Critique Without Comprehension
Critique Without Comprehension
For The review this essay replies to
Please see Schweickart: Nonsense On Stilts
Parecon Phenomenon 1:
Serious Thought Or Manipulated Irrationality?
In David Schweickart's view, my book Parecon: Life After Capitalism is not just nonsenseâ€¦but nonsense on stilts. Strangely, Schweickart, though a philosopher, largely ignores the historical and social evidence and argument and particularly the ethical precepts offered on behalf of rejecting capitalism and market economies of any kind. He doesn't question, or for that matter even address parecon's injunction to seek economic classlessness via placing solidarity, diversity, equity, and self management at the heart of both judging and choosing economic institutions. Instead, Schweickart overwhelmingly focuses on whether participatory economics can function at all.
Schweickart asserts not only that the Verso published book is "terrible," but, more important, that the entire economic model called participatory economics is "hopelessly, irredeemably flawed" to the point that any leftist should immediately see it is worthless. Feeling thusly, he doesn't understand the "parecon phenomena" and he spends time wondering why growing numbers of leftists are urging its merits and trying to refine and improve its substance. I will ignore the odd idea that this growing support and involvement reflects that I am some kind of tireless Svengali who has hoodwinked not only my friends, but the many parecon advocates whom I don't know, the international publishers, etc., and that I have even hoodwinked myself (out of unrestrained hope), all to a point of slavish fixation that is "immune to common sense or reason." For Schweickart, we are all advocating something only a deluded fool wouldn't quickly dismiss. It seems better, as well as less demeaning to myself and others, for me to assume that there is support, and also criticism, and that I and others rationally (rather than slavishly) advocate and are trying to improve the model, even though Schweickart thinks no one rational would do so.
In any event, Schweickart is entirely correct that parecon centrally includes "balanced job complexes" which seek to equilibrate jobs for their empowerment effects in order to eliminate a class division between what I call the coordinator class of empowered employees including managers, lawyers, engineers, etc., and more typical workers. Strangely, Schweickart never mentions this class analysis aspect of parecon, though he, like me, is a member of the class it pinpoints. Schweickart is also right, however, that parecon includes "remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work" in order to attain equitable distribution of income. And he is right, as well, that parecon includes "participatory planning" in pursuit of self managed and classless allocation that reflects workers' and consumers' needs. If Schweickart is correct that these three features that he focuses on are not viable and/or not worthy, then he is also correct that the overall model is flawed. Parecon does rest on these legs, which he thinks he has cut out from under it.
Balanced Job Complexes:
Classless Division of Labor or Crazy Chaos?
Schweickart starts with balanced job complexes. He doesn't question my arguments that they are necessary to avoid class division, nor does he suggest that having balanced job complexes would hurt productivity or treat people unfairly - which are concerns I deal with at length in the book. Instead, Schweickart urges that balanced job complexes are transparently and self evidently impossible to implement. In his view, moreover, this is so obvious that only the deluded (or self delusional) would think otherwise.
To make this case, Schweickart first quotes a passage in which I describe some tasks as being more empowering and others as being less empowering, employing a hypothetical ranking of 1 - 20 to explain the abstract claim. He then ridicules the idiocy of thinking that we could arrive at balanced job complexes in a large firm by showing how at his university, as an example, given the virtually innumerable tasks it encompasses, first carefully ranking every task, and then second, painstakingly combining bunches of tasks to arrive at the same mathematical average for every job we constructed, would be very nearly infinitely time consuming and confusion inspiring. He does note in passing that I made clear in the book that the numeric ranking was only to explain the underlying idea and show the conceptual possibility of jobs composed of bundles of tasks such that each job was comparable in its empowerment effects to all others - and that I did not propose this mathematical ranking description to describe a social procedure for actually arriving at such a goal, which I explicitly said it was not. Nonetheless, Schweickart treated the mathematical ranking example as a social procedure for about 20% of his long review. It was easy to ridicule taken that way, but that ridicule has no bearing on actual parecon prospects.
So how do balanced job complexes persist year to year, in a parecon? Well, as Schweickart notes, in a functioning parecon we have balanced job complexes already and so for maintenance we are only talking about changes to preserve or to realign their balance from year to year. Suppose a new technology is put in place, or some new realization about existing options regarding work arises. If the change is significant in its empowerment implications, we must then shift a few tasks in accord, in some division inside some workplace, or perhaps for a whole workplace, or even across workplaces. This is obviously not so difficult. Jobs alter all the time in any kind of economy, much more so than this. A yearly or bi-yearly session of a workers council in an industry, a workplace, or in a division, guided by reports from workers who are assigned to assess changing conditions as part of their overall responsibilities, could certainly non disruptively propose such refinements to workers councils. But this isn't what Schweickart found fault with. Rather, he doubts the possibility of getting balance the first time around, at the outset, from what we have now. And Schweickart is quite right that that isn't easy, which doesn't mean, however, that it shouldn't be done.
One way to think of this is to realize that the pre-capitalist system of artisanal craft power was unraveled by Taylorist practice, breaking down skilled (somewhat balanced) jobs into their minute tasks, in order to re-construct them on the basis of the hierarchical control requirements of a class system. If capitalism can adapt jobs to increase inequality and especially control by a few, why can't a post capitalist economy re-combine components to make up new jobs that balance empowerment effects of work to produce social classlessness? For example, consider bus drivers and transit planning. Why couldn't bus drivers or other transit workers have training to do transit planning as well as to drive? It really isn't hard in industries to see steps on the road to generating balance.
Take, as Schweickart suggests, his own university, Loyola. If, we assume it is as now, but one wishes to move from that corporate structure to an array of balanced job complexes, what has to happen? Well, quite a lot. We can even make it more urgent. Take the Bolivarian University in Venezuela set up precisely to evidence new ways of organizing an educational institution. Suppose they want to eliminate internal class division. What should they, or Loyola, do?
Well, for people who have had a lifetime of rote and tedious work to begin doing more empowering work, may entail, in part, some training. So one quick and relatively straightforward innovation is to institute classes for employees, not just for students. The students and faculty can pick up some of the then unassigned labor due to gardeners, custodians, waiters, and secretaries, taking some classes. Professors, can immediately do some or all of their own phoning, Xeroxing, and so on, so their secretaries can have time to pursue other tasks. For that matter, professors can even wield a broom, not just a computer mouse or joystick.
But how does the division of labor get to be not just somewhat improved, but fully balanced? Not in a gigantic rush, that's for sure. And not by some idiotic mechanical calculation process, that's also for sure. Transition involves experimentation in job definition. It involves a flow of changes that give those doing only cushy and empowering work steadily more of the socially necessary but rote tasks, while giving some of their cushy and empowering labor over to those who were previously excluded. Does this entail that the custodian teaches quantum theory, right off, or even ever? No. But the custodian may well, perhaps with a little training, perhaps not even needing that, do some of the labor that deans or heads of faculty now do - or would do once the university is more libertarian about education and other functions - and perhaps in time she might also teach, in one department or another, or not.
The point is, if you look down the road some years from when serious redesign in pursuit of balanced job complexes begins, balanced job complexes can be attained and, moreover, the people who work at the new Loyola can have had enriching education in their youth - rather than about 80% being taught mostly to endure boredom and take orders, and 20% being taught productive skills and also to feel superior. In the new Loyola all who work there are equipped to participate cooperatively and equitably in balanced jobs, and a few will not dominate the rest. And the same goes for other workplaces. We don't all do everything, of course. None of us do things beyond our capacities, naturally. We all do, however, do some activity that is empowering and some that is not, in a socially balanced mix.
In other words, if the Bolivarian University says it wants self management and equity - or a bit further in the future if Loyola does - but it keeps a division of labor in which 80% of the workforce obeys orders and follows agendas and 20% gives orders and creates agendas, then day by day, even in large and formally democratic assemblies, the 20% will dominate outcomes, and they will also aggressively reward themselves, seeing themselves as more worthy. To avoid that class division and all the alienation, subordination, and travail that goes with it, one wants to create a situation in which all the employees by virtue of their balanced work conditions - as well as sensible prior training - are comparably empowered. One does not want to create a condition in which some employees are highly empowered and others are overwhelmingly made passive. That's the reason for balanced job complexes. Expertise is not eliminated, or reduced, but is expanded by greatly enlarging society's interest in giving all its citizens serious educational opportunities. What is eliminated is some people monopolizing empowering tasks, while other people are made subordinate by their solely rote and repetitive labors. Without balanced job complexes, and supposing capitalists are out of the picture, it seems to me that we necessarily have coordinator class rule. With balanced job complexes, we can have classlessness. The task, if this claim is correct, is, to my eyes, not to belittle the possibility of balancing job complexes by magnifying unreal weaknesses, but to refine parecon's logic and methods so they become ever more viable. Saying that we can't eliminate monopolization of empowering tasks into few jobs is tantamount, I think, to saying TINA, there is no alternative - not there is no alternative to capitalism, but there is no alternative to class rule. Schweickart is right that my tendency is to work damn hard to discover ways to thwart that claim, though I don't think that means I am delusional or irrational.
Are balanced job complexes hard to reach from the capitalist economies that we now inhabit? Of course they are. Does one reach them by some kind of mechanical process that seeks mathematical perfection over night, of for that matter, ever? Of course not. Nor have I ever suggested it, though I welcome Schweickart's review for making me be very explicit, again. We move toward balance by making changes in a social adjustment, many steps undertaken over considerable time, first won by movements seeking reforms, but then later enacted by self managing workers' and consumers' councils. And we don't fetishize some kind of abstract perfection at any point in the process, of course, but we stop adjusting when workers collectively (in each venue) feel that any further tinkering would be a waste of precious time relative to minor gains still to be had.
Once we have balanced job complexes, are they hard to maintain and adjust? No, there is no reason to think that is the case. In fact, it is instead plausible that it is far harder to continually realign jobs to keep most people subordinate and a few people empowered, roughly in a four to one ratio, despite that doing so diminishes productivity as well as being horribly unjust, than it will be to keep all jobs equitably balanced up to a socially agreed condition conducive to self managed participation, and which enhances productivity and attains classlessness. So, balanced job complexes will not only be vastly more just and humane than corporate divisions of labor (whether the latter are chosen on their own "merits" or imposed by markets or central planning or just grudgingly accepted as "unavoidable"), but, as a bonus, and contrary to Schweickart's ridicule, balanced job complexes will also be easier to maintain.
Schweickart rightly notes that even beyond seeking balanced job complexes inside each firm, parecon requires that job complexes also be balanced across them. He points out that Loyola is "a clean, comfortable environment, with lots of stimulating intellectual activity. That's not fair. Something needs to be done." I think he means this to be sarcastic, but I agree with the sentiment, something does need to be done, and for two reasons.
First, if we are going to have some people doing much cleaner, more comfortable, and more stimulating labor, and other people doing more debilitating, dangerous, and rote labor, we should not pay the former more, as now, or even pay them all the same, as many progressives might suggest. To have remuneration that is equitable, we should pay the folks who endure worse conditions more to make up for the greater sacrifice involved in their pursuits. Second, even if we initially decided we would remunerate justly, a group of what I call coordinators with significantly and consistently more empowering economic conditions would tend to socially and organizationally dominate workers who were in contrast made menial and subservient by their more rote pursuits. Such a dominant class would steadily and increasingly push the economy toward their own advancement, including subverting the prior socially valid payment decision until it was literally reversed - as we see all around us and throughout history, in all market systems.
The point is, if an economy has some workplaces that are highly empowering, though with average job complexes inside, and other workplaces that are highly disempowering, again with average job complexes inside, in time we will have a class that occupies the former workplaces, doing little but empowered labor, and a class that inhabits the latter workplaces, doing little but rote labor. In this socially unbalanced situation, instead of a university's custodians being part of the university staff so that balanced job complexes in the university incorporated a share of rote tasks - they would be employed in a custodian's firm and would work in the university only on contract. And more, the custodian's firm's managers would be contracted day workers there, hired from a firm that is composed only of managers. Once again, we would have the class division between the empowered and disempowered, though now they would be officially employed in two entirely separate sectors of workplaces, though they would do their functions throughout the economy.
In other words, if we want an economy which doesn't elevate one sector to a dominant position above the rest by virtue of unequally empowering economic roles, which is to say, if we want an economy without class rule, then we need to have a division of labor which gives everyone sufficient confidence, social skills, and habits of involvement and of decision making, of one sort or another, to participate fully and fairly in overall decision making. We don't want a coordinator class who overwhelmingly set agendas, design conditions, administer outcomes, govern information flow, and pay themselves far more, while everyone else labors below.
I agree with Schweickart that most professors at Loyola will likely at first resist the idea of balanced job complexes, and also of remuneration for effort, exactly as Schweickart rejects them. Some will do it out of sincere conviction that these approaches can't work or would lead to bad outcomes. For others their response will reflect their class interests narrowing their gaze, juggling their thoughts, and biasing their values.
Schweickart ridicules having balanced job complexes, saying that to fully have them "since enterprises have different job-empowerment averages," some method would have to "move people around, allowing everyone working in a lower-than-average empowerment enterprise to work [part time] in a higher-than average empowerment firms, while compelling those in higher-than-average empowerment firms to work [part time] in lower-than-average empowerment firms." I am tempted to say, and this kind of reply is possible over and over to Schweickart's concerns, is this really so bad, even as Schweickart tilts it, as compared to having a corporate division of labor where 80% must be structurally compelled to obey and endure? But, in fact, parecon doesn't have to justify itself only by virtue of how abysmal the corporate, market, alternatives are. Attaining cross firm balance not according to some mathematical perfection, but in a social manner acceptable to the population involved, really isn't unduly complex.
There are plenty of examples in the book. Imagine, for one, a coal mine. Let's suppose that technical innovations haven't yet significantly improved the empowerment implications of working at the coal mine so that working there still involves doing tasks way below the social average empowerment level. What happens?
Well, you can't work in the coal mine full time. Let's say society has a thirty hour week, or whatever the population of worker/consumers arrives at given its desires for consumption as against its desires for leisure - which, by the way, is a self managed choice in a parecon whereas market systems compel accumulation and steadily increase workloads regardless of desires. In addition to working in the coal mine part time, you will work elsewhere, perhaps in your neighborhood, perhaps in any of a number of firms that are paired off with the coal mine, part time as well. These other pursuits will be at higher empowerment levels, allowing a cumulative average. And the same goes in reverse, if you work at Loyola, assuming it has significantly excessive empowerment effects in its balanced job complex, you can also only work there so many hours a week. You would have to fill out your work load with other tasks, less empowering, maybe in your neighborhood, or in nearby firms, etc. Of course scheduling is flexible, it isn't as if you have to work in two places each day, or even each week, but only on average over time. Once we have balanced job complexes across firms, is there need for a change in people's overall jobs at times? Sure, suppose in a parecon new technologies significantly raise the quality of life and empowerment effects of working at a coal mine, which presumably would be a priority not only for the miners, but for the whole population in order to most effectively raise the social average job complex across all society. In that case, the workers in the mine would face new conditions and their overall job would adapt.
What makes all this seem absurd to Schweickart, assuming it is not class blinders, is his thinking that balancing jobs involves some kind of precise mathematical equilibration - despite what I tried to convey in the book. Once that characterization is removed, however, and once one sees past his cataloging vast numbers of tasks, etc., there is really nothing so complex or daunting about maintaining balanced job complexes, even across firms. It will be, I would wager, far simpler for pareconish agencies to help people find a pair of workplaces with an over all total balanced job complex, than for laborers in market economies to find two or three jobs of any kind, however degrading, in an environment of competition and greed, working incredibly long hours at only onerous tasks and for exploitative wages in order to attain incomes only a fraction of the payment that managers and other coordinator class members get for doing way less actual labor. Similarily, combining tasks into jobs equitably, for self management, is no harder - though far more antithetical to human needs - than combining tasks inequitably, for hierarchical control. Schweickart doesn't see this only because the Taylorist hierarchicalization process is long past, and the pareconist de-hierarchicalization process is still in our future.
So, yes, Schweickart is correct that it is difficult to arrive at balanced job complexes for the first time in a complex economy. Of course it is. But maintenance of balanced job complexes becomes far less difficult after attaining balance, though still, not trivial, to be sure. But what's the alternative? Class division? Class rule? Not to mention the tremendous and ongoing difficulty of enforcing unjust relations and coercing obedience and output from wage slaves forced into horribly unbalanced job complexes?
I therefore think arriving at balanced job complexes and then maintaining them is worth some trouble, both to avoid class rule, and, put more positively, to attain self management. This is my deluded commitment. The book, Parecon, and many other writings as well, give far more evidence and supporting argument, of course, then I can provide in this reply, regarding possibility as well as purpose - the last of which Schweickart completely ignores. But, to use an ironic phrase, the bottom line is, once balanced job complexes are established, it will be much easier, less burdensome, and less of a drain on output, to modestly refine jobs every year to account for changes in empowerment effects, then it is to enforce and maintain hierarchical job structures that impose servitude on most laborers so that a minority can alone enjoy "cleaner, more comfortable, more stimulating" and especially more empowering circumstances.
Equitable Motivation Or Incentive Nightmare?
Moving on to remuneration for labor, the problem Schweickart raises owes primarily to confusion, I suspect, though others who earn relatively high incomes for doing very cushy work will likely have class-rooted problems with policies seeking the new remuneration norm. Schweickart, at any rate, didn't accurately understand parecon's remuneration method. He understood that it says that workers should get income for their effort and sacrifice, the ethics of which he ignored, but he missed that the labor has to be socially useful.
The parecon norm is that you get more income for more duration, more intensity, or more onerousness of your work, or you get less income for the opposite, but that this holds only if the work you do, for the duration you do it, is socially useful. If it isn't socially useful, which means if it isn't sufficiently effective, then the work isn't remunerated. This means I can't furiously dig holes in my backyard and furiously fill them, and get good pay for doing so. It produces nothing of value. It also means that I can't be remunerated as an artist, baseball player, surgeon, airplane pilot, translator, or countless other things that I simply couldn't do well enough for my labors to be deemed socially useful. The hours expended don't generate sufficient value to be deemed well spent, or socially useful. I can't work long and hard doing something that has no value, or doing something that has insufficient value per hour due to my ineffectiveness when I am doing it, and expect to be paid fully for it. There is a subtlety here that Schweickart missed, though the point is made often in the book. Without this confusion, I think we will see that Schweickart's concerns about feasibility disappear.
To understand the subtle point, suppose I work at some firm in a parecon. My firm has to provide outputs to society commensurate to its labor and technical assets, inputs, and time spent, if all its effort is to be judged socially useful. If my firm doesn't do that, the overall remuneration for my firm's employees goes down because not all its labor was socially useful. Suppose my firm's employees all together worked a whole lot, a total of a hundred thousand hours in a month, but that it didn't generate outputs commensurate to that work level and the inputs we used, our technological capacity, etc., all functioning at average intensity. Total remuneration available for our workforce would be reduced in accord - because some of the labor we did was socially useless or was carried out at low intensity relative to average. Note, we don't ever have a pool of income to share matching the value of our output, but we do have a pool of income to share that rises or falls relative to average-per-worker-hour depending on our effectiveness at generating output compared to the average for our industry.
Schweickart's concerns about parecon's remuneration are that the method of determining how much income each worker should get will lead to the workplace not performing up to capacity. But, he fails to realize that workers do indeed pay a price when their firm under produces. Total income goes down and some members of the firm must as a result earn less, or if all are to earn the same, then all on average must earn less.
So here is the actual situation in parecon, at least as I perceive it so far in the model's development. Each workforce gets its income from a pool of payment that its firm's output warrants. For a given workplace, if some workers have worked harder, they should get more than those who preferred to work less hard, or who just did so. The same goes for working longer or less long and likewise if there is a differential in quality of work time. So if our firm engages in job rating inflation, with assessors giving everyone high ratings, it accomplishes nothing. They don't all get more by saying that they all worked more if they in fact didn't more. The pool of payment doesn't go up by workers mislabeling their effort. If the workers don't accurately evidence the relative differences among themselves in work time, intensity, or onerousness, they don't get more or get less than one another, but they all get the same. The sum total of their allotment isn't under control of their assessments, just its relative apportionment. The sum total allotment depends on how long they in fact work, how hard, and how onerous the conditions in their industry are, but also on how effectively they work in that their work must be socially useful.
It is true that I believe different workplaces will adopt different approaches to attending to differentials in effort and sacrifice. Some workplaces will likely feel that there isn't that much difference likely to exist, over a year, with balanced job complexes, and it isn't worth the time and hassle of trying to discern tiny variations from month to month, given that they will largely average out anyhow. These workplaces will have only a few categories - perhaps average, above average, and below average - and not much fine specificity. Other workplaces might have more highly refined categories, and therefore greater numbers of categories, getting into percentage differences. Even in the workplaces where workers prefer to attend closely to effort differences, suppose someone works less but has a good personal excuse for it. Nothing prevents the workers council from awarding full income, like to others, if it wishes. It means everyone helps out with a little bit of their rightful income, because someone had family problems, or whatever. A parecon could also have means for the workplace to make a case for increasing its allotment, due to legitimate explanations of low output. Different parecons, like different firms inside a parecon, might have different policies in countless features. What is similar among parecons is the defining inclusion of workers' and consumers self managing councils, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning, not the detailed optional features of each, much less of other aspects.
Schweickart hears parecon saying "first of all, you are evaluated on the basis of effort, not output, and secondly, you are evaluated by your peers, not by a boss." The latter part of this is true. The former part has the subtlety that Schweickart missed, however. You are remunerated for effort, yes, but output per asset determines the total income that is available for dispersal among the whole workforce, not only in the economy, but for each workplace as well.
Schweickart notes that for workers to monitor effort by whatever means they might choose is fine if "a) they are motivated to do so, and b) the evaluation criteria can be readily applied." He thinks neither is the case in a parecon. He says if he had as part of his responsibility assessing effort ratings, he would not be conscientious in doing so. "If I give my peers good ratings, they will be happy. If I give them bad ratings, they will be unhappy. There is nothing to gained for myself or my co-workers by my being conscientious." But this is false. And it isn't just that I think Schweickart is wrong in his self assessment because I think his morality would prevent his lying, though that shouldn't be ignored in an equitable environment like a parecon workplace where class interests are a thing of the past. Additionally, I think Schweickart would himself not be doing socially valued labor if he dogged his task by giving everyone identical inflated ratings, rather than trying to make accurate assessments at whatever degree of refinement his workplace decided they wanted. But more, if he, or really the relevant committee or work team or whatever, overseen by the council, gives high ratings to some workers, then those workers will get more of the total income available for members of the firm, and other workers in the firm will get less. He would get less, too. If he gives high ratings to everyone, however, it has no impact, unless it is true. If it is false, the output of the plant will be commensurate only to an average level of effort per worker, or perhaps even to a low effort rating for everyone. And that's what will determine the pot of income that will be dispersed. That everyone has the same rating, high or not, means everyone will get an equal share of that reduced amount. Messing with ratings does not increase the total income for all workers in the firm, nor even diminish it, and it disrupts a true dispersal in accord with actual effort to the disadvantage of those putting forth more effort and to the advantage of those putting forth less. I don't know how Schweickart missed all this, but it does render his concerns that people will have no reason to be conscientious moot.
Schweickart's next concern is, if he were among those a part of whose job was assessing effort ratings, "even if I wanted to be conscientious, could I be?" He says, "in Parecon one is evaluated according to effort, not output." But again, this is false. In parecon you are remunerated for effort, not for output, correct. But you most certainly can be, if it is revealing, evaluated for output. If my output is low or faulty, I am either not exerting or I am doing so poorly - which may well mean that part of my exertion is not socially useful. I don't know how Schweickart missed this element of the model either, since it is enunciated repeatedly in the book, as here.
Schweickart says, "if you make a lot of mistakes in your clerical task, how can our committee determine whether you are working hard, but are just not good at the task, or are simply not paying attention?" Actually, it turns out that in his terms, regarding income in the moment, it doesn't matter. Either way, if the workplace has chosen to distinguish among workers based on tight assessments, your income will be lower, because whether it is from being inattentive or it is from being sloppy or incompetent, not all your work is socially useful and if the workplace wants to account each person's relative income closely, that will come into play. The solution, if you are to get your income back up, will be for you to do other tasks that you can do sufficiently well to be socially useful per hour, or to work more effectively at those you are doing. Actually, I doubt any workplace would dock pay for this kind of failing, supposing it was honest and not shirking, but rather just reassign jobs. But that's up to the workers council. Schweickart says, "and what if a low rated worker disagrees with his evaluation? What do we do?", and he seems to think this is a very telling point but I don't understand why. The workplace has norms and rules. One is about remuneration. You get what you earn. You don't like the assessment, okay, you might complain and moan, and maybe you will convince a grievance board, or whatever, but if not, you can suck it up or you might even quit and get a job elsewhere, but if you work in some firm, and the firm has collectively adopted tight procedures and graded you low, then lower pay is what you get.
Schweickart notes rightly that I claim that "Whereas differences in contribution to output will derive from differences in talent, training, job assignment, tools, luck and effort, . . . only effort merits compensation" where effort has been defined as duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor. He goes on to say that I seem "not to realize that separating effort from output renders the evaluation committee's task impossible." He is however himself not realizing that separating remuneration from output, which parecon does, in no way implies separating effort from output, which parecon does not do. Of course, effort generates output, and less output often reveals less effort or socially inadequate effort.
I have to say, Schweickart would be right, if a bit uncivil, to say that I had been ignorant or unrealistic or even, I suppose, irrational, if I had ignored all this. But I didn't ignore it. So now one wonders, why didn't Schweickart see that I didn't, or if he did see it, why didn't he refer to it? Maybe it wasn't written well, I don't know, but if he didn't see this kind of argument, why didn't the growing support for parecon, and his claimed respect for me, for that matter, cause him to look a little harder, instead of rushing to wrong judgment? Maybe he was too intent on finding flaw?
Schweickart deduces that "It should be clear thatâ€¦evaluators will tend to give everyone the same evaluation--above average, if possible, average if there are higher-order constraints against Parecon-Wobegon. Monitors have no good way of measuring effort, and little reason to be strict." In fact, however, monitors can measure effort by assessing output, as Schweickart would have them do, as well as by simply seeing what their co-workers are up to, etc., with far more proximity than anyone has in a corporate or market environment. Does Schweickart really think workers familiar with conditions and jobs would have a hard time knowing whether he was shirking or intensely exerting, being able to look at collective output, and being part of creating it - unlike typical current managers or owners? Moreover, monitors have good reason to be conscientious - though not so nit picky as to waste time, nor so punitive as to overly punish well-meant but poor work. Their own income depends on conscientious labor by them, and so does everyone else's depend on their recommendations. People can't benefit in sum total from inflated ratings, and distorted ratings punish those who in fact put forth relatively more effort while they reward those who didn't, an option that workers would certainly not favor, or consider a job well done by evaluators, and worth remunerating.
Schweickart says "if everyone gets the same evaluation, we are confronted with a motivational problem of the first order." But not everyone gets the same evaluation. Schweickart doesn't understand, to make the point again and make sure it is perfectly clear, that the income to be dispersed to a parecon firm's workforce depends on the firm's overall productivity. If it is average for the assets the firm has, there is a total income to disperse internally that is the social average per worker per hour. If the firm's output is above average, then there is some more per worker per hour, or if it is below average, there is some less. If I slack off relative to others, then the total pot available to the firm drops. If I get graded as average even though I was slacking off, I am getting somewhat over paid, and everyone else is losing a little as a result. If we all say we worked at the same level of effort, and we all slack off, we all get the same amount, but below the social average. We get less, in accord with the reduction in plant output relative to its assets. Similarly, if some slack off, some work extra hard, and some work average, if they are graded that way they get an accurate share of the firm's total pot, if they are graded too high or too low, then the shares diverge from accuracy, but the pot is unchanged. Is any of this perfectly accurate, matching exactly what some omniscient being would tell us was the precisely correct effort ratings for every worker, like some kind of perfect engineering joint, down to the fifth decimal point? Of course not, not nearly. It is a social process. But it is a self managed one, socially agreed to, collectively undertaken, and with economically appropriate incentives and ethically sound income attributes.
Schweickart rightly notes that each individual worker has an incentive to work less hard or less longâ€¦ so as to endure "less stress, more time to be sociable with one's workmates," etc. He thinks that slacking off will have no income effect on the worker, or on fellow workers, however, so everyone will automatically do it. But once again, this is simply incorrect. If worker/consumers want to work less, that's fine, it is a plausible social choice. I think a parecon's workforce will indeed have that inclination relative to a market economy because markets force long duration high intensity work beyond the outputs anyone actually wants, which a parecon doesn't. So the work week might well drop, say to thirty hours, rather than climbing, as in markets, to whatever humans can bear regardless of their preferences. But while one is working in a parecon, for whatever duration the work week is, to work sloppily, lazily, or otherwise unproductively, will reduce output and reduce total income for the plant, which will either come from the pay of the slack worker, or from the pay of all workers if inaccurate ratings hide the differential. In fact, far more so than market economies, parecon provides workers an appropriate incentive for enduring stress, time away from leisure and sociability, and so on, rather than forcing excessive work on everyone by punishing anything less than that with market failure and unemployment. Thus, contrary to Schweickart's fear, parecon provides sensible incentives for work and avoids providing gigantic bonuses to those with power, and harsh penalties to those lacking power.
Schweickart says hard work requires incentive, and I agree. He says moral incentives have their place (discussed carefully in the book) but material ones matter too. And I agree. That's why parecon remunerates for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially useful work - precisely to provide motivation for the labor that Schweickart rightly thinks, without suitable motivation, we would all rather not do. And it is also why parecon doesn't reward property, power, genetic endowment, luck, and other variables which are not only not morally deserving of reward, but which in being rewarded do not, in fact, provide useful incentive for hard and onerous labor. Perhaps Schweickart's effort to explain why growing numbers of people are becoming interested in and even advocates of parecon, but not of market socialist models, missed an obvious possibility. Markets destroy what people who are not defending elite class interests value. Parecon, when you look a bit deeper than Schweickart did, enhances and enlarges what people not defending elite interests value.
Efficient Self Management Or Logistical Frenzy?
Schweickart's final feasibility concern is with participatory planning. He wonders, "How would you do it? How would Parecon determine what should be produced? How would it bring people's needs and wants into alignment with what the workforce is willing and able to produce?"
I think these are good questions to ask. But next, instead of taking the model seriously, and pursuing his own questions seriously, Schweickart follows a path like that which he followed for the other two aspects addressed above. He misrepresents or misinterprets, as the case may be, just enough to be able to then ridicule, while appealing, I think, to what he believes are people's prior prejudices that anything truly participatory would be too unwieldy or too unreal to implement. Let's see whether this characterization is fair.
Again, there is a difference between getting going - which is difficult - and operating a parecon that is well established. This time, though, Schweickart takes issue with the latter, not the former. He notes that parecon requires that during the planning period consumers - and he should have noted consumer groups as in neighborhoods, communities, etc. - have to assess their projected incomes (based in turn on how much they will work) and propose commensurate consumption. The consumer, he notes, would have to take last year's list of consumption and adapt it with changes both for different taste and for different income, and then submit that. (Schweickart mistakes the possibility of a neighborhood questioning a submission for Sherman tanks, or for gigantic lawn lights, or for enough liquor to open a store, for a gross personal intrusion because he fails to note that the process is anonymous, again missing what is repeatedly noted in the book.) People also provide, during planning, textual explanations for large changes in their consumption as a hedge against price indicators alone misleading either producers or consumers (another point dealt with in the book, but ignored by Schweickart who implies that it is just a needless, senseless burden, which, of course, if it was, or if it turns out to be, it could just be eliminated, the point being, parecon is a system under development, not a finished blueprint, and will be refined and adapted until it is implemented, and probably long thereafter too.)
Schweickart's ridicule is that no one could possibly be a responsible consumer in participatory planning. "For some reason Parecon supporters don't have a problem with having to make a list of all the things one might want to consume during the course of a year." That's probably because they understand and relate to the extensive discussions providing descriptions of how this might be done, indicating, for example, that it is not all items but all classes of items that must be addressed, and also because they realize consumers would already have their last year's consumption and wouldn't start from scratch, and because they know consumers' choices can of course be refined and altered over time, and so on and so forth, all omitted by Schweickart.
Schweickart says, "Well, let's see. Let's start with a week. Roughly, what would I like to consume next week?" But in fact, this is not the way the process would work. It is him imposing a silly process and then calling it silly, just like he did regarding balancing job complexes. You don't need to figure each week's consumption and add it all up. And again the system doesn't expect or need absolute precision of any kind, much less individual by individual. Schweickart suggests that he drinks three cups of coffee a dayâ€¦well, if so, last year, he would have drunk a bit over a thousand cups. Does he expect a change, probably not, but maybe so. It takes a few seconds thought, most likely to massage this number. This will be true of most items all down the list, becoming false for items where he has some new inclination or expects to replace things that usually he wouldn't buy - a new refrigerator for a broken one, and so on.
Schweickart says "I sometimes eat cereal for breakfast. That'll require some sugar and some milk. How much sugar? How much milk? Let me think about that." Yes, he makes it sound idiotic, but instead of this, in fact he will simply see that he did x cereal, y sugar, and z milk last year, and given his budget, and health, he will decide if he is going to change that significantly, or pretty much do the same.
Schweickart continues, "Sometimes I scramble an egg. That'll require some salt, pepper, butter. Sometimes I have some baconâ€¦ Hmm--I'm only in the first half-hour of the day", and this is just scare mongering, assuming one takes it seriously, though actually, if you think about it, even this ridiculous approach, was moving right along. But imagine we did things his way for shopping in markets, say once a week, or two or three times, for some people - you'd have to calculate like this over and over week after week. Add it up for the full year and it would be far more time consumed than doing even this silliness for participatory planning - and with planning, it is critical to keep in mind that you actually are proportionately impacting what is available, properly influencing prices, proportionately determining general and your own income distribution, setting your work time, and, in short, cooperatively collectively self managing, in a classless context, individual and collective social consumption, rather than merely competing to disadvantage others and to help only yourself in a context sharply limiting your possibilities of succeeding even at that.
Schweickart acknowledges that working from last year's consumption makes things easier, but then notes: "I look at last year's list. I see that I consumed two hundred and twelve eggs last year, eleven pounds of bacon, two pounds of saltâ€¦ â€¦ Wow! This is a pretty long list! It goes on for pages and pages. It's hard to believe I consumed all that stuff in just one year."
Yes, and it would be interesting to know what we consume, wouldn't it? Of course the planning aspect would not have to be nearly so detailed, for those who didn't want to get that involved, instead focusing more on a set of categories than on all items. Interestingly, Schweickart never presents even a single reason why parecon has participatory planning. He is only concerned to make a case that it would be time consuming, as if having to take some time to control one's life was (a) odious and (b) the only thing anyone might wish to avoid. I actually think parecon would save so much time at diverse points - shopping, escaping ads, not dealing with taxes, not having to work seventy, sixty, fifty, or even forty hours, but only thirty, not advancing profit or surplus for only a few, not having to defend class interests, or ward off oppressive assaults - that even if I was wrong and Schweickart was right and participatory planning took a whole lot more time than I anticipate, nonetheless, on balance, there would be substantial time gains. Of course, if not, Schweickart is right that I would still be for it. Not out of obsession, but because while time matters to me, so does classlessness and even in Schweickart's tilted renditions, time lost wouldn't come close to offset the gains from solidarity, equity, diversity, and self management, not to mention proper pricing, etc. etc.
Schweickart says, "What would I like to consume this coming year? I've been thinking about giving up meat, so that gives me some options. I can compare what I spent on bacon with what I might spend on . . . what? Maybe soybeans." Actually, it is not such a dumb task, but Schweickart ignores that it is rather easy to do all this at different levels of category, if one so chooses. One can operate at the level of chicken, duck, etc., or at the level of poultry. One can operate at the level of chicken, pork, beef, etc. or at the level of meat, and likewise for all other categories. Statistically, producers can easily move from demand for whole categories to demand for components within a category, and for planning purposes each person can be priced at average rates for the overall category. Is this viable? Only trying would tell for sure, but I think it would be. Updating preferences occurs during the whole year, as well. I can't present here everything Schweickart leaves out that both makes participatory planning itself more streamlined and less time consuming, but that also explains all the offsetting gains, not only in time spent, but in equity, solidarity, diversity, self management, and classlessness. But I have put it in the book, at least as well as I could perceive it in the evolving model.
Schweickart says, "We have a problem here. If I don't specify what gifts I want, including such details as size, style and color, how are the producers going to know what to produce?" The answer, of course, is that they are sensible at what they do and therefore have a host of ways of knowing the proportions of people in various sizes, and favoring various colors, from among a total that wants sweaters, or socks, or what have you. And they can adapt their choices as the year progresses and so too can producers adapt their products.
My problem with Schweickart's review is that while it is fine to raise the points he does, it is not fine, I think, to act as though the book itself didn't both raise them and address them, as well as far more substantive matters, nor is it fine to ignore the actual reasons offered for participatory planning, as compared to having markets, say - which merely misprice all goods, often by as much as an order of magnitude, impose a rat race process and mentality, require virtually unlimited growth and thus imposes long hours despite counter desires, and impose class division. In contrast, even if Schweickart were right, participatory planning - that is, cooperatively negotiating the whole economy's direction and content - would actually take some time and involve some thought, while eliminating all the other mentioned debits. Well, that's true enoughâ€¦but put that way, perhaps it is less off putting.
Schweickart says, "How will the producers know what kind of skirt [buyers] want or the kind of sweater I'd like to give my wife if we don't specify these details on our consumption-preference list?" The answer is, of course, that in a parecon they don't explicitly know, rather they do their best to provide quality items that people will like. If people don't like some, they don't provide more of that. And so on. Markets are somewhat like that, though in markets there is the constraint that profits have to be maximized and the workforce has to be kept subordinate. If parecon producers offer up skirts or sweaters people don't like, despite their testing them with control groups, and so on, people won't purchase them at distribution centers, and styles will be changed. But the bigger issue is precisely as I offered in the brief comment that Schweickart derisively quotedâ€¦ "Applying all this to skirts, we should want the tastes and preferences of all workers and consumers and particularly of people who wear them and of those who produce skirts to interactively proportionately influence the length and color, as well as their number and composition, their method of production, and so on--instead of profit seeking determining the result."
For Schweickart, this difference - between competitive profit seeking (or surplus expanding) on the one hand, and self managing consumers and producers' desires, on the other hand - determining styles not to mention determining methods of production, work place conditions, relative values, income distribution, workday length, and collective goods provision, etc. - is inconsequential, and even silly, next to the serious issue which for him seems to be only that participatory planning would demand some part of one's time in a different way than we are currently used to a few weeks a year. Despite valuing time so much, Schweickart nonetheless ignores time-gains during all other times of the year. Well, different strokes for different folks, I guess. And I think that, indeed, that's what our differences stem from, different values. But, in any event, for Schweickart to suggest that it is simply impossible for people to propose consumption and for workers to propose production, and for a cooperative negotiation to arrive at proximate equality between those proposals by their steady refinement is simply scare mongering, rather than as he would put it, highlighting an obvious reality that only a self deluded person could be blind to. We are, indeed, far apart.
Schweickart says "Maybe I'm just being picky," but actually, I don't see it that way. His broad concerns are real and valid. The problem is, they are dealt with, at length, in the book. So why did the logic and argument of the book not register? Was it a fault of the writing, or the reading?
Schweickart says, "Maybe most people will just look at last year's list and make only a few changes. (Of course there are 100 million households in the U.S., so even 'a few' will be millions, but never mind. Let's move on.)" What is this kind of formulation supposed to convey? That he is generously skipping over a major problem? In fact, of course, changes mostly average out. This is the kind of calculation, without nearly as useful data, and with highly skewed motivations, firms employ now. Let's assume every living unit in a parecon U.S. had some kind of ecologically sensible vehicle, say 150 million of them in all. Each year let's say six percent need to be replaced. So 9 million people who last year bought one, this year won't, and will have extra income for other things. Maybe a piano, or whatever. Another 9 million will now get one, which they didn't last year, having less income for other things. So what is Schweickart's point about it being millions? Of course it is millions. Now let's suppose there is something important, a new technology available for transport, and instead of 9 million, 30 million want a new vehicle. Well this will certainly have large repercussions, indeed. Markets routinely screw up this kind of thingâ€¦not to mention having the prices horribly wrong in any event, mistreating the producers, not having the vehicles ecologically sound, and so on. Participatory planning would encounter no particular difficulties dealing with it.
Schweickart says, "I've been quoting from Albert to assure the reader that I am not making this up." Well actually, he did very selective quoting, as anyone must, but, okay, the reader can decide whether I and others advocating parecon are irrationally out of touch with reality, on Schweickart's word that this is so, or can investigate for themselves. I hope they will do the latter. The issues seem more than important enough. Class division and class rule - or not.
The Parecon Phenomenon 2:
Wise Option or Delusional Silliness?
When someone says "I am not caricaturing his position," as Schweickart tells us, does it ring any bells for you. It would for me, even if I was unfamiliar with this vision. He says "I have been trying to imagine what Albert's proposals would require, concretely, if we tried to implement them" but fails to say that in my writing I do the same thing, describing actual planning sessions, the actual work situations and processes one might expect, and so on, but making perfectly clear that it is just to get a feeling for possibilities, to see the possible texture, and so on. Such features will emerge fully, and in diverse patterns, only in practice.
At this point, Schweickart says, "It is inconceivable to me that such a system would work. It is hard for me to imagine any rational being thinking otherwise."
Well, he now has a conundrum. If his image of parecon is accurate, he deduces that I must be irrational, and likewise the people who he notes, and who he admires, who have urged attention to parecon, and the people creating parecon institutions, and the people translating it into numerous languages, and so on, must also be irrational. That's why Schweickart wrings his hands trying to explain what is to him the inexplicable "parecon phenomenon." Why in hell's bells are there parecon web pages in multiple languages, overseen by interested parties in numerous countries? Why are there pareconish institutions popping up, people doing their university theses on it, and so on? Madness. Interestingly, it doesn't occur to Schweickart to even entertain the possibility that just perhaps we are rational, and he has missed some key insights and relations.
Schweickart says, getting explicit I guess for consistency's sake, "it's an impolite question, but it has to be asked. Why have Chomsky, et al. endorsed such nonsense?" Clearly, he deduces, I must have tricked or pleaded Chomsky into it, and likewise for even those advocates that I don't know, that I have never communicated with, etc. That's also why people are creating new institutions using balanced job complexes, I guess. Silly people. Schweickart's second explicit question is why have I not renounced this idiotic system. He decides it is because I am so driven by hope that classlessness is possible that I have lost touch with reason. Okay, that could be true. Such things do happen. Readers and others will have to decide.
Shareable Vision or Disposable Nonsense?
At any rate, having in his view buried parecon as utterly beyond the pale in its divorce from reality, Schweickart finally says something about its merits if it were viable. He asks, quite reasonably, "Why would anyone want to live in such a system?"
He asserts, not so reasonably, "It is a system obsessed with comparison (Is your job complex more empowering than mine?), with monitoring (You are not working at average intensity, mate--get with the program), with the details of consumption (How many rolls of toilet paper will I need next year? Why are some of my neighbors still using the kind not made of recycled paper?)."
I fail to see, I admit, when I ignore Schweickart's derisive tone and add just a little context, all of which Schweickart presumably read about in detail but discounted as not even worth noting, what the problem is with the above concerns - not obsessions, of course.
In the broad scale, for example, it is indeed important, even paramount, whether job complexes are balanced, and this is not just for personal fairness, which is important enough, but to avoid class division and class rule. If that claim is true, than Schweickart's rendition is silly, isn't it? So why didn't he take up the claim, I wonder.
As to Schweickart's concern about monitoring, how important parecon workers find differentials in effort and how much time and energy they want to give to discerning them will be up to them. I bet all workers will feel that whatever choice is made in their workplace, it is a gigantic improvement over a competitive market imposing vast income differentials based on variables other than effort, not to mention imposing class differentiation in decision making in the firm. Where is the obsession part?
Likewise, regarding consumption, I claim that being concerned, not obsessed, about consumption's social, ecological, and personal implications, as well as about its implications for producers, particularly during a planning period but in general thereafter too, will, in a civilized society, be considered natural and part of life - somewhat onerous but also somewhat engaging and interesting - and in any case a vast improvement on being excluded from significantly influencing all large scale consumption/production decisions, and from having accurate and full information or valuations, not to mention suffering all kinds of pollution, shoddy production, advertising, and so on, as a by-product.
But while I don't see even a single problem to work on in Schweickart's list of damning ills, I do see a problem with Schweickart leaving out gains that might help explain what attracts people like myself, other advocates, noted commentators, and so on, to parecon - minor virtues like attaining equitable income distribution, accurate valuations of products, self management, classlessness, ecological attentiveness, solidarity based on shared self interests, and so on.
Schweickart is disdainful that my book Parecon: Life After Capitalism didn't discuss strategy for attaining a parecon. Well, before talking about attaining a system, one needs to have agreement that it is worth attaining. I was working on that prior problem, in the book that he read. In other writings I have addressed at length more strategic matters, of concern to folks who already advocate attaining parecon.
Schweickart says, "Where does this leave us? Must we give up on the dream of a humane future beyond capitalism? I think not--but we must think hard about the viability of the alternatives we propose. We must also pay attention to the ethical foundations of our proposals." I find this pretty incredible, I have to say. It's not that I disagree, on the contrary, I very much agree. That's the problem. Schweickart read Parecon and, despite being a philosopher and according to the above considering ethical foundations centrally important, said not a single word about the book's very explicit presentation of ethnical foundations. I wonder why.
Schweickart says, "in particular, we should reject the obsessive egalitarianism that underlies the Parecon proposal. This strict egalitarianism is morally problematic." There's that word again, obsession, obsessive, whatever. Well maybe. But before rushing to the conclusion that only a fool would advocate pareconish egalitarianism, you might wonder what you would be rejecting if you followed Schweickart's advice? Mainly, first, you would be rejecting the idea that we shouldn't have a class that monopolizes empowering labor and rules the economy above a class that carries out orders and does rote and tedious labor. You would be rejecting the idea that we should equalize access to empowering conditions. And likewise, second, you would be rejecting the idea that everyone should have a share of the total social product proportionate to the duration, intensity, and onerousness of the socially valued labor they contributed to its production. That's way too egalitarian, too, it seems.
Schweickart says, "[parecon would] undercut the generosity of spirit a socialist ethic should promote." When I read that sentence, I admit I was at a loss to understand. How could having equitable incomes and classless allocation of empowering conditions, instead of having gross income differentials and class division, undermine generosity, I wondered?
Schweickart explained. "Suppose, for example, that I am happy with my work and with my level of consumption. Then I learn that you got more than I did without working any harder. May I take vicarious pleasure in your good fortune? May I fantasize that I too might one day get lucky?" Is this really the substance of Schweickart's concern about equitable distribution and empowerment? He goes on, "if your greater income is a reward for your greater contribution, may I feel good that you are so honored?"
Well, let's see. Does Schweickart feel good that NBA players earn fifty or even a hundred times what he does? Would he feel good working in a plant where managers existed and earned ten or twenty times what he did, instead of in a plant where he and everyone had similarly empowering labor, and earned differently only due to their actual efforts? What would he say to the custodian who cleans his office at night while he is at home who doesn't take vicarious joy out of Schweickart earning two or three times as much, but instead says he isn't so pleased at Schweickart earning more for doing a far more cushy job and that he is tired as hell of having no say over his life and sick of economic institutions that enforce a class above him ruling over him?
Schweickart says "May I consider honing my own talents so that I too might be rewarded more?" How about honing his talents, instead, so he can enjoy the status and pleasure of achievement, as well as fulfilling his capacities? And what does he think when people opt to hone their bargaining power, which is what is actually relevant in a market system? Is that good? Talents, by the way, are generally overwhelmingly inbornâ€¦which is why no matter how long Schweickart honed his talents, he would not be able to earn like Kobe Bryant or Bode Miller. What Schweickart really means, is may I consider increasing my skills and knowledge through training, and in a parecon, of course, if that contributes to socially valued productivity (which is what Schweickart is asking about) it is remunerated like all valued effort. Likewise, power has to do with many variables, which is why no matter what he hones, Schweickart is not going to earn like a CEO of a corporation, or its lawyers, in a market system.
Schweickart is talking about incomes, above, as if the issue is quite modest differentials that are forbidden. But quite modest differentials, perhaps up to two-to-one in some cases, are precisely what arise from differences in duration, intensity, and onerousness, and certainly not forbidden in a parecon. Differences in property, power, or even contribution to output (which includes being lucky enough to have better tools, or to happen to be producing something more valued, or to be lucky enough to be born Barbara Streisand or otherwise productively genetically endowed, not to mention due to being greedy and callous enough to accrue sufficient bargaining power to compel huge payments) that markets reward all yield not modest income differences but huge income differences that in turn lead to concentrations of power and wealth and obliterate self management and solidarity while generating a class divided competitive result.
Schweickart says, in a parecon "If you got more than me without working any harder, I am a victim of injustice. Righteous indignation is the appropriate response, not pleasure or inspiration. I experience your success as my humiliation. This is not an ethic of solidarity." Well, maybe that's how things would appear for Schweickart, I don't know. But actually, in a parecon one person's great success - say inventing something, performing incredibly well, being brilliant at some task, having great productivity in some pursuit, or whatever, will have exactly the implications Schweickart describes. We will celebrate it, be inspired by it, enjoy it, take vicarious pleasure in it, etc. There will be no need to be materially jealous of it, however, because income isn't involved in the corporate market sense. In fact, we all benefit together. Increases in output increase the average social income. Increases in tools to do work without suffering harsh conditions, improve the average balanced job complex of society. Increases in knowledge, art, etc. are equally accessible to all. And so on. My income goes up only if I work harder, longer, etc. - and why would anyone begrudge that - or if great achievements that we can all revel in push up the social average for everyone. What Schweickart says is that if in a parecon things happened which in fact don't happen there, such as people being remunerated for inborn talent, people would find it unjust. It's an odd formulation, but it's true. In contrast, people who aren't on top find what actually happens in a market system to be unjust. And it isn't just that parecon eliminates the most damning economic obstacles to solidarity - giant in come differences, class domination, etc. - it creates a context in which we each have to be concerned with everyone else's well being to most effectively advance our own. Social averages affect everyone. Regarding interpersonal relations and solidarity, parecon accomplishes what Schweickart seems to be asking for.
Schweickart is saying, just to hammer this home, if we have a system that achieves equity - having defined equity as income according to effort and sacrifice - people will see violations of that type of equity as unjust. That's correct. He also implies that people will become obsessed lunatics, seeing any deviation that arise, however small and due to ignorance of exact measure, as reason for heartbreak or anger. That's absurd. He ignores that in a parecon remuneration is not only morally just but provides appropriate economic incentives. Cause for feeling relations are unjust exist, however, intrinsically and always in what a market system constantly and persistently imposes on us, unless one is deluded, or self delusional, about what the word "unjust" means.
Schweickart moves from implying that there is something contrary to solidarity about workers in a plant being concerned if one of them against the logic of the system is being lazy all day but is taking pay that they rightfully earned (though he doesn't seem to think that having managers govern your day from above, and earn more pay for working shorter hours, less hard, and in less onerous conditions, all in accord with system dictates, will generate any feelings contrary to solidarity), to saying, as a way to ridicule parecon yet again, "strict egalitarianism is the ethic of squabbling siblings. (Gary got a bigger piece of pie than me. That's not fair! Gary gets to stay up later than me. That's not fair! Dad likes Gary better than me. That's not fair!) It is not an ethical principle that should command our allegiance."
I don't know quite what to say. The book Parecon includes an extended discussion of the underlying morals of the system, including, bearing on Schweickart's concern, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially useful labor, including extensively comparing it to other options. If the above is really what Schweickart thinks after reading those discussions, perhaps he is worse at philosophy than he is at economics.
The Ideological Difference:
To Market, or Not?
And now comes the real heart of it. Schweickart says, "If we want to construct an economically viable, ethically desirable, alternative to capitalism, we should distance ourselves not only from Albert's obsessive egalitarianism, but also from his implacable hostility to markets." Now I am not only obsessive, but implacable. That aside, Schweickart is, in fact, an advocate of market socialism, as he would proudly verify, a system which I reject for a host of reasons, some of which he quotes: "Markets aren't a little bad, or even just very bad in some contexts. Instead, in all contexts, markets instill anti-social motivations in buyers and sellers, misprice items that are exchanged, misdirect aims regarding what to produce in what quantities and by what means, mis-remunerate producers, introduce class divisions and class rule, and embody an imperial logic that spreads itself throughout economic life."
Indeed, I think all the above, which Schweickart quoted, though I could extend the list greatly, and I argue very closely why these ills arise from markets, among other problems. Schweickart's response is "Markets indeed have defects, but they have virtues as well." They do all the above nasty things - he doesn't deny any of my claims - but, oh yes, they also do accomplish some useful things sufficiently for the economy to run. Well, I agree with that. I don't think, however, that it is enough to offset all the above deficits, especially since participatory planning can accomplish allocation not just sufficiently for an economy to run, but in accord with producers' and consumers' preferences, in accord with assessments of true social costs and benefits, and without all the ills noted for markets, instead fostering solidarity, elevating diversity, furthering equity, and embodying self management.
Schweickart says, "we need to think dialectically about markets." I think he means we need to pay attention to both virtues and debits of markets, and again I agree. That's why I am a market abolitionist. In fact, sometimes looking around at what markets have wrought, and thinking through the properties of a system built on the precept that we should buy cheap and sell dear so as to fleece our exchange partner because nice guys finish last, I admit that I wonder how any rational person could possibly advocate markets, but I of course know many who do.
Schweickart says, "markets are democratic (in that they respond to consumer preferences), and they are undemocratic, (since they tend to exacerbate income inequality)." This badly understates the situation. I can't provide full details here - this essay is way too long already - but insofar as I am correct that markets inexorably induce a class division in which about 20% of the population overwhelmingly determines economic outcomes and the other 80% overwhelmingly obeys instructions, functions in contexts set by others, operates according to other's agendas, etc., and insofar as markets compel, against everyone's will, surplus maximization and unending accumulation, and insofar as they obscure true social costs and values which is information essential to informed decision making in general and specially regarding the ecology, markets make a travesty even of democracy, much less of self management. This is not to mention that via accumulation they yield huge centers of coercive power - corporations.
Schweickart says, "Markets enhance the space of individual freedom, (since consumer choices are not subject to the approval of others), and they contract the space of individual freedom, (since market choices often have third-party effects)." Again, to me this is strangely formulated. First off, in markets of course purchases are subject to approval, there are all kinds of laws preventing violations of noise norms, health norms, and so on and so forth, and notice, this is not a bad thing. But, more relevant, saying that my suffering disease or my having to pay to treat others suffering it, because markets ignore the social impact of transactions (third party effects) and therefore generate incredible pollution, is not a sidebar concern - but is enough reason, even just in itself, to abhor markets and seek an alternative.
Schweickart says, "Markets provide incentives for constructive behavior (efficient use of resources, innovation) and for destructive behavior (consumer manipulation, disregard of ecological consequences)." Actually, since markets require that we use resources and undertake innovation only and solely to enlarge surplus - not to meet needs except as a means to the other end - everything about them is alienated including their derivative "efficiency" and "innovation." In a market system, save insofar as some doctors and nurses rebel, we get health care because it is profitable - indeed, only if it is profitable - not because the system, or its members, are concerned about us. Pursuit of profit, or surplus, determines outcomes. Of course, beyond hospitals, this means pharmaceutical companies jack up prices at the expense of piling up corpses, vast stores of innovation goes into creating manipulative packaging and advertising, and so on. More, on what Schweickart admits is the for him lesser downside, markets don't just provide a little inclination to manipulate via ads or dump poisons on neighborhoods, they make such behavior absolutely essential in order to compete with other firms. They make it ubiquitous, not minor. Firms innovate a product for the same reason they dump toxic waste, to make surpluses with which to stay in business, and the latter is often far more rational for the firm than the former. Indeed, it is true that markets propel innovation and production, so much so that we have to work far longer hours and far more intensely than our needs for produced goods warrant.
Schweickart says, "Neither market fundamentalism nor market rejectionism is an appropriate response to the reality of economic complexity." Why is this so? Is it because the middle ground is always more sensible? Well, that's just not the case. We don't say about dictatorship, which can accomplish political functions sufficiently for states to run, that dictatorship has, in context, some benefits and some debits, and so we shouldn't be dictatorship rejectionists. The reality of economic complexity, or of political complexity, does not rule out having values that preclude employing certain institutions which run rampant over those values. Call me implacable if you wish, but I remain a market abolitionist, even though I know markets are going to be around for some time to come.
Schweickart says, "God knows, we do not want to live in a world dominated by rapacious, unaccountable economic institutions that pit worker against worker, drive levels of inequality to almost unimaginable levels, and are in the process of devastating the ecology of the planet." Indeed. I agree. So I propose, in place of both capitalism and what is called market socialism but which is really a coordinator class ruled economy that is better called market coordinatorism - participatory economics. I claim it is classless. I claim it attends to true social costs and benefits including ecological ones. I claim it creates a context in which workers and consumers have shared rather than opposed interests and operate via cooperative rather than competitive allocation. I claim this system attains equity rather than vast inequality. Do I claim these things due to an obsessive irrationality that is shared with other advocates? That's not for me to judge.
The Final Tally:
No Going Back
Schweickart says, "But a life preoccupied with negotiating work complexes [read: once a year balancing job complexes], forecasting one's future consumption [read: during a once yearly planning process], revising lists [read: ditto], scrutinizing the consumption lists of one's anonymous neighbors [read: no one but a lunatic would do this, nor would doing it have any effect], posting notes on the qualitative aspects of desired purchases [read: such as letting consumers know that a certain kind of work is horrendously debilitating and dangerous which is why supply for its products is being held down, or letting producers know that a climate change or simultaneous collapse of old heating units is the cause of a greatly unexpected rise in demand for boilers so that workers ought to quickly accommodate it], and voting on national plans vastly more complicated than the Federal Budget [read: to facilitate planning that is already almost complete choosing modest differences in some key large scale variables by vote] is not the answer."
Okay, I relent. If one can find a way to attain economic justice and equity, self management, and classlessness, that doesn't have these (for Schweickart) incredible debits, that's fine by me. It would certainly be worth considering very seriously. But the idea that the way to attain truly just outcomes is to retain markets, corporate divisions of labor, and remuneration for power or output, I find less than unconvincing.
Parecon is for me a classless, self managing, economic system out there in possibility space that we can try to discern and reveal, and that we can also work toward attaining, refining our understanding of it, and our implementations of aspects of it, and even our implementations of all of it, as we learn more about its properties. Yes, I admit, I take this as a matter of (I hope well informed) faith. I assume a classless economy is possible. I can't know that for sure, however, as yet. And in the book Parecon I tried to discern and describe some of that classless, self managing, economy's key features as best I could, to help facilitate making the economy real, not just possible, before too many more souls are sundered by obsessive, implacable, irrational, class division.