Thoughts and Deeds 3: Participatory Economics

This is part three of a five part interview. It deals mainly with participatory economics, what it is, and its merits or debits. As to the other parts, they will be linked, below, as they are published…

Thought & Deeds 1: Revolution
Thoughts & Deeds 2: Perspectives
Thoughts & Deeds 3: Participatory Economics
Thoughts & Deeds 4: Winning
Thoughts & Deeds 5: IOPS
Thoughts and Deeds 6: Venezuela, Media, Music…

Can you describe participatory economics briefly?

Participatory economics, and I call it parecon for short, addresses the means and relations by which we produce, consume, and allocate.

First, parecon proposes that since workers and consumers are to collectively, cooperatively self manage their own economic involvements and the larger economy as well, they need venues by way of which to do this. And parecon proposes workers and consumers self managing councils.


The self-managing part might not be quite clear. Today we have cooperatives who claim they have implemented self-management, but in practice they look the same to me in terms of structure as, say, General Motors. So could you describe self management in a bit more detail?

Throughout the definition of parecon and participatory society, self managing means each participant has a say in each decision essentially in proportion to the extent he or she will feel its effects.

This means, when people will feel effects to a similar degree, we might use one person one vote, majority rules, so each has the same say. When people are affected differently from one another depending on their position or circumstance, a different calculus of votes – say two thirds may be needed to pass a proposal, or consensus, and different periods of deliberation via different kinds of gatherings, may also be called for.


I think this might warrant a little more explanation. We are all mostly used to majority vote under all circumstances, after all.

With self management, there is also one norm which means the same thing for everyone. But different workplaces and neighborhoods, may, via their councils, adopt different approaches to fulfilling the mandate of self management. This could occur due to different circumstances – such as producing different items or having a different number of members. Or it could occur due to different perceptions, or due to a difference in what they value beyond the basics.

For example, sometimes a whole council is involved in a decision, or a federation of councils. But sometimes a decision is instead of primary concern to a small workgroup, or even just a single individual, albeit in context of other overarching decisions that provide context. And some places may opt for more or less deliberation, etc.


Let’s see if we can flesh out that which makes ParEcon tick. What are its central features, what makes it different structurally from , say , capitalism or communism?

In addition to how economic decisions are made, in a self managing way – how tasks are apportioned into jobs that people do is also centrally important to parecon’s definition. Economists call this the division of labor. Some people do some things, other people do other things.

Having a sensible division of labor – which means a sensible way of apportioning tasks into jobs – is important for many reasons. First, we want to get things done without undue waste and with fairness. But a second reason that few ever mention, but that parecon emphasize, is caring about the implications of jobs for people’s level of preparedness and even inclination to participate in making decisions.

The point is, we can have self management as a priority, but if our daily activities cause some people to be unprepared to participate and to lack the means to have informed opinions, then their formal right to influence outcomes will be trumped by the reality that other people are more equipped and inclined to do so, while they are less equipped and inclined to do so.

The observation leads to a major commitment. The work we do shouldn’t cause some people to be prepared and inclined to rule, and other people to be prepared and even inclined to obey.


I suppose that’s why even in companies where there is the possibility for an employee to weigh in on company decisions, people don’t weigh in, or just follow the general flow. So how exactly do you structure work to counter this passive behavior by some, and domineering behavior by others, in Parecon?

Instead of a corporate division of labor of the sort that now characterizes capitalist economies but also characterized twentieth century socialist economies, parecon includes what we call balanced job complexes.

By a corporate division of labor, we mean dividing all an economy’s tasks into jobs that people do so that about 20% of the jobs include all the empowering tasks, and 80% include no empowering tasks. This is typical of both capitalism and twentieth century socialism. By balanced job complexes, we mean sharing the empowering work among all jobs.

But how do you define empowering work and disempowering work? Also, doesn’t that differ from person to person? What one might find empowering, another might not…

Empowering tasks involve daily access to decision making and convey information and social skills causing those with the jobs to feel ready and even inclined to participate in decisions.

Disempowering tasks isolate people from decisions, diminish the information and awareness people have, and curb social skills and fragment people from one another, all causing people to be ill equipped and even disinclined to participate in decision making.

Of course a task that is deemed empowering will be attractive to some, and not others. But those who do it, choosing it, will be empowered by it. A disempowering tasks will not empower anyone, even when they choose it.


Okay, so what do you propose as a solution to the division of labor empowering some and disempowering the rest?

The solution is not complicated. When there is disparity due to disparate conditions, whatever they may be, obviously, we should change the conditions. In this case, we should require that each job be comparably empowering to all other jobs. Thus, instead of distributing empowering tasks so that about 20% of the population does virtually all the empowering tasks – and little that is disempowering, while 80% do nearly nothing empowering and virtually only disempowering tasks, we spread empowering tasks through all jobs, so that everyone does a total work assignment that is comparably empowering as other people’s assignments.


Yes, but we can’t do all the things needed in society, at all times, right? That’s just impossible. 

No, and balanced job complexes don’t suggest that we should all do the same things, which would be boring but, even more so, is totally impossible. Rather, we should all do a mix of empowering and disempowering tasks, often different in details from the next person, of course, much less from someone in a different workplace, but so that our whole jobs are equal to everyone’s else’s in their empowerment effect. That is balanced job complexes, and they are part of parecon to ensure self management and to eliminate a class division based on unequal influence and participation.


If I am an IT consultant in a company,  attend meetings to weigh in on technology and process choices, come up with new solutions to problems, I’d like to believe this is empowering work. But if I am an IT person in a parecon, I still do the fun and exciting technology stuff, but for fewer hours, while doing rote or boring tasks like cleaning dirty keyboards or doing administrative work, which I happen to find utterly boring?

Yes, you get it. Except that part about administrative work. That could be empowering, and, if it is, you don’t get to do it as your disempowering tasks just because you say you find it boring. Joe doesn’t get to say he finds being boss boring so surely he can do that, along with other empowering stuff, as his disempowering stuff…

You might opt to have administrative work, or not, if it is generally deemed empowering, as your empowering task, but you can’t claim some task that society says is empowering is good for you to do to balance off other empowering tasks, because you say you don’t like it.


And, so, if before I was just cleaning people’s keyboards at their desk because that was my “traditional” job, now I would be doing the cool tech stuff that the people above me would do in a “traditional” division of labor?

Yes, that is the other half of the dynamic. But it isn’t cool or not cool, enjoyable ot not, etc. that is at stake. And it isn’t your personal view of it, either. It is society deeming some tasks empowering and others not, or, more likely, inside a workplace, the workforce combining tasks into jobs, so that all are balanced, and then everyone chooses to do some job, from among the balanced options. People don’t only do empowering, or only do disempowering.


Ok I think we should explore this further, but for the time being, what other institutions, besides the new division of labor, make up ParEcon?

The next defining feature – and defining features are all parecon addresses – relates to the fact that any economy generates products and each participant gets some share of its products, as their income. The issue for any economy is, how much?

In some economies, this is basically whatever a person can take. Bargaining power decides the issue. Often ownership of property is a key determinant of power for many, but other factors can enter as well, such as race, gender, unionization, or scarce skills.

Another possibility, which is actually largely hypothetical, is that we should get a share of the social product in proportion to the amount that we contribute by our labors.

Both of these options yield wildly unequal incomes that violate not only equity but also solidarity and self management. More, the sacrifice of these other core values to be able to give people income for power or even output has no positive offsetting moral or incentive justification, but instead only aggrandizes some at the expense of others and for that reason, parecon needs a different norm for determining people’s fair share of the social product.

The norm parecon that adopts is that all people of course get insurance, health care, etc., and those who can’t work – whether they are ill or too young or too old, get income, beyond insurance, based on the social average. Those who can work, however, and who are of age to work, in participatory economics get income proportionate to the length of time they work, their intensity of work, and the onerousness of the conditions under which they work. Thus, the norm is that people get income for need for those who are unable to work, but get income for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially useful work, for those who can work.


What does socially useful mean?

I can’t dig holes in my lawn and fill them, and say I do it for long hours, under hard conditions – my kid keeps shooting a hose at me, and very intently, so I deserve a lot of income. Nor can I say, I play basketball, and I want income for that. In the first case the product itself isn’t socially useful even if I am good at digging and filling the holes – no one wants it enough to warrant producing it with the resources allotted. In the second case, same thing is true, but this time because I play so poorly, no one would get any pleasure out of watching me.

So the point is, to be remunerated – to earn income, work has to produce outputs people want enough to justify the allocation of time, energy, stuff, etc., to its production.

It turns out, says parecon, that this approach, income for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, is both equitable and also provides proper incentives that facilitate meeting needs for output and for innovations as well.


I want to go back, if that’s okay. About self management, don’t you think that we should perhaps leave this to experts, specially innovation? People who we usually believe know what they are doing and are great at one particular thing? Shouldn’t they choose for us to guarantee optimal results? 

First, each person is the foremost expert on his or her own preferences. That is not a trivial observation, even though it is trivially true. It follows from it that if we want experts entering into a process that seeks to register and tally the preferences of people, then we want self management for that aspect.

Second, nothing about self management says that experts in other aspects of a problem shouldn’t contribute their information so that then all who are affected can take it into account.

Think of testimony. We don’t have experts on fingerprints constitute the jury, but we do have the jury hear experts on fingerprints. In a workplace, we in the workers councils don’t need to ourselves master the chemistry of lead paint, nor do we need to have lead paint chemists decide what to put on our walls, for us. We can decide what to put on the walls based on our preferences plus an expert report about the dangers of lead paint. We need the chemist’s report, but then we enter our own preferences. The chemist doesn’t get to decide for us.

So how should we arrive at best decisions? Surely not by a method that ignores expert information, as you point out, but also surely not by a method that excludes the desires of most of those, or even any of those, who are affected.

Finally, third, notice that the thrust of the question applies not only to self management, but also to simple democracy. If we say the best decision makers should decide for us instead of our having self management – and we somehow think we can discern who the best decision makers are, which of course we most often cannot, then why wouldn’t we think they should decide and the rest of us should obey and not even have democracy?

In other words, if Stalin was deemed the best decision maker – as no doubt he was by many – should he decide everything along with his appointed aides? We of course say, no to that, but why not? The answer is that even if one person, or a few, could generate better decisions then democracy, or even better self mangement – which is very hard to know – nonetheless, we realize that there is a very high price to pay for exclusion. We understand that participating in decisions is part of a full life, as well as part of outcomes being as good as we can reasonably get them to be.

So, yes, I favor self management carried out in a manner that is both efficient and in accord with full participation.


When you put it that way it makes sense. But is it really true that the only way to have self-management involves having to share the empowering work – your call for balanced job complexes?

If you don’t want to have some people who profit off property they own – capitalists – then you have to change the economy so the source of capitalist advantage is no longer part of it. Most people on the left understand that quite easily, and you do that by no longer allowing some people to monopolize ownership of means of production. And the easiest way to accomplish that is to simply have everyone own an equal share of everything, and to also have no implications of even that ownership for influence.

Okay, by analogy, if you don’t want a coordinator class above a working class, you have to change the economy so the source of coordinator advantage is no longer present. But that means spreading empowering work – because it is precisely a monopoly on having empowering work that conveys to the coordinator class their advantages, just like it is monopolizing property that conveys to the capitalist class their advantages.


You do realize that getting people to agree to do work that is not particularly interesting, especially when they are used to doing interesting work given their status, might not be so easy. And what about the output of these people who are trained to do what they do well? Don’t we lose that by having trained IT specialists, or doctors, or scientists, doing mechanical and boring stuff?

Not all people will immediately agree with balanced job complexes, we know that to be true, of course. But what if the clear and evident choice is to have justice, fairness, participation, and rational and humane use of energies and resources and labor, on the one hand, or to have class rule with continuous class conflict, suppression of most citizens, alienation, and rampant indignity on the other hand?

In that case, we can see that the choice, even for those who think they would be coordinators if we didn’t have balanced job complexes, is not so evident. Coming from a society of inequities and hierarchies, many who arrive at a full understanding would choose justice. Others, however, would still choose personal advantage. You can actually see this, right now, in Venezuela – though if prospects and aims there were better defined, I think the results of polling, particularly Venezuela’s young people, would be even more on the side of change than it is now.

But, in any event, polls aren’t alone how all this works. Rather there will be massive social struggle. Some in the coordinator class will join the effort to eliminate class division and class rule. Others will defend continuing class division to pursue or defend their own domination of others.

However, suppose that by whatever route, we arrive at a pareconish economy. Perhaps we get there by grassroots activism and struggle, or by election, or by a combination. After that achievement, and after some time passes and things are stabilized, your question starts to become moot because, in a stable, established participatory economy, there are only people doing balanced job complexes. Everyone is getting excellent education and training. Everyone is confident and sees themselves – and others – as worthy. Few can or would, any longer, think of themselves as so superior that, due to their specialness, they deserve a pass on the responsibility to do a fair share of disempowering tasks.

But would we lose output? Yes – but also no. If we consider one doctor, then when he or she allots some time away from only doctoring to do some cleaning or whatever else, we obviously definitely lose that much doctoring. That is what people have in mind when they say we will lose output. But that conclusion arises only because they are ignoring the picture beyond that one doctor, or they are considering it, but have classist assumptions about it.

Just a few decades back, when there were nearly no women doctors, the argument justifying women’s exclusion from medicine was that they could not do it well. The same went for Blacks in the U.S. It turned out, of course, that such views were totally false and accepted because they justified an oppressive arrangement.

The pareconist says the same thing holds for classist divisions of labor as was and remains true for sexist or racist divisions of labor. Claims that such arrangements are natural and necessary are false, says an advocate of balanced job complexes, and persist to justify an oppressive relationship.


One might think that the conclusion is that we should all become highly specialized professionals: we all become doctors for instance… which of course is nonsense. We can’t all be surgeons, so to speak, can we?

No. First off, the disempowering work is important and must get done. And second, among the 80% of the workforce who currently do only disempowering tasks, even with a full education, confidence, supportive contexts, etc., not all would want to or even just be able to be good surgeons – not to mention we don’t need that many. That much is certainly true. Just like it was true fifty years ago, that not all women, even if well trained, would want to be or even could be good doctors. But a lot could – and the rest could do other empowering things.

Just as the reason women in sexist societies and minorities in racist societies appear to and in fact, after suffering grave injustice, do lack capacity and often even inclination to do empowering work, this has nothing to do with the underlying reality of who they innately could be, but instead has everything to do with social structures compelling them to be less than who they innately could be. And the same goes for working people as compared to those I call the coordinator class.


So working people are tricked into believing they are useless and only good to obey and do dumb stuff from day one, which is simply self-serving bull for elites?

I wouldn’t put it quite like that. Yes, it is self serving bull for elites that oppressed groups are happy slaves, or are sad slaves, but nonetheless inevitably slaves and nothing more – but slaves aren’t so much tricked into believing that, at least somewhat, as they are forced into situations where the claims appear true. Women, years back, and to a degree even now, because of the roles they occupy in society, see all around them, and hear all the time, about what they can and cannot do. The same is true for working people. And because of the conditions people suffer, the denials and indignities, the robbery of potentials, it does seem to them that they lack knowledge and skills associated with empowering work – because, in fact, they do lack that knowledge and that skill – not because they couldn’t have it, but because they are denied it. They aren’t tricked into thinking they can’t do more – they are oppressed into it being what they see and in many cases come to believe. I like to tell people to go listen to John Lennon singing working class hero.

At any rate, because this is so, changing to balanced job complexes means society will reap the latent but now dormant creative potential of 80% of the population whose capacities are now crushed and denied, at the “cost” of not accessing during every minute of every work day, the full creative potential of 20% of the population. And that is just the minimum gain. My own guess would be that the 20%, when operating in a parecon and doing a balanced job complex, will generate more doctoring that is of a higher quality per time they allot to that task – because all kinds of tasks and mindsets associated with maintaining their monopoly on medical skills and knowledge would be removed and would therefore no longer distort their actions. And that isn’t even counting the gargantuan effects of medicine for human well being rather than medicine for profit.

So yes, I do think everyone should, can, and will, benefit from doing a fair share of empowering work.


Okay, what about concerns about parecon’s approach to how you get paid? If I get more work done per unit of time, don’t I deserve to be paid more? Are you saying my output per unit of time should not matter regarding how much I get paid?

Not exactly. Remember that there are three factors – duration, onerousness, and also intensity. So if I work harder to get more done, yes, that earns more. And if I just slow down and don’t work hard, that earns less. Yes.

On the other hand, if you produce more because you are bigger and stronger, say, or better at something, then in that case, correct, you should not get more. We can easily see that there is no reason to give more to someone because they have greater bargaining power – to do that is to adopt the morality of thugs. But second, it also has no economic rationality. It just serves thugs.

We can also see that the same goes for rewarding property. What is harder to see, only because rhetoric has imbued certain views in most people, is that it is true, as well, even for rewarding output, which a first glance, seems fair. With output, however, if you ask about it, most people think it is fair because they think output somehow correlates to effort. In fact, however, lots of things affect the value of the output I generate, my tools, my talents, who I work with, what I happen to be generating, and, yes, how long and hard I work. But there is no reason to reward any of those factors other than how long and hard I work.

More, rewarding power, property, and even output all have grave problems. I don’t think we should shower wealth and power on someone because they have better tools with which to work, for example, or because they happen to be working on items more valued than what others are working on, or because they were luckily born with great talents, vocal skills, athletic prowess, or even greater intelligence in one form or another, much less because they have property or power. None of this morally warrants one person being enriched beyond others, nor is the enrichment needed to fulfill an economic logic that seeks what is good for all.


Could you elaborate as to why exactly?

This is the incentive side of the question. Does remunerating for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially useful work provide proper incentives, or not?

Well, what can someone decide to enlarge if they want more income, or what can they forego doing if they are happy with less income? This is what an incentive can effect. The answer is how long they work, how hard they work, and in some cases, whether they agree to endure harsh conditions or not. But you cannot change your genetic endowment of intrinsic skills and talents due to people with great voices being paid more. There is no incentive effect for altering intrinsic talents. You do want parecon’s workforce to use excellent tools, it is true, and to apply labor to creating useful items, of course, and to have appropriate training, but all this can be had without adopting norms of payment which destroy values we aspire to, such as equity.


You can see how people might have a hard time wrapping their head around not being remunerated based on their output though. Not only elites but working people, too.

Only if they don’t really think about it, honestly. The truth is that virtually everyone, low paid and high paid, agrees to not be paid based on their output right now. And typically no one thinks twice about it, per se, because it is just how the institutions work.

That is, take someone who earns a ton – say, the star basketball player, Lebron James. Does he get as income equal to what he contributes to the social product? No. Amazingly, even with his humongous income, he gets way less than he contributes to the social product because the team’s owners, the sponsors, etc., all take what they can leaving less for him. Because of his talent, Lebrun has a lot of power, so he can take a big chunk. And because so many people like NBA basketball, his playing is highly valued by the population and generates tons of revenue. But in the end, James only gets part of what he is responsible for generating.

And the same holds for everyone else. For example, typical working people, those in the 80% mentioned earlier, get way less than they contribute to society by their labors, with the difference going to owners as profits.  Owners get hugely more than they produce – something I doubt any of them ever complain about. Coordinators, sometimes even manage to get more than they produce, but often, I think, just get a higher percentage of what they produce than workers do, because they have power to take more.

Now why do people accept getting a different amount than they, by their own efforts, produce? It is because there are institutions that impose the result, laws the defend it, and, mainly, a culture, school system and economy that all, by our ways of relating to the roles that they impose, leave us thinking this is just how it must be. Why do people think it is a meritocracy of some sort, giving people back from the social product what they put into it by their labors? Because lies, told often enough, acquire great weight, especially when believing anything else, however obvious, makes one an outsider. The story of the King with no clothes has real meaning.


So you are saying, changing to parecon doesn’t change that people don’t get income in proportion to their contribution to output.

It certainly doesn’t change that that is the case, correct, though it does change what people do get, for sure. Parecon eliminates that people get income for property’s output. So the excessive income that is profit is eliminated. It also eliminates that people get income for the bargaining power they have. And it establishes that people get income for intensity, duration, and onerousness of socially valued labor – but not for the value of their personal product.

Output certainly matters in parecon but it is because our work has to be valued commensurate to its inputs to be worth doing, and thus to earn income at all. We don’t want work that needlessly squanders valuable labor or resources for products worth less than those inputs, nor that produces outputs people don’t really want at all. But our income depends on how long we work, how hard we work, and whether or not we have to endure unusually bad conditions, as long as we are doing socially valued work – not on our output level.


Honestly, it’s a big change in mentality. You really believe people will accept this? Mind you, the arguments do make sense to me, but still.

In an economy that provides people income in this new manner – income that elicits labor via incentives precisely as it ought to, and income that is fair and just for all – would people agree to it? Well, who are the people you are asking about?

Will capitalists want and seek this change? Not many, to be sure. Rather they will most often oppose such change, as best they can. They will want to keep what they have, and they have elaborate belief systems telling themselves it is just and fair and in any event essential that they do so – even as their actions are destroying the planet and impoverishing its populations.

Will coordinators want and seek this change? I think a lot of them will, but again, certainly far from all of them. And for the same reason – understanding overall implications versus eyes on material self interest. However, once we have a new economy, and so once people have been schooled and have worked in its new contexts, will many folks run around saying I should get what I can take, or I should get to own the workplace and take profits, or even I should get the whole value of my output to the social product? I don’t think so, and I think to the extent some folks do argue that way, they will appear to others to be about as sane and moral as someone running around now saying they should be allowed to own slaves.


Given the above, can you tell us why you concentrate so much on this coordinator class you have spoken of, whereas most of the anti-capitalist movements and initiatives don’t do this? That’s pretty much the whole idea behind the empowered/disempowered job sharing structure, to ward off the power of the coordinator class, right?

Yes, to remove the basis for that class difference. Right.

Part of the reason I give a lot of attention to the coordinator class has to do with the ultimate goal. We don’t want a system that has no owners, which is good, but that still has about 20% ruling the economy which is bad, and which is, by the way, what I think twentieth century socialism was, which is why I often call it coordinatorism.

But there is also a strategic reason for emphasizing not only workers and capitalists, but also the coordinator class. Everyone says, rightly, if movements for social change are to win they need to appeal to, involve, and empower working people. But what impedes that?

One factor, I think, is whether movements make workers feel like the movement project is for them or make them feel like it is for people other than them – their doctors, lawyers, managers, etc.

I was in a taxi in Brazil, many years ago, when Lula was running in the election that he finally won. I asked the driver if he liked Lula and he said yes, of course, very much. I asked if he was going to vote for him and he said no, he probably wouldn’t bother. I asked why. He said, you have to understand. People like me, we are just blowing in the wind. We have no say, now – and we will have no say after Lula becomes President, too.

Lula won, not least due to appealing upward, toward the coordinator class, rather than appealing to what we on the left all thought was his natural and proper base of support, working people and the peasants of Brazil. And the Taxi driver, in this case, proved prophetic. There was no fundamental change in the basic institutions of Brazil. So the driver’s abstention from a movement he thought wouldn’t truly serve him, even though he loved Lula, was insightful. And more, there is no point blaming the driver and others like him. Rather, we have to look at what it was about Lula’s party that made the driver feel as he did.

Movements can be racist, or sexist, and if they are, of course they won’t appeal too powerfully and effectively to minority cultural communities or to women, nor, if they do manage to gain influence, will they change much along those axes. In contrast, a movement that is anti racist and anti sexist not just rhetorically but in ways that members of those constituencies see and find convincing, will appeal much better, and will empower its natural constituencies far more, and will therefore become much stronger.


And you are saying class is more or less like that.

Yes, the same thing is true regarding class as is evidenced by the Brazil example and countless others one could raise as well.

And just as what people will find convincing regarding seriousness about race and gender are changes in a movement’s internal structure, changes in the allocation of influence among its members, changes in roles within the movement, as well as changes in movement demands – so too for class.

And it follows that understanding the interface between workers and coordinators is essential to developing movements that will have internal structure, apportionment of influence, redefined roles, and also programmatic demands able to attract and empower working class involvement, as well as to lead to a really classless, rather than coordinator class dominated, economy.


It’s clear from the above that you attach more importance to being against capitalist structures, not against capitalists as people, or am I going too far in my assumptions?

Well, I am sure there are capitalists I would personally dislike, and I have met some of those, though very few since I don’t travel in such circles. And very likely there are also some capitalists I would personally like – where we are talking about, say, having a pleasant time with them if we were talking together at a party or something. It would be a very rare capitalist, however, whose actions within the economy I wouldn’t find odious – albeit some a more so than others.

The point is, capitalists fill a role in society. The role gives them some leeway in their choices, but around certain matters such as control of their workplaces, remuneration rates, trying to profit by every means available including violating the environment, it leaves them very little leeway. This is due to the system – capitalism. And, yes, I am against that system, fully.


How about the coordinators? Same deal I suppose?

Yes, it is really the same answer. This is about many more people since there are about twenty times as many coordinator class members as capitalists. There are, of course, many coordinators who I would enjoy having dinner with or even being friends with, sure. But then there are many others, who I would not like much, to be kind about it. But the real issue is the structure that causes there to be coordinators and that elevates them to ruling class stature – and that I am against, fully.

You know, we skipped over the last key feature of parecon, participatory planning, which is a process wherein workers’ and consumers’ councils and federations of councils use a back and forth exchange of information to cooperatively negotiate inputs and outputs of production and consumption. Participatory planning replaces markets and or central planning for allocation in a parecon.


Do you really think workers and consumers can together negotiate a plan for the economy in a cooperative way?  Isn’t that too complex and intricate to even dream of doing it collectively?

Right now, General Motors, Boeing, etc., are larger than many countries, and they are centrally planned, internally, so clearly that kind of planning is possible. It is not desirable, however, because it is inexorably authoritarian as well as fostering the coordinator class versus working class division and hierarchy.

Likewise for markets, or at least markets plus some planning, which is how markets always exist. That too is not desirable, though it is possible. There are many reasons – markets also yield class division. Additionally markets pervert human motivations, despoil the environments, generate gross inequity, and so on.

So instead of having a small set of planners decide everything, albeit getting information from throughout a firm or the whole economy to work with, and instead of having all the separate actors decide outcomes via competition mediated by power, in parecon we have production units and consumer units engaging with one another to decide matters not competitively, but cooperatively.

To make a full case requires a lot of space. But perhaps it will be enough to point out that one should hope this is possible, and that one should investigate the claims that it is. To justify abhorrent systems such as markets and central planning – and by abhorrent I mean soul destroying and even species destroying – by claiming a priori that anything better must be impossible is a very cheap and easy way to bolster a despicable order. So people should be very suspicious of that and should want to explore, very carefully, any remotely plausible proposal for an alternative.

So, yes, I do think better than markets or central planning is possible, and I think participatory planning fulfills that promise. But to see what I hope is a compelling discussion of those issues, I have to recommend consulting a longer work, perhaps Parecon: Life After Capitalism, or there are others, too.

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