Peercommony Doubts Parecon?

The following piece titled, Peercommony Doubts Parecon?, responds to Christian Siefkes' My Doubts About Parecon, which was reacting to an Albert summary of Parecon. Christian will comment in a followup article on the piece immediately below, and Michael on Christian's. All the content, as it becomes available, will display at Albert/Siefkes Discussion which also includes a set of pieces beginning with a Siefkes summary of Peercommony, and then Albert's concerns, etc.

Christian, in responding to my summary of parecon, you say you “like the goals of parecon,” but which goals? Solidarity, diversity, equity, self management, classlessness, and ecological stewardship? Fulfilling people’s needs and desires as ably as knowledge permits? 

You say you however worry that parecon “revolves about paid labor,” and you ask, why is “everybody…forced to work for money in order to be able to buy the things they need to live”? 

Do we agree there is such a thing as just and unjust allocation so that that a person could get too much or too little of the social product relative to what they have contributed, and that a good economy should equilibrate work/leisure allotments to a fair balance for all?

To promote equity while generating and conveying needed information about people’s desires, parecon proposes that the duration, intensity, and onerousness of people’s socially valued work should determine their share of the social product by way of participatory planning procedures implementing the self managed decisions of workers and consumers councils. 

You don’t call that choice inequitable but instead call it coercive on grounds it means we can’t take more than some amount if we work less than some amount. I reply that if we disconnect work and income, people will typically want to work too little for the social good to be optimally met, and people will want to take more from the social product than is available. If we don’t correlate what people do and what they get, people will have no indication excessive or diminutive choices are wrong. If the economy tells people to consult their own desires for consumption and work without correlating the two – then I will take lots of really nice stuff and only work when I want. 

You suggest that my saying people – or I – will want to consume more and produce less than can match up implies that I think "everybody is still a bit too lazy and a bit too greedy for society to work without coercion.” But that does not follow. As I wrote in the original piece, “[the gap between consumption and production arises] not because people are either greedy, lazy, or irresponsible, but because people have no way to know what is responsible and moral.” Why would I try to police myself into working and consuming in a matching pattern, when society says I need not do so and also provides no means for me to do so – and even instructs me to do otherwise? Not being gluttonous regarding stuff is very different than my taking no more than optimally makes good sense for all. 

I presume that you think you or I should not have fourteen houses in a good economy, nor even three, say. We should not work four hours a week, or even ten, say. Yet you say that parecon structurally telling us that we can work and have leisure in our own preferred mix as long as the mix is just, is coercive. In contrast, I think if I say I want x and too bad if it is too much, or I say I want to do y, and too bad if it is too little or I am bad at it, then I am telling society it must give me what I demand, and it must allow me what I propose.

We tell capitalists they can’t own the means of production. Capitalists call it coercion, but we call it creating equity. Pareconists tell everyone they can’t have more product than their participation warrants. You call it coercive. I call it creating equity.

The young Bob Dylan had an interesting quote in one of his songs. “To live outside the law you must be honest.” I think Dylan’s idea was that if my free, informed, choice would spontaneously abide a law or norm – then I live outside its reach. But if my free, informed choice would violate a law or norm, and I obey it, then it has coerced me. 

Social choices must mesh. The mesh will coerce at least some people, unless everyone agrees on its merit. To get that happy result requires that institutions facilitate and warrant individual choices consistent with the social good, and also social choices consistent with the individual good. 

Parecon says your share of the social product should accord with your duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor. Who does that coerce? 

Would you, yourself, want to act other than according to that norm, supposing you had full information and freedom consistent with others acting similarly? I think we both believe almost no one would.  

Implementing parecon’s equity norm, via participatory planning, tells workers how much consumers want. It tells consumers how much work goes into what we desire to have. It “coerces” only people who would prefer to take more stuff than their effort warrants. 

Given our shared goals, do you think parecon’s equity norm would cause class division, violate solidarity, block diversity, or curtail self management? How? 

You say it’s “peculiar” that parecon has “income” while claiming to favor “a world where ‘people work as they choose’ and ‘consume as they choose.’” 

Why is it “peculiar”? To connect work and consumption does not prevent our working and consuming as we choose. It instead says in doing so, we have to take into account the relation of our choices to other people's circumstances.

We agree society cannot consume x and work y where there is no correlation between x and y. But in that case, isn’t making each actor aware of that connection, and able to make choices consistent with it, essential to our each being socially responsible participants? 

When I consume x, someone has to produce it. Is their outlay worthwhile, given my fulfillment? When I consume y, it has ecological implications. Are the implications acceptable given my fulfillment? Parecon’s equitable remuneration plus participatory planning facilitates sensible choices.

You charge parecon with thinking in terms of “the capitalist concept of ‘income’ instead of in terms of social output of goods.” 

Yet, in capitalism, income derives from bargaining power and/or property, and to a small degree, levels of output. In parecon, none of those factors determine income which derives, instead, from duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valuable labor. So how is parecon’s remunerative norm even remotely like “the capitalist concept of income”? 

What damage do you think having equitable remuneration or participatory planning does? I know you say these are capitalist, but you don’t say in what way. What harm are you trying to avoid by saying that in a good economy I shouldn’t have a budget that balances my effort and my share of the social product?

Consider air conditioners. Everyone could benefit from having them in their dwelling. But having that many takes lots of work, metals, energy, and so on. Does the amount that people want air conditioners warrant everyone having them? To reach desirable outcomes, an economy needs a way to discern how much people want air conditioners and what are the ecological, social, and personal costs of providing them.  

You argue that everyone – with no norms and little information – will consume and work appropriately. At the same time, you argue that if people have needed information, and also have options only to operate within indicated limits, people will so want to violate those agreed limits that it will only be to avoid starvation that they participate. This is like saying people will stop at red lights if no one knows you should do so because there is no red light norm – but people will want to run red lights if everyone knows you should stop or, indeed, if it was impossible not to stop.

Your larger reasoning seems to be 1) capitalism has income, 2) parecon has income, 3) parecon is therefore flawed like capitalism is flawed. Income is just a name for how much of the social product each person gets. Every society/economy has income. And I don’t see you actually saying how remunerating duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor as a norm for income is capitalistic or how it blocks or tramples outcomes we want. Do you think it isn’t equitable? It creates class division, destroys solidarity, or obstructs self management? 

You say, if parecon “doesn’t want a market [it] should be consistent and do away with the idea of payment as well.” That is like saying if a democracy doesn’t want authoritarianism it should be consistent and get rid of the idea of decisions too. 

Capitalist market payment is determined by bargaining power, property, and to a limited degree output. Parecon participatory planning payment is determined by duration, intensity, and onerousness of people’s socially valued labor. Calling the latter capitalistic because it delivers income is like calling democracy authoritarian because it delivers decisions.  

Do you think requiring a connection between what you yourself do and what you yourself receive would make you behave in ways harmful to you or to others, while having no such connection will cause you to be more socially concerned? Why? How? Do you think connecting work and income would impose inequitable results on you or on society? How? 

Regarding the price of goods, which also troubled you, in parecon a process of cooperative negotiation equilibrates what firms offer to produce and what consumers seek to enjoy. The prices that emerge from this cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs numerically summarize true personal, social, and ecological costs and benefits.

Addressing another concern you raised, in any good economy workers should not apply their efforts at tasks they cannot do well enough for the result to be socially desired. But, you implicitly wonder, how can we deal with that positively? Well, if full employment is ensured, and parecon does that, and if incomes are just, and parecon does that – then if a workplace cannot produce things people desire at costs people find acceptable – it should not continue operating. We should not squander valuable assets on insubstantial benefits. I assume we agree. 

But then you worry that in parecon since remuneration reflects how long you work, “a slow [less productive] worker still receives the same hourly payment as a fast [more productive] one.” Not exactly. You are right that the amount of income varies with duration, and also intensity – but of socially valuable labor. I can’t dig and fill holes, and claim an income because no matter how onerous, how long, or how intensely I do it, digging and filling holes has no worth to anyone. More relevantly, but following the same logic, nor can I spend ten hours doing what average intensity by a competent worker would do in five hours, and claim ten hours effort – because only five was socially valuable. Thus, I have a strong incentive to avoid doing things I can’t do competently. Parecon’s workers have to be doing socially valuable work to be remunerated. If I am particularly bad at doing some job, so my doing it is not a socially valuable use of my time, I can’t do it for income, or at least I can’t do it for full income, because some of my time spent at it will not be socially productive.

You doubt that consumers would “willingly pay a higher price to a [workplace] that employs many slow workers instead of buying from another one that can offer the same goods cheaper because its workers are faster?” Me too, but the issue does not arise in a parecon. Prices don't vary for goods like that. Costs do not enter into prices in that manner. And wages are not set thusly. But what really strikes me, here, is that your comment implies you would reject having a workplace in which everyone works two hours a day while also taking average societal income, or even way more than average. And it implies you would reject having a workplace in which everyone is incompetent at their work, but likes doing it, and so keeps on doing it, using valuable resources and taking full income. But oddly, in that case, you must think that if people do not know what the costs and benefits are and have no instructions to abide them in any event, they will operate justly so that no such workplaces exist – yet as soon as people do know the costs and benefits, and do have that instruction, they will be devilish.

Perhaps this will get to the crux of it. How do you think a pareconish firm, with certain resources, tools, and people, and which has to be doing socially valued production to warrant its inputs and its workers incomes, can operate inefficiently or even slothfully or incompetently, and yet have those in it do just fine, feeling no reason to change their ways? In contrast, with people free to take what they want and to do what they choose, with over consumption and under production literally rewarded, why won’t such problems be ubiquitous? 

More generally, how do you think either equitable remuneration or participatory planning violates any value you aspire to?

You next turn to balanced job complexes and wonder why a corporate division of labor leads to inequitable incomes. My apologies, I was probably unclear. In a workplace we occupy say, or start from scratch, suppose we maintain a corporate division of labor. 20 percent do all the empowering work. 80 percent do the dull, stultifying, and exhausting work. The 20 percent increasingly see themselves as more critical, more important, etc. They set agendas and determine policies because their circumstances give them the knowledge, tools, connections, and positions to do so while denying such circumstances to others. The 80 percent increasingly get tired of attending meetings only to watch other people determine their lives. They are exhausted. They start to skip meetings. Eventually the 20 percent, now nearly alone in attendance, vote that they should get more income. This is not hypothetical, but happens. It isn’t malevolent, but a natural imposition on the behaviors, circumstances, and ways of thinking that the corporate division of labor imposes on people. And it is why we opt for balanced job complexes.

Christian, you next offer a concern with balanced job complexes. “If I’m happy with hunting and criticizing, why force me to herd cattle as well? If all my passion goes to fishing, and society can use what I do, why shouldn’t people just let me do what I like most?” 

While it has nothing to do with hunting and herding cattle per se, I did explain that parecon balances job offerings for empowerment effects because if jobs are unbalanced regarding empowerment, then after people choose among them, some people will be subordinate to others in a class hierarchy. As a result, parecon opts for balanced job complexes.

You apply for a job that you like from among those available. To be remunerated, your work has to be socially valuable which means you have to do something you are competent at and where the benefit outweighs the cost. You get a just share of the social product – but not more than that. Your job is balanced so it doesn’t cause you to dominate others, or others to dominate you.

We don't say that we are going to let people do whatever they want (and take whatever they want) not least because that claim is meaningless. Think of a workplace. Whether there are ten, two hundred, or ten thousand workers, there is no such thing as each worker doing whatever he or she wants, starting from a tabula rasa each day, or even each hour. Instead, workers' efforts have to socially and technically mesh to get their labors accomplished without wasting effort and resources, which in turn means workers will work in recurring patterns, at bundles of tasks they become good at. Parecon requires that those jobs are balanced for empowerment, rather than being corporate.

You wonder why you should favor “forcing everybody to engage in activities they don’t like (even if others would like them).” 

I wonder, if an economy is organized so that each job is balanced for empowerment, why do you think we will have to force people to engage in activities they don’t like? Do you think there are so many tasks people don’t like that every balanced job will be crowded with those tasks – you can’t find one you like? And do you think that even though those disliked tasks, however many there may be, are distributed fairly, and that remuneration for them is fair, and that decision influence is fair – still, people will need to be forced to take a job? 

Okay, if you think that, then how can you possibly simultaneously think that with everyone doing whatever they want, and doing nothing that they don’t want, and having no requirements and also little information, all the tasks people so wanted to avoid when they were apportioned equitably, will get done? Do you think there are differences in people such that four out of five, with everyone educated, with everyone confident, will gleefully grab all the rote and disempowering labor, while only one in four will take the empowering tasks – and both will be comparably happy about it, and empowered by it? 

Finally, to conclude, at the end of your concerns you worry that parecon will succumb to bureaucratic ills. But who do you see as bureaucrats in parecon? And how, in light of having self management, balanced job complexes, and equitable incomes, will anyone in parecon aggrandize themselves into being a privileged class?

Leave a comment