A Possible Better Future
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
The orthodox liberal recipe for enhancing the quality of life and managing the common good looks simple enough: Combine political democracy with free markets. In other words, political democracy would be the procedure for actualizing jointly two values: the pursuit of personal happiness and the public good.
However, though highly valuable, political democracy is insufficient, for it is vulnerable, as well as indifferent to other key values and the corresponding rights, chiefly livelihood, equality, and solidarity. This becomes particularly obvious every time the so-called free market fails, forcing millions to go back to square one and roll back their dreams of a better life.
As market failures become increasingly frequent, many people are getting skeptical about the very sustainability of capitalism. In recent times some have started to wonder whether Marx was right after all. But Marxism, the combination of statism with dictatorship, has not been exactly successful; worse, it is not viable, because it involves the contradiction between equality and dictatorship—the original sin of Marxist socialism.
As for democratic socialism, it is undoubtedly the most fair social regime, but it does not realize full social justice because it retains the private property of the key means of production, trade and finance, and because it is subject to the ups and downs of the global capitalist economy. Worse, most of the social-democratic parties have consistently sided with capitalism in foreign politics.
2 An alternative
Is there an alternative to the two classical varieties of socialism? I submit that the proper mechanism to actualize livelihood, equality, solidarity, the pursuit of happiness, competence, and the public good is not to shrink political democracy but to expand it into integral democracy (Bunge 2009). This may be defined as the joint rule of
1/ enviromental democracy: equal but managed access to natural resources and their sustainable exploitation;
2/ biological democracy: gender and color blindness;
3/ economic democracy: predominance of self-managed firms (family concerns, cooperatives, and nonprofits) rather than either private or state ownership and management of wealth;
4/ cultural democracy: equal access to the artistic, humanistic, scientific, and technological heritage;
5/ political democracy: self-government of manageable systems, and on the large scale freedom to elect public officers and run for public office, as well as competent, fair, and honest administration of the public goods;
6/ legal democracy: effective isonomy (the same laws for all); and
7/ global democracy: "respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples" (UN Charter, 1.2).
Let me spell out the preceding. Environmental democracy is more than just environmental protection: it is the right of everyone to enjoy clean air and drinkable water. It is also the right of everyone, not just the very rich, to exploit natural riches. But, to avoid squandering the latter, we need to manage them collectively in accordance with strict legislation based on sound resource-economic norms.
Biological democracy includes gender and ethnic equality, as well as the legal rights to personal property, and to equal wages for equal work. Everyone should be able to acquire the skills required to earn a decent wage and to buy or rent adequate living quarters in a clean and secure environment.
As conceived here, economic democracy-or participative economy, as Vanek (1975) and Albert (2003) have called it-consists in the collective ownership and management of firms by freely organized worker cooperatives. Only the strategic public goods, such as infrastructure and communications, as well as the energy sources, and some public services, should be owned and operated by the state. After all, this has traditionally been the declared function of the state: To manage the public goods. In other words, I advocate what has been called market socialism. This is the economy where all the firms are owned, operated and managed by their workers, none of them employs hired hands, and the state is very much like an advanced liberal state-minus military aggression.
Cultural democracy includes free education at all three levels, free inquiry, and the public ownership (by the state or by NGOs) of cultural resources such as laboratories, museums and libraries, zoos, aquaria and botanical gardens, as well as humanistic, scientific, and technological institutes.
Political democracy includes the right to vote and run for public office, and much more: It also involves the self-government of the workplace, as well as the right and duty to participate in some of the political processes that go on between elections, as well as in the activities of NGOs such as labor unions, nonprofits, clubs, and churches.
Legal democracy is, of course, the same as isonomy, or equality before the law in a society subject to the rule of equitable law. But this principle cannot be implemented wherever the law favors the powerful, or where the rich can afford to pay for better legal advice than the poor. (For instance, in the US, black murderers are about 12 times as likely to be convicted than their White counterparts.)
Finally, global democracy is the practice of liberté, égalité, fraternité among nations. Equivalently: world governance in the interest of all peoples, as well as of the future generations, and the concomitant end of regional and global cops. The attainment of these goals involves world disarmament, international cooperation, and global governance of the natural resources.
This concludes my characterization of integral democracy. What is the justification for it? Let us see.
3 Justification for integral democracy
Let me propose the following reasons for preferring integral democracy to all the other social regimes:
1/ Since different persons have different needs, dispositions and talents, everyone should get what he needs to realize herself, and should contribute to the common good to the best of her abilities (Blanc 1847): Neither unattended needs and frustrated legitimate aspirations, nor responsibility shirking.
2/ Since work is the ultimate source of all wealth (Smith, Ricardo and Marx), every able adult should have both the right and the duty to do gainful work: Neither alms nor rents nor spoils.
3/ Since everyone is entitled to the fruits of his labor (Locke and Marx), profits should be shared equitably: No exploitation.
4/ Since each person is "the only safe guardian of his own rights and interests" (Mill), all workers should have the same say in the way their workplace is organized: One worker, one vote in management.
5/ Because all work requires some skills, and since innovation is essential to biological and social survival, supervisors and managers should be technically competent besides being honest and fair. Bosses no, experts sí.
6/ The common good is best preserved when everyone has the opportunity to protect, use, and enrich it according to rules designed in the light of science and technology, and adopted democratically: Neither ungoverned nor mismanaged common goods.
7/ Since self-realization is a human right, and since freedom feels good, liberty should be protected along with equality: No liberty with inequity.
8/ Since everyone needs help from someone else, and because it feels good to do good, altruism and solidarity should be regarded as essential to the civilized coexistence of all social groups, and they should be promoted accordingly: No rights without duties.
9/ Human rights can only be guaranteed where benefits and burdens are equitably distributed-so that no person, organization, or nation can take advantage of any other.
10/ Peace can only be preserved through universal disarmament, if no governments or corporations have the clout to start wars, and if all nations belong to wide networks that make peaceful trade and cooperation more profitable than war. World peace through international cooperation and the rule of international law.
This concludes the justification of our eutopia. Let us next compare it with the seven best known socio-economic-political regimes: primitive communism (as among the Amazonian Indians), slavery (as in imperial Rome), serfdom (as in medieval France), unbridled capitalism (as in the Gilded Age), state socialism (as in the late USSR), welfare capitalism (as in Britain and the US), and social democracy (as in continental Western Europe, particularly in the Nordic nations). However, before comparing them we must declare
our values, as Gunnar Myrdal (1969), one of the architects of the
Swedish welfare state, would have said.
5 Axiological basis for comparison
To evaluate any social regime we must see how well it realizes six key social values: security (S), liberty (L), equality (E), fraternity (F), justice (J), and competence (C). Each of these values is composite. In particular, security (S) has four components: personal security, environmental safety, human rights, and economic security; and liberty (L) is composed of civil rights, free initiative (to be distinguished from free enterprise), and cultural freedom.
I submit that, although those six primary values are logically independent from one another (i.e., not inter-definable), in practice they hang together, for the realization of each of them depends upon that of the others. Consequently none of the six can be said to be more important than its partners. In particular, security (S), justice (J), equality (E), fraternity (F), and competence (C) are jointly necessary for liberty (L). Hence the classical French slogan should be completed to read Vie, liberté, égalité, fraternité, justice, compétence.
Arguably, these six values shape integral democracy, in contradistinction to purely political democracy. The system of values in question may be pictured as forming this hexagon:
6 Comparison and means
Let us see how these values fare in the various social orders mentioned above. We shall assign 0 to total absence, 1 to full realization, and a fraction in between to partial realization. For instance, liberty (L) is nearly total in primitive communism; almost nil in slavery, serfdom, Soviet-style communism, fascism, and theocracy; 1/4 in unbridled capitalism (where there is only political freedom); 1/2 in welfare capitalism (where there is political liberty and freedom from starvation); ¾ in social democracy (where politics is not dominated by big business); and 1 in integral democracy.
If these evaluations are roughly correct, then integral democracy is superior to all the other regimes, followed closely by social democracy. Should we prefer the first best, the practical problem is how to construct it. Violent revolution is out of the question because violence tends to breed violence, which is both morally wrong and practically inexpedient. (Still, revolution is the last resort against a dictatorship that refuses to compromise.)
The purely parliamentary road to radical social reform too is blocked because legally elected parliaments are expected to abide by the law of the land, which may favor privilege. There is, however, a possible way out, namely to combine cooperatives with political activism: that is, to multiply the number of cooperative firms, reinforce their inter-firm cooperation, and fight for legislation to protect them. In other words, it is conceivable that a more just society may emerge from the conjunction of cooperative firms and democratic contention. But for this to happen, radically new political parties must emerge. Regrettably, political philosophers, such as the present writer, are not competent to offer practical suggestions for belling this particular cat.
Albert, Michael. 2003. Parecon: Life After Capitalism. London: Verso.
Blanc, Louis. 1847 . L'organisation du travail, 5th ed. Paris: Société de l'Industrie Fraternelle.
Bunge, Mario. 2009. Political Philosophy. Nw Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Myrdal, Gunnar. 1969. Objectivity in Social Science. New York: Pantheon Books.
Vanek, Jaroslav. 1975. Self-Management: Economic Liberation of Man. Harmondsworth: Penguin.