Replying to Siefkes’ Reconsideration…

The following piece titled, "Replying to Siefkes' Reconsideration," responds to Christain Siefkes' Peercommony Reconsidered, which was reacting to Albert's initial comment on Peercommony. Siefkes will comment in a followup article to the piece immediately below. All the content of the exchange, as it becomes available, will display at Albert/Siefkes Discussion which includes a set of pieces beginning with an Albert summary of Parecon, and then Siefke's concerns, as well as one beginning with a Siefkes summary of Peercommony, and then Albert's concerns.

Peercommony claims the future will be economically desirable because we will all volunteer to work as we like while taking what we want from the social product, both in accord with rules we agree on case by case, including that we take into insightful account “hints and messages” that reveal others’ preferences. 

It seems to me, my asking how a peer knows what millions of other peers want and also with what intensity they want it, and why everyone will act compatibly with others’ wants, not to mention with implications for broader social relations and ecology, is not only fair, it is central – and it is not “request[ing] a blueprint.” 

Christian, You agree that we can all only do jobs others are willing to hire us for and that only do work that meshes with what others do. You claim this won’t limit our volunteerism because we will all agree with the constraints. The question I then ask is, what workplace structures will eliminate class differences and generate universal freedom and equity so peers will most often amicably agree? And, what will we do when, for example, I think I am entitled to a particular job because fairness calls for this job to be rotated and you had your turn. You, however, think you're entitled to it because you studied the longest to prepare for it. Someone else thinks they're entitled to it because they did best on some aptitude test, or have the most experience. Everyone can’t typically do what each separately considers just without some procedures for resolving differences over what constitutes justice or fairness.

If I apply to a workplace’s owner/boss for a job, I assume you agree that whatever I do I have a boss and therefore I cannot have a fair share of influence. To be peers, we therefore have to figure out what must change in workplaces so that everyone will be a peer of everyone else. And surely we have to figure this out not only for workplaces, but for connections between workplaces, and also connections between consumption and production?

I apply to a peercommony workplace and, as you indicate, my peercommony job description says that once the workplace employs me, I can do whatever I want as long as my activity meshes with activity of others. But suppose the workplace has a corporate division of labor. I claim that in this case too, we who work there will not all have a fair share of influence. Do you agree? 

Suppose I instead apply to a workplace that has jobs balanced so that by our work we are all comparably empowered. Also all workers have decision-making influence in proportion to effects on them. And we all get an equitable share of social product. I claim I will be a peer among peers. Do you agree?

Proceeding, in peercommony you claim we would all take an appropriate amount from the commons. For the sake of discussion, suppose I accept that no one will take more in turn causing others to feel they should do so too. Nonetheless, there remains a big problem. How do people know what is appropriate? What structure will establish what a fair share is? What structure will let workers know how much to produce and where to invest to benefit others sufficiently to be worth doing?  

I claim it is ethically appropriate and economically and socially sound that we each receive a share of the social product that accords with the duration, intensity, and onerousness of our socially valuable labor. Christian, if you don’t agree with that, okay, but please say how you think that norm would be unfair and tell me what norm would be better.

If your answer is, as so far, that you think the only thing that is just is that we each take what we want – with no stipulations about how much that can be – please tell me why everyone won’t take everything they can enjoy and benefit from, regardless of how much that is. 

If you say we won’t take so much because we are responsible and we care about others – again, ignoring the idea that this will fall apart as some people grab more and then others do too – please tell me what peercommony thinks caring about others means, and how peercommony delivers information that enables us to do it. 

For example, how do I know how much work I should be doing to be caring appropriately about others who benefit from my product? How do I know how much I should consume to appropriately care not only about my well being, but also about whoever produces what I consume, as well as those who encounter a smaller commons, due to what I took?

Your main answer seems to be that we will develop good procedures through trial and error. Okay, but in what context does one try and then refine? Trial and error undertaken in a prison typically doesn’t even reveal, much less implement options that contradict prison constraints. 

Similarly, trial and error in workplaces and communities connected by market competition and including corporate divisions of labor is typically constrained by that context to yield very nasty outcomes. 

My institutional question for peercommony is, what broad context will facilitate peers operating as peers and trial and error yielding useful lessons for improving details of their relations – rather than simply reproducing old hierarchies? 

My own best answer would be that self managing councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valuable labor, and participatory planning all taken together produce classlessness, which is an economy of peers. Trial and error in context of those institutions can insightfully fill out details across workplaces and industries, neighborhoods and regions. 

You seem to reject that claim on grounds that having these four structures would mean that some outcomes are no longer subject to voluntary choice. With these institutions, for example, people couldn’t volunteer to work at unbalanced jobs because unbalanced jobs wouldn’t exist. People couldn’t take more than equitable income – because we wouldn’t have that right. however,  ironically, I doubt you actually want people to do these things. 

In your peercommony, people can’t volunteer to be boss of others instead of peers, and you think that is essential. So why isn’t it essential that people can’t monopolize empowering work, or unfair income – which also precludes being peers? 

You say people working or consuming will relate to the “hints and messages” other people leave for them. But once we get beyond a bunch of programmers, that is exactly what the proposed structures I suggest above make possible: a flow of real and rich information followed by real mutual compliance. 

If you don’t like the pareconish structures as a means to make peercommony substantive, can you tell me how, even roughly, an economy with lots of unbalanced job complexes, with inequitable income distribution, or with either competitive markets or authoritative central planning could still be an economy of peers? 

Alternatively, if balanced job complexes, self managing councils, equitable income distribution, and participatory planning would yield peer relations, then aren’t they institutions peercommony should embrace? If you think they would not yield peercommony outcomes, how would they diverge, and what institutions would do better?

You seem to assume peercommony will be nice and will also work well because people will do what they like, take what they need, and wisely follow hints and messages while making and obeying good rules along the way. 

You don’t explicitly say what is nice about that picture, but assuming institutions ccould make it real, wouldn’t what is nice be that it would have no class division? It would have equitable outcomes? And everyone would engage freely up to the point where they would impinge on others having the same freedom they do?  

Addressing your more precise words, yes, as you attribute to me, I do think that what we produce with our labor – but also the distribution of natural and produced inputs to work units and the distribution of produced end goods to consumers, as well as side effects, etc. – are key issues for an economy. 

I brought up “intrinsic rewards of labor” only because you say peercommony workers will do only what they choose voluntarily and without payment. The reason they volunteer must in that case either be that they like doing the work due to its “intrinsic reward” – or they like doing it as a means to aid others. Since you acknowledge that in this picture the latter motive is paramount to get otherwise onerous work done, how does anyone in a peercommony know what others will benefit from and how much they will benefit? 

Tomorrow I have to choose between being with my kids or instead working for that same period of time. I know my and my kids’ gain from choosing the non-work option. In peercommony, I also know I lose no income if I pursue that option. How do I know the benefit to others of my instead choosing the work option? 

You say we can’t transcend capitalism without first getting rid of work that people will not do unless they are paid. But this obscures an overarching confusion. Everyone in peercommony receives income. How much “peercommoners” get depends on what they freely take from the social output. Even ignoring that that formulation is incoherent unless people respect limits, still, “peercommoners” get income. The total peercommony social product depends on the total work done. If we all do nothing, we all get nearly nothing. If we all in together do less or more, we all together get less or more. Our level of work matters.

You keep implying that people receiving income correlated to their efforts is somehow harmful or unworthy. Okay, for those who can work, what is the negative implication of correlating income share to work done? 

Suppose you were stranded on an island with ten thousand people. You all need dwellings, schools, food, clean water, etc. Should you be permitted an equal share of the overall social product – or even a larger than equal share – if you are perfectly healthy but you opt to swim and enjoy entertainments all day, and not work? 

If you think that would be unfair, what would be fair, instead? If the island is one of peers, what do you think your share ought to be so that your peers would consider your share equitable? How can a fair result be attained for all without violating other values we favor? 

You initially disparage my suggesting it would be wrong to have people set their own duration and schedule of work without having to relate to the needs of their co-workers, by saying, “Why should anyone mind if others work a bit shorter, or longer?” But then you add that of course you can conceive of reasons why the workforce would not accept individual choices that impose harsh costs and implications on others, conceding my point. Okay, on what grounds should some voluntary choice you want to make about work, or consumption, or anything else, be unacceptable to others? If you answer that question, I think we will be on the road to agreement. 

You say, “the people running the workplace make their own rules.” Since everyone is a peer, that must be everyone. Doesn’t it then follow that the workers need some kind of assembly – say a workers’ council? And that they also need a flexible norm for arriving at decisions? What should that norm be? Majority rule? Consensus? Decision input for each in proportion as they are affected? And doesn’t it imply that the workers all need to be able to participate confidently and equally in decision making? How is that achieved? Balanced job complexes? Something else?

I still wonder about the baseball example I offered earlier. Okay, you agree I can’t get a position on the Yankees because they won’t hire me. But suppose I get together with fifteen friends and create a team and announce we are ready to play before fans, even though we play so so poorly that no one will want to watch us. I then claim baseball is my work. I am happy playing. Is society happy with that? 

You write, we should not “ignore the social coordination and organization which peer production entails.” I am not ignoring it. I am asking how it occurs and what it looks like.  

You quote someone writing – “When you lose interest in a [task], your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor.” Bigger questions involve how workplaces and industries decide on investments in new technology and get inputs for their work, and know how much to produce, and therefore how many to employ. But does peercommony really think this is how large workplaces will fill positions for people who move on? It may make some sense for a group of programmers who don’t work in proximity – but in a workplace where people engage with one another, it would violate the rights of those who are staying to select their own workmates. 

I think an economy of peers in which there is equitable distribution of the social product and in which people fulfill a fair share of the burdens production entails and have appropriate decision making influence, is quite possible if we eliminate structures that force people to operate otherwise and if we put in their place new structures that facilitate “peerness.” But I think the defining attributes of peercommony – volunteer labor of any duration people choose at whatever they like, plus taking from the social product what they decide they want, plus voluntarily paying attention to hints and messages and voluntarily obeying mutually agreed rules arising from trial and error, all with no clear reference to other structures – wouldn’t remotely facilitate “peerness.”

You write: “…peer projects providing … health care, transportation, housing, or food, … will be self-organized by people who come together to provide these goods, because they consider them important or because it’s an area of engagement they like.”

This makes no reference to what kind of organization will emerge. For example, would it be consistent with peercommony that some doctors run a clinic with other people cleaning up for them – but in which everyone calls everyone else a peer?

It also makes no reference to the desires, interests, or needs of consumers affecting workplace decisions. If my group, can establish a peer project that constitutes our work because we think it is important or we like it – like the baseball team mentioned earlier – it follows that I can work at pretty much anything I want just because I say it is important or I like it, and I can then take income from the social product equal to or greater than others, as well as inputs for my chosen work, if I so choose. 

You say people won’t behave as badly as that, but I see no indication that peercommony says there is anything bad about such behavior. More, even if you as a peercommoner want to be fair, I see little peercommony information that will let you do so.  

You say my concerns implicitly embody “the notion that work is bad and to be avoided, while consumption is good and to be maximized.”

The “notion” that my concerns in fact explicitly embody is that even if overnight all tasks were to magically become equally empowering and pleasurable – still it wouldn’t mean other activities were not equally or more fulfilling. Thus, peercommony says if you have anything you can do with your time that you would enjoy more then working on socially valuable outputs, go right ahead and do it. Similarly, if you would like to take an amount beyond a fair share (where you don’t even know what a fair share is) from the social product, go right ahead. 

I believe you will probably agree that there are fair and unfair amounts of socially valuable work plus consumption, considered in combination, that each person can opt for. You just believe that people will spontaneously arrive at a fair combination in your peercommony. And so I ask, okay what type combination of work and consumption do you consider fair? And what structures in peercommony will cause people to arrive at fair choices and not otherwise violate “peerness.” 

You end by wondering “why tie people’s consumption, and hence their footprint, to how much they work?” 

I answer, because it is ethically and economically sound as well as ecologically wise to do so as long as we have allocation that accounts for the full social and ecological as well as personal costs and benefits of possible choices. 

If in some workplace the workforce can accommodate my working extra hours, and the work I do will be socially useful and ecologically sound, then, it makes perfectly good sense that I opt to work more if I want to consume more. 

Your alternative is, “Maybe another kind of accounting system is needed [not] based on money and work, but [that] would rather measure the eco-footprint of all the goods they use.” The problem is you think allocation is purely about income and work hours – but it isn’t. It is about information, fairness, informed choices, and participation. For example, participatory planning accomplishes that the ecological and social effects of overall production comply with the ecological and social desires of a population of peers, even as it also allows individuals to opt to work less or more to enjoy less or more consumption, and allows everyone to know the actual social and ecological implications of their choices on others and on themselves. 

In short, as far as I can see from your description of peercommony’s aims, participatory planning is precisely suited to peercommony because it it accurately assesses full social and ecological costs and benefits while it generates classlessness and self management, and thus provides a context for everyone being peers.

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