Albert Replies to Green
Albert Replies to Green
I recently was directed to a serious essay by Joseph Green about participatory economics. I don't know how to engage with him and the essay, but will offer some reactions and hope that they find their way to the relevant audiences, and to Green himself. One problem is, however, that the piece is quite long, and in places to reply would entail rewriting or reproducing the equivalent of whole chapters about the model. I will try to be more succinct.
Green's title is "An anarchist society that wallows in regulations" - of course parecon is not a vision for a whole society, but only an economy, and as to regulations, perhaps let's take the points a step at a time, to see what is suggested here, and whether it is the case.
Green starts by saying the basic idea of parecon is that "workers will run the economy and decide matters that concern them." Actually, in a parecon, workers and consumers - the populace - run the economy, and have input into decisions about matters in proportion as those matters affect them. As Green notes, "Thus for parecon, the statement that one participates in decisions to the extent that they affect one isn't simply a flowery way of saying that the mass of people decide things. Instead it is supposed to indicate exactly who gets to decide what."
But then Green goes on to say, "One might think that the parecon principle would lead to the idea that there are things that everyone should decide, and hence a role for centralism. But Albert and Hahnel believe that all centralism is necessarily bureaucratic, top-down, and oppressive."
This I don't actually understand. What does Green mean by the word "centralism."
The idea that there are a great many things - and in some real sense all things - that impact everyone and that everyone should therefore have some impact on, certainly doesn't imply that there should be some central authority making decisions on everyone's behalf. Quite the opposite. It implies that there should be a social mechanism that in some fashion elicits the preferences or desires of those affected - often everyone - and amalgamates their preferences into a decision, giving an appropriate weight to each preference (which, with self management, means a weight in accord with degree affected).
Consider determining how many bicycles are produced. This is not decided by people who build bicycles, alone, of course. What about those who use them? But that isn't the end of it, either. What about those who would use the products that could be made were we to forego bicycles and employ the resources and energies that went to bicycles for other purposes? What about those impacted by by-products, as well?
Every decision in any economy is impacted by the overall choices made - the entire economic pattern of inputs and outputs - because the entirety impacts relative values and thus the context in which each separate decision is made. This is called by economists a general equilibrium system - which is one of the more useful insights of their profession. So the question becomes, can we have institutions which arrive at economic inputs and outputs apportioning influence to producers and consumers commensurate to impacts on them - more influence about what affects them more, less influence about what affects them less?
Trying to do this as well as we can certainly doesn't imply "centralization" in the sense of some few central actors, however delegated, acting on behalf of the populace. That might be the best approximation possible in some situations, yes. But it makes sense first to see if we can achieve outcomes in accord with people's desires without such delegation, or even worse usurpation, by a few as against the involvement of the many. Participatory planning lets each actor register their preferences and in so doing impact decisions appropriately.
Green says, next, "They claim that they have devised a system in which the common concerns of the whole society can be addressed in a uniform manner, but without centralism. A good deal of the complexity of parecon is based on trying to show how people can participate in taking decisions for the entire society, and how these decisions can be implemented, although there are supposedly no central institutions."
I don't know what Green means by no central institutions. What does the word "central" mean, here? No institutions that are critically involved in determining outcomes? Of course there are such institutions. No institutions that facilitate amalgamating the wills of the populace? Again there are. No institutions which stand above the populace, whose participants make decisions that impose on or otherwise regulate the populace without the populace having had the appropriate say? That is correct, parecon doesn't include central institutions of that sort.
Green says, "On the other hand, there are few decisions that only affect an individual. Almost anything one does has some affect on other people. Indeed, there is no separation of private and social concerns in parecon. There are only decisions with a greater or lesser amount of affect on other people. Thus there are actually strict limits on what an individual can decide in parecon."
Individuals can prefer whatever they want. Individual preferences will not always be enacted, however. If I want to be a concert pianist as part of my job in a parecon - it isn't going to happen. I can't do it well enough for the populace to desire to hear me enough to warrant my being remunerated for it. If I want to consume beyond my budget - I can't do it. If I want to work at an unbalanced job complex, I can't do it. And so on.
There are limits on what individuals can have happen in any and every society - the issue is what is the nature of those limits, not do they exist.
In a parecon anyone can have any preference about work and consumption, investment, etc. Whether it will yield the desired outcome has to do with the wills of others, as well, of course. If I work in a place with others, I cannot simply decide I will do x, y, and z, irrespective of the wills of those others who also work there, of course. Or even irrespective of the implications for consumers. There must be a mesh, just as there must be a mesh of inputs and outputs in the allocation system.
Does the mesh come about by a top down imposition? Does it come about by some kind of asymmetrical competition or other contest or struggle based on power, or property? Or does it come about via what parecon calls self management - whether in units or in the economy as a whole?
Green says, "Parecon differs from anarcho-syndicalism in that it doesn't give trade unions or workers' councils all power. Albert believes that the workers' councils should only decide matters that affect them directly, that is, only workplace matters such as running enterprises, scheduling work, and deciding who will be hired at each workplace."
Actually not even schedules inside a workplace are, in fact, decided only by workers there. All decisions occur in context of all other decisions. What happens in my workplace is not decided by we who work there without there being input from the rest of the economy. Quite the contrary, what we can produce, using what inputs, in what quantities, etc., is tremendously influenced by preferences held by people outside the workplace, and, of course, greatly impacts the schedules we set up. Workers councils and their members manifest their preferences regarding economic choices - as do consumers councils, etc. In a parecon, combining self managed decision making methods in each unit, and participatory planning between units, means councils and their members impact outcomes in proportion as they are affected, which means more so in some cases, less so in others.
How we work in our factory is, in fact, impacted by choices throughout the whole economy...but our impact on it will be greater than that of other individuals outside, though the collective impact of everyone outside rises in volume up to the level of our impact, as well.
Green says "A parecon society has neighborhood consumption councils to deal with non-workplace economic issues, such as people's consumption, the condition of the neighborhoods they live in, etc."
True, this is their focus, but their preferences about these matters, and about consumption generally, are no more divorced from workplace matters than workplace matters are divorced from consumption implications. It is, a generalized system, each part impacting the rest.
Green wonders, "An important issue that is left unclear in the parecon plan is whether the neighborhood consumption council has the right to judge who can take up residence in their area. This affects the issue of whether inequality can arise between different neighborhoods, and whether certain groups might face discrimination. For example, under parecon, one may apply to any enterprise for a job, but it is the workers' councils at a plant who make the decision on who is hired. Similarly, people at a housing collective probably have the right to decide who can live there. But it is not clear whether neighborhoods have the right to judge who can take up residence."
I have no trouble imagining parecons that have different attributes about countless aspects - just as we have seen historically capitalist economies that vary greatly from one another. The parecon vision is not a blueprint even for economics, much less for the entirety of society. It posits come critical economic values and aims and then proposes some key defining institutions for meeting rather than trampling those values and aims. I am inclined to think in a good society moving into a neighborhood would involve a decision both on the part of those living there, and those wishing to apply to move there, not only one or the other. As to constraints on options defending minorities, etc. these can easily be incorporated and abided, and would be, I would think - but are not economic features of the parecon economy per se, as noted in all descriptions of it.
Green writes, "As we have seen, some people think that parecon means replacing `governance by corporations and the state' by workers and neighborhood councils. This may imply that they see parecon as replacing government. But in fact, parecon preserves a state structure, which presumably is carried out by a third set of councils. Parecon claims to remove the economic functions of government, but keep government itself. In particular, it keeps the courts and police, but Albert says nothing about them in the book Parecon other than that they exist. "
In my view these would exist, yes, but that is just my view. Parecon is an economic model of some key defining institutions of economic life. It does not specify social relations in families and nurturance, relations involving religion or cultural communities, relations involving political legislation, adjudication, etc. - or even much of the details of economic interaction, for that matter.
Yes, I personally think that the task for the polity is to figure out how to accomplish political activities that are comparably central to political life as production, consumption, and allocation are central to economic life in accord with values we hold dear. For example, how do we arrrive at shared norms and adjudicate disputes and deal with antisocial behavior and arrive at and implement collective projects consistent with whatever we take to be justice, equity, fairness, participation, self management, etc.
Green says, "Under parecon, the governmental system is to exist forever. Parecon does not see it as a temporary or transitional situation."
The word government here is very vague and means different things to different people. Suppose someone said, under parecon an economic system is to exist forever. That would be true. But it would not mean the economic system as we know it. Similarly, saying that I think a political system will exist forever doesn't mean that I think structures typical of states as we know them will exist forever - but, instead, that we will have shared norms, disputes adjudicated, violations of sociality dealt with, and so on - and will presumably and hopefully accomplish these functions in accord with values we hold dear, by institutions we favor, rather than in ways designed overwhelmingly to aggrandize and empower a few.
Green says, "Albert says a lot against "corporate hierarchy" and "fixed hierarchy". Yet the system of workers and consumption councils is hierarchical. Lower councils appeal to higher councils, and the decisions of higher councils on those matters are binding on the lower councils. This is just the usual democratic hierarchy, but it is supposed to be something special when it is put into parecon colors."
Instead of lower and higher, it would probably be more instructive to use words like narrower and broader. Work teams operate in larger divisions, which are in whole firms, which are in industries, which are in economies. Individual consumers are in living units, are in neighborhoods, counties, what have you - up to the whole populace. The point is that decisions at each level must mesh with those at all others. Each impacts the others, in both directions. The wider councils are not above and do not exclude the narrower, but are composed of the narrower. If one wants to call this a hierarchy, and some do, that's fine, I guess, though I think it can be a bit misleading -- but there is nothing onerous about the relations in the precise sense that they are able to implemnt self management.
Other structures, more truly hierarchical in the more familiar sense, can certainly also exist in a parecon. We can have work teams that operate each day under the direction of one person or a few. We can have conductors of a symphony. In an operating room, someone is likely in charge, I would imagine. What we don't have, however, is fixed hierarchy in the sense that some people always have positions of greater influence and other people have positions of less influence - class division. We have, instead, balanced job complexes so that over time, but not at every instant, we all have appropriate say in the decisions that impact us.
The hierarchy that exists in a parecon - for example in an operating theatre, or between the director and actors in a play, or on the shop floor if someone is orchestrating timing and interactions today, and so on and so forth - is not fixed in the precise sense that it does not elevate any one sector to a position of continued relative authority above any other, and is, in any case, entirely beholden to the encompassing will of the affected populace, with each member having appropriate say. There are not higher and lower councils, but larger and less large. The whole workplace council is not higher then a work team or division of workers, it is composed of them, and simply broader.
Green notes that "There are no unions in a parecon economy."
Unions are an institution to protect and enlarge the benefits and improve the conditions, etc., of workers as against owners and or managers. They are vehicles, in other words, of one class defending itself against other classes. In a parecon, there are no classes, so there are no unions, in that sense. Workers have councils. There are no owners or managers, however, to confront.
Green says, "One might expect that there would be a profusion of different types of workers' organizations during the transition from capitalism to workers' rule. After the achievement of a classless society too, one would expect that a profusion of organizations would concern themselves with workplace, professional and community interests. But parecon seems to have room only for the particular workers' councils and consumption councils given in the basic parecon plan."
Actually, I think there would be all kinds of entities, including probably something like political parties, in the polity. Parecon isn't about these matters. It is not a picture of a whole society. It is a vision for defining economic structures, only.
Would doctors have meetings of doctors and so on for other groups? Sure. But, unlike now, such events and organizations would not exist to enlarge or defend the conditions of a sector against other sectors...the way the AMA now protects doctors, for example, by maintaining their monopoly on empowering skills and knowledge and constraining those of nurses and the populace more broadly. In a parecon people doing work can accrue from it only in proportion to the effort and sacrifice they expend. They have average job complexes, etc. There is no zero sum game to win.
Green says in parecon, everyone is supposed to have exactly so much influence, no more, no less, so this might be taken as unbalancing the system."
This is exaggerated. Everything that does on in a parecon, and in any social system, is a matter of human engagement, affected by social structures, personal and group inclinations, existing knowledge, etc. What parecon does is to attain self management as best people are able to, within the limits of existing knowledge, and up to where trying to do better begins to cost more than the benefits that accrue. It is a social process.
Green says, "At most, Albert mentions briefly that there might be "caucus meetings (to) discuss whether any workplace issues affect minority group interests. Workplace caucuses have autonomous rights to challenge arrangements they believe are sexually or racially oppressive. " But he says that he won't go into the "justification" for this, as it lies outside parecon in "theories of kinship and community relations".
As, indeed, it does. I don't think it is appropriate for me, when trying to describe economic institutions, to drop in, as well, assertions about all other dimensions of social life. I urge the need for people to think hard about culture, polity, kinship, ecology, international relations, etc., and to develop visions, debate them, etc. Those interested might take a look at the Life After Capitalism section of ZNet for various efforts in these directions. I do have views of my own, published in various places, but in a book about economic vision I think I should be very careful to not assert claims about other dimensions of life as if I had more confidence and experience with those realms than I do.
Green quotes: Albert claims that the issue of ownership under parecon is "trivially simple". Parecon "simply remove(s) ownership of the means of production as an economic consideration. Property in the form of means of production becomes a non-thing. . . . No one has any ownership of means of production that accrues to him or her any rights, any responsibilities, any wealth, or any income different from what the rest of the economy warrants for him or her. "
The point is, something called ownership - having a deed to productive property, just doesn't exist and isn't a factor. There aren't ownership relations that impact remuneration and income distribution. There aren't ownership relations that impact influence on outcomes. There really aren't ownership relations, period - regarding productive assets - factories, resources, and so on.
Green says, "In parecon, the means of production are basically owned by all, except that an enterprise's staff has special rights over its own enterprise."
They don't own it...they have say over decisions via the exact same structures as everyone else. Their proximity - working within the firm - means they are in a different position than people who work in other firms, yes. But they don't own their workplace, accrue profits or surpluses, have disposition over it, etc.
Green says, "Parecon does apparently allow individual ownership of some private possessions. But it's not clear what the extent of this is. For example, could anyone own an individual home? Or is everyone a renter? "
Of course we own almost everything we own now, clothes, chairs, whate have you -- though we get it by very different means. One could imagine a parecon with only renting, or with home ownership. These are blueprint details, in my view. Both can be consistent with the defining relations of a parecon. What wouldn't be consisten is me owning General Motors.
Green says, "However, the workers at an enterprise, its staff, have certain rights to their own workplace."
Workers in each plant negotiate the collective social plan with one another and with consumers and workers at other plants. Green may mean that together workers in a giant plant have more impact on total outcomes than workers in a small plant. True enough. But each individually has the same say, or rather self managing say. Workers can't just decide to produce so much output, or so little. This occurs in the plan. But the real point to look at is the claim that workers benefit in ways that they can't enlarge to the detriment of others.
No one in a parecon has an interest in any kind of collectively exploitative or anti-social behavior. You can't aggrandize yourself usefully in either income or conditions or influence other than by literally stealing or some such thing. If you work at a large firm, and I work at a small one, you have, on that account, zero advantage over me regarding income, conditions, or economic influence.
Green says, "Also, it is not clear whether any individual farming or artisan production can be part of the official parecon economy. An individual farmer, with a permanent right to the use of his field and his farm buildings and implements, would represent a certain individual ownership."
No one has a permanent right to productive assets in any event. No worker in any size or type firm. Every worker in a parecon would operate in context of an industry and industry councils. I have my doubts it would make sense for anyone to be farming in isolation - save for meetings of an industry council. But certainly people writing novels would often operate more or less in isolation - though working as employees of the writers industry, with balanced job complexes, and so on.
Green says, "Thus there are several types of ownership rights of the means of production in parecon. There is overall societal ownership of the economy. Alongside this, the individual enterprises have certain rights over their own assets, and they maintain their own financial balances."
This is not ownership of productive assets. I think Green thinks, conceptually, that influence must stem from and indicate ownership. But it isn't so. People who work in a firm enter into the planning process via that firm - but they don't own it. They don't maintain financial balances at least in any sense that the words tend to convey, either. They certainly track their activities, naturally. But they aren't tracking something with the intent of maximizing some kind of surplus or profit. There is no surplus sought by a firm. There is no profit.
Green says, "And the staff of an enterprise, although they can't simply appropriate enterprise assets for their individual use, have certain rights over the enterprise. As long as the subordination of the enterprises to higher-level councils or society as a whole doesn't degenerate into a mere formality, the staff's rights to the workplace are limited. But there is a tug of war in parecon between the limited ownership rights of the enterprise staff and the overall social ownership."
If Green wants to argue that people who work in a parecon will be able to act against the broad populace, or sectors of it, to try to aggrandize themselves ar other's expense - and that they will have motivation and means to do so, he should say so, and then point out how. I do not see it.
Each worker in a parecon has a balanced job complex. I cannot have what are considered by society socially better conditions than you do, or anyone else does. Each worker is remunerated for effort and sacrifice only. I cannot get more than that...or receive on any different standard than anyone else. To get better conditions, the societal average must improve. To get more income, either the entire social product grows, or I work harder or longer. I cannot oppose my interests to those of others, whether I am in a large or small firm, to try to aggrandize myself against others.
I might want to work someplace in particular, and I might even cheat somehow, trying to get a job there, but that is another matter entirely. Parecon doesn't rule out people being greedy or nasty - it just makes it much harder, and much much less lucrative, and much less likely - as well as effectively impossible in any systematic collective pattern.
Green says "While parecon claims to be an alternative to centralism, in fact, a parecon society has many things decided uniformly for the whole economy. This includes the base wage rate, the pricing of commodities...."
Parecon has an allocation system that is neither central planning nor markets. But the idea that it would have no features common throughout society honestly makes no sense to me. Yes, parecon elevates diversity to a primary value - but, for example, that is a social value, and if one is going to say that having that value for all the economy is centralist - then I don't know how to reply, other than, as above, noting that what is rejected is violations of equity, self management, diversity, and solidarity, not their generalized elaboration.
Green says "Thus parecon is a system in which a single plan controls the overall decisions of the economy."
Every economy that has ever existed or will ever exist will implement a single total plan, by definition. The total plan is simply what happens, and what happens is the total plan. In any period, there is only one.
Green says, "This is in accord with the lack of autonomy of individual enterprises. They participate in formulating the annual plan, but they have to produce according to it."
Correct. No unit or individual operates outside society or the economy, unless, I guess, they simply leave it behind. Parecon doesn't say that people get to do whatever they please, regardless of implications for others. It says that people have an appropriate say in decisions, a self managing say. It is useful to note that any deviation from this means that some will get more say than the amount they are affected, others will get less. The option that everyone gets to do whatever they may wish, autonomously, is simply unreal.
Green says, "The workers' councils of an enterprise are the final say only in regard to those decisions that are not supposed to concern others, such as their specific work schedules, the layout of their workplace, etc. , but also including who they hire. Some of these things really don't concern others outside the enterprise, so long as they are carried out at all reasonably, while others, such as who they hire, may actually be of great concern to others. "
And that is why in fact a workers council can't come up to you and say you are hired, report tomorrow. You have a great deal of say, as well.
Green says, "For one thing, parecon's planning system is very intrusive. For example, it doesn't just set how much an individual may consume, but it reviews the entire itemized list of everything an individual wants to obtain over the next year. This review is done mainly by one's neighbors, rather than some central authority, but that doesn't make it any less intrusive."
Actually, in any economy, the overall economic interactions help set how much an individual can consume. In a parecon how much I decide to work is a huge determinant - but the total social product is also central. The latter claim about intrusiveness isn't the case, as consumption proposals in a parecon are anonymous, unless, of course, I propose to consume large quantities of poisons, say, or something else which the community will want to have a say about - which is actually true now as well.
Green says, "In this and some other respects, such as its failure to distinguish between private and social concerns, parecon centralism goes beyond what is necessary for economic centralism. It is more all-embracing than the Marxist idea of central planning. And its pretense of being free of centralism and hierarchy makes its blind to the need for guarantees against bureaucratic abuses."
This I find a bit hard to understand, but, to reply, what parecon does is to remove structures of power that can be used to reduce any given person's well being in order to enlarge the well being of others. A bureaucratic abuse is a situation of actors aggrandizing themselves by exploiting others. Green should point out how this might occur in a parecon - who would be the beneficiaries and who the victims. It is very easy to point that out, in theory or in the historical record, for central planning, which, after all, involves a clear-cut class division.
Green says, "Yet Albert and Hahnel deny that there is a central plan, on the grounds that parecon doesn't have any `central planners'".
Actually, every economy has, for the year past, a plan - what transpired, including market economies. The issue is how did what transpired get determined. Was it by the top down edicts of central planners? Was it by decentralized competitive machinations of market buyers and sellers? Was it by a negotiation of inputs and outputs by producers and consumers, each having a say over choices in proportion to the degree they were affected by them - at least as best people could tell? These are the real options, it seems to me.
Green says "A large part of parecon's complexity arises from the attempt to achieve a central plan while imagining that it has been created in an entirely decentralized fashion.
If we replace the word establishing for the word imagining - fair enough -- but actually parecon isn't particularly complex. Indeed, depending on what the word complex means, both capitalism and varieties of coordinatorism are quite a bit more so - given their additional attributes owing to dealing with class conflict.
Green says, "But even if the annual plan really were created in a decentralized way, it wouldn't change the fact that it is an overall societal plan, a central plan which governs the activity of every person and every enterprise in the society."
Again, every economy that has ever existed or will ever exist has a final list of inputs and outputs that took place for each year, and a set of processes involved. This is inevitable. The issue is how it was arrived at, with what implications for people's say over outcomes, incomes, conditions, and relations to one another, etc.
Green says, "Under parecon, the annual economic plan is decided by a system of bidding in which everyone participates. This means that people and `units' (i. e. enterprises and councils of all types) mainly put forward what they propose to do, as opposed to expressing their views on general societal plans, and their proposals are reconciled by the balancing of `supply and demand'.
While what I and you put forward is our preferences for our choices, it is not true that this is done outside our views on general societal matters. My decision, for example, regarding my work load, and everything else, is very much impacted by and in turn impacts overall societal leanings and then outcomes and is undertaken in light of my views about those.
Green describes participatory planning and then bemoans that to go through it, for a couple of weeks a couple of hours a day - more in firms - "is a long, grueling process" but I guess I just don't understand that. We are talking about planning a whole economy. This activity replaces innumerable current actions. And it facilitates classlessness. I guess we will see if it is deemed by people too burdensome.
Green also says "Facilitation boards intervene in the iterative process at every step along the way, providing information, or restricting what changes can be made. Despite the important role of facilitation boards in this process, Albert insists that their role is only mechanical, and that the decision process is completely decentralized."
I wish when Green says things like this he would weigh in himself. Over and over he says Albert/Hahnel say x - without presenting the argument, and implying that he maybe disagrees, but providing no reasons.
The descriptions of participatory planning make clear that in fact facilitation could literally be mechanical and computer algorithmic, but that taking that approach would be needlessly restrictive. Since facilitation workers would have balanced job complexes and be remunerated for effort and sacrifice and be conveying information or conducting analyses on data freely available to all, and with no method of benefitting themselves, there is really no abusive pattern that could emerge.
Green concludes: "This is a planned economy, but whether it is a wisely-planned or democratically-planned economy is another question. It is "participatory planning" at its worse: everyone has some say on some little thing, but most people have almost no say on the big issues facing the economy and society."
How Green arrives at this, I don't know. What are big issues - perhaps whether to have a new road system, or go solar? How to deal with the pollution from a proposed new dam in
Green says, "parecon sees markets and market exchange as eternal. While Albert and Hahnel denounce market socialism and claim that parecon doesn't have markets, they see buying and selling as eternal and, in fact, have their own version of markets. Thus, in reality, parecon seeks, not to replace markets, but to improve them by ensuring that sales take place at the proper price."
This is largely semantics. That I procure items from "stores" in accord with a budget, does not mean we have a market. If it did, every central planning model would be a market system. That there are relative values of goods and that choices are made taking them into account - again, doesn't mean there is a market, and happens in every economy, not only market economies.
Green says quite a lot, at this point in his essay, that I just don't think bears on parecon as it is...and that to rebut entails presenting a full description of how parecon actually works. I don't think that would be productive, so I have to recommend a look at available descriptions.
Parecon does not have markets. Actors do not buy and sell, seeking to get more for less, or to convey less for more. There is simply no competitive exchange, at all.
As Green notes..."However, Albert insists that parecon markets aren't really markets. He argues that buying and selling doesn't create a market. No, they are supposedly simply eternal methods that will be used in any complex society. According to Albert and Hahnel, if exchange takes place at the planned price and if there are no corporations, then it isn't a market."
I would not have included that there have to be no corporations...and would guess I have never written that - but central planning in the old
Exchange utilizing relative valuations occurs in every economy. In markets the exchange is competitive buying and selling and the valuations arise from that behavior and are, as a result, impacted tremendously by relative bargaining power. In central planning the valuations are imposed from above, and then actors make their choices. In participatory planning, the valuations emerge from a collective negotiation in accord with the self management norm, with no differentials in power, and with each actor able to get ahead only in concert with the social well being.
There is no reason to accept the above account based on its mere statement. One would need to look at the institutions and see if they function as described, of course.
Green says "In their view, a market must be exactly what exists in a western-market economy, and any interference with free-market fundamentalism converts the market into something else that shouldn't be called a market. "
Well, no - there are countless impositions and adaptations that can be imposed on markets with them retaining, nonetheless, their essential properties. But if you literally abolish their defining features, replacing them with entirely different ones - as does both central planning and participatory planning, then you sensibly call the new system by another name than markets.
Green says, "Similarly, Albert believes that despite the buying and selling, there is no market-style competition between enterprises in parecon. Yet it is said that any group of workers can submit, to higher-level workers' councils, their application to form their own enterprise. This presumably would mean in most cases that they are going to produce things of the same type as that already being produced by other enterprises. The goods of the enterprise will be put on the market along with the goods of the older enterprises. This would presumably involve a certain market competition between the enterprises over who buys their products. The losing enterprise faces closure."
In fact, in a parecon, no firm keeps any secrets, no firm benefits by accruing more market share, or seeks to do so as a driving aim. There are no surpluses or profits sought. There is no effort to find a better way to do something to out compete others - rather, one has an immediate interest in others utilizing the better way as well. I can't reproduce the entire discussion of parecon here. Much of Green's article is interesting but this part simply asserts all kinds of features, giving no attention to contrary claims and arguments about the model. I recommend the book - not least, for example, for whole chapters not only about makets, but about the misperception that parecon has markets. I am tempted to reproduce the latter chapter here...asking why Green doesn't comment at all about its contents.
Green says "The enterprises aren't just competing on the markets to see who could sell their goods. They are also competing over the "cost benefit ratio". This is another name for something like the rate of profit, but since parecon believes that its prices accurately reflect social costs and benefits, it believes that the profit reflects the contribution that an enterprise makes to society."
What is actually at stake is firms utilizing their assets rather than being wasteful. There are no profits. No firm takes in more and, as a result, enjoys richer employees. The confusions in the above are really multiple. The idea that utilizing assets to meet needs in some vague sensse corresponds to profit seeking, is, well, strange in a discussion by radicals of an alternative to capitalism.
Green says, "Each enterprise must maintain a certain "cost benefit ratio", or else it may be closed down. This is promoted, in parecon, not as competition but as simply ensuring that the enterprises are efficient, and aren't wasting resources."
There is no sane system in which this is not incorporated. No sane system will have a firm chock full of productive assets, producing outputs that no one wants. So the issue becomes not whether firms have to operate well to be alloted inputs, but how this is determined. Is it determined by market competition in which they can corner markets and manipulate all manner of variables by escalating bargaining power and accruing tremendous power and wealth? Is it determined from above, by a narrow class of planners, who themselves accrue power and wealth? Or is it determined by a social negotiation incorporating self management with no systematic and collective wealth and power differentials. Again, I recommend that readers take a look at the model to determine what they think.
What is missing in Green's interpretations, aside from accurate rendition of some features of parecon, is any indication of how or why there would be any systematic deviations from desirable outcomes - who would benefit, and how they would preserve and enlarge benefits.
Green's discussion of money in a parecon is quite odd to me, and I admit I don't want to take time to go through it claim by claim, especially since I have no idea whether these comments will be read by him or any readers of his essay. There is no capital, are no profits or surpluses in parecon. There are relative values. People do get incomes. People do apportion income to obtaining items for consumption. There is not money as we know it now, just as there are not prices, or jobs, or even produced items as we know them now. Income gives people a claim on output. Income is in accord with effort and sacrifice. Prices reflect true social costs and benefits.
One variant, as Green quotes, is that "Each individual has a 'dollar' income recorded in the economy's computer system. The income will be above or below average if the actor is borrowing or lending, or works more or less than average. When an individual or unit proposes receipt of some good, it spends 'accounting money' to get it. Every unit and individual can spend up to its income each year, each expenditure being deducted from its account. No cash changes hand, the computer record of remaining income merely decreases with each new expenditure. Likewise, accounting money does not earn interest."
In other words, this money is a kind of placeholder - to facilitate appropriate exchange. Green's comments about a central bank and associated matters, are not, I think, about parecon. The issue of parecon having abolished money is not one we propose. I don't even know what it would mean.
Geen says. "Albert and Hahnel would vehemently deny that accounting money is kept charge of by a bank. They would say that it kept track of by the 1economy's computer system'. The terms `bank' and `central bank' mean corporations and centralism to them, while the term `computer system' seems neutral and anonymous. But it doesn't make any difference economically whether there is a big building with a lot of paper ledgers in which financial accounts are kept, or a central computer system, in which financial accounts are kept. A bank is a bank is a bank"
Well, actually, no. A big building can house a private institution that seeks to earn profits on its assets. It can house a governmental institution beholden to the public, or perhaps hijacked by elites. And it could house other things too, I would imagine. And yes, a computer could house these as well, so to speak. But if Green thinks a computer database record of the extent to which he, I, and everyone else, have received in consumption goods more or less than we have earned by our labors, ought to be called a bank - so be it. But it certainly has few if any properties in common with what the word bank conjures to mind. So the idea that there is an overarching powerful central bank of some sort in parecon is beyond my reckoning, I am afraid. I honestly don't know where Green gets this.
Green's comments about laws of value are also not worth detailed dissection, in my view. In a parecon people collectively, via councils, negotiate inputs and outputs, which simultaneously determines relative valuations. In a parecon this happens via the social process of participatory planning. In other systems it happens other ways. The properties, in a parecon, include classlessness, solidarity, etc. In other systems, they are different. Parecon doesn't say there is no allocation, there aren't incomes, etc. It says these are arrived at by different means than in other systems, with different properties.
Green is simply confused about economics, I suspect, when he says that in a parecon "the basic measure of the success of an enterprise is whether it achieves the proper level of profitability." He reveals the confusion immediately saying that "Only it's not called profitability. Instead Albert says that enterprises `whose proposals have lower than average social benefit to social cost ratios are forced to increase their efforts or their efficiency.' But what is the ratio of social benefit to social costs? In parecon, social benefits and social costs are measured by prices. Hence the cost benefit ratio of an enterprise's activity is something like the ratio of the income to the expense; it is a variant of the rate of profit."
This is, I hope, just ignorant. Take a firm, any firm. Are we going to have some measure of its effectiveness? I hope so since, if not, it may be doing us no good. In a market system the measure is whether it accrues to its owners profits. Their good is the ultimate good. It doesn't matter if it violates the ecology, destroys the well being of its workers, places shoddy goods in people's hands - or, say, very effective guns or cigarettes, etc. What matters is if the operations have been undertaken in a manner that profits the owners. In a parecon, in contrast, the issue is quite different. The question is have the assets of the firm - the people's labor and materials used and tools, and so on - been utilized to create outputs which fulfill people and expand their capacities in ways that they value commensurate to the cost of their production - including impact on workers, environments, etc. This, I think, is precisely as it should be.
Green says, "Albert and Hahnel believe that if supply and demand, ecological concerns, efficiency, moral considerations, and personal preferences all participate in determining prices, then prices will be an adequate tool for planning to ensure the balancing of supply and demand, ecological improvement, efficient operation, moral principles, and the satisfaction of personal desires."
Save for some subtle points about needing to recheck and recalibrate repeatedly, yes, this is so. Assuming, that is, that the prices are being used via an institutional framework that facilitates self management and conveys the information, including qualitative associated information, effectively, as in a parecon.
Green says, "Parecon requires that a single measure, the price, can accomplish all these things simultaneously. But no such single measure can do this. No matter how democratically prices are determined, no matter whether this is done by planning or by markets, by central planning or by participatory economics, by fiat or by consultation, prices cannot perform this role."
This is very strange, since, of course, our own writing is very explicit about prices being only a congealed accounting, and needing all kinds of accompanying information - which the participatory planning process goes to pains to elicit and then make available. I don't know why Green takes this stance...since I doubt there is any practitioner of economics who has ever been more fastidious about augmenting prices with qualitative information and measures than we are.
Moving on, Green says "One of the characteristic features of parecon is that every worker is supposed to have a "balanced job complex" (BJC). This means that no one is supposed to work exclusively at mental labor or manual labor, but to combine jobs that have the societal-average amount of mental and manual labor.
No, it doesn't mean that. Balanced job complexes seek to equilibrate the quality of life implications (though this isn't the highest priority) and especially the empowerment implications of work. It is not the case that this translates, always, into mental manual.
Green says, "Similarly, the jobs are supposed to be balanced between administrative and non-administrative jobs, between prestigious and non-prestigious jobs, or even between jobs at important and hence influential workplaces, and jobs at minor workplaces."
Why not actually quote, I wonder? Balanced job complexes take a variety of tasks into a job. They do so, in each workplace, and across workplaces, so as to ensure that each job has comparable implications for those doing it as all other jobs, vis a vis empowerment implications. The idea is to avoid having about 20% o the workforce monopolize tasks which convey skills, knowledge, and circumstances that empower the worker, while 80% do essentially rote and tedious tasks which convey little or no such factors.
Green says, "Albert and Hahnel give examples that show that, to achieve a BJC, workers might split their work week between several or even half-a-dozen different jobs, and even between several workplaces."
Actually, all workers do lots of tasks, now, in the past, and in the future. There is nothing new about that. It is the make up of the mixture that changes. We each do one job, however, not two or six. We will often do some of our overall work outside our main workplace, true enough.
Green goes on about BJCs and I think here too the best bet is to just look at the parecon material on the subject, and then decide. I don't see a point in reproducing it in reply.
I think the real difference Green and I may have - I admit that I am guessing - is that I think the existence of unbalanced job complexes leads to a class division in which what I call the coordinator class dominates what I call the working class. For me, therefore, this is a very big issue...and one that I think is determinative of the attributes of parecon.
Green says, "Parecon sees the BJC as the guarantee that a parecon society couldn't become a state-capitalist society such as the Soviet
No, we think that having the combination of balanced job complexes, participatory planning, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, council self management, etc., make parecon a very different economy than that which existed in the
Green says, "Albert and Hahnel don't see Stalinist economies as state-capitalism but as repulsive non-capitalist economies, so-called "coordinator economies". This is based on Albert and Hahnel's view that not the bourgeoisie, but the technical strata, or "coordinators", ruled in the
Correct - except for the phrase state capitalist. That is, we see coordinators as becoming the ruling class in economies that incorporate markets and or central planning, public or state ownership, and corporate divisions of labor (which are themselves natural outgrowths of markets and central planning).