In capitalism, owners together with about a fifth of the population who have highly empowered work decide what is produced, by what means, and with what distribution. Nearly four fifths of the population does largely rote labor, suffers inferior incomes, obeys orders, and endures boredom, all imposed from above. As John Lennon put it, “As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all.”
Capitalism destroys solidarity, homogenizes variety, obliterates equity, and imposes harsh hierarchy. It is top heavy in power and opportunity. It is bottom heavy in pain and constraint. Indeed, Capitalism imposes on workers a degree of discipline beyond what any dictator ever dreamed of imposing politically. Who ever heard of citizens asking permission to go to the bathroom, a commonplace occurrence for workers in many corporations.
Capitalism’s ills are not due to antisocial people. Instead, capitalism’s institutions impose horrible behavior even on its most social citizens. In capitalism as a famous American baseball manager quipped “nice guys finish last.” More aggressively: “garbage rises.” Witness Washington’s White House.
Participatory economics, or parecon, is an alternative way to organize economic life.
Parecon has equitable incomes, circumstances, opportunities, and responsibilities for all participants. Each parecon participant has a fair share of control over their own life and over all shared social outcomes. Parecon eliminates class division.
Parecon produces solidarity. Even an antisocial individual in a parecon has no choice but to account for social well-being if he or she wishes to prosper.
Parecon diversifies outcomes and generates equitable distribution that remunerates each participant for how long and how hard they work as well as for harsh conditions they may suffer at work.
Parecon also conveys to each person a say in what is produced, what means are used, and how outputs are allocated, all in proportion to the degree he or she is affected by those decisions.
Parecon, in other words, has completely different values than capitalism and to further its different values parecon incorporates different institutions.
Parecon has workers and consumers councils where workers and consumers employ diverse modes of discussion, debate, and democratic determination. In parecon, there are no corporate owners and managers deciding outcomes from the top down.
Parecon has “balanced job complexes” in which each worker does a fair combination of empowering and rote labor, so that all participants have comparably empowering circumstances instead of 20% of the workforce monopolizing all the empowering tasks and 80% doing only subordinate labor. In a parecon there is still expertise. There is still coordination. Decisions still get made. But there is no minority monopolizing empowering information, activity, and access to decision making positions while a majority is made subservient by doing only deadening daily tasks with no decision making component.
In parecon each and every job, which means each and every person’s work, involves a mix calibrated so that each participant has essentially equally empowering conditions. A parecon has no owning class. It has no technocratic, managerial, or coordinator class. A parecon has only workers and consumers cooperatively creatively fulfilling their capacities consistently with each participant having a fair share of influence.
Parecon has remuneration for effort and sacrifice, which translates to remuneration for the duration, intensity, and harshness of the work people do. Parecon rejects remuneration for power, property, or even output. Instead of gargantuan disparities of income and wealth, parecon has a just distribution of social product.
Parecon also does away with markets which pit each actor against all others, destroy solidarity, impose class division, mis-price all public goods, ignore collective effects beyond direct buyers and sellers, violate ecological balance and sustainability, and have many other faults as well. In place of markets parecon utilizes a system of workers and consumers, through their self managing councils, cooperatively negotiating inputs and outputs for all firms and actors in accord with true and full social costs and benefits of economic activities.
In a short article it is impossible to make even a quick much less a compelling case for an entirely different economic system. I can only offer a brief list of parecon’s values and institutions. I know such brevity is vague and hard for unfamiliar readers to give substance to. But here we have no room for clarification, supporting argument, or detailed discussion. My apologies.
What I hope, however, is that readers who know from their own experience that capitalist economies routinely cause us to fleece each other, deny us having a say over our own lives or force us to dominate the lives of others, distribute massive outputs to those who do the most pleasurable or even who do no work at all and distribute meager outputs to those who do the least pleasurable and the overwhelming volume of work, will hope that parecon is a real alternative.
I can hope, in other words, that instead of quietly accepting rich people’s passivity-inducing mantra that “there is no alternative,” we will all seek something better, beyond capitalism, and that, moved by our aspirations we will carefully consider parecon on its merits. One place that you might begin, if you don’t accept that humanity is forever doomed to suffer gross inequality and hierarchy via capitalist ownership, corporations, and markets, is at http://www.parecon.org.