Edward Bellamy And The Twenty First Century
It is not uncommon for geniuses to suffer from lack of recognition during their lives only to be canonized as intellectual giants after their departure. Edward Bellamy is a rare opposite case. The popular response to Looking Backward was so overwhelming that Bellamy was drafted into the life of an activist until his death by the Nationalist Clubs that sprang up to spread his gospel — only to become a forgotten social critic twenty years after his death. The mainstream explanation is that his ideas did not withstand the test of time. I believe he has been unfairly and unfortunately forgotten.
I find him more incisive than most contemporary critics of capitalism. I believe his vision of a just economy is logically air tight and a peerless guide to activists fighting for economic justice in the century to come. And where he seems to have missed the mark, I am reminded mostly of the incredible advantage of hindsight. Most importantly, I do not find that any weaknesses in Bellamy’s views revealed by twentieth century history negate the strengths of his most insightful contributions. As a result, while the vision of a desirable alternative to capitalism I call a participatory economy differs from the economy Bellamy described in Looking Backward and Equality in important respects, I see a participatory economy as correcting authoritarian weaknesses in Bellamy’s vision while preserving his commitment to economic justice as equality. First I present some of Bellamy’s key insights that have withstood the test of time. Next I consider a blind spot in Bellamy’s eye regarding economic self-management. And finally, I explain how Bellamy’s principle of equality is incorporated into the core of a participatory economy — the kind of economy I believe is the best guide for economic reformers and activists as the struggle to replace the economics of competition and greed with the economics of equitable cooperation continues into the twenty-first century.
A century later Bellamy’s moral critique of capitalism and argument that a superior alternative is possible stand without peer. Marxist critiques of capitalism that dominated the twentieth century were considerably more convoluted, but rarely more insightful. And most post-marxist evaluations of the social and moral character of capitalism today are timid and shallow in comparison to Bellamy’s critique. Similarly, Bellamy’s description of a desirable alternative to capitalism based on collective management of all the productive resources of the nation for the equal benefit of all is compelling and inspiring compared to most alternatives to capitalism discussed in the aftermath of the demise of Communism.
Listen to Bellamy explain the social essence of capitalism in terms that all can understand:
Perhaps I cannot do better than to compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging, though the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of drawing the coach at all along so hard a road, the top was covered with passengers who never got down, even at the steepest ascents. These seats on top were very breezy and comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could enjoy the scenery at their leisure, or critically discuss the merits of the straining team. Naturally such places were in great demand and the competition for them was keen, every one seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the coach a man could leave his seat to whom he wished, but on the other hand there were many accidents by which it might at any time be wholly lost. For all that they were so easy, the seats were very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were instantly compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It was naturally regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one’s seat, and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their friends was a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who rode.
But did they think only of themselves? You ask. Was not their very luxury rendered intolerable to them by comparison with the lot of their brothers and sisters in the harness, and the knowledge that their own weight added to their toil? Had they no compassion for fellow beings from whom fortune only distinguished them? Oh, yes: commiseration was frequently expressed by those who rode for those who had to pull the coach, especially when the vehicle came to a bad place in the road, as it was constantly doing, or to a particularly steep hill. At such times, the desperate straining of the team, their agonized leaping and plunging under the pitiless lashing of hunger, the many who fainted at the rope and were trampled in the mire, made a very distressing spectacle, which often called forth highly creditable displays of feeling on the top of the coach. At such times the passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the rope, exhorting them to patience, and holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot, while others contributed to buy salves and liniments for the crippled and injured. It was agreed that it was a great pity that the coach should be so hard to pull, and there was a sense of general relief when the specially bad piece of road was gotten over. This relief was not, indeed, wholly on account of the team, for there was always some danger at these bad places of a general overturn in which all would lose their seats.
It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the spectacle of the misery of the toilers at the rope was to enhance the passengers’ sense of the value of their seats upon the coach, and to cause them to hold on to them more desperately than before. If the passengers could only have felt assured that neither they nor their friends would ever fall from the top, it is probable that, beyond contributing to the funds for liniments and bandages, they would have troubled themselves extremely little about those who dragged the coach.
I am well aware that this will appear to the men and women of the twentieth century an incredible inhumanity, but there are two facts, both very curious, which partly explain it. In the first place, it was firmly and sincerely believed that there was no other way in which Society could get along, except the many pulled at the rope and the few rode, and not only this, but that no very radical improvement even was possible, either in the harness, the coach, the roadway, or the distribution of the toil. It had always been as it was, and it always would be so. It was a pity, but it could not be helped, and philosophy forbade wasting compassion on what was beyond remedy. The other fact is yet more curious, consisting in a singular hallucination which those on top of the coach generally shared, that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters who pulled the rope, but of finer clay, in some way belonging to a higher order of beings who might justly expect to be drawn. This seems unaccountable, but, as I once rode this very coach and shared that very hallucination, I ought to be believed. The strangest thing about the hallucination was that those who had but just climbed up from the ground, before they had outgrown the marks of the rope upon their hands, began to fall under its influence. As for those whose parents and grand-parents before them had been so fortunate as to keep their seats on the top, the conviction they cherished of the essential difference between their sort of humanity and the common article was absolute. The effect of such a delusion in moderating fellow feeling for the sufferings of the mass of men into a distant and philosophical compassion is obvious. To it I refer as the only extenuation I can offer for the indifference which, at the period I write of, marked my own attitude toward the misery of my brothers. [Looking Forward]
And who today explains as clearly the injustice of capitalist wages, or the moral logic of equal compensation for all who give their best effort?
Dr. Leete: You ask me how we regulate wages; I can only reply that there is no idea in the modern social economy which at all corresponds with what was meant by wages in your day.
Julian: By what title does the individual claim his particular share? What is the basis of allotment?
Dr. Leete: His title is his humanity. The basis of his claim is the fact that he is a man.
Julian: The fact that he is a man! Do you possibly mean that all have the same share?
Dr. Leete: Most assuredly.
Julian: But some men do twice the work of others. Are the clever workmen content with a plan that ranks them with the indifferent?
Dr. Leete: We leave no possible ground for any complaint of injustice by requiring precisely the same measure of service from all.
Julian: How can you do that, I should like to know, when no two men’s powers are the same?
Dr. Leete: Nothing could be simpler. We require of each that he shall make the same effort; that is, we demand of him the best service it is in his power to give.
Julian: And supposing all do the best they can, the amount of the product resulting is twice greater from one man than from another.
Dr. Leete: Very true, but the amount of the resulting product has nothing whatever to do with the question, which is one of desert. Desert is a moral question and the amount of effort alone is pertinent to the question of desert. All men who do their best, do the same. A man’s endowments, however godlike, merely fix the measure of his duty. The man of great endowments who does not do all he might, though he may do more than a man of small endowments who does his best, is deemed a less deserving worker than the latter, and dies a debtor to his fellows. The Creator sets men’s tasks for them by the faculties he gives them; we simply exact their fulfillment. The right of a man to maintenance at the nation’s table depends on the fact that he is a man, and not on the amount of health and strength he may have, so long as he does his best. From our point of view as to the collective ownership of the economic machinery of the social system, and the absolute claim of society collectively to its product, there is something amusing in the laborious, disputations by which your contemporaries used to try to settle just how much or little wages or compensation for services this or that individual or group was entitled to. Why, dear me, Julian, if the cleverest worker were limited to his own product, strictly separated and distinguished from the elements by which the use of the social machinery had multiplied it, he would fare no better than a half-starved savage. Everybody is entitled not only to his own product, but to vastly more — namely, to his share of the product of the social organism. But he is entitled to this share not on the grab-as-grab-can plan of your day, by which some made themselves millionaires and others were left beggars, but on equal terms with all his fellows. [Looking Forward]
And who better refutes the excuses for unequal wealth that are no different today than a hundred years ago ?
Speaking of the rich: You may set it down as a rule that the rich, the possessors of great wealth, had no moral right to it as based upon desert, for either their fortunes belonged to the class of inherited wealth, or else, when accumulated in a lifetime, necessarily represented chiefly the product of others, more or less forcibly or fraudulently obtained.... While the moralists and the clergy solemnly justified the inequalities of wealth and reproved the discontent of the poor on the ground that those inequalities were justified by natural differences in ability and diligence, they knew all the time, and everybody knew who listened to them, that the foundation principle of the whole property system was not ability, effort, or desert of any kind whatever, but merely the accident of birth, than which no possible claim could more completely mock at ethics....Cornered as to their moral claim to their possessions, heirs fell back on that of their ancestors. They argued that these ancestors, assuming them to have had a right by merit to their possessions, had as an incident of that merit the right to give them to others. Here, of course, they absolutely confused the ideas of legal and moral right. The law might indeed give a person power to transfer a legal title to property in any way that suited the lawmakers, but the meritorious right to the property, resting as it did on personal desert, could not in the nature of moral things be transferred or ascribed to anyone else. The cleverest lawyer would never have pretended that he could draw up a document that would carry over the smallest tittle of merit from one person to another, however close the tie of blood....
The rich were of two sorts: those who had inherited their wealth, and those who, as the saying was, had made it.... The most complete statement of the principle of the right of property that has come down to us is this maxim: ‘Every man is entitled to his own product, his whole product, and nothing but his product.’ Now this maxim had a double edge, a negative as well as a positive, and the negative edge is very sharp. If everybody was entitled to his own product, nobody else was entitled to any part of it, and if any one’s accumulation was found to contain any product not strictly his own, he stood condemned as a thief by the law he had invoked. If in the great fortunes of the stockjobbers, the railroad kings, the bankers, the great landlords, and the other moneyed lords who boasted that they had begun life with a shilling — if in these great fortunes of mushroom rapidity of growth there was anything that was properly the product of the efforts of anyone but the owner, it was not his, and his possession of it condemned him as a thief.... Why, dear me, there never would have been any possibility of making a great fortune in a lifetime if the maker had confined himself to his own product. The whole acknowledged art of wealth-making on a large scale consisted in devices for getting possession of other people’s product without too open breach of the law. It was a current and a true saying of the times that nobody could honestly acquire a million dollars. Everybody knew that it was only by extortion, speculation, stock gambling, or some other form of plunder under pretext of law that such a feat could be accomplished....
Besides, the main factor in the production of wealth among civilized men is the social organism, the machinery of associated labor and exchange by which hundreds of millions of individuals provide the demand for one another’s product and mutually complement one another’s labors, thereby making the productive and distributive systems of a nation and the world one great machine.... The element in the total industrial product which is due to the social organism is represented by the difference between the value of what one man produces as a worker in connection with the social organization and what he could produce in a condition of isolation. Working in concert with his fellows by aid of the social organism, he and they produce enough to support all in the highest luxury and refinement. Toiling in isolation, human experience has proved that he would be fortunate if he could at the utmost produce enough to keep himself alive....If the modern man, by aid of the social machinery, can produce fifty dollars’ worth of product where he could not produce over a quarter of a dollars’ worth without society, then forty-nine dollars and three quarters out of every fifty dollars must be credited to the social fund to be equally distributed. The industrial efficiency of two men working without society might have differed as two to one — that is, while one man was able to produce a full quarter dollar’s worth of work a day, the other could produce only twelve and a half cents’ worth. This was a very great difference under those circumstances, but twelve and a half cents is so slight a proportion of fifty dollars as not to be worth mentioning. [Equality]
And who today provides a better answer to the claim that profits are richly deserved because capitalists perform a valuable service in organizing and directing ?
The same plea might be urged, and has been, in defense of every system by which men have ever made other men their servants from the beginning. There was always some service, generally valuable and indispensable, which the oppressors could urge and did urge as the ground and excuse of the servitude they enforced. As men grew wiser they observed that they were paying a ruinous price for the services thus rendered. So at first they said to the kings: ‘To be sure, you help defend the state from foreigners and hang thieves, but it is too much to ask us to be your serfs in exchange; we can do better.’ And so they established republics.... And likewise, in this last matter we are speaking of, the people finally said to the capitalists: "Yes, you have organized our industry, but at the price of enslaving us. We can do better." and substituting national cooperation for capitalism, they established the industrial republic based on economic democracy. [Equality]
And who explains better that, despite superficial appearances, property is not about ownership of things but about exploitative human relations?
Things have no rights as against moral beings, and there appeared, therefore, no reason why individuals should not acquire an unlimited ownership of things so far as their abilities permitted.... But this view absolutely ignored the social consequences which result from an unequal distribution of material things in a world where everybody absolutely depends for life and all its uses on their share of those things. That is to say, the old so-called ethics of property absolutely overlooked the whole ethical side of the subject — namely its bearing on human relations.
I think we shall all understand the nature and value of these documents much better if, instead of speaking of them as titles of ownership in farms, factories, mines, railroads, etc. we state plainly that they were evidences that their possessors were the masters of various groups of men, women, and children in different parts of the country. Of course, as Julian says, the documents nominally state his title to things only, and say nothing about men and women. But it is the men and women who went with the lands, the machines, and various other things, and were bound to them by their bodily necessities, which gave all the value to the possession of the things.
These various sorts of so-called securities may be described as so many kinds of human harness by which the masses, broken and tamed by the pressure of want, were yoked and strapped to the chariots of the capitalists. For instance, here is a bundle of farm mortgages on Kansas farms. Very good; by virtue of the operation of this security certain Kansas farmers worked for the owner of it, and though they might never know who he was nor he who they were, yet they were as securely and certainly his tralls as if he had stood over them with a whip instead of siting in his parlor at Boston, New York, or London. This mortgage harness was generally used to hitch in the agricultural class of the population. Ah yes, these are shares in New England cotton factories. This sort of harness was chiefly used for women and children, the sizes ranging way down so as to fit girls and boys of eleven and twelve. Here now, is a little different sort. These are railroad, gas, and water-works shares. They were a sort of comprehensive harness, by which not only a particular class of workers but whole communities were hitched in and made to work for the owner of the security. And finally we have here the strongest harness of all, the Government bond. This document, you see, is a bond of the United States Government. By it the whole nation were harnessed to the coach of the owner of this bond; and, what was more, the driver in this case was the Government itself, against which the team could find it hard to kick. [Equality]
And consider Bellamy’s response to the belief that only material rewards are reliable incentives.
Does it then really seem to you that human nature is insensible to any motives save fear of want and love of luxury? Your contemporaries did not really think so, thought they might fancy they did. When it was a question of the grandest class of efforts, the most absolute self-devotion, they depended on quite other incentives. Not higher wages, but honor and the hope of men’s gratitude, patriotism and the inspiration of duty, were the motives which they set before their soldiers when it was a question of dying for the nation, and never was there an age of the world when those motives did not call out what is best and noblest in men. And not only this, but when you come to analyze the love of money which was the general impulse to effort in your day, you find that the dread of want and desire of luxury was but one of several motives which the pursuit of money represented; the others, and with many the more influential, being desire of power, of social position, and reputation for ability and success. So you see that though we have abolished poverty and the fear of it, and inordinate luxury with the hope of it, we have not touched the greater part of the motives which underlay the love of money in former times, or any of those which prompted the supremer sorts of effort.... With us, diligence in the national service is the sole and certain way to public repute.... The value of a man’s services to society fixes his rank in it. Compared with the effect of our social arrangements in impelling men to be zealous in business, we deem the object-lessons of biting poverty and wanton luxury on which you depended a device as weak and uncertain as it was barbaric. The lust of honor even in your sordid day notoriously impelled men to more desperate effort than the love of money could. [Looking Backward]
Finally, in an age that celebrates the spread of markets like the spread of God’s word, Bellamy’s simple commentary is reminiscent of the small boy in the children’s story who exclaimed that the emperor has no clothes.
People nowadays interchange gifts and favors out of friendship, but buying and selling is considered absolutely inconsistent with the mutual benevolence which should prevail between citizens and the sense of community of interest which supports our social system. According to our ideas, buying and selling is essentially anti-social in all its tendencies. It is an education in self-seeking at the expense of others, and no society whose citizens are trained in such a school can possibly rise above a very low grade of civilization. [Looking Backward]
A Blind Spot
Besides being a critic of capitalism and advocate of economic equality, Bellamy was a self-styled champion of democracy. He presented his economic vision as a direct extension of the American democratic political revolution into people’s economic lives:
Nationalism is economic democracy. It proposes to deliver society from the rule of the rich, and to establish economic equality by the application of the democratic formula to the production and distribution of wealth.... That is to say, it is proposed to harmonize the industrial and commercial system with the political, by bringing the former under popular government, as the latter has already been brought, to be administered as the political government is, by the equal voice of all for the equal benefit of all. As the political democracy seeks to guarantee men against oppression exercised upon them by political forms, so the economic democracy of Nationalism would guarantee them against the much more numerous and grievous oppressions exercised by economic methods. The economic democracy of nationalism is indeed the corollary and necessary supplement of political democracy, without which the latter must forever fail to secure to a people the equalities and liberties which it promises. [The Programme of the Nationalists]
But this does not mean that Bellamy understood clearly all that is required to promote and protect democratic decision making in a complex economy. Like many twentieth century anti-capitalist visionaries, he was naive about how easy it is for all citizens to actually jointly manage their human and physical capital once it is at their disposal -- democratically, equitably, and efficiently. And consequently, he was insufficiently wary of the possibility that new elites might usurp economic decision making power after the "capitalist plutocracy" was gone unless robust economic democracy quickly filled the vacuum. His words are just as prophetic today as when he wrote them a hundred years ago:
There are two principles on which the blended affairs of human beings in society may be regulated: Government by all for all, and Government by a few for a few. The time is at hand when it is to be determined whether the one principle or the other shall henceforth regulate the organization of human labor and the distribution of its fruits. [The Programme of the Nationalists]
But he grossly underestimated what is required to secure economic "Government by all for all." Bellamy thought once competition between a few capitalist plutocrats had been abolished clearing the way for rational democratic planning, the latter would quickly emerge. Like others after him, he reasoned that once those with an objective interest in opposing democratic planning for the equal benefit of all were powerless to do so, rational democratic planning would triumph because it was obviously in the best interests of everyone. Unfortunately economic democracy — decision making input in proportion to the degree one is affected — is not so easy to achieve. It requires appropriate institutions that encourage democratic habits of behavior. What those institutions are, and how they should function is not an intellectually trivial matter — contrary to Bellamy’s presumption. Moreover, Bellamy’s choice of a military hierarchy as the institutional role model for his new economy was, unfortunately, antithetical to the kind of democratic birthing required.
The line of promotion for the meritorious lies through three grades to the officer’s grade, and thence up through the lieutenancies to the captaincy or foremanship, and superintendency or colonel’s rank. Next, with an intervening grade in some of the larger trades, come the general of the guild, under whose immediate control all the operations of the trade are conducted. This officer is at the head of the national bureau representing his trade, and is responsible for its work to the administration. The general of his guild holds a splendid position, and one which amply satisfies the ambition of most men, but above his rank... is that of the chifs of the ten great departments, or groups of allied trades. The chiefs of these ten grand divisions of the industrial arm may be compared to your commanders of army corps, or lieutenant-generals, each having from a dozen to a score of generals of separate guilds reporting to him. Above these ten great officers, who form his council, is the general-in-chief, who is the President of the United States.
This vision is more in tune with Trotsky’s idea to "militarize labor" after the Civil War in Russia in 1921, or the system of Central Planning Stalin actually imposed in 1929 that expanded the ranks of the Prison Gulag by tens of millions, rather than a vision of workers and consumers managing their own activities. But Bellamy was so worried that if workers voted for their own officers this might prove "ruinous to the discipline of the guild by tempting the candidates to intrigue for the support of the workers under them" that he limited voting for higher echelons of the officer corps of the "industrial army" to retired officers!
Just here comes in a peculiarity of our system. The general of the guild is chosen from among the superintendents by vote of the honorary members of the build, that is, of those who have served their time in the guild and received their discharge.
No vote in who will be your boss in a rigid hierarchy of command is a far cry from self-management. Suffice it to say, the lessons of twentieth century Communism have taught us much about the ultimate result of an economy managed by a hierarchy no matter how meritorious and uncorrupt the commissars and economic ministers might be to start with. As much as Bellamy had to teach us about economic justice, the task of combining his ideas about economic equality with economic democracy awaited others.
Bellamy and Participatory Economics
Michael Albert and I are not the first since Bellamy to try and describe how an economy could achieve both economic justice and economic democracy. Council Communists, Anarcho Syndicalists, Guild Socialists, social Ecologists -- Peter Kropotkin, William Morris, Anton Pannekoek, G.D.H. Cole, Murray Bookchin, and the recently deceased Cornelius Castoriadis to name a few -- have all made important contributions in this regard. But in The Political Economy of Participatory Economics (Princeton University Press, 1991) and Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century (South End Press, 1991) Michael Albert and I tried to overcome some important deficiencies in earlier efforts. Nobody previously had spelled out a rigorous theoretical model of exactly how workers and consumers councils and federations could participate in a planning procedure that afforded them the opportunity to make economic decisions in proportion to the degree they are affected. And nobody had subjected such a planning procedure to a rigorous welfare theoretic analysis to determine under what conditions the planning procedure would converge to a feasible plan, and under what conditions that plan would be efficient as well as equitable. In other words, we set out to prove that an economy that delivered economic justice as Bellamy had explained it and provided workers and consumes with economic self-management and efficiency was theoretically possible. Given that many critics of capitalism had joined the ranks of capitalism’s champions in claiming that such an economy was theoretically impossible — a pipe dream — we think our work served an important purpose. In this final section I explain how Bellamy’s vision of economic justice is combined with economic democracy in a participatory economy.
Workers’ Councils and Balanced Job Complexes
In a participatory economy production is carried out by workers’ councils where each member has one vote. Everyone is free to apply for membership in the council of their choice, or form a new workers’ council with whomever they wish. Beyond this, individual work assignments are balanced for desirability and empowerment. Every economy organizes work tasks into "jobs" that define what tasks a particular person will perform. In hierarchical economies most jobs contain a number of similar, relatively undesirable and unempowering tasks, while a few jobs consist of relatively desirable and empowering tasks. But why should some people’s work lives be less desirable than others? Doesn’t taking equity seriously require balancing job complexes for desirability? Similarly, if we want everyone to have equal opportunity to participate in economic decision making, if we want to ensure that the formal right to participate translates into an effective right to participate, doesn’t this require balancing job complexes for empowerment? If some sweep floors all week, year in and year out, while others review new technologies and attend planning meetings all week, year in and year out, is it realistic to believe they have equal opportunity to participate simply because they each have one vote in the workers’ council. Doesn’t taking participation seriously require balancing job complexes for empowerment?
Bellamy did not propose to organize workers and consumers into democratic councils nor balance job complexes for empowerment. Instead he envisioned an efficient industrial army in which decision making power rests with a meritorious officer corps arranged in a hierarchical pyramid. As noted, Bellamy apparently felt that economic democracy could be adequately served by having the most competent represent the economic interests of all citizens. Nor did Bellamy suggest balancing job complexes for desirability. Instead he proposed to resolve the problem that some tasks are less pleasant than others by having those who worked in less pleasant jobs work fewer hours than those whose work was more pleasant. In other words, Bellamy recognized that there must be justice in work as well as consumption. But instead of regrouping tasks to make job complexes equally desirable, he proposed adjusting hours to make job complexes that were not equally desirable into work days that were. I do not consider this a major difference between a participatory economy and Bellamy’s vision. I see no difference in principle here — simply a different practical choice about how to bring justice to our work lives — a choice probably best left to those who will actually work in workers’ councils when the time comes.
In any case, balancing job complexes for desirability and empowerment does not mean everyone must do everything. It does not mean and end to specialization. And it does not mean there is no role for expertise in a participatory economy. Each individual will still do a very small number of tasks, but some of them will be more enjoyable and some less, and some will be empowering and others less so. Moreover, this balancing can be achieved over a reasonable period of time.
Consumers’ Councils and Consumption According to Effort
In a participatory economy every individual, family, or living unit will belong to a neighborhood consumption council. Each neighborhood council will belong to a federation of neighborhood councils the size of a city ward or rural county. Each ward will belong to a city consumption council, each city and county council will belong to a state council, and each state council will belong to the national consumption council. Members of neighborhood councils will present consumption requests accompanied by effort ratings by their peers in their workplace. Using estimates of the social costs of producing different goods and services that are generated by the process of participatory planning described below, the social burdensomeness of consumers’ proposals can be compared to their effort ratings. Again, our participatory economy differs slightly from Bellamy’s vision without any difference in principle. Bellamy proposed to "exact" from each citizen the same level of effort or sacrifice — his or her very best effort with adjustments made in the number of hours people worked at jobs of different desirabilities. Once each had given the same — his or her very best — Bellamy concluded that each was entitled to an equal share of the benefits — equal consumption. While we do not foresee large differences between the efforts of different workers in a participatory economy, we see no reason not to accommodate whatever differences in people’s "work/leisure" preferences there may be. If some prefer to sacrifice more by working with greater intensity we allow them to consume more — provided their workmates confirm their greater sacrifice by awarding them a higher effort rating. Similarly, for those who wish a more leisurely pace of work, they may do so in a participatory economy by consuming less than those who work with greater intensity. What is critical is that the burdens and benefits of economic activity be fair. Bellamy proposes equal consumption rights for all and equal work burdens for all. We propose procedures that guarantee that the work/consumption package will be the same for everyone, while allowing for compensating variations between people’s sacrifices in work and consumption benefits. We and Bellamy both believe that the best incentives for "exacting" efforts are appeals to workers’ pride and sense of fairness. That emulation and social pressure are next best. And that material rewards are the least desirable incentives.
Bellamy wrote next to nothing about how planning would actually be done. In the century since his death we have had intellectual revolutions in mathematical programming theory and iterative planning procedures, the computer revolution, and dozens of national experiments in central planning spanning decades. We certainly should be able to say something more than Bellamy could about how to plan in a way that facilitates efficiency, equity, self-management and solidarity.
The participants in the planning procedure we call participatory planning are the workers’ councils and federations, the consumers’ councils and federations, and an Iteration Facilitation Board (IFB). The IFB announces what we call "indicative prices" for goods, resources, categories of labor, and capital stocks. Consumer councils and federations respond with consumption proposals taking the indicative prices of final goods and services as estimates of the social cost of providing them. Workers councils and federations respond with production proposals listing the outputs they would make available and the inputs they would need to make them, again, taking the indicative prices as estimates of the social benefits of outputs and opportunity costs of inputs. The IFB then calculates the excess demand or supply for each good, resource, or category of labor and adjusts the indicative price for the good up, or down, in light of the excess demand or supply. Using the new indicative prices consumer and worker councils and federations revise and resubmit their proposals.
Essentially the procedure "whittles’ overly optimistic, infeasible proposals down into a feasible plan in two different ways: Consumers requesting more than their effort ratings warrant are forced to reduce their requests, or shift their requests to less socially costly items, to achieve the approval of other consumer councils who regard their requests as greedy. Workers councils whose proposals have lower than average social benefit to social cost ratios are forced to increase either their efforts or efficiency to win the approval of other workers. As iterations proceed, proposals move closer to mutual feasibility and indicative prices more closely approximate true social opportunity costs. Since no participant in the planning procedure enjoys advantage over others, the procedure generates equity and efficiency simultaneously. The technical conditions required for our procedure to converge to a feasible and efficient plan, and the procedures that render participatory planning more practical and less time consuming under real world conditions, are the subject of our two books. But the result is to substantiate the possibility of an efficient economy that delivers equal outcomes — which Bellamy has taught us are the only fair outcomes — while facilitating democratic participation in economic decision making.
There are more similarities than differences between a participatory economy and Bellamy’s economic vision. We both insist that only equal outcomes are fair. We accept no equivocations about differences in inheritance, talent, education, or risk as justifications for unequal outcomes. Sometimes things are delilghtfully simple: differences in the burdens and benefits that people experience when they work and consume in the economy are unacceptable violations of economic justice. Moreover, preventing people from taking unfair advantage of those who are less fortunate is not a violation of people’s freedoms because nobody should be free to curtail the freedom, or to exploit others.
We also agree with Bellamy that a desirable economy cannot be a market economy. Efficiency, equity, and economic democracy, not to speak of solidarity, can only be achieved through planning. None have any more right to benefit than others from the physical and human productive resources of the Nation. Yet market systems inevitably allow some to benefit unjustly at the expense of others. Besides being a system of exploitation in the guise of mutual benefit, markets are a concession to intellectual and social laziness. Conscious coordination of our interrelated economic activities to make the results efficient and equitable and to give people control over their economic destinies is not easy. But markets are the copout answer. This is one of those situations where you get what you pay for. The efficiency, equity, and democratic benefits we get from the intellectual and social work it takes to consciously coordinate our economic cooperation rather than abandon governance of our economic affairs to the vagaries of the market place is well worth the price.
Finally, we agree with Bellamy that social incentives are not only preferable to greed and fear, they are far more powerful than those who would have us believe that capitalism or totalitarianism are the only humanly feasible alternatives attest. When people know that economic burdens and benefits are distributed equitably, and when people know that they, themselves, proposed, revised, and accepted their own parts of a plan, social incentives such as pride, emulation, and the sense of fairness and duty can be powerful indeed.
On the other hand, our vision of a desirable economy is one where ordinary workers and consumers participate fully in making the economic decisions that affect them. A participatory economy is an exercise in economic self-management. Bellamy’s vision was a meritocratic hierarchy where the most capable and dedicated were entrusted with making decisions that maximize the benefits that could be extracted from the physical and human resources available. Viewed as a decision making system, Bellamy’s Nationalism was more like a benevolent dictatorship than economic democracy, and had more in common with Soviet style central planning than with participatory planning.
Other differences are less consequential. Whether one balances job complexes for desirability or adjusts hours worked between jobs that are not equally unpleasant is not a major difference. And arranging procedures so that all the opportunity costs of making things are incorporated into decision makers’ assessments, rather than only the labor costs as Bellamy did, is not trivial, but is really only a technical matter. The important difference between Bellamy’s vision of economic Nationalism and our model of a participatory economy reduces to a difference over economic democracy. Exactly what is economic democracy, and how important is it? Is economic democracy easily achieved? Will it come about almost automatically after those who gained by subverting it are removed? Or does it require careful nurturing and specific institutional arrangements to achieve and preserve? In 1998 I answer these questions differently than Bellamy did in 1898. But I have the benefit of hindsight. No doubt Bellamy would have different answers if he were to wake up today, a hundred years after his death, as the hero in his incomparable utopian novel did, and survey the twentieth century history of the centrally planned economies. If Bellamy could look backward over the twentieth century as we can, I think his views on economic democracy would be similar to my own. In any case, I know my views on economic justice are the same as those he expressed far better than I can — more than a hundred years ago.