Rejoining Price’s Reply

To avoid going in circles, I will try to be brief…except on the matter of self-sufficiency and scale, which seems to concern many people on the left, particularly anarchists and Greens.


It seems to me that there are two central aspects to our self-sufficiency differences.


The first issue is: How much allocational self-sufficiency versus mutual interconnectivity and how much large scale versus small-scale production should/will, a self-managing classless economy opt for?


The second issue is: what should economic institutions contribute vis a vis this matter?


The first aspect is for now overwhelmingly only an academic concern. The second aspect, however, has serious implications for now.


First, there are benefits to self-sufficiency and different benefits to interconnectivity, and likewise for small and large scale, and sometimes one has to weigh the difference and choose. Thus, we may differ about what we expect people to choose, and what we expect to be the relative costs and benefits – but so what? It is much like, for example, debating how many bicycles, cars, or trains a desirable future economy will have. It is not for people today to decide future preferences, but for citizens in future good economies to do so, of course.


Second, a worthy economy should equip its citizens to decide, in a self-managing way, with needed information, what they want. But that means the economy has to deliver to people critical information such as the material, social, and ecological costs and benefits regarding economic options. So what is important now is not our personal inclination or even a group inclination toward more or less self-sufficiency or smaller or larger scale, but whether an economy facilitates future workers and consumers making these choices well.


Wayne, you say, "Humans are best able to control their collective lives when they meet face-to-face to decide on issues which are connected to their daily lives and of which they have a clear understanding."


The fact that you can participate more easily with someone if you are face to face with him or her isn’t an argument that you should forego larger scale or greater interconnectivity, at a distance, unless the benefits of distant interconnectivity don’t outweigh the costs of having additional non face-to-face engagement, whatever they might be.


In other words, you are right that we can negotiate more easily with a next-door neighbor about his tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have oranges produced in Florida. Nor, does it mean we can’t negotiate with Florida producers about orange output through means suited to the process, even if there is some additional difficulty setting up those means.


You say, "The more faraway and complex issues are, the more difficult to have direct democracy decide them."


Notice, you would never say let’s eliminate all complex or nearly all complex possibilities. You would say, instead, if something’s complexity makes it so intractable or risky or whatever, that the dangers outweigh reasons for doing it, we shouldn’t do it. And I agree…but that is a case-by-case assessment, and self sufficiency versus distant entwinement is similar.


If by "direct democracy" you mean seeing everyone who we are involved with, you are correct by definition. But if the phrase means that we have a self managing say, and so do others, and if we also require that we get to have things that are produced far away, and to help others far away, unless the full costs of doing so exceed the full benefits, then your formulation is wrong.


You say, "If our community and/or workers’ council has to negotiate iteratively with zillions of councils all over North America, then this will cause a great many exchanges and complexities which will be hard for everyone to think about."


If chaos and inappropriate levels of influence was the inexorable result of countrywide planning you would have a case. But no one negotiates with each of zillions of councils individually, even though, yes, we all have a say. More, even if what you assert were true, I suspect the cost of foregoing national and international entwinement would be way greater in almost everyone’s eyes than the cost of the loses to desirable decision making, and therefore would actually lead most people to favoring markets or central planning to having to have a kind of bio regionalism. Luckily, however, chaos and divergence from appropriate influence isn’t the result of planning for a country rather than only allocating face to face. Instead, participatory planning permits countrywide production and distribution whenever transaction, communication, and participation costs are lower than benefits, while also promoting participation and self-management.


I don’t understand why you don’t even entertain that large scale planning could conceivably have these merits and why you think that saying it can’t suffices as an argument against the possibility. It seems like you pessimistically think a workplace producing bicycles for people tens or hundreds of miles away can’t, for some reason, pay attention to the needs and desires of its far flung audience, of its local and regional community, and of its workforce, unless everyone involved in those three domains makes their decisions face to face. Indeed, participatory planning provides a way to do it.


You say, "But if our local council is only involved in exchanging information and making decisions with a few other locals in the region, then it will be easier for everyone to keep track and make informed decisions."


Actually, I suspect it wouldn’t be easier because if you didn’t create the means of tracking, conveying, and assessing costs and benefits for a whole economy, you likely wouldn’t have the institutional structures and tools for generating such information and participatory involvement for each small region – but, even putting that point entirely aside, let’s suppose you are right that participation is easier in a face to face situation. We live in a world that uses tens of thousands – actually hundreds of thousands, I think – of inputs and outputs. To be dependent on "a few other locals" who to fulfill your conditions must also be dependent only on one another, would cause each locale to have to forego virtually all those inputs and outputs. Worse, in my view, the payoff would only be insularity and isolation. 


Finally, having countrywide planning doesn’t diminish the amount anyone can interact locally, it simply adds a dimension in addition, at huge gain, without foregoing self management.


You say, "Right now the national and world economies are extremely centralized."


Yes, if you mean the decision making power is centralized, as is the wealth. But of course the workplaces and activities are even now "decentralized" all over the world. In a parecon the decision-making power and wealth as well as the workplaces and activities are all decentralized. 


You say, "U.S. corporations do not have clothes sewn in Bangla Desh because U.S. workers cannot sew! They do it because the Bangaladeshi women workers will work for much less than U.S. workers."


That is true, though of course even the possibility of this disappears in a good society where labor remuneration follows one norm that doesn’t depend on bargaining power or productivity – but even now people don’t get oil, coal, aluminum, peaches, oranges, and most other items from other places only because owners are seeking to rip off consumers, but rather because they don’t have the items or the items are too expensive, despite the same labor costs, due to worse weather, or less accessibility, etc.


Nor is the only possible reason to produce bicycles in few large plants rather than in many small plants to profit owners. Instead, in a parecon, there are no profits anywhere, but it will sometimes make ecological sense, or labor time sense, or social sense to use larger plants to make bikes for more people and to then ship them places, than to use many more small shops to make the bikes (with the rubber and steel and intermediate goods all shipped to each shop). In other words, it can even be true for things that can technically be done small scale, that it is ecologically and/or socially better to do them large scale.


You say, "Back in the 30s, the decentralist homesteader Ralph Borsodi demonstrated that, while big-factory mass production could often produce things cheaper, costs of distribution went up the more things had to be packaged, stored, and transported, over longer distances."


Yes, and when this is the case, an economy needs to discern the full social, ecological, and material costs and benefits and make the right investment choices – I quite agree.


And that is why, (a) you don’t prejudge by deciding always to prefer decentralization or small scale or its opposite, and, (b) you need means to discern full social costs and benefits, which is what parecon permits, even while delivering self-management.


In other words you don’t ask of a good economy that it bias toward small or decentralized, you ask that it incorporate self management and provide full information for people to judge what they themselves want.


You say, "Local production and consumption also produce smaller amounts of waste, which are easier to be reabsorbed by the natural ecology." 


In fact, (a) sometimes this is true but sometimes the opposite is true, particularly in a good economy where larger scale can facilitate massive reclamation, efficient technologies that don’t pollute as much in the first place, etc., and (b) in any case, the real issue is having an economy that facilitates people making the better choice, not one that prejudges choices in either direction.


As to the Soviet Union, and more to the point, class relations, how about if we focus on the part strategically most relevant now.


Wayne, are there, in your view, in contemporary economies, only two centrally critical classes, workers and owners, and as economic types only capitalism and variants of it, and a worker administered economy you call libertarian socialism, and variants of it – so that the 20th century socialist economies are one or the other (where for you the variant, I guess, is statism)? In this case the Soviet Union becomes state capitalism or perhaps state socialism.


Or, would you agree with me that that there are three critical classes, workers, coordinators, and owners, and there is capitalism in various forms but also two possible types of post capitalist economy? In each there is no longer private ownership and no longer capitalists. However, in one, there is classlessness and in the other, there is a class division between workers, below, and those monopolizing empowering tasks, above? In this case, the Soviet system becomes this third option – which I call coordinatorism. And, of course, there can be various political structures with each type of economy.


About polity…


It seems that we agree on needing a polity, with federations of assemblies, etc. to accomplish political functions consistently with self-management and other values.


But about police, you say, "I assume that you think that police tasks should be `balanced job complexes,’ as must other jobs, which could also make them less a special layer."


Correct, and the assertion that everyone should be trained and capable at police functions, even as part of their balanced job complex, continues to make no more sense to me than that we should all be airplane pilots part time. Both police and pilots have huge responsibility, a possibility of abusing their role, difficult tasks, etc. but in neither case does it make sense to have everybody master the discipline, nor to do it without mastering it.


You quote me saying, "Experiments are desirable, but having one region use markets, and another use cooperative negotiation, would be incoherent, including the former tending to imperially replace the latter."  And you reply that you "did not and do not advocate the use of markets."


So what you are saying is, while you want diversity and experimentation you don’t think any old thing is okay and every thing should be welcomed. That is no different from me.


You reject markets, presumably on grounds that they foster class division, anti sociality, and so on. And you think it is fine that you do that, and that it doesn’t mean you are for homogenizing outcomes, or against experiment, etc. etc. I agree.


But I think the same applies to my rejection, say, of corporate divisions of labor or remuneration for output.


You say, "We need to present a vision of a better, freer society, with different ways of human beings living, working, and relating to each other.  But I doubt that most people will be won over by detailed expositions of what a new society would look like."


What you call "detailed," I say is the bare bones minimum to make a case that is remotely creditable.


You say, "I think most people will come over when faced with a collapsing capitalism (which is developing apace) plus our raising realistic-sounding proposals which could be fought for here and now."


We can only see which approach works out in the long run. But I would point to ubiquitous cases of capitalism rotting and people reacting, but nonetheless not building the key features essential to moving forward – take Argentina not long ago, as an example, or the next few months in the U.S., most likely. These all indicate that absence of core vision sufficient to inform and even guide institutional choices impedes going from anger to informed and sustained activism.


You say, "I have not yet read your Raising Hope, but will."


The title, should you look for it, is Realizing Hope.


And you add, "Have you read my book, The Abolition of the State?"




You quote me asking "Would you stand outside a voting place this November and urge people to leave, rather than vote?" And then you reply, "You obviously regard anti-electoralism as pretty foolish."


Actually, I don’t I even know what anti-electoralism is. Being opposed to and wanting to replace our current electoral system – I agree with that. Being opposed to elections per se, to votes and tallies, I can’t even conceive.


I also think it is confused to think that being against our electoral system and wanting to replace it implies that one should not be concerned with what occurs electorially, including even, at times, voting. Do you have a job, working for a capitalist? You want to overthrow capitalism, but that doesn’t mean you ignore capitalism, or boycott it, or never act within it, etc.


You quote me again…saying "we ought to decry our electoral system and the state behind it and offer alternatives even while we sometimes hold our noses and root for or even work for a lesser evil." And you say, "I assume that `work[ing] for a lesser evil’ means urging people to vote for Obama and the Democratic Party."


It can mean that, not the party per se, but a candidate in some election, sure. So, in a contested state, I have no problem with someone urging votes for Obama, though I would have a problem with someone saying Obama was better than he in fact is, much less that he is a real leftist, mush less that what he is matters more than the pressures on him. 


You say, "As I noted in an earlier exchange, I do not try to get individual liberals to not vote. As supporters of capitalism, they naturally plan to vote for a pro-capitalist."


Someone can vote for, in fact even work for Obama, while hating him, wanting to over throw capitalism, etc. Why can’t you accept that a person can have very radical comprehension and motives/aims, yet differ with you about what makes sense in a particular context? Indeed, my bet would be there are many liberals who don’t like capitalism, who even find it odious, but who think there is no alternative.


You say, "I am more unhappy with individuals who call themselves socialists, anarchists, and revolutionaries (and pareconists), who are not supporters of capitalism but who nevertheless urge others to vote for the imperialist aggressor Obama."


Okay, you are entitled to your view, but if someone says, I don’t like Obama, I hate the Democratic Party, I can’t stand the electoral system we have, and I want a comprehensive social and economic revolution, but then also says, but I also feel that at the current moment it is important that McCain loses, you seem to think the last feeling, or acting on it, reveals some great flaw. I think it instead reveals a sense of current reality.

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