Reply to Horowitz 3

[This essay is part of an extended debate with David Horowitz found here.]


You say “Socialism doesn’t work first because you can’t substitute politics (plans) for the market and get anything like a rational allocation of resources…”

The problems with this are that (1) socialism does not require planning at all, in fact, most contemporary advocates (though not me) are in favor or markets of the sort that you like, in fact, even “freer” in some cases. You should learn more about the playing field before stepping onto it, perhaps.

And (2) economists and anyone who examines the world knows that of course we can use plans instead of markets and still get what you would call rational allocation of resources. This occurs, for example, inside multinationals, where huge stores of assets are often allocated not via market competition but by conscious top-down planning (and in ways contrary to what market allocation would engender, by the way). It isn’t that I advocate this sort of top down planning by any means, I don’t. But my reasons for rejecting central planning are not that it can’t accomplish production and allocation at all, which is simply false, a kind of rhetorical ploy which you seem to have adopted whole hog, but which any economist of for that matter serious corporate CEO will tell you is silly, but because central planning is not as good as systems I prefer at rationally balancing material options to attain human well being and development, on the one hand, and even more important, because it is authoritarian and breeds class rule. But why are you persisting in this argument, I wonder. Again, we both reject central planning for economic allocation, so let’s move on.

You next dismiss what you call socialism by which in this case I believe you mean any post capitalist model, “because without the incentive to accumulate property most people are not going to work very hard.” The problem with this assertion, of course, is that the people who work hardest in society now, and at the most onerous jobs, in fact have no prospect whatsoever of accumulating productive property, and those who have such opportunity and can even easily accumulate more productive property, actually are free to work not at all and yet reap bonanzas nonetheless.

You want an economy to elicit appropriate levels of work. So do I. I believe the best way to do that is to reward the effort expended in work…more effort and you earn more, less effort and you earn less. Not more property, you earn more. Not more bargaining power, you earn more. Not better tools and more output, and you earn more. To reward for these things is not morally warranted and does not provide incentives where we in fact have control, over our effort only. What is equitable turns out to be economically wise as well. Perhaps you could point out what is wrong with this view, one I actually hold, if you think it is flawed. To simply pronounce that without private ownership of productive assets there is no incentive to produce is not an argument at all, but an assertion , and a false one at that, as any serious economist would tell you.

You go on that, “third, without private property as a basis for the system, you can’t have the kind of democracy, individual rights etc. that we’ve grown accustomed to and human beings seem to want.” This is standard fare, another assertion without support, and incredible at that. You want us to believe merely on saying it is the case that unless individuals are welcomed to amass huge fortunes which give them vast powers over the life and death of employees and consumers alike, we won’t have democracy. What is the connection, even a tenuous one, supporting such a claim? You state it, but as above you provide no reason, relying only on the familiarity of the refrain. In fact, there is no positive connection between Bill Gates owning billions which give him the wherewithal to push around whole nations, and each citizen having a fair say in political and economic decisions. Quite the contrary, of course, the former obstructs the latter.

You say, that my “preferred form of socialism also depends on people reading Michael Albert, understanding what he’s talking about, and agreeing with his prescriptions. Meeting these conditions are impossible in the real world of human beings as we know them.”

This is very odd. What your assertion suggests is that no new ideas can be born among a few persons, spread more widely, be advocated by many, become part of an agenda, and ultimately inform and become part of reality. This is of course nonsense. This can and does happen. At any rate, even if it had some bearing which I don’t see, the assertion wouldn’t say anything at all about whether the proposed vision describes a possible or desirable economy.

You say that my “General Motors example is ludicrous, since GM 1) exists within a framework of laws set by a sovereign people, and 2) is pretty much a meritocracy with dramatic possibilities for upward mobility. I’m not familiar with GM in particular but I have interviewed many Ford executives in the course of doing a book on the family and the company and found that people who ran Ford in general had begun as bright scions of the lower or middle middle class and rose to great power and great wealth on the strength of their abilities.”

Perhaps you forget what the example was. I pointed out that within GM decisions are largely arrived at top down, from the center, and that GM is larger than many whole countries. This revealed, I argued, that central planning can get many things done, even if with the odious by-product of destroying democracy, among other faults that cause me to be an unrelenting critic of it. Your rejoinder, is again, simply irrelevant. That there are laws doesn’t change the claim. We can debate the “framework of sovereign people” assertion some other time. And suppose it were the case that every ruling position in every U.S. firm were always occupied by someone of working class origin. So? It is of course nonsense, but even if were true, it has no bearing on what I wrote, which is only that the planning from the top down does occur. But that you raise the point in the form you do is of interest.

Stalin was working class, do you care in making a judgment for or against Stalinism if that is true or false? Not me. Suppose a dictator is the wisest person in a country, the most capable and productive, the most energetic and hard working, has risen from the lowest class and caste and (against logic) is even the most empathetic and caring soul in the land, and suppose even that he makes the best possible decisions in the eyes of all citizens who support him wildly as a result. Do you support the structure for those reasons? Of course not. Neither do I. Dictatorship and or oligarchy is abominable in the polity, and in the economy as well, firstly because it denies people appropriate control over their lives. Yes, in addition, in most cases the authorities will bend results to enhance their own power and wealth, society be damned, a second horrendous failing. and the top slots will be filled by the sons and daughters of members of elite constituencies, overwhelmingly, as well, due to an unfair playing field in the competition for them, another failing.

You say to me that I “can’t confront [you] with all the atrocities of capitalist states, because unlike you I don’t believe that the mode of production determines everything we need to know about a society, or that we can escape the human condition by creating `new men’ and `new women’ and usher in a new millenium in the process.”

First, the economic characteristic of society certainly owe a tremendous amount to the economic structure it has, thus I could, were I of a mind to, confront you with the circumstances of people in work, with the distribution of income and the harsh effects of poverty, with the allocation of influence over outcomes, with the trajectory of investment patterns, and so on and so forth.

Second, again, as every other time you have made some assertion about my views, you are wrong about me. I do not believe “that the mode of production determines everything we need to know about a society” nor even most of what we need to know about it. On the contrary, I have argued strongly with those who believe variants of what you are here rejecting that political, cultural, gender, and other relations also impact broad social characteristics including even the character of the economy, as vice versa. It would help if you would stop attributing to me views you don’t like but which i don’t hold, or have even spent more time arguing against and refuting than you have. 

Third, what do you mean by “escape the human condition?” If you mean transcend our innate species characteristics, of course no sensible person believes any such thing will occur due to social struggle or anything else. We can’t become other than human, nor would many of us want to, I would imagine. If you mean we can’t transcend particular institutions and in doing so escape from their past influences and develop new capacities, that is of course false. This has happened repeatedly through history, and will happen again, we can be quite confident. But I would agree with what you may be implying, that is, that it would be big mistake to posit a goal economy premised on some dramatically altered human personalities and dispositions. The task, instead, is to describe a system in which people even as badly bent by past history as you and I will, by our own choice, and to benefit and advance, become more social, more solidaritous, more equitable and fair, as well as highly productive and creative. Your words continually try to close the door on progress by asserting there can be no better system for economics than what we now have. Why, instead, don’t you hope for a new economic model, better than what we now endure? I should think that any non-pathological person would.

You say, what you “know about capitalism is that it has brought a level of comfort, leisure and freedom to billions of lives and through its ability to develop new technologies (something all Marxist regimes — including Cuba’s — have lacked) has raised the quality of life for ordinary working people to a level beyond that of kings, less than a hundred years ago.”

Ignoring hyperbole, ignoring attributing too many gains that were products of other than economics to economics, and ignoring underestimating the accomplishments of certain other economies, the above even if it were entirely accurate, doesn’t tell us what is most relevant. Having accomplished a lot, the real question is, could a better system accomplish far more? Your comment also leaves out that capitalism, in unleashing many productive potentials, has also squashed the life prospects of other billions of humans. But, I don’t think our debating those matters is going to be too productive, which is why I have tried and will try again below to get you to focus on your central claim, that there is no viable and worthy alternative to capitalism, and to address mine — that participatory economics is precisely such an alternative.

You say that you “actually have read some of your work on participatory economics in issues of Z some years ago. I tried participatory economics at Ramparts when Peter Collier and I ran it, and it didn’t work.” I don’t know what you read of mine, but you don’t seem to have paid a whole lot of attention. If you had tried participatory economic structures at Ramparts, of course you wouldn’t have been running Ramparts, and then you wouldn’t have run it into the ground, either.

Next, however, you say you think “that human beings, being vastly unequal in ability and attention span, and pretty self-serving and often mean when they get the opportunity, are incapable of organizing themselves into a `participatory economy’ which will render justice perfect. Nor do I think that most people given the freedom to decide would choose your model over the one we have.”

People certainly have very diverse qualities, talents, inclinations, etc. I agree. And we can be thankful for it, of course, since it would certainly be boring were it not the case. But why is the right way to deal with the fact that people can be “pretty self-serving” and even “mean” to adopt institutions which promote people being highly self serving and extremely mean? Wouldn’t it be better, we might wonder, to have institutions in which to enjoy a better life calls for people to have empathy with others and be solidaritous? And why does having diverse capabilities preclude cooperation and utilizing everyone’s rather than relegating many to subservient positions that not only don’t utilize their capacities but stomp them out of existence? Perhaps you can explain that. As to what people would decide given freedom of choice to pick between a capitalist and a participatory economy, and having had time to fully comprehend and debate the characteristics of each, would that we could find out in real life. We can agree to disagree, I think, about what the outcome would be.

Next you offer: “Do I like the goals you offered? Michael, socialism is a fairy tale (yours included). Do we like the happy ending put together by the fairy godmother? Of course we do. Should we act in our lives as though the fairy godmother is really out there? I don’t think so.”

If a commissar in the old Soviet Union had said this to a dissident, would you think it a sign of his mature intelligence, or of silly opportunism, or of clumsy intimidation tactics, I wonder? You comments, if you mean them literally, would assert that we should never try to improve our lot, nor should anyone else ever have done so. If you mean them only to apply to a particular vision, they may have merit if the vision is bad, but you haven’t said a word about participatory economics to demonstrate that it is.

You admonish me that some of my “goals are based on a misunderstanding of who people are, what they’re capable of and how the market works.” Fine, if so you shouldn’t have much problem pointing out my misunderstandings. By all means, please do so. Asserting it, is not the same as making a case, I have to repeat again. 

You say that my “visions of people managing themselves, performing equally and so forth suggest either that you have no experience in managing people (which I doubt given your successful operation with South End), or that you are closing your eyes to what you know in the interests of a hope that you cannot think of living without (which is the common condition of socialist dreamers).” 

In fact, South End Press, to which you refer, was and remains, as you imply, very successful despite a horrible lack of resources. It was also designed to implement as best we could, within the limits imposed by the market around us, participatory economic norms. There was no manager or boss, not me or anyone else. There were no exclusively rote workers, or exclusively mind workers, but only people who had a fair share of empowering and not so pleasant tasks. Each time you venture into expressing a view about my views or experiences, you get my views or experiences wrong.

Next you say, “one of the reasons that I am sure that the participatory economic model can’t work is the studied ignorance of socialists of the vast library of critiques of socialist economics that have been written over the last century and that have been vindicated by its results.”

Wrong again, at least regarding the person you are actually talking with, me. I am not only familiar with others’ critiques, I have written many critiques of these systems myself, and I would bet these go further than anything you have argued, much less substantiated. You keep missing that I am not an advocate but a staunch critic of centrally planned and market socialism.

You say that when I “use expressions like `implementing decision methods that apportion influence in accord with the impact decisions have on people,` I wonder how you think you can do this behind the back of the market” but in a participatory economy there is no market to go behind the back of. Below I will offer you a summary of the participatory economic model, since you don’t seem to have clicked your way over to www.parecon.org as yet.

At this point you offer, “of course, your agenda is first of all one of destruction. Everything Z magazine and your books are about is destruction of the American social order which far from having its `boots’ on the `necks’ of anyone, has liberated more people — more diverse people — than any other social system in the history of mankind. It even gives you the freedom to work 24/7 to destroy it. Try that in Cuba.”

Capitalism gives no freedoms other than to the propertied, the freedom to employ wage slaves and to try to extract from them as much labor for as little pay as possible, and to buyers and sellers to try to fleece one another as best they can. Freedom to dissent, still sharply limited in our society at least when it starts to become effective, is hard won, like women’s suffrage, the end of Jim Crow, the eight hour working day, and on and on. As to “destruction,” would it make sense to say of an opponent of dictatorship that their agenda is “all one of destruction?” Of course not. My economic agenda is to attain a condition in which people enjoy the fruits of their labors via a classless system that promotes solidarity, self management, equity, and diversity. Does this mean I favor replacing institutions that obstruct these values with new ones that embody and promote them? Yes, it certainly does. Is that a destructive agenda? Of course not, and you know it. On the other hand, suppose I were to ask you, why do you rule out a priori even the possibility of conceiving a way to do economics that would be better than what we now know? Is that a masochistic impulse at work, or what, when you place a don’t trespass sign in front of paths that even might lead to a better future?

Your next paragraph is more rhetoric without reason. I obviously did not launch an experiment that killed a million people, and for that matter opposed the systems you are referring to well before you did, I believe, and probably with greater energy than you, for that matter. If you want to debate with me, I am happy to, but I do think it makes sense in that case to pay attention to my views rather than bringing up ones I despise.

You say the way I “describe [my] reaction to the demise of Soviet socialism is telling: `One down, one to go.’ Don’t you ever stop to think about how your life is dedicated to destruction? Why not pause a little over what capitalism has done for you in particular before laying the ax to its foundations?”

What my description should have told you is that I was a fantastically adamant critic of that system, that if I were a citizen there I would have been a revolutionary there–I wonder if that would have been true for you too. We have already been over the destruction epithet, I hope clearing your confusions on the matter. And I have no such ax as you envision, but only a vision and some energy for trying to raise consciousness about possibilities in diverse ways. As to what I see when I think about capitalism, yes, in part I see the computers and radios and heart lung machines, sure, and then also the beggars living in shanties, the kids dying of starvation, the rats in living rooms, the empty hotel rooms with homeless people languishing outside, the workers pushed and bossed to the point of exhaustion and denigration, and on and on. Is there good yes. But there is way too much bad as well.

Next you say, “Of course you do think you’re smarter than past generations. There were many critics of Lenin in the time of Lenin, and many versions of what you call coordinatorism — the utopian socialists, the Kropotkinites… They looked at your plans and didn’t think they were practical given the human material they had to work with. Do you know something they didn’t?”

At this point I think you are flailing. We are all more knowledgeable, or at least can be if we inform ourselves, than past generations, of course, due to the accumulation of new experience and information. Bakunin, all the way back in Marx’s time, was arguably the first to criticize a class between labor and capital, the one I call the coordinator class, I believe. It is my view that marxism is a theory for that class (though it claims to be for workers) and that leninism is an organizational embodiment of that class’s values and methods, and that market and centrally planned socialism put that class in the driver’s seat. Critics of Lenin who I think might well support participatory economics were they magically transported to the present include emma goldman, rosa luxembourg, rudolf rocker, anton pannekoek, and many others, yes — but none of them “looked at my plans,” of course. What can that possibly mean? Do I think I know something they didn’t? Yes. I do. Many things, as do you and anyone in this age. And more relevantly, it would be stupid to offer up an economic vision I don’t believe in. So yes, in addition to many other things, I think I know what kinds of institutions can accomplish production, consumption, and allocation with great proficiency yet advancing values we hold dear and without producing a ruling coordinator class, which I don’t think they knew.

Next you say, “Z magazine reflects the same hostile political agendas as the Leninist left.” I can’t decide whether you are ignorant or you will say any old thing, even knowing it is utterly false. Though Z doesn’t have a narrow line, it is overwhelmingly anti-Leninist, and certainly I am.

You add, “To pretend that you are not connected to a movement whose agendas and pet projects (like Cuba) you obviously prefer to the agendas of a country that has given you the fantastic luxury and freedom to build your destructive enterprise (the website, the magazine, the publishing company — and what else I don’t know) is disingenuous to say the least.”

Let’s be clear, you are correct that I have no problem at all aligning with movements like feminism, the anti-globalization movement, anti-sweat shop movements, movements for eliminating racist structures, ecology movements, and so on and so forth, as compared to the profit centered, autocratic, humanity negating agendas of the elites who run this country and defile its name and possibilities. But not leninism.

“Suppose you eventually gain the political leverage you need to topple this system, how are you going to mobilize enough people who understand your complicated thoughts to neutralize the Progressive Labor Party factions of the left who have a down home religion with simple solutions that will resonate with the “masses” who can’t read your big books? Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and other heroes of yours lost similar battles in 1918.”

This is a very different line of argument. This one says, okay, hold on, maybe you do have a valid vision. And maybe it is possible even to beat the state. But won’t your valid vision get suffocated beneath sectarian idiocy and destructiveness in the process, and so don’t we have to persist with what we have rather than risk that horrible result. Okay, that’s a fair fear. But the right response, it seems to me, is to think on the problem. To figure out if there are, indeed, ways of organizing and struggling that can not only win change, but win change without being subverted by the destructive possibilities that certainly do exist. That’s what I spend much of my time doing. Perhaps you ought to join that task, switching sides still again.

I might add, your missing the reality again, that I actually think that social theory, to guide social movements, and social vision as an aim, must be highly accessible. People with very crowded lives have to be able to make the theories and visions and strategies guiding social struggle for new institutions their own, so they can adopt and refine them, fight for them knowingly and with initiative. I think if you actually take a look at “my thoughts” — for example, the vision participatory economics as elaborated in the South End book Looking Forward, which is also on the web site www.parecon.org — you will find it is quite a bit more accessible and comprehensible (especially for working people to whom its notions are largely self-evident) than any thing the Progressive Labor Party has to offer, or, for that matter, than NFL football or professional soccer, say. And I wouldn’t worry about the Progressive Labor Party, if I were you. It is hard to imagine folks having less strategic sense. Thirty years ago one of their interesting positions was that young anti-war militants should swear off sex as a distraction from serious work until after the revolution. You can imagine the wonders that did for recruitment.

You respond to my saying about a list of crticiism you render that “Actually none of this bears on me” that “Of course it does. Hayek and Von Mises will tell you why your version of socialism — “coordinatorism” can’t work. It’s not as though you’ve invented something new under the sun. Have a little modesty.”

I wish you would read more carefully. Coordinatorism is my name for what you call socialism. It is a system I reject, not one I advocate. It is a system with public or state ownership and central planning or markets for allocation. The criticisms you refer to are in fact of a system which I criticize on far more damning grounds, should you care to look.

There is nothing immodest about saying that participatory economics isn’t these other systems. It just isn’t, quite obviously. They have central planning or markets, it has participatory planning. They have corporate workplace organization, it has councils and balanced job complexes. They have a ruling class, it is classless, and so on. And saying that Hahnel and I authored some of its features, incorporating other long-known insights for other features, is not immodest either, because (a) it is true, and (b) more interestingly, in fact it turns out that there is nothing particularly complicated about this vision, or even developing it. The real problem, the difficult step, is to realize that the task is worth trying to do at all against the entreaties that there is no alternative.

You say, “I appreciate your offer, but I’m not interested in arguing about models. I’m interested in your understanding of what actually went wrong in the Soviet Union and how you respond to the explanations of those who were right all along.”

Models matter, they become reality. The rest seems off base again. In fact, I was a critic of the Soviet system well before you were, I believe, even though you are a bit older, I think. And it isn’t that something went wrong with the Soviet system, by the way, but that it was horrible from the outset. The Leninists destroyed democratic structures and instituted a deplorable system not by mistake and not as a deviation, but because that is the model, that is the system sought…from the start and over and against the worthy aspirations of millions of Russians who were fighting against poverty, hunger, and indignity but got something other than what they sought.

Next you say “Because what they were right about was the impossibility of running an economy (let alone a democracy) in the absence of the market. You dismiss the market, and that very fact puts you in the camp of Soviet planners, despite your other differences. In 70 years the non-market economy could not produce a single competitive product. It couldn’t provide soap for Soviet miners, or toilet paper. Doesn’t this tell you something?”

You are correct in one thing here. I am a market abolitionist. I believe markets are an abomination, perhaps the single worst artifact of human creativity. I will tell you why, in summary, in a moment, but first let me deal with the rest of your comment. Of course to dismiss markets would only put me in the camp of the Soviet planners if the only two options were markets and Soviet planning. They are not the only two options, however, so your assertion is false. Ignoring the exaggeration of your claims about the Soviet economy, and even if your claims were understating the situation, it would still not tell me that markets are good, or that no other method of allocation is possible, only that central planning had serious problems, which of course, I already knew. The other beliefs are simply not conclusions that follow, obviously, and you know it.

Now back to markets (this is lifted form elsewhere, as I am getting tired…I admit…)

Commodity Fetishism: Markets coordinate economic activity by providing separate units the opportunity to offer their outputs in exchange for the outputs of others. In any economy, the activity of any group would be impossible without inputs from other groups and outputs from one group would have no purpose were they not destined to be inputs for some other group. We easily understand that workers at the beginning and end of a GM assembly line undertake the connected social activity of making automobiles, but we have difficulty understanding that workers at U.S. Steel and at GM are similarly related. This “comprehension differential” arises because within local units we see that activities of different individuals are consciously coordinated to achieve a goal, while between units markets obscure our ability to see activities as joint endeavors. Outside each firm, relations between people and things or things and things remain evident, but relations between people and people are obscured. This, of course, has been termed “commodity fetishism,” and its corrosive ills are independent of ownership relations. For workers to comprehensively evaluate their work they would have to know the human and social as well as material factors that went into the inputs they use as well as the human and social consequences their outputs make possible. But the only information markets provide, with or without private property, are the prices of the commodities people exchange. Even if these prices accurately reflect all the human and social relationships lurking behind economic transactions, they will not allow producers and consumers to adjust their activities in light of a selfconscious understanding of their relations with other producers or consumers. It follows that markets do not provide qualitative data necessary for producers to judge how their activities affect consumers or vice versa. The absence of information about the concrete effects of my activities on others leaves me little choice but to consult my own situation exclusively. But the individualism this leads to will impede solidarity and efficiency.

Antagonistic Roles: Lack of concrete qualitative information in market economies makes cooperation difficult, but competitive pressures make it individually irrational. Neither buyers nor sellers can afford to consider the situation of the other. Not only is relevant information unavailable, solidarity would be self-defeating. Polluters must try to hide their transgressions since paying a pollution tax or modernizing their equipment would lower profits. Even if one producer in an industry does not behave egocentrically, others will, and if the altruists persist in their socially responsible behavior they will ultimately be driven out of business for their trouble. In general, market competition militates against solidarity, again, regardless of ownership relations.

Markets and Workplace Hierarchy: The information, incentive, and role characteristics of markets also subvert the rationale for workers to take initiative in workplace decisions even if they have the legal right to do so. Workers’ councils in Yugoslavia have the right to meet and make decisions, but why should they? Market competition forces decision makers to maximize a bottom line. Any human effects unrepresented in costs and revenues are ignored on pain of competitive failure. Workers’ councils motivated by qualitative, human considerations ultimately fail, eliminating even their own information-limited generosity.

Since competitive pressures militate against criteria such as workplace satisfaction, it is perfectly sensible for workers’ councils in market environments to hire others to make their decisions for them. The pattern is simple. First, worker desire for self-management erodes. Next, workers hire managers who in turn hire engineers and administrators who transform job roles according to competitive dictates. Even in the absence of private ownership, a process that begins with workers choosing to delegate technical and alienated decisions to experts ends by increasing the fragmentation of work, bloating managerial prerogatives, and substituting managers’ goals for those of workers. It is not too long before a burgeoning managerial class of “coordinators” begins to maximize the size of the surplus earmarked for themselves and to search for ways to preserve their own social power. 

Antisocial Bias: The next problem with markets is that they are biased against provision of goods with greater than average positive external effects. The fact that markets systematically overcharge users of goods with positive external effects and undercharge users of goods with negative external effects is well known to traditional economists. But what is not readily admitted is that external effects are the rule, not the exception, because this implies that market prices generally misestimate social benefits and costs and markets generally misallocate resources. Coupling recognition of this bias with an understanding that consumers eventually bend their preferences toward relatively less expensive offerings and away from relatively more expensive offerings helps explain why markets inexorably produce egocentric behavior and antisocial outcomes. Ironically, it turns out that once we account for the endogeneity of preferences and recognize the pervasiveness of externalities, markets not only impede solidarity, self-management, and equity, but generate misleading price signals and inefficient allocations as well.

In sum, regarding markets realistic assumptions about external effects and endogenous preferences suggests that even if capitalist owners are replaced by democratic workers’ councils, market allocations disempower executionary workers and empower conceptual workers. That this can lead to popular apathy, egocentric personalities, and a new ruling class of coordinators is clear. And nothing in the historical experience of Yugoslavia suggests otherwise. Markets predictably generate pressures for class differentiation and intrinsically subvert equality, participation, and collective self-management. Thus, I am a market abolitionist.

You ask next, “I would also like to hear your explanation for why you prefer Stalinist dictatorships like the ones in Nicaragua and Cuba to the democracy you have spent your life trying to bring down, and how you can square this with your claim that you have no relation to the agendas of the Stalinist left.” Where do you get your assertions from? I actually do not like the governmental structures in those countries at all. Were I living there I would dissent against them, and the economies, as well, by the way. That said, they mark vast improvements over the horrendous death squads and social squalor imposed by corporate rule in the same regions. One can think both things consistently and forthrightly. I do. 

You conclude…”I’ve checked out your parecon.org site and can’t locate the critiques of Hayek and Von Mises.” I know this is some kind of bellwether issue to you…but it isn’t for me. Search in the Quiet Revolution book. Or, if you wish, why don’t you summarize as many of their claims as you wish, and I will dissect them for you…or register my agreement, should that be the case.

“I did see your attacks on the market, but I knew you had no use for the market from reading your writings before. All this tells me is that the history of the last hundred years has been lost on you.” Then it ought to be quite easy for you to rebut the claims I made above about markets. I look forward to seeing your judgments on those matters.

“Perhaps that’s why you can argue that the reason 40% of black children (not 50% as you write) are poor is that corporate ceo’s are earning so much, when in fact it’s because they have no fathers in the home. In any case, while I appreciate your civility I don’t see much point in continuing the argument. You have too much at stake in a position that’s built on sand.”

Do you do this kind of thing just to try to provoke people. It is beneath comment. As to not continuing, what a pity. I answer missives like yours, out of habit from forums and such, paragraph by paragraph. So here I arrive at the end and I discover that you wish to desist. That’s too bad. Perhaps my queries above will lead to your continuing a bit longer. I had hoped we would actually get to the heart of the matter, in time.

I promised a brief summary of participatory economics. Here we go…



To transcend capitalism, we advocate equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological balance. What institutions can propel these values in domestic economics, as well as get economic functions done well?

 To start, we advocate public/social property relations in place of privatized capitalist property relations. In the new system, each workplace is owned in equal part by all citizens. This ownership conveys no special right or income. Bill Gates doesn’t own a massive proportion of the means by which software is produced. Instead, we all do–or symmetrically, if you prefer, no one does. At any rate, ownership of productive property becomes moot regarding distribution of income, wealth, or power. In this way the ills of private ownership such as personal accrual of profits yielding huge wealth, disappear. But that’s it. We haven’t accomplished anything more than that, only a removal. We must go much further. 

Next, workers and consumers are organized into democratic councils with the norm for decisions being that methods of dispersing information to decision-makers and at arriving at preferences and tallying them into decisions should be such as to convey to each actor about each decision, to the extent possible, influence over the decision in proportion to the degree they will be affected by it. Councils exist at many levels, and have subunits such as work groups and teams and individuals, as well as supra units such as workplaces and whole industries. Councils are the seat of decision making power. Actors in councils are the decision-makers. Votes could be majority rule, three quarters, two-thirds, consensus, etc., and would be taken at different levels, with fewer or more participants, all as appropriate depending on the particular implications of the decisions in question. Sometimes a team or individual would make a decision pretty much on its own, though within a rubric of other encompassing decisions that were made more broadly. Sometimes a whole workplace or even industry would be the decision body. Different voting and tallying methods would be employed, as needed for different decisions. There is no a priori single correct choice. There is, however, a right norm to try to efficiently and sensibly implement: decision-making input should be in proportion as one is affected by decisions.

Next, what about the organization of work? Who does what tasks in what combinations? Each actor does a job, of course, and each job is composed of a variety of tasks, of course. What changes from current corporate divisions of labor to a preferred future division of labor is that the variety of tasks each actor does is balanced for its empowerment and quality of life implications. Every person participating in creating new products is a worker. Each and every worker has a balanced job complex. The combination of tasks and responsibilities you have accords you the same empowerment and quality of life as the combination I have accords me, and likewise for each other worker and their balanced job complex. We do not have some people overwhelmingly monopolizing empowering, fulfilling, and engaging tasks and circumstances. We do not have other people overwhelmingly saddled with only rote, obedient, and dangerous things to do. For reasons of equity and especially to create the conditions of democratic participation and self-management, we establish that when we each participate in our workplace and industry (and consumer) decision-making, we each have been comparably prepared by our work with confidence, skills, and knowledge to do so. The typical situation now is that some people who produce have great confidence, social skills, decision-making skills, and relevant knowledge imbued by their daily work, and other people are only tired, de-skilled, and lacking relevant knowledge due to their daily work. Balanced job complexes do away with this division of circumstances. They complete the task of removing the root basis for class divisions that is begun by eliminating private ownership of capital. They eliminate not only the role of owner/capitalist and its disproportionate power and wealth, but also the role of intellectual/decision making producer who exists over and above all others,. They retain the needed tasks, but they apportion them and also rote and unempowering responsibilities more equitably and in tune with true democracy and classlessness.

But how much are people paid? We work. This entitles us to a share of the product of work. But how much? This new vision says that we ought to receive for our labors an amount in tune with how hard we have worked, how long we have worked, and with what sacrifices we have worked. We shouldn’t get more by virtue of being more productive due to having better tools, more skills, or greater inborn talent, much less by virtue of having more power or owning more property. We should be entitled to more consumption from society’s product only by virtue of expending more of our effort or otherwise enduring more sacrifice in its creation. This is morally appropriate and also provides proper incentives due to rewarding only what we can affect, not what we can’t. With balanced job complexes, for eight hours of normally paced work Sally and Sam will receive the same income,. This is so if they have the same job, or any job at all. That is, no matter what their particular job may be, no matter what workplaces they are in and how different their mix of tasks is, and no matter how talented they are, if they at a balanced job complex, their total work load will be similar in its quality of life implications and empowerment effects, so the only difference specifically relevant to reward for their labors is going to be length and intensity of work done, and with these equal as well, the share of output earned will be equal. If length of time working or intensity of working differ somewhat, so will share of output earned. And who mediates decisions about the definition of job complexes and about what rates and intensities people are working? Workers do, of course, in their councils and with appropriate decision-making say using information culled by methods consistent with employing balanced job complexes and just remuneration.

 There is one very large step left to proposing an alternative to capitalism, even in broad outline. How are the actions of workers and consumers connected? How do decisions made in one workplace and all others, and by collective consumer councils, as well as by individual consumers, all come into accord? What causes the total that is produced by workplaces to match the total consumed collectively by neighborhoods and other groups and privately by individuals? For that matter, what determines the relative social valuation of different products and choices? What decides how many workers will be in which industry producing how much? What determines whether some product should be made or not, and how much? What determines what investments in new productive means and methods should be undertaken and which others delayed or rejected? These are all matters of allocation, among others that are too numerous to list in their entirety here. Existing options for dealing with allocation are central planning (as was used in the old Soviet Union) and markets (as is used in all capitalist economies with minor or greater variations). In central planning a bureaucracy culls information, formulates instructions, sends these instructions to workers and consumers, gets some feedback, refines the instructions a bit, sends them again, and gets back obedience. In a market each actor in isolation from concern for other actors well being competitively pursues its own agenda by buying and selling labor (or the ability to do it) and buying and selling products and resources at prices determined by competitive bidding. Each actor seeks to gain more than other parties in their exchanges. The problem is, each of these two modes of connecting actors and units imposes on the rest of the economy pressures that subvert the values and structures we favor. Markets, for example, even without private capitalization of property, distort valuations to favor private over public benefits and to channel personalities in anti-social directions diminishing and even destroying solidarity. They reward primarily output and power and not only effort and sacrifice. They divide economic actors into a class that is saddled with rote and obedient labor and another that enjoys empowering circumstances and determines economic outcomes, also accruing most income. They isolate buyers and sellers as decision-makers who have no choice but to competitively ignore the wider implications of their choices, including effects on the ecology. Central planning, in contrast, is authoritarian. It denies self management and produces the same class division and hierarchy as markets built first around the distinction between planners and those who implement their plans, and extending outward to incorporate empowered and disempowered workers more generally. Both these allocation systems subvert the values we hold dear, rather than propelling them. What is the alternative to markets and central planning.

 In place of top-down imposition of centrally planned choices and in place of competitive market exchange by atomized buyers and sellers, we opt for cooperative, informed choosing by organizationally and socially entwined actors each having a say in proportion as choices impact them and each able to access needed accurate information and valuations and having appropriate training and confidence to develop and communicate their preferences. This choice is consistent with council centered participatory self-management, with remuneration for effort and sacrifice, with balanced job complexes, with proper valuations of collective and ecological impacts, and with classlessness. To these ends, activists favor participatory planning, a system in which worker and consumer councils propose their work activities and consumer preferences in light of accurate knowledge of local and global implications and true valuations of the full social benefits and costs their choices will impose and garner. The system utilizes a back and forth cooperative communication of mutually informed preferences via a variety of simple communicative and organizing principles and vehicles including indicative prices, facilitation boards, rounds of accommodation to new information, and so on – all permitting actors to express their desires and to mediate and refine them in light of feedback about other’s desires, arriving at compatible choices consistent with remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and participatory self managing influence.

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