Five conditions for a democratic workplace

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Yanis Varoufakis’ third response:

6. Five conditions for a democratic workplace

Yanis Varoufakis, 24 January 2022

Michael: To my question “Who decides if Harriet is allowed to choose her projects?”, you responded: “the workers’ council, of course”. To the question “Who decides what product or activity is socially useful?”, you replied: “the whole population together decides”. My gut reaction to your answers is a gut fear stemming from a natural dread I have of, as liberals and anarchists put it, the tyranny of the majority. Then again, democracy is only possible if the demos decides. The question is: Can democracy-at-work be made compatible with a degree of personal autonomy from what the majority thinks?

At this point in our discussion we need to set out concrete rules for the governance of enterprises. Here are five that I would like to propose:

  i.               Democratic planning

Competing enterprise plans are put forward by members, each accompanied by a full rationale. They include how many resources to commit to R&D, which product or technology to invest in, the level of remuneration etc. Members are given a long period to read up on each proposal, to debate them and to form preferences. They are then invited to rank the proposals in order of preference on an electronic ballot form. If no plan wins an absolute majority of first preferences, a process of successive elimination takes place (based on Australia’s ranked preference electoral system) to determine the winning Plan.

ii.               Autonomy

Teams are formed (as per the Plan) by a democratic process that matches slots with applicants. No one is compelled to take a slot they do not want. Each retains the right to work, alone or in spontaneously formed teams, on any project she or he deems compatible with the Plan – without anyone’s permission.

iii.               Remuneration

A basic salary is paid to all, whose level is decided democratically as part of (i) above. Additionally, the collective can set aside a sum for two types of bonuses: (A) Job-specific; i.e., the collective decides that an X% bonus is right, reflecting the job’s unpleasantness or high skills necessary. (B) Person-Specific; i.e., a reward for extraordinary services to the enterprise’s overall performance, atmosphere etc. For example, each member is given 100 brownie points to distribute amongst her colleagues across the enterprise. Then, the total Personal-Bonus kitty is divided in proportion to how many points a member has received from everyone else.

iv.               The right to quit – and the right to a basic income

To be genuinely free and an authentic participant, a worker must have the right to walk away from a company if she feels the majority is stifling her. To render this right real, as opposed to theoretical, the worker must have an ‘outside option’. This is why an unconditional basic income (guaranteeing a life with dignity) for all is not an optional extra for the good society – but a fundamental obligation to its citizens

v.               The right to fire – and the right to a basic income

At the same time, for the majority to be free from toxic individuals, the collective must have the right to fire (by democratic vote) a member abusing her autonomy – a right that the collective can only exercise if it knows that everyone has the right to a basic income guaranteeing a life with dignity.

This is an ongoing debate between Michael Albert and Yanis Varoufakis: more entries will be added here soon.


  1. avatar
    James January 25, 2022 7:30 pm 


    “ There was much overlap other than they both contained institutions.” Should read wasn’t much overlap…between Parecon and capitalism.

  2. avatar
    James January 25, 2022 7:27 pm 

    This debate is getting long winded temporally speaking. And frustrating. And frankly, I’m not sure if it’s helpful. I said, you said and on. Then us punters in the cheap seats choose by flipping a coin or the gravity of tribal alliance? Something like that.

    I mean, it always feels like Parecon is on the defensive. Been around for thirty years trying to shove its way into the minds of concerned young people today with little help from fellow activists within the left landscape. Why the frig is that?

    First people like Richard Wolff, even early in, think it kind of over exuberant. Anarchists find it too ‘economistic” and lacking some sort of soul (that’s what it feels like). Market socialists beat on it and some think it unimaginatively, nonsense on stilts. Pluralist commonwealthers and solidarity economy folk (whatever that means coz Parecon is one) think it a blueprint (no such thing…it’s a mythological notion and therefore merely a rhetorical device) that overextends. Newcomers to the visionary world like peer to peer folk who seem to have morphed into Commoning folk beat it down. Social ecologists ignore it. And other anarchists like Wayne Price and some Marxists (I’ve come across this a few times) believe something like Parecon is probably what we need. Really? Well, he’s an idea for Wayne and those Marxists. There is something like Parecon now. It’s called Parecon. So how about working from there, seriously working that is, to try and tweak it so you can come up with something that’s like it but not actually it. For friggin’ sake.

    Just another debate in a long line of debates that have not in any way really put Parecon into the minds of the many. Even within the Left landscape. Maybe a few extra, but not much more.

    And now we have to wait for an explication of Yanis’s model outlined in a few short paragraphs here. Because no matter how Michael replies, Yanis will have to elucidate to explain his models structure for us following the thing to understand better (presuming most haven’t read his book).

    I wish the two models could be just put side by side. Each corresponding institutional part laid out next to the other. That way we could all see where they both vary. I have no interest in Yanis’s gut feels or philosophical arguments over equity and tyrannies of majorities and I’m sure the Bill Bakers of Stillwater and his daughter Allison who find life brutal don’t either.

    Michael did just that many moons ago with capitalism. Outlined in table form the corresponding institutions of capitalism and Parecon. It allowed for a certain visual clarity. It allowed for elucidation of aspects of certain ideas and why they are there. There was much overlap other than they both contained institutions. This could easily be done with Yanis’s model and ideas. Then we could possibly see where they both sit on the path to making the world less brutal. I’m sure there may be some overlap. Debates always feel competitive like someone’s trying to win through being more convincing. Stop it and just look at both systems in a constructive comparative way. Both these left movers and shakers are on the same side. But Yanis’s gut feels and gagging make it seem otherwise at times.

    It has nothing to do with Yanis and others having gut feels or suffocating. It has to do with why Yanis believes x and why Michael believes y and it may be that one, say y, is further on down the road, in some respects. I mean Parecon was developed in response to Alec Nove’s claim that anything other than markets or central planning is not possible. Well, Albert and Hahnel have shown this not to be the case. Yanis SHOULD be looking at Parecon as a wonder. A wonder of the imagination that is no less a marvel than anything Marx came up with. Who else has taken up that challenge? Huh? Who? Talk about being creative. And Meta, who’s hosting this debate is all about art too. Well, Parecon is art and friggin’ good art at that.

    Yanis has said that he’s followed Michael’s work for a long time. It’s strange then that his decision to try and describe a new alternative postcapitalist economy came out of the feeling that there just wasn’t one anywhere to be found in the Left landscape. I just read that in an interview recently. I find that almost insulting. Jeepers, there is and has been heaps of ideas. And it’s as if Parecon just didn’t exist, or worse, shouldn’t exist. And now, in 2022, we have a new contender within the market socialist ranks and Parecon is fighting the same battles it’s fought over three decades.

    A good example of how Parecon gets treated is to see how a couple of essays by Albert and Hahnel, sequestered by or offered to the Next System Project, are just wallowing in some dark out of the way recess of that project’s site basically ignored by the majority of those who consider themselves a part of that whole project. Like some amazing piece of music someone has composed or improvised that never sees the light of day because the record company’s powers that be deem it unsellable. Not worth the trouble.

    A debate over two visions that are structurally different means it should be zeroing down on where those differences are and not on arguments by protagonists rebuffing each other. Right off the bat, in a nutshell, it’s about markets. It’s not about whether one vision is better or THE vision, it’s about ideas.

    Parecon is a coherent whole. It may be just a scaffold, as Michael likes to think of it to keep it out of blueprint territory (something I don’t care about because there’s no such thing), but it operates necessarily according to its non-market planning structure and a completely different remuneration system. And all it’s structure is interdependent. So of course it’s gonna be different, completely, to any kind of market model.

    So if these models were just set side by side maybe something helpful may come of it. Maybe “something like Parecon” is down the road a bit while Yanis’s model is closer to now but a little along from a GlOBAL GREEN NEW DEAL that is actually NEEDED NOW! I mean, we ain’t getting rid of markets over night if we want a just transition and avoid bloodshed.

    And this leads to even other kinds of more useful approaches than debates (that tend to create sides) or just dumping visions on marginal unknown websites that no one visits.

    How about comparative critiques of other market socialist models because there are many out there. Shit, who’s reading them all? Bill Baker and his daughter? I doubt it. Some are in journals. What’s the point of all of them? Seriously. How does Bill Baker know how to decide? It’s impossible. Economics is a boring and tedious subject that few enjoy but is something absolutely essential and necessary. How much does Yanis’s model differ from Schwieckart’s or Erik Olin Wright’s or Pat Devine’s or others out there? Really? How much? How different are the plethora of visions dumped on the Next System Project’s site and then dumped in a big thick book that nobody’s gonna read? Huh? Do Bill Baker and his daughter have to read them all and decide? On their own? How? It’s no wonder that John Jordan’s incoherent notion of improvising our way to the future whilst doing away with past “traditional” left notions and any “we know what to do and where we should go ideas” seems so appealing. It’s just easier for ordinary folk.

    (Sometimes it’s like the free will debate. Now there’s a mine and mind filed for ya. A philosophical labyrinth of complexity that is truly bamboozling at times. Yet, I write to Noam about it to see what he thinks. Get two short responses pertaining to the strangeness of skeptics arguing their points believing they are doing so of their own free choosing and that science has told us nothing, followed by the sentence…”Where’s the debate?”)

    That’s why this debate is so unappealing. It’s drawn out and just going down the same frustrating path all the others went down. Leading to the protagonists merely going home and forgetting that the other exists. Or that’s how it seems.

    This debate, and even Meta, the site connected with DiEM25 and notions of techno-feudalism (who cares..it’s friggin’ capitalism any way you look at it whether it be late stage, mid stage or just staged) has to change its approach. Meta seems to be just a dumping ground and nothing much else. Why can’t it be a “war room” of sorts, where those doing the dumping work with each other reshaping, reforming, informing each other’s ideas into truly workable options for the present and for down the road. In ways that Bill Baker and his daughter can understand.

    And in ways that make it look like the Left landscape has finally gone beyond the useless observation that it’s easier to understand the end of the world than the end or capitalism or that what we need is a new economic vision for our world and “something like Parecon” may be it.

    Turn Meta into a Left visionary war room. Otherwise it’s just a dumping ground and already too many people live on top of dumps!

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