as other people have.
There are various ways to achieve that. For example, we could have every person get one vote in every decision. This would mean everyone is treated the same, however, many decisions have near zero impact on me. So why should I have the exact same say as people directly involved who are far more affected? On the other hand, regarding decisions where I am highly involved, why shouldn’t I have more say than people who are only tangentially affected?
Pursuing that simple insight while requiring that the same norm applies to everyone, yields the idea that every actor should have a say in economic decisions in proportion as he or she is affected by them. This, which advocates of participatory economics call self management, is a value. Having arrived at it, we can consider its implications and decide if it is fair and also conducive to best decisions.
If we agree that workers and consumers should have an influence in outcomes proportionate to how they are affected by them, where are they going to exert this influence? It may be we lack imagination, but advocates of participatory economics have found it hard to conceive of any answer other than that workers and consumers will have to do so connecting with other workers and consumers, each participant acting sometimes singly and sometimes in concert with others, but with all participants being in position to use relevant information and exercise relevant confidence and decision making skills.
Sometimes we will make decisions as individuals. Sometimes we will do it in small or large groups. We will have more or less say in decisions, either individually or in groups, depending on how potential outcomes affect us relative to how they affect others. Workers and consumers – as individuals, in little teams, in whole workplace or neighborhood councils, as well as in nested aggregates of councils – will express and manifest their preferences.
That the venues for worker and consumer participation should be self-managing requires that they should utilize means of sharing information, discussing options, and tallying preferences, that give each worker and consumer a say proportionate to the degree they are affected. But it also requires that the workers and consumers be prepared to participate in the associated deliberations. Full discussions of the contours of self management would address how it might look in different contexts, including describing associated cases, methods, and so on, but the overall idea is simple.
For some types of decision people determine that one person one vote and majority rule is best. For others, they perhaps require two-thirds, three quarters, or consensus. Sometimes preferences are expressed by one person, by a few people, or by all workers in a plant or by each or all consumers in some locale. Local decisions of course occur in context of system wide collective determination of economic inputs and outputs. Everyone has an appropriate say in all outcomes.
The idea of workers and consumers councils has a long history in labor struggles and workplace activism and at times also in community organizing. That may be why parecon’s advocates can’t imagine anything but self managed workers and consumers councils as the main sites of economic decision making. Workers and consumers gravitate to this option themselves every time they undertake widespread resistance. Parecon’s explicit clarification of self management as a decision-making norm is only a modest refinement that has long been implicit in popular inclinations. On the other hand, of course, some people doubt self managing councils, and we will consider their concerns later, but, for now, let’s continue with our brief survey of the logic of parecon’s defining features.
Remuneration for Duration, Intensity, and Onerousness of Socially Valued Labor
The next defining feature bears on actors claims on a share of the social product. What should govern what each person in a participatory economy receives as income? What logic reveals that parecon’s proposal is essential for classlessness and viability?
We need two things from a payment scheme or norm. On the one hand, it needs to apportion society’s output in an ethically sound way. Everyone should get an amount that reflects appropriate moral commitments rather than violating them. Second, however, a payment scheme should also give people economically sensible incentives that ensure that society’s productive potentials will be utilized to meet needs without incurring undue waste.
The desire to be ethically sound is why parecon’s workers receive more income for working longer, harder, or at more debilitating conditions and, likewise, why parecon does not give more income for someone having more power, owning property, being in an industry making something more valuable, or having highly productive workmates, better tools, or more productive innate talents to work with.
With parecon’s equity norm in place, we all earn at the same rate. We all earn with the same prospects. We don’t exploit one another. No one can earn too much beyond others, because no one can work too much longer or too much harder than others. And when someone does earn more than someone else, it is only for reasons which everyone agrees are warranted.
Of course, a full discussion addresses finer points to reveal ultimate viability, worthiness, and texture, but the essence is that rather than remunerating property, power, or even output, each of which leads to huge disparities of income and wealth that don’t have any moral basis other than one or another form of elitism and that incur huge debits in the form of poverty, ensuing defense of wealth, and so on – parecon opts to remunerate only how hard and how long we work and the discomfort we endure at work. Participatory economics claims that this respects the effort we are contributing as well as any hardship we are enduring to create socially valued output.
The incentive part of the remuneration task, that it should get needed work accomplished without undue waste, is what makes parecon declare that work that receives income must be socially valuable. If I seek income for the hours that I spend composing music, building houses, playing shortstop for a ball team (or digging holes and filling them), I won’t be convincing because I cannot do any of those things well enough to warrant my using associated resources. Such work, done by me, will not be socially valued because I am unable to do those jobs socially usefully. I don’t have those capacities.
If I say, instead, pay me for the hours I spend producing bicycles or medicine, or maybe even writing social commentary, and if it is a product that society wants and that I am capable of usefully producing, then I can receive income at the standard rate for my effort, but I can’t just stand around and say, hey, I worked, pay me. I have to generate output commensurate to the time I claim to have spent. I don’t get paid for the value of the output that I generate, but along with my council mates, my work does have to generate valued output if it is to count as being worthy of remuneration for its duration, intensity, and onerousness.
The incentive effect of this participatory economic approach to remuneration is precisely what it ought to be. I have an incentive to work well, hard, and when necessary enduring discomfort doing socially useful things. I am not pushed or compelled, however, to work longer or harder or at worse conditions than my well being or society’s benefit call for, both for work and for consumption. And in all this I am treated precisely like everyone else.
Here is a revealing way to think of it that another parecon advocate, Peter Bohmer, often emphasizes. Imagine your work/income plus leisure time off work as a kind of bundle that has various overall effects on you and others. Everyone who can work has such a bundle including their leisure and their work/income. Participatory economics says the overall worth of each bundle for each worker should be the same as the overall worth of other bundles for other workers. What we equilibrate is the sum of the value of the work plus the value of the income received for it and the value of leisure.
To clarify further, imagine everyone works equally long, equally hard, and under the same conditions – and we all make good use of our time and of the resources we use so that others benefit sufficiently to warrant our activity. Surely that is an equitable arrangement. Okay, but now assume you are called upon by circumstances (or your preferences) to work somewhat longer, or harder, or to endure somewhat worse conditions. Why would you agree to that? For it to be fair, you would do so for more income that offsets the outlay of additional time at work. Or, suppose instead you would like to work less hours, or less hard, or under better conditions. Why should society – or your workmates – say, okay, sure, go ahead, take more leisure? Answer, because you will take less income, and your income/work bundle will remain equitable along with everyone else’s.
Without getting too detailed in this presentation parecon advocates claim that remunerating for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor is necessary for classlessness because it is hard to see how one can generate equity as well as proper incentives and useful outputs with some other approach. Familiar options, such as remunerating power, property, and/or output, yield huge income differentials, harsh struggle over spoils, and perverse anti social incentives. Alternatively, letting everyone do whatever work they want, in any amount they choose, and then consume however much they like risks demand for outputs swamping offerings of labor, but, in any case, certainly generates neither clear incentives nor needed clarity about preferences, a point we will return to later when considering reasons some people doubt parecon’s virtues or possibility.
In sum, regarding ethics, a pareconist argues that duration, intensity, and onerousness of work each morally deserve to be remunerated. They are what the worker contributes to the social product. If there is some other approach that is also ethical, okay, but we don’t see what it is. And it certainly isn’t, it seems to us, remunerating power, property, or being better endowed or working on something deemed more valuable (save for requiring it be valuable at all), or having better tools, or even having innate talents.
Regarding incentives, a pareconist argues that duration, intensity, and onerousness are the attributes that incentives can draw forth and that are needed by society, at least up to a point. Incentives to cheat, steal, oppress, and pollute, on the other hand, are not needed by society. They create conditions that only benefit those who accumulate profits, at vast cost to others.
Regarding outcomes, to ensure that what is produced makes economic sense, we of course want work to be socially desired and efficient. To remunerate for that which isn’t beneficial to others sufficiently to justify expending the resources used in its creation would violate good sense and reduce overall benefit. To reward property, power, or even output, or to ignore that the effort expended needs to be socially useful would deviate from both equity and efficiency, which is why parecon chooses its particular remunerative approach.
Balanced Job Complexes
The third defining feature of participatory economics is balanced job complexes. Each worker does a mix of tasks such that the total of their work responsibilities has comparable empowerment implications for them as the mix of every other worker’s task has for all others. Parecon claims that classlessness and self management can’t do without this type balancing. What logic leads to this claim?
First, balanced job complexes are not about fairness of circumstances. If someone enjoys better or worse conditions, the remunerative approach would generate fairness by properly compensating for the difference. Balanced job complexes are instead about class division and class rule.
We want classlessness and by definition that means we don’t want our economic institutions to systematically give some citizens more power which they are motivated to use to accumulate for themselves excessive wealth and better conditions.
We know that if we let people own means of production and determine its use, their view of others and their overall motives will be skewed so they will dominate outcomes and accumulate extreme wealth. For that reason we reject having owners as a class above workers.
But it also turns out that if some people do only disempowering labor while other people do only empowering labor, the former traditional workers will be dominated by the latter “coordinator class.” Managers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and others doing empowering tasks within a corporate division of labor, will, by virtue of the confidence, knowledge, access to levers of decision making, self interests, self image, image of others, and motivations that their empowering position gives them, rule over workers – who, in turn, by virtue of their disempowering position will lack assets facilitating decision making and even appear incapable of conceptual participation.
The logic of seeking balanced job complexes stems from these observations because if we reject having some people monopolize empowering conditions and roles and thereby becoming a separate “coordinator class” above workers, then we require a division of labor that doesn’t give only some people empowering and most people disempowering work. That’s what seems to advocates of participatory economics an inescapable conclusion which in turn requires us to structurally eliminate a class-divided distribution of tasks.
With balanced job complexes we still welcome expertise since expertise is essential for socially valued work, but each worker does a mix of tasks – not solely rote or solely empowering – and not solely expert or solely mundane – so that everyone is comparably and sufficiently prepared by their economic position to participate in self managing councils. Parecon has a division of labor such that all workers have a mix of tasks which, taken together, comparably empower them. This prevents having a division of labor that establishes a coordinator class dominating a working class.
The corporate division of labor is familiar from capitalism but also from what has been called twentieth century socialism. It has unbalanced job complexes in which about 20% of the workforce does virtually all the empowering tasks while the rest of the workforce does overwhelmingly disempowering tasks. The former group continually acquires and reacquires the needed confidence, information, skills, and even energy to make decisions. The latter group instead accrues mainly exhaustion. And this difference is built into the corporate division of labor which literally imposes the results, just as having private ownership imposes that capitalists dominate economic outcomes. That is, just as capitalists monopolizing ownership gives them vast power and antisocial but self serving aims, so too the coordinator class monopolizing empowering work gives them vast power (especially when there are no capitalists above) and antisocial but self serving aims.
Take over a factory and proclaim a desire to make it equitable, just, and humane. It doesn’t matter how sincere you are, if you retain private ownership you will fail because its presence will subvert your efforts. Similarly, even if you eliminate private ownership so that there are no more capitalists, if you retain a corporate division of labor again you will fail no matter how hard you try. The corporate division of labor will subvert your efforts. These observations are borne out by even the most rudimentary and common knowledge of people and institutions, but also by countless historical examples of both types of failure.
It therefore turns out that having balanced job complexes is not a luxury or a peripheral feature of participatory economics but is, instead, at the core of attaining classlessness. The participatory economic perspective is that having a corporate division of labor will subvert efforts to attain classlessness, self management, and equity, but having balanced job complexes will advance those desirable aims. For completeness, parecon advocates name the class that monopolizes empowering work the coordinator class and name the economic systems that elevate that class to ruling status (due to failing to eliminate a corporate division of labor) coordinatorism. Two types of economies that have precisely this attribute, and which parecon advocates thus call coordinatorist, are what has heretofore gone under the label market socialism and centrally planned socialism.
As the fourth and last defining feature of participatory economics, why must an economy have participatory planning to be classless, self managing, etc.? Wouldn’t it be easier to stick with markets wherein disparate separate actors compete, or to opt for central planning undertaken from the top down? What logic requires a new type of allocation?
Advocates of participatory economics of course freely admit that it would indeed be easier to stick with markets or central planning than to adopt a new allocation system, but they also emphasize that retaining these old allocation systems would be suicidal for attaining classlessness, much less attaining full self management, equity, etc.
Participatory economy advocates claim that both markets and central planning have intrinsic flaws which would horribly distort economic choices of what to produce and consume, and that, even beyond that, they have intrinsic dynamics that compel workers and consumers to make choices contrary to maintaining self management, solidarity, equity, classlessness, ecological stewardship, etc. We have no choice, therefore. If we want classlessness, we must opt for a new approach to allocation.
Though of course such discussions require much more to be complete, in brief, by its very definition, central planning gives excessive influence to planners and diminished influence to others. Planners, in turn, need loyal allies inside workplace to enforce the planners’ instructions and also to gather information that planners need. When the dust settles we are back to a distinction between empowered and disempowered producers – which is to say, coordinator class members and workers.
Further, once they have ruling class status, planners and all their fellow empowered coordinator class members bend decisions to primarily advance their own interests, albeit in the name of system preservation. This is predictable based on understanding people, systems, etc., but it is also borne out by the history of twentieth century socialism – which removed owners but established coordinator class rule in its place.
With markets the story is similar though the details are very different. But where central planning can arguably at least in theory arrive at reasonably accurate valuations of economic products and processes, markets cannot achieve even that because they intrinsically mis-specify prices regarding public and social goods, ecological impact, etc. Markets also enforce that actors behave egocentrically, even narcissistically, and react on a very short timeline. We have no option but to make choices with no concern for nor even any knowledge of implications for others around us, much less for others who are geographically distant or who live in the future. Indeed, with markets, solidarity is punished, greed rewarded.
Likewise, but less well understood, markets induce class rule. In the rush to capture market share and to avoid being outcompeted it is necessary to cut costs. After a point, this can only be done at the expense of workers and consumers. To carry it out requires decision makers who are callous to broad social needs and insulated against the losses that cutting costs at the expense of workers and consumers imposes. This is the coordinator class which is employed by firms to ensure surpluses even against workers’ desires for self management.
Each criticism raised above, much less all of them, albeit more fully elaborated, provides reason to be a market abolitionist and to also join the generalized chorus against central planning. But while exploring the above points would demonstrate beyond any doubt that it would be wonderful to have a new allocation system that did not generate class division and that was able to properly value individual, social, and ecological effects, and to have an allocation system that produced by its dynamics solidarity rather than anti-sociality and diversity rather than homogeneity, why should we adopt, in particular, participatory planning? Why does that fulfill our agenda? What if adopting participatory planning would not ensure the sought gains but would instead take the economy from the frying pan into the fire?
As with earlier defining features, the underlying argument for participatory planning is not complex. We want social behavior not anti social behavior. We want informed participation with appropriate levels of say, not authoritarian hierarchies. We want true social costs and benefits that are intelligently and freely taken account of in decisions, not false costs and benefits self interestedly manipulated and exploited.
These desires require that those affected by decisions cooperatively negotiate outcomes and even just this impetus alone is pretty much sufficient, I suspect, to narrow our allocation search to participatory planning as outlined in models of parecon, or to something very much like it, at any rate.
In participatory planning, workers and consumers can freely express their preferences and this can’t possibly be avoided if we want self management. In doing so, workers and consumers have time, information, and motivation to take into account what others express and to modulate their own choices accordingly, in a back and forth dynamic. Once someone thinking about the allocation problem has that much in mind, the rest is essentially driven by the constraints of having accurate valuations as well as appropriate say for all actors. That’s how Hahnel and I drew out the contours, at any rate, adding into a collective and cooperative negotiation process undertaken by councils steps and facilitating structures as they were needed to make the operations both worthy and viable including being able to deal with unexpected shocks, changes in tastes, innovative discoveries, etc.
Participatory planning is, therefore, just an institutional expression of the long-term anarchist, decentralized socialist, and even religious injunction that workers and consumers should decide production and consumption themselves in accord with their needs and desires and not compelled by the choices imposed by some narrow elite or ruling class, albeit with parecon’s specific conception of self management appended.
But of course a critic might say that it sounds glorious except the whole system would implode for various reasons. And, indeed, there are also those who would say self management is nonsense because it will yield dumb outcomes by under utilizing expertise, or who would say equitable remuneration is nonsense because there will be insufficient incentives for being a doctor or other roles that require lots of training and are highly productive, or that balanced job complexes are nonsense because it is too clumsy and in any event most people can’t do what it requires, or finally that participatory planning is nonsense because it would fall flat, not in its values, but in its implementation. This is all fair enough, because if any of that is true, parecon would be flawed and would need renovation or, if renovation proved impossible, to be jettisoned entirely. None of that, even if true, however, would warrant turning back toward markets or corporate divisions of labor, or private ownership, as compared to still seeking a workable vision beyond all these.
Parecon’s Current Status
We will take up the above concerns, and others as well, in part two of this survey, but even before that, we might now ask, why should anyone take seriously even just the possibility that the four defining features of parecon might be desirable in any event? If they were desirable if implementable, for example, shouldn’t many more people be discussing, debating, and advocating participatory economics, or trying to determine its viability? If parecon would be worthy if it proved possible, why aren’t there more reviews, essays, and support as well as criticism?
Participatory economics, like all any conceptual models when first presented, was initially utterly invisible. Twenty five years later, however, it is still shrouded, lets say, at least on a grand scale. It struggles up from under the curtains of silence every so often, but then it falls back beneath. Even if we consider only anti capitalists, though things have begun changing as steadily more anti capitalists have come into contact with parecon and begun to assess it for themselves, and as Latin American and European events, and even polls, votes, and evident frustrations in the U.S. and UK have begun to put the issue of what we want forefront – still progress is very slow, and visible discussion is almost non existent. But why has this process taken so long, and why, even now, is there noticeably little print discussion of this vision even while growing numbers of activists at the grass roots are starting to take parecon seriously?
One possible answer, benign and without broader implications, is just that new ideas and formulations often require a lot of time to percolate into view, and even more time to get serious public assessment. I think this is certainly part of the story. But I also think it isn’t the whole of the story.
Why, for example, haven’t there been more major reviews and essays about parecon, either highly critical, or gently or aggressively supportive? I think there are two parts to the answer beyond just noting that such things take time.
The first part is that there is relatively little written, whether as a review or otherwise, about any economic vision at all. It isn’t just particpatory economics that goes under-discussed (even in alternative media), but other economic visions as well (and, really, any kind of vision at all).
Make some new claim about how capitalism works, or racism, or whatever, in the world we daily endure, and it will be dissected ad nauseam, especially if people have a way to disagree with it. Make some claim about what should replace capitalism, racism, or whatever, however, and there will very likely be a crescendo of silence. This is true regardless of what visionary claims are made.
But while non-specific vision aversion explains a long, slow haul for any visionary claims, I think a second part of the answer in the case of participatory economics, is that parecon has attributes that orient people who run progressive publications, radio shows, and organizations away from giving it even modest visibility. That is, if parecon becomes widely advocated on the left, there will arise pressure for changes in left institutions to move them in pareconish directions and many people sincerely feel that such changes would be destructive, or sometimes even just oppose them to protect their own continued roles.
There is a loose but instructive analogy to the rise of feminism or black power decades back. As those broad perspectives gained strength there arose great pressures to reduce racism and sexism in left movements and projects and to actively propel cultural diversity and feminism. There also arose considerable resistance to these changes, not least from people who saw them as threatening their own situations. I think the same holds for participatory economics.
Those who own or who administer left projects, publications, and movements, either implicitly or explicitly realize at some level that if pareconish economic views became preponderant their current agendas for left efforts would be disrupted by a drive toward equity, self management, and particularly balanced job complexes within their own projects and organizations. Whether they resist this type of change to avoid loss of position or because they sincerely think it would be harmful varies case by case.
There was a time when a periodical that didn’t have reviews of participatory economics, or any kind of visibility for parecon at all, could legitimately claim it was because parecon was a sidebar set of notions, without much support, and because the periodical hadn’t, in fact, received any writing about parecon. Their not soliciting writing would hardly demonstrate active resistance but, instead, just a common disposition away from vision in any form, or even just honest ignorance of parecon’s existence, or sincere doubt about its worth. But nowadays at least a good number of left periodicals have received many submissions and actively rejected or more often ignored all of them including from well known writers and even people on their own staffs. I think that suggests a different dynamic than benign neglect.
In any event, whatever the causes may be, the relative absence of people seriously debating parecon’s merits in diverse print venues greatly hinders its spread. A potential reader could reasonably think to him or herself, should I wade through this book, or even just this article? Should I immerse myself in this website? Should I work to understand these ideas? Should I develop my own views about them? Well, wait, perhaps I shouldn’t do any of that. After all, my favorite journals haven’t said a word about this vision. So I should probably ignore it to and wait and see if parecon gains credibility before I invest any of my own very limited time assessing it.
This kind of reader reticence to take parecon – or anything else largely ignored by left media – seriously by giving it some time and attention, given the absence of serious print debate about it, is quite reasonable for each individual. I make calculations of the same sort, often, about stories and investigations that are not up my ally. If they can’t get attention from others who are closer to the topic, I can’t see giving my time to them. But writ large – with vision per se, and with parecon, this is not so reasonable if, as I believe, the silence among media outlets isn’t itself reasonable.
In any event, this kind of dynamic has operated at least for over a decade. The rise in the numbers of people relating to parecon despite the absence of print discussion and debate is arguably remarkably quick, rather than slow, once seen in that context. But whether it is slow or fast, we can now at least hope, with some reason, that the attention parecon is getting is reaching a scale that will propel collective adjudication of the merits of the model. And perhaps that will be helped along by this three part offering.