Answering Anarchist Critics: Part 3
Addressing previously assembled anarchist concerns about participatory economics turned out to require too much space for one essay so I broke it into five parts. This is part 3. Please skip around however you like.
- Vision Per Se? - addresses concerns about having any institutional vision at all
- Origin and Style? - addresses doubts about the source and approach that generated Parecon
- Too Capitalist? - addresses concerns that pareconish remuneration and other features are capitalistic
- Intellectual, Structural, and Strategic Flaws? - addresses concerns about features anarchists find flawed or deficient and implications for strategy
The institutions parecon deems necessary for a fulfilling, free, informed, self managing and classless association of workers and consumers, are:
- workers and consumers self managing councils in place of private ownership and top down decision making
- remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work (plus need when medical or other reasons warrant) instead of remuneration for property, power, output, or only need
- balanced job complexes equalizing the empowerment effects of jobs instead of corporate divisions of labor that include monopolization of empowering positions by a few
- and participatory planning (or cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs) instead or markets, central planning, or combinations of the two, for allocation
Criticism: One small branch of anarchism called primitivists, condemns Parecon for including work and workplaces, inputs and outputs, production and allocation and takes for granted the continuation of industrial civilization.
Response: Of course parecon takes for granted that human societies will continue producing goods and services and that there will be work in workplaces with inputs such as resources, intermediate goods, and labor - but also people and social relations. And also outputs in the same categories, including produced goods and services - but also people and social relations, waste, and pollution.
Parecon takes these things for granted because not having these things would kill most of the world’s population and leave the few who survive with horribly restricted existences.
Work, workplaces, and inputs and outputs accompany social life of all types. To escape alienation, oppression, and ecological degradation by doing away with industry and workplaces - much less all institutions - is to solve one problem by creating even more extreme problems, including a gigantic graveyard of unnecessary corpses. Is it possible that one day the technology will exist so that all the food and other material needs of human beings will be instantaneously available without an ounce of human effort needing to be expended? Who knows? But at a minimum it is true that such technology will not exist for a very long time, that until that time we will need to provide for these human needs, and that there are various ways to do so: most of these ways are oppressive, unequal, undemocratic, and non-participatory. Parecon is offered as a way that has the opposite characteristics.
Criticism: Wages imply wage slavery. Remunerating for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work is capitalistic and thus morally decrepit. An anarchist economy would implement, instead, the maxim that we should all work according to ability, and consume according to need. Parecon, with its incomes and budgets, is capitalism in disguise. It is not a system that elaborates mutual aid.
Wage slavery exists when you sell your ability to do work for a wage determined by relative bargaining power and where the buyer must try to extract as much actual labor as possible. Slavery, for example, is not wage slavery. In slavery you are sold, rather than your selling just a number of hours of your ability to do work.
Parecon is not wage slavery either. And in parecon it isn't simply that there are no owners of workplaces, and thus no one to buy your ability to do work. It is also that after freely becoming part of a workplace, your level of work, your intensity of work, your character of work, and your manner of work, are all under the control not of some grand authoritarian buyer - but of yourself and your peers whom you work with. Likewise, the income you get for your work is not a function of power, but derives from a just norm that applies universally to all who work, as well as from how your particular workplace implements that norm.
Suppose you work in a participatory economic firm. You, therefore, have a balanced job complex, as does everyone else. Suppose you work for the social average of (let’s guess) thirty hours a week, at average intensity, and that due to empowerment balancing, your job is also, overall, of average onerousness. Then, assuming the firm is producing outputs sought by others in the economy, you will earn the average income for society. You could earn more, or less, however, by working more hours, or more intensely, if your workmates agree that there is extra work for you to handle. You could also work less hours or less intensely, if workers agree with that choice for you, or maybe someone else wants to work less intensely, or for fewer hours, for example, so it is agreeable to workplace harmony that you work more, making up the difference, or vice versa.
Now the anarchist critic, echoing a slogan of long lineage and wide appeal, says two things. First, the remuneration approach of parecon is capitalistic, and, in any case, both morally and pragmatically flawed, with the latter due to perverse incentive effects. And second, the time honored idea that people should work to their ability and receive income based on their needs is a better norm for anarchists to advocate. It gets the job done, and with less dangers. So to reply to these matters, let's consider these two views, in turn.
First, is remuneration for duration, intensity, and (socially determined) onerousness of socially valued work (and of course according to need if one cannot work or has other special health needs) morally sound, and is it also sound for the incentives it offers, or is it flawed on either count?
The moral question is not factual. It depends on one's preferences. But here is the issue at the heart of assessing equitable remuneration’s moral merits.
Two people work at the same balanced job complex in their workplace, which is at the social average so they need not have any tasks outside their main workplace. Suppose also that the average weekly duration of work in society, and in their workplace, is 30 hours.
Suppose one of the two says I would like to work 40 hours this week, 10 hours more than average, and, indeed, I would like to do this every week for as long into the future as I can. I want to earn one third more because I really want to purchase a new violin.
The second, in contrast, says I already have more stuff than I need, but I would like some more free time: I would like to work 20 hours a week, now and for as long as possible into the future, and get a one-third lower income.
Would it be morally okay, assuming it was acceptable to the whole workforce in the sense of not disrupting other people's situations, to have these two people granted these changes?
What parecon says is that it is not only acceptable but morally warranted and correct that a person who works longer, harder, or doing more onerous tasks, one week, and less long, less hard, or at less onerous tasks another week, should earn more for the former than for the latter. On the other hand one should not earn more - which means one should not be able to take more of the social product for oneself - because one has property, or power, or a skill or talent, or luck of position, so that one's product happens to be more valuable.
And of course, precisely how trade offs of duration, intensity, and onerousness and claims on income are mediated, and to what extent any one firm or industry wants to permit diverse and relatively finer gradations, or only less fine ones, are contextual matters for future determination which will occur largely in light of experience and special features of each firm and industry.
Parecon says, if you remunerate for property, power, or output - where output refers to the value of one's product - it will guarantee large differentials in income which will, in addition, be translatable into still larger future wealth differentials, in a vicious spiral of inequity. This steady widening income and wealth inequality would indeed be "capitalistic" in the intended sense of the critic's claim. But the parecon approach precludes such results.
Parecon’s remuneration does nothing unjust. We all get a package - the work we do plus the income we get - and the package for everyone is fairly calibrated to everyone else by matching debits of work with benefits of income. More work (taking up our time) yields more income. Harder work (yielding exhaustion and preventing social interaction while working) yields more income. And getting stuck with more onerous conditions yields more income. In no way can the very modest extra income that one can earn from such choices be turned into assets that would generate still more extra income later. The differentials are relatively small and not able to piggyback. The arrangements of time and intensity and tasks must be agreed. And the benefits accrued aren’t a bonus, but merely offset the debits endured, in any case. The precise details of implementation from workplace to workplace, moreover, are the purview of the involved workers councils, remembering, however, that to be remunerated, labor must be socially beneficial.
What about incentive effects?
The pareconist says that with equitable remuneration they are just what they ought to be. Income earned for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor provides an incentive to work longer (but not so long that the loss of leisure outweighs the gain in income), harder (but not so hard that the losses due to exertion outweigh the gain in income), and, when need be, to complete really onerous tasks that prove necessary outside of balanced job complexes (but not when the pain due to the onerousness exceeds the benefits due to the gain in income).
In contrast, when remuneration is for property, the incentive effect is perversely to exploit others and to amass more property with which to do it ever more aggressively in the future. Likewise, when remuneration is for power, the perverse effect is that the powerful seek to amass more power and have the means to succeed, in an escalating spiral. When remuneration is for output, it is a mixed bag. Incentives to school oneself and become more productive have a good aspect, but are often vastly inflated beyond what is needed for the purpose. And payments for having talents - not for the training that goes into developing talents - has no useful incentive effect. I cannot change my genetic endowment due to the fact that a great singing voice or tremendous reflexes and strength are highly rewarded.
Most anarchist critics don't really look too hard at the above issues. They agree that remunerating property, power, and (unlike for many socialists) output, too, is morally horrible and has perverse incentive effects as well. In a very few cases do they look at parecon's remuneration and actually have a substantive concern. These typically prove to be misunderstandings. Here are two.
The first goes like this. I work very hard but I don't think I should receive extra income for it. In fact, I find the prospect of getting extra pay for my hard work degrading. I work because it is a part of being a full and worthy person. I don't want to sully that with remuneration for effort I give because I want to.
Well, that’s not a problem. You needn't take the extra payment you are entitled to. If you don't take it, the average total pay of everyone else in your workplace will go up a little. There is no reason, however, to disallow others from doing more labor to earn a bit more in order to get something valuable that they want.
Will people refuse remuneration often. We can only guess but in a participatory economy everyone will earn average, and then just a bit more or a bit less than average due to extra or less than average exertion, duration, etc. The person offering the above complaint about not wanting more pay for longer hours is typically, in our current society, a person who is making way above average rates of payment and doesn’t feel right getting still more, for work they eagerly do. Were their income to become like everyone else’s income, and thus their wealth too, and were they to have a balanced job complex, as well, it is quite plausible that their and their family’s view of what they deserve for extra efforts would alter, though, again, it is no problem if it doesn’t.
Concerns may still arise here due to thinking in terms of relations familiar now, or worries about mechanical application of the ideas in the future. For example, In capitalism today, there are many jobs for which it would indeed be considered demeaning for workers to punch clocks. Recently a college president in NJ demanded this of employees and they were rightly outraged. In part that's because for teachers much of their work is done outside the classroom. But even for scientists who work in labs, for example, we assume that some weeks will be lighter and some more intense and it would be demeaning to calculate minutes worked each day, as compared to an agreed work time for whole weeks, or months. Or imagine a poet. To measure her work time would be very difficult, if we meant the moments the poetry flows - but of course it is really all the moments the person is working to have it flow. And, in any event, the parecon answer to these type concerns, is simple: groups of workers can decide that for any particular type of work, much rougher measures of intensity and even duration would be used - by mutual agreement. It's always true that there's a trade-off between accurate measuring of potential goofing off for example, and the negative effects of surveillance, and that balancing out this trade off is something for groups of workers to decide - not owners or coordinators, keeping in mind that to be remunerated, no matter how long or intense, work must be accepted as part of the overall participatory plan.
The second confusion is more complex. If you can earn more for working longer, or for working harder, or for working at more onerous tasks - you have a reason to do all those things. As a result there will be a drift toward a longer work day, more intense labor, and toward worse working conditions. This is a perverse incentive implication, the critic says, of parecon. It leads to long work days, harsh work conditions, and speed up.
Parecon’s answer is that in an established participatory economy we all have balanced job complexes, comparable status and influence, and, let's say at time zero, equal incomes because we all work the same average work week. With our average income we get a share of the total social product that is worth that average.
Now suppose all of us want more income than the current average. Is that possible? Yes, we would need to produce more stuff, which means we would need to work longer, or harder, or perhaps at some additional sufficiently productive tasks that were quite onerous. This result, if it were to occur, is not perverse. If we all want more, as a whole tendency/desire of the broad population, then we all want more. The allocation system lets us know the human and social and ecological effects, and if we still want more, despite having to work longer to generate it, so be it.
Now, will we all want more? Well, I think we can safely predict, of course not. The fact is, and this is actually the one criticism of parecon leveled by mainstream economists, under parecon people are highly likely to want more leisure (just as people now do) rather than more stuff - and there is nothing in parecon, unlike capitalism’s drive to accumulate - preventing pareconers from having more leisure by working less in turn causing total output to drop. We can see this is highly likely even without taking into account what will be accurate considerations of ecological impact and even ignoring the impact of near equalization of shares of the product, and of revamping the product to not squander gigantic productive capacity on weapons and other anti social products, and of having sensible collective goods, and of having no pernicious status effects of consumption, and no narrowing of non consumption means to fulfillment.
But what about a particular individual? Can I work longer, or harder, or perhaps even some times doing some very onerous tasks, to get more income? Yes, in parecon I can. Is there anything morally or economically wrong with that? No, it is warranted by my actions and has no ill effects on my behavior. For example, does it mean I will drive myself to dissolution in a mad pursuit of additional income? Of course not. Does it mean I can work as long or as hard or at whatever tasks I want without anyone else having any influence? No, because in a workplace, my choices have to coordinate with other people’s choices.
Many anarchists, to return to the original criticism, mainly don't see the need for remuneration norms and methods and so don't actually think about these issues very much. There is no need for them to do so, many anarchists think, because they favor simply avoiding the hassle of tracking values by saying that we should each work to our abilities and receive for our needs - and that's it.
So what about the alternative that many anarchists prefer? Even if parecon’s remuneration isn’t horribly flawed, indeed even if it is sound and moral, is the preferred anarchist norm still better, or is it perhaps itself flawed?
The anarchist critic says we should all work to our ability and receive for our needs. But what does this mean? Well, there are a few possibilities, though they are rarely, if ever, discussed by advocates of the view.
Suppose I am working in a system operating under the anarchist norm. How long will I work next week. If I work to my ability, odds are that even at 64 years old, which I am, I could manage to work 60 hours at a balanced job complex or even 70 or 80. Should I do that? Is that what working to my ability means? And should I work as hard as my ability permits as well?
It is incredibly unlikely that any anarchist or other advocate of this norm, much less those concerned about people overworking, has in mind the above literal meaning. But what else might the norm mean?
It could mean I should work up to what someone else says is my ability. But again, surely no anarchist advocates that kind of authoritarian interpretation.
Finally, it could mean instead that I should work the average amount - let’s just assume this exists from some past year’s results - and intensity for society, unless I feel able to work more or that I should work less. But then, on what basis do I arrive at such feelings? If the only issue is the effect on me, I will likely wind up working less than I would otherwise have done. If the only basis is the effect on others, then I need to have some way of sensibly gauging those effects. How do I do that? We will come back to that question in a moment.
Now what about the consumption side of things? I have to determine what I wish to have from the social product. According to the norm, taken literally, I should pay no attention to anyone else’s situation, and no attention to my level of work, and instead, just consult my needs. I ask myself - not someone else, since that would convey absurd authority to that other person - what do I need? One interpretation of needs is what is physically needed for survival. So this would mean that in our good society everyone would be surviving on bread, water, and vitamin pills -- hardly an attractive prospect. Alternatively, at the other extreme, needs might be taken to mean whatever one wants. And that literally means, as best I can see, what do I want? And then I just take that.
Well, I can’t believe any anarchist actually favors this. Even if we ignore the anarchist who, just minutes ago, thought that if we remunerated for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, the hunger for consumption goods would be so great that people would press on to longer and longer hours and higher and higher intensity. That person, being even a little consistent, surely would have to admit that told they can have whatever they ask for, a person so driven will want a lot more than is good for the overall society, and a lot more than everyone can have.
All right, let's ignore the two extreme understandings of consumption according to need. Suppose the norm means, instead, that each consumer should consume the average, (again we can assume that from some past period, that average is known) and then somewhat more, or somewhat less, based on whether they have seriously pressing additional needs, or not. We restrain ourselves, presumably, out of a social impulse. Though I have to wonder why it is okay to assume everyone will do this, automatically, without distortion due to self serving bias, but lets say everyone will. How will I know how much is appropriate for me to take?
This is the same problem the worker had. Whether the issue is a worker setting a level of work responsibly or a consumer setting a level of consumption responsibly, doing it requires knowing what is average, and then whether one legitimately deviates from that average, and how.
Here is the thing. First, by assuming an average we are assuming that in the past people have functioned with this norm and arrived at something sensible. There is no reason to assume that unless we say how it happened. Second, the anarchist wants a person to engage in a social exchange that provides them information enabling them to settle on a responsible level of work and consumption. This is what it means to say that they will “settle.” The irony is that that is precisely what participatory planning was conceived to accomplish, and, in fact, does accomplish. It is a collective process of exchanging statements of desire about work and consumption, where one learns what is warranted and what isn’t, and settles on socially desirable and warranted choices.
The only thing the anarchist wanting people to freely arrive at their own agreed levels of work and consumption could responsibly take issue with would be whether or not the information conveyed by participatory planning is the best that it can be, and whether arriving at the optimal choices with a norm and institutions geared to helping is worse than trying to do it, and failing, without a norm and institutions able to help.
Think about a stoplight system - go on green, stop on red. You might imagine that it is authoritarian, because it constrains behavior. Alternatively, you might say, the goal is for people at intersections to get through without crashing, and with a relative minimum of disruption of steady flow of traffic. Now that is what the light system aims to accomplish. And if it does accomplish it, it would be truly weird to reject it as an imposition, preferring that everyone approaches each intersection doing whatever they choose with safety and flow depending on how well they coordinate without having any shared agreements or information to use in the process.
The allocation situation is not too different. The problem with remuneration for need and work to ability is that it is either utopian on the consumption and draconian on the work side, it involves someone other than those involved determining need and ability, or - and this is the most likely intention of advocates since the other two interpretations are so completely devoid of anarchist aspirations - it implicitly assumes a mechanism which conveys to each worker and consumer personal and system-wide information that allows him or her to make responsible choices without imposing class divisions, violating the ecology, enriching the few, or unnecessarily hurting him or herself. And what does that, and was conceived to do that, very explicitly, is participatory planning, including the equity norm for remuneration.
There are other problems with the need/ability norm, but it is overkill to persist, I think. Suffice it to say that to sensibly know how to invest for the future, to know what we should prepare to produce more of or cut back to produce less of, one has to know the relative desires for things. But you can’t know that if the only information conveyed by the system is that people want things, but not how much.
What about this critic’s last point, that parecon isn’t an economy based on and creating mutual aid? Well, parecon doesn’t assume wonderful people. On the contrary, it has institutions which would accept rather selfish and self centered people - the people who we are now by our training - and lead them to becoming more empathetic practitioners of mutual aid.
Here is the idea. In a participatory economy for me to get ahead - let’s say I am a very selfish fellow - I can either enjoy less difficult burdens at my work, or I can enjoy a greater share of the social product in my consumption.
How do I do this? Well, on the work side, I have a balanced job complex. The only way the quality of my work day is going to improve is if the quality of the socially average work day improves, or if I find a socially average job I like better than the one I already have. The second route to a better work experience is straightforward. I seek a job, I get it or not, there is nothing special involved and nothing anti social or particularly solidaritous, either. But the first route is interesting.
For my average job complex to improve entails that the socially average job complex improves - which is to say that everyone’s complex improves. How does that happen? Well, it happens most dramatically when changes in the ways we work, or in the tools we use, or in the social arrangements at work, make the worst tasks less bad, improving the average across all tasks. That is, the average typically goes up most when the worst jobs are dramatically improved. So my personal and even selfish desire to have a better time during my work days leads me, inexorably, to want the same types of labor saving and workplace improving changes in the most onerous workplaces, as everyone else wants in them. I don’t benefit most by advocating simply for modest changes in my own workplace. Rather, I benefit most by advocating for major changes where they will have the largest impact. This is precisely an economic system generating solidarity by the responsibilities and options it gives people. Mutual aid becomes the natural way to get along, not something special that one must attain against one’s surroundings.
What about the consumption side? Well, my fulfillment from consumption depends largely on my private consumption choices, and there is nothing special in that, other than that when I consume individually in a participatory economy, I do so knowing that my acts cause production to occur and thereby affect society’s average job complex and work duration, and especially the workers producing what I consume, and thus my own work situation and everyone else’s. Again, there are two ways I can get more. I can raise my income by working harder, longer, or at more onerous tasks, if my workmates agree on an arrangement of activities. That route teaches solidarity only minimally because I know, via the planning process, the human implications of my choices. But I can also get more if the total social pie enlarges and, indeed, that is a more likely route to more income for me and for everyone in society. And this route is one of solidarity and mutual aid. We all benefit together rather than competing for benefits.
Of course, looking more closely, the key is that there is no way to improve one’s consumption or one’s work life at the expense of others. There are no opposed classes, nor even opposed individuals, at least in any damaging structural sense. This is not market allocation where you buy cheap and sell dear, and I do the opposite, and nice guys finish last. And it is not central planning where, rhetoric aside, we do what others decide we must do. It is, instead, participatory economics, where we all cooperatively negotiate to enjoy gains and endure losses together, even as we also seek work and consumption best suited to our personal fulfillment. Parecon turns out to produce solidarity and to make typical kinds of anti sociality literally irrational - two desirable traits for a desirable economy.
Criticism: Parecon retains money and prices. But money and prices carry with them the ills of competitive allocation and preserve the ecological and interpersonal failings of familiar economies, whatever other gains may be attained. Parecon retains the war of all against all. Parecon trumpets solidarity but preserves a rat race.
This continues the concern above now made more general, but also continues the same confusions.
What are prices about? They are a representation of the relative valuations of items in the economy and, depending on the allocation system that generates them, they will be more of less accurate in taking into account with a sensible weight for each person, all people’s actual preferences and assessments, or all social and ecological effects.
In a centrally planned socialist (or more accurately, coordinatorist) economy, prices manifest the will and desires of the planners. At a caricatured extreme, imagine one person putting a price tag on everything. The allocation system has in that case set relative values, but surely they will not accurately account for all people’s views, much less render appropriate weight to each. This is not capitalistic at all, but nonetheless it is horrendous.
Now consider a market socialist (more accurately called market coordinatorist) economy. The market is in many respects like that under capitalism. Buyers and sellers try to fleece one another. Those outside each transaction barely influence its outcome, and, as a result, prices, set competitively, do not address all implications of exchange, nor due they accord proper weight which, with markets, is determined mainly by bargaining power. A difference is that without owners there is no capital labor relation and much about the exact logic of workplace dynamics and profit seeking - now surplus seeking - alters.
Now consider parecon. There are prices - meaning assessments of the relative valuations of items. Parecon’s prices emerge, however, from a cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs by workers and consumers who are all accorded the same weight of influence, varying only as they are affected. There is no profit seeking, nor even surplus seeking. The situation is fundamentally changed. To say it is the same, or nearly the same, because there are prices in capitalism and prices in parecon is no more sensible than to say these two systems are the same because there are weights in each. Actually less so, since weights really are the same in each, whereas prices are fundamentally different.
For money the situation is similar. In both systems money - or a placeholder for claims on social product, facilitates keeping track of accounts. But in capitalism money is also amassed as capital, or profits, while in parecon it really is just a placeholder. In capitalism like prices, money too has a logic - but in parecon, like for prices, the logic is completely different.
Money and prices do not bring the ills of competition when one has an economy that operates cooperatively and collectively, without competitive markets. Nor do they bring disdain for and violation of the ecology when one has an economy that systematically includes attention to environmental impact and has no drive to violate the environment.
But is parecon a rat race economy, as the critic suggests. Well, in parecon, while there may be human rats by some pathological process, it will not be due to the dictates of economic life which produce, instead, sociality. And, more, those human rats, functioning within the economy, will have no avenues for advancing themselves materially or socially by being rat like. Quite the contrary, doing well in the economy will require them to relate supportively to others.
Of course the full case for participatory planning requires a full examination of parecon’s allocation system in context of its other institutions. But what should clear here is that the types of concerns many anarchists raise are not some kind of flaw parecon advocates either welcomed or overlooked. Rather, transcending such flaws in current systems was the point of participatory economics. Worry about such matters was why parecon was created, and guided its logic and choices.
Looking at capitalism and seeing prices, money, and budgets and thinking, well, to have a good economy we must not have any of that, is no more sensible than looking at capitalism and seeing that the economy has buildings, or workplaces, or large scale, or small scale, production, and saying, hey capitalism has it, we must avoid it.
The tenable position is, instead, that capitalism has class rule. We must avoid that. Capitalism has allocation that is blind to broad ecological effects and an internal dynamic that accumulates environmental decay. We must avoid that. Capitalism has wage slavery, is exploitative, is alienated. We must avoid that. Capitalism produces anti social individualism. We must avoid that. But not, capitalism produces stuff, consumes stuff, notices relative values, we must avoid that.
Criticism: Parecon is productivist and whatever parecon's other merits may be, parecon would do little or nothing to slow the slip slide of society toward ecological disaster. Parecon is like the Titanic. It might provide some nice food and entertainment for a time, but it would sink.
How does an economy affect the environment? Other than minor ways, the major aspect is that the economy uses up resources and spews out byproducts that alter environmental relations. Thus, it can squander assets, despoil nature with harsh or even catastrophic results.
Is it the mere fact that an economy produces stuff that is at fault? Yes, in one limited sense, it is. All production uses stuff, and all production has at least some side effects that are undesirable. But here we have another case of the baby and the bathwater. Throwing away production, as compared to doing it sensibly, foregoes a whole lot of what we mean by progress and civilization, needlessly.
What is instead necessary is to undertake production with the purpose of benefiting all people - not profiting only a few - and, even more, with attention to all the social and also ecological effects, so that the choice to produce or not produce is taken in light of full understanding of the implications.
If an economy can do that, then of course sane people will opt against production which threatens their existence, or even, short of that, production which harms the ecological context we live in. This requires an economy which cosiders the long term and not only the short term implications of choices. It must be able to tally the true social and ecological costs and benefits of options. It must deliver decision making in a manner that doesn’t give any constituency a way to escape the costs of, or to overly benefit from, unwise production.
To say an economy is productivist can have some real meaning. Capitalism, for example, does have a built in drive to accumulate regardless of benefits to the population. It also has a built in means for some constituencies to pawn off environmental pains on others, while accruing most production benefits for themselves. In fact, corporations are driven to this behavior. And capitalism has allocation that conveys a ridiculously short time line of assessment, and that also misvalues inputs and outputs, especially concerning their ecological implications. In short, capitalism is, by its structure, anti ecological - a far more telling and accurate descriptor than “productivist.”
In contrast, parecon, with participatory planning, is virtually the opposite. It generates accurate and full valuations. It conveys appropriate influence. It has the right timeline. And, as mainstream economists like to point out - though they think it is a flaw - parecon has no built in drive to accumulate. It is, in that sense, anti-productivist, though certainly not anti production, much less anti civilization or anti progress.
Criticism: Parecon uses capitalistic language that talks about sacrifice and other activity that sounds very old left or bourgeois. Parecon gives me the willies. I think there is baggage hidden in it that will trump good results.
I hear this often. I even understand it. But I think it takes a reasonable approach to having suspicions way beyond what is warranted. First, while sometimes, as shorthand, parecon does say remuneration is for “effort and sacrifice,” it always makes perfectly clear that this means remuneration is for how long you work, how hard you work, and how onerous the conditions under which you work are, as long as you are doing socially valued labor. I would be surprised to hear a worker say, it gives her the willies that she would get income for how long she works, how hard she works, and the onerousness of her work at socially valuable tasks.
Other than the word "sacrifice" which is, I agree, perhaps a poor choice, I am not sure what words this type of critic may have in mind. Class? Work? Workplace? I think inputs and outputs bother some folks, though I am really not sure why given that we always emphasize that this means everything that goes into and comes out from work - including changed people, social relations, products, etc.
But let's return to the problem with the word “sacrifice.” What that word is getting at is that remuneration is morally warranted and also economically sound when it offsets burdens associated with work. The bad effect the word can have isn't just a linguistic overtone, but that people get the wrong impression that remuneration for onerousness means you get more income if you dislike your work more, and less if you dislike it less. People then rightly wonder, how can we possibly measure that, and does it mean I should look for work I don’t like?
Well, no, that would indeed be a bit perverse. Instead, as noted earlier, a task being onerous and worthy of extra pay is a social determination. Once it is decided that some unusual task, perhaps not even in anybody’s balanced job complex - say, cleaning up after a disaster - is onerous, then whoever does the task gets paid accordingly. I should in fact want to do tasks which would be paid more than average, but which I happen to like despite society finding them onerous.
There is no baggage hidden in parecon’s norms, language, or commitments.