Still Uncomprehending…

Schweickart’s reply to my reply gives me a gigantic mound of commentary to react to – as against what I think are more pressing tasks. I actually very much favor serious debate and exchange, and would even in this case with Schweickart repeatedly calling me irrational, etc., but I have to admit that I don’t think Schweickart is taking the issues and words seriously, or honing in on centrally important matters. In short, I don’t think he wants to move forward. It seems, rather, that he is intent on finding ways of interpreting words or even putting them in my mouth, as well as making assertions about my views that are contrary to what my views are, that enable him to take a dismissive tone and to imply all kinds of horrible possibilities that, if taken as plausible, would sensibly deter readers from judging parecon for themselves. Why bother reading about a new proposal at any length if it is as idiotic as Schweickart implies? To answer all of Schweickart’s comments would entail a book presenting participatory planning, balanced job complexes, etc. Answering these kinds of concerns, and others that are more substantial, in fact, is why I wrote the book in the first place. Indeed, Part Four of Parecon: Life After Capitalism, is seventy pages responding to concerns and criticisms of the model, including most of those that Schweickart raises in his review, for example regarding feasibility, incentives, intrusiveness, etc. So my best answer to Schweickart is really to just say, please, go read the book yourself. But, there is a sense in which that would be dismissive of Schweickart himself…so, I shall respond to him here, even though doing so, even in short hand, is going to run on horribly long.



Setting the Stage


Early on Schweickart writes "Needless to say, Albert, a self-proclaimed ‘market abolitionist,’ cannot endorse [my] market socialist model, but it is important for the reader to understand that there are alternatives to capitalism other than Parecon." You might think from this that I deny that there are other models. But in fact I address many such models, in my own mounds of writing and also in the book that Schweickart reviewed, and of course Schweickart knows it. He just chooses not to react to it. A review of Parecon by him could have noted, for example, that the book includes a damning critique of market socialism, and could have substantively addressed that critique. Schweickart didn’t do that.


Schweickart writes "Albert often writes as if criticism of Parecon is tantamount to embracing capitalism." Maybe I am not the proper judge of this, but I think I not only don’t "often write" that way, but that I never write that way. Did I do it about Schweickart, even just in one sentence? I don’t believe so, which probably explains why he doesn’t quote me doing it.


I do think, however, that often times (though certainly not always) criticisms of parecon by leftists are rooted in advocacy of modes of remuneration, division of labor, and forms of allocation, which I call coordinatorist, but which typically refer to themselves as market and centrally planned socialist. Schweickart is a good example of that, as he himself acknowledges. 


Schweickart writes "Indeed, he [Albert] is convinced that markets of any kind ‘inexorably induce a class division in which about 20% of the population overwhelmingly determine economic outcomes and the other 80% overwhelmingly obeys instructions, . . . compel against everyone’s will surplus maximization and endless accumulation, and . . . make a travesty of democracy,’ so there is no point in making fine distinctions." I do say the first part of the above. I do not say, anywhere, however, that "there is no point making fine distinctions." So why does Schweickart focus on what I didn’t say but what he merely wrongly attributed to me, and ignore the actual substantive content about markets that I did offer?


One explanation that Schweickart may have had in mind is that I would call market socialism a class divided economy and I would call capitalism a class divided economy, and I would reject each – all of which is true. To him, I guess it may be that my rejecting each and noting that they have something in common, class rule from above, implies that I would also urge that we need not see how they are different, or that I would deny that they are different. But this is of course absurd, not only because they are different, but because over and over I detail the differences. There is capitalism. Distinct from capitalism there is market socialism. Distinct from market socialism there is parecon. These systems are fundamentally different in institutional structure and thus in implications for social outcomes. Lots of lesser differences are important too. Maybe for Schweickart, since I condemn markets in all incarnations, he deduces or imputes that I reject noting differences between different implementations of markets, between markets with different ameliorating structures accompanying them, and even between markets with private ownership or withoutn. But again this is all false. And, more, just to be clear, these distinctions aren’t "fine" in any case, but quite substantial, of course.


When Schweickart gets to what he takes to be the heart of the matter, he repeats all his earlier assertions. Then he summarizes my reasonably extensive replies by offering one liners of his own design that he has stand in for my views, which one-liners he can then belittle, having ignored the larger substance.


Schweickart says, for example, that my reply to his rejection of balanced job complexes on grounds that they couldn’t possibly be implemented is the sentiment "sure it’s difficult to balance job complexes, but it should be done anyway." And he admits that "moreover, he never meant his discussion as to how this might be done to be taken literally."


Of course my reply said quite a bit more, including using his own university and a coal mine as an example, etc., but, even regarding the sentiment that he is trying to comment on, expressing it more fully it was that I agree that creating the structures of a new economy, including a new division of labor that gets production accomplished without imposing a class division will be difficult. Of course, but even so, yes, I think it should be done. And I think this difficulty should be tackled because the alternative to attaining new institutions, including a new division of labor, is to continue to suffer class division and class rule. Apparently that is still nonsense for Schweickart.


Honestly, however, I should probably note also that I think the real difficulty in attaining a parecon is marginally different than the real difficulty in attaining market socialism – the core of the real difficulty in getting to either of these systems being overcoming the opposition of existing powers by building a massive, inspired, and committed movement. I even think it may be easier to win a parecon then to win some variant of market socialism because I think building a powerful movement for parecon may be easier than building a powerful movement for market socialism, the relevant insight being that workers in industrialized societies are unlikely to engage in mass movement struggle to trade in one boss for another.


At any rate, imagine Schweickart replying to someone who said, "Gee David, it is going to be hard to overcome all the obstacles to instituting market socialism." If Schweickart wasn’t writing a book in response, which is what would really be called for, he’d probably say something brief like "yes, it is going to be hard, but we should do it anyhow because suffering capitalist greed is intolerable." Well, in the same way, I say to Schweickart when he tells me that it would be harder to win and construct parecon than market socialism – "well, maybe it would be, though I don’t think it is obvious, but, even if it is the case, we should do it anyhow because suffering market socialist coordinator class dominance is intolerable." However, when I reply this way, Schweickart takes it as simple minded…but, of course, it is not. Schweickart and I agree that capitalism is horrible, so that escaping it is essential no matter how difficult it turns out to be. We disagree about market socialism and about my contention that escaping or better avoiding it is also essential.



Balanced Job Complexes and Class Struggle


Turning to parecon the economic model, regarding balanced job complexes, what more is there to say about the discussion about rating tasks that Schweickart re-raises? In fact I meant that discussion to be taken as it was written in the book, as a logical explanation of a set of ideas, not a method. For Schweickart to take it as he did in the review felt to me like manipulation of the issue. Go read the book and you can judge for yourself. Not only does it introduce the ranking idea by talking about capitalism, where actual step by step ranking of course doesn’t happen, but where we can nonetheless imagine it, the book then does the same for parecon. The ranking of each task is a kind of after the fact gedankin description of what a social process seeking balanced job complexes achieves…and even at that, the book makes clear over and over that in practice it is a social negotiation, not an engineering problem – and the outcome is not perfect, but is acceptable to those involved. More, in the book this is all preparatory to later descriptions of actual hypothetical job complex examples arrived by social discussion and decision. Only a nincompoop would say that we should grade every single task in an economy – what, a million, five million… – and then combine sets of them to get numeric averages of the grades, literally, as our operational methodology, and mean it as an actual instruction for behavior. Since Schweickart took it that way he concluded I must be irrational, or perhaps he was too kind to call me a nincompoop. When I told him no, that’s not said or implied or meant, well, he came back with it again, denying that I offered anything more, which is simply false. There are examples, and further discussion, at length. I think Schweickart just finds it so absurd that it doesn’t register.


Where do you work? Whatever…imagine a gigantic social upheaval occurring over a period of years, leading to a new economy. During this tumult, working people, throughout society, and in your workplace too, organize into work place councils and challenge old modes of decision making, remuneration, and division of labor. They win innovations, as reforms on the road to revolution, and finally the whole old system gives way to change. What occurs, more specifically, regarding the division of labor?


To some extent there is retraining, and in time this occurs not only within the workplaces, but in schools, etc. To some extent there reallocation of tasks among jobs, a regrouping of responsibilities so that jobs take on a better balance. Does this balancing of the empowering effects of work among workers happen instantly, in one big jump? Of course not. But suppose, as in Venezuela, that there is a huge social process and that during it many firms change spots even overnight…going from capitalist ownership and managerial domination, to workers’ self management. Suppose further that there is a commitment to pareconish reorganization. The undertaking in each workplace is a social project, obviously. Workers examine the current line up of jobs. Workers discuss which jobs are deadening and which are empowering. Workers see how tasks can be reassigned from some of the latter jobs to the former, and vice versa. First steps of reallocating some responsibilities are taken. Some training occurs. Is the new setup perfectly balanced? Far from it. But then further steps are taken. More changes occur in who has what responsibilities and tasks. Who decides these changes? The workers councils. Are the results perfect by some engineering style cosmic accounting? Of course not. But at some point, maybe it takes a few years of periodic transition and redefinition, a set of new jobs – newly balanced jobs – is defined. Even without going further into examples as in the longer treatments of parecon, even just leaving it at this abstract description, why would anyone think this is impossible, in fact, so obviously impossible that one has to wonder about the rationality of an advocate? Job balancing for empowerment effects is no less possible then the reverse, job distorting to ensure top down control, which is to say carefully examining work and extracting empowering features into the hands of a few, and forcing rote and repetitive features into the hands of many, as was done during the development of modern market systems.  


But beyond our disagreement about the possibility and difficulty of attaining balanced job complexes, here is what seems to me the heart of this particular dispute if I take Schweickart’s repeated comments about this as sincere concerns. How much balancing can we in fact do? That is, to what extent can workers redefining their own workplaces disperse empowering work among the whole population, as compared to reserving it for only about 20%? Does Schweickart think we can do no better than we see all around us, so that all empowering work should be done by one set of people and so that another set of people, about four times as large, should do only rote and tedious work? If he doesn’t see it that way, then how far toward each person doing a set of tasks that is broadly as empowering as the set of tasks each other person is doing can we move? Does Schweickart want to say that it doesn’t matter? Does he want to say that we don’t have to seek that kind of balance because there are no class issues involved and no serious questions of income and power? If so, he should say that. It would explain why he is content with modest limitations on corporate divisions of labor, and why he celebrates markets that produce and enforce those divisions of labor.


Schweickart writes, "Albert acknowledges that balanced job complexes would be quite difficult to achieve and certainly could not be achieved by ‘some idiotic mechanical calculation’ such as the one set out in detail in his major chapter on the topic, which I took seriously enough to think through concretely." This may be getting tedious, for the reader, I fear. But…the description in terms of numeric rankings was there to make a point and not set out a practical methodology. In replying I gave Schweickart the benefit of assuming that he honestly missed that and took it as a method when he commented on it as such – perhaps misunderstanding through poor communication by the book, rather than due to a desire to grab any possible hook for a rush to negative judgment. But now, even having read the answer to his prior comments, Schweickart chooses to write the above as if it is warranted. For him I am just dodging, not living up to my earlier words, and he was diligent. I’m sorry, it just isn’t the case. Readers will have to check for themselves. But even if it were the case, why not address the real substance?

Schweickart writes, "In fact I stated explicitly that Albert didn’t think this procedure could be implemented with precision." Well, more than that, the discussion utilizing rankings of tasks was to explicate the ideas, to clarify what balancing meant to accomplish by way of showing the distribution of types of task, and particularly to show that it was logically possible. And yes, I admit that the fact that Schweickart chose to treat it in the most mechanical possible way, was very odd to my eyes, even the first time, much less now too.


Schweickart says, "But I went on to note that he gives us no clue as to what other, more realistic procedures he might have in mind." Well, actually, the book even describes hypothetical workplaces, and their hypothetical balanced job complexes. My earlier reply gave examples too. In my own view, this was arguably too much specificity, not too little. But the real point here seems to me to be very different. In all Schweickart’s words devoted to debunking balanced job complexes – and even ignoring what I think is his misrepresentation of what I say about them – Schweickart never addresses or even acknowledges the reasons why I favor them. I claim that if work is apportioned so that some monopolize empowering tasks and others do only what is rote, tedious, etc. – the latter group will be dominated by the former even if there are formal rules about democracy, etc. Schweickart ignores this. He doesn’t say it is false; much less argue some reasons why it is false. But if it is true, then attaining balanced job complexes, however difficult it turns out to be in actual practice, even if it were much more difficult than I think, is essential if we are to avoid class rule by empowered coordinators above disempowered workers. So why not tackle that substantive issue, I wonder?


When Schweickart gets to the end of his comments on balanced job complexes, he says, "I leave it to the reader to decide [if they are feasible or desirable]." I agree with that sentiment entirely. But I hope the reader will consider what I and others who advocate parecon claim, not what Schweickart says we claim. Even more, I hope readers will exercise their own imagination and wisdom regarding the issues. The focus of all this should not be parecon as I or anyone else proposes it. The focus should be sharing a vision of a classless economy that we can all manage to cooperatively, over time, conceive and seek. If parecon helps with that, and even captures some or many of the central defining features of a worthy classless vision, as I contend it does, so much the better. But if parecon turns out to have flaws, okay we should undertake amendments, adaptations, refinements, or even complete overhaul, but we should not dismiss it as a precursor to returning our advocacy to classist structures.


My claim is that working people can forge, not instantly, and not like a perfect engineering project, job complexes that are balanced for empowerment and that are therefore consistent with classlessness, and that we can also construct an allocation system that ratifies and compatibly enhances a classless division of labor. I agree that achieving this in transition from capitalism to a parecon will take time and will involve travail, to be sure, but I also claim that maintaining such constructions once we have attained our new division of labor and our new mode of allocation will be far simpler and far less costly – which is to say far more materially productive as well as far more socially desirable – than would be defending the monopoly on empowering work held by a few that is typical of market socialism.


So this is a very real disagreement between Schweickart and myself regarding what we can even attempt, and thus also what we can achieve. As to how jobs can be redefined to incorporate a different mix of tasks than we now suffer, I give examples in the book – and in my earlier reply, too – but I don’t want to make believe that I think having as extensive an answer to this query as I offer in longer presentations is mandatory at this stage. For the most part, how we attain balanced job complexes, supposing that it becomes a goal of social change, will be determined in social practice, via experience, and will vary from industry to industry. We can now usefully offer a broad picture of the kinds of thinking and alteration that move toward balance, whether within firms or across them. I did that, and I did more, actually, with hypothetical examples, in the book – but suppose I hadn’t given those examples. Suppose I didn’t provide a general conception of what would need to be done to have balanced job complexes, but instead said that I had no idea how to do it. And suppose I hadn’t worked in balanced job complexes, myself, for that matter, and that I couldn’t and didn’t offer explanations of why they would be productive as well as humane. And suppose, again contrary to fact, I was even afraid that it couldn’t be done, like Schweickart is (except that Schweickart seems to be happy at the thought it can’t be done, not afraid that it can’t be done). Even if all that were the case, I freely admit that I would still say, well, okay, we need to think about this division of labor issue and we need to find a way to attain a balance in empowerment implications among jobs, because if we don’t find a way to do that, we are going to be stuck with class rule by a few over the many. I would still feel, that is, even lacking any idea how the hell to escape the past, even lacking any idea what achieving the goal would look like, even fearing that it was impossible, that if we structurally continued to opt for institutions that give a fifth of the population conditions that empower them and give four fifths conditions that disempower them, the one fifth will set a

1 comment

  1. Brent Irving December 15, 2014 2:34 am 

    Any chance of this debate getting uploaded in its entirety? This is added.

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