Movement for a Participatory Economy: An Overview
Besides immediate objectives, great social movements need long-run goals for inspiration and guidance. The abolitionist movement to end slavery and the movement for the eight-hour day both in the nineteenth century, the movement for women's suffrage at the turn of the century, the labor movement that led to the CIO in the 1930's, the civil rights, student, and peace movements seeking to expand justice in the 1960's, and the women's liberation movement in the 1970's all bear out the point.
What about a 21st century movement to replace greedy competition with equitable cooperation? For that we will need visionary long-run goals as well as a battle plan of immediate objectives. In twelve commentaries over the next few months, I will suggest some long-run goals and some immediate objectives that might help define a mass movement seeking a "participatory economy." Four themes for further exploration will be central.
- Just Rewards
- Self Management
- Dignified Work
In the U.S. and all other countries vast differentials in income and wealth stem from numerous factors. Why should we favor massive redistribution of wealth and remuneration according to only effort and sacrifice as Just Reward, instead of permitting huge disparities of wealth and rewarding according to profit, power, or output?
Why should we want Bill Gates to lose his vast wealth and then earn only for work that he does and for how hard it is, but not for having contributed to the design or creation of a vast productive apparatus?
Why should we want surgeons and coal miners to earn only for the time they work and for how hard they work and for how much sacrifice is involved in their work, but not for the number of lives they save or the tons of coal they extract?
The first step in arguing for Just Rewards is elaborating the moral and economic grounds for advocating rewarding only effort and sacrifice. If we can answer the above questions and agree on the norm in a first commentary on the subject, the second step will be to consider how to fight for Just Rewards?
would clearly need to fight to reduce and ultimately eliminate pay differentials
based on race or gender, reduce and ultimately eliminate reward for property,
power, and/or contribution to output, and finally correlate rewards that people
receive to the levels of effort and sacrifice they actually expend. To create a
program furthering these ends a second commentary on Just Rewards will advocate
such reforms as affirmative action; profit, property, wealth, inheritance, and
income taxes; and a full employment program, minimum wage supports, increased
social wage payments, reverse income taxes, and many job actions for increased
wages, among other immediate objectives.
In contemporary societies, people at the top of corporations and government bureaucracies have vast economic power. Others mostly obey. Why should we aim to level these power differentials and seek self-management, defined as decision-making input proportionate to the degree one is affected by outcomes? Why not aim for "economic freedom," giving everyone the right to do whatever they wish with themselves and their property? Or why not seek simple democracy, giving everyone equal say over all economic decisions? Or why not seek meritocracy, giving the more knowledgeable or more successful more say than those who are less knowledgeable or less successful?
If we can answer these questions and decide that Self Management is the best aim, do we need new institutions like workers' and consumers' councils and federations to achieve it? Do we need new rules for discussion and voting within councils and federations? What changes in current workplace and consumption relations, and what changes in the generation and distribution of information about the economy, will move us toward self-management?
commentary in this series of twelve will defend self-management as the best
decision making goal for a Movement for Participatory Economy. A second
commentary in the series will explore ways to achieve self-managed
decision-making including strategies to legitimate and create workers and
consumers councils, ideas for changes in decision-making procedures within
workplaces, and demands to replace private decision-making over collective
consumption with democratic procedures and that increase consumers' power over
what is produced.
Nowadays some folks don't work at all, suffering harsh unemployment. Other folks suffer degrading conditions and have no say in what they do. Still others have plush jobs, uplifting conditions, and lot's of say in their work, and over other people's work too. If that isn't fair, which ought to be evident, than what should we seek instead? What constitutes dignified work? What should be the distribution of tasks among economic actors so that each actor has a fair job situation? Why should we reject having a few jobs at the top that have way more quality of life and empowerment effects and vast numbers of jobs at the bottom that have few if any quality of life and empowerment effects? A first commentary on dignified work will argue that every worker should enjoy comparable quality of life and empowerment effects in their work as one of our primary economic goals-a "balanced job complex."
having agreed that dignified work entails each worker having a fair mix of
empowering and uplifting as well as boring and rote labor so there is no class
division between those monopolizing empowering work and those following orders,
and having countered fears that such a choice will reduce output by diminishing
expertise, what demands should we then make about job definitions, information,
knowledge, and training that will lead toward balanced job complexes for all? We
would certainly need to compensate those with less desirable work with time off
that they can use for further schooling or other efforts to attain better
circumstances. And we would need to require those with more desirable jobs to
spend compensating time doing onerous work as well. And finally, as workers'
organization and power to influence their conditions grows and as their capacity
to demand serious changes in workplace relations increases, we would favor
reforms seeking to reduce disparities in desirability and empowerment between
different jobs by reallocating tasks between them.
When different groups of workers make different products some procedure for coordinating their activities with each other and with the desires of consumers is required. Economic allocation determines how much of each input and output is used or produced and where it winds up. Partly economic allocation is a matter of decisions; partly it is a matter of information, communication, and behavioral roles. Currently producers and consumers relate to one another as enemies in markets where competitive pressures drive them to try and take advantage of one another, or to be replaced by someone else that does. But acceding to the economics of competition and greed is not the only way workers and consumers can coordinate their related activities to enjoy the advantages of a division of labor. Instead they can consciously plan how to coordinate their efforts -- democratically, equitably, and efficiently.
first commentary about participatory allocation will motivate and explain how
workers and consumers can allocate scarce productive resources and distribute
goods and services without markets and their pernicious effects, by using a
decentralized, social planning procedure we call "participatory
planning" in which workers and consumers councils and federations propose
and revise their own activities in socially responsible ways. It will summarize
the advantages of participatory planning over both markets and the discredited
system of central, or command planning, and explain why fears that such
participatory planning would prove inefficient or limit legitimate freedoms are
misplaced. A second commentary in the series will discuss demands for
restricting the influence of market forces and expanding the role of equitable
cooperation by banning involuntary overtime, reducing the work week, imposing
tax and budget reforms, and expanding public influence over investment and
A Word About Vision and Program
Having goals can help us recognize current injustice, spur our motivation, and orient our actions toward reaching preferred destination. Demands we choose in the present and tactics we employ to try to win them have a dual logic. On the one hand, they seek to reduce current suffering. On the other hand, they seek to move us toward future long-run goals. In the latter capacity demands and tactics should augment our strengths and reduce those of our opponents. They should increase the numbers seeking change, increase the understanding and commitment of advocates of change, strengthen dissident organizations and means of outreach and struggle, and win gains that not only improve the lot of progressive constituencies, but also empower them to win further gains and become ever more committed and capable. These are the standards we should embrace as we discuss short-term economic program. They are simple to summarize, but nonetheless central to social strategy.
Exploring economic goals and demands is a large agenda, but seems like a good use of the ZNet Sustainer system. Of course brief commentaries can't make a comprehensive case, but they can initiate discussions in the ParEcon forum to then challenge, criticize, elaborate, or amend the views offered. To facilitate that, the twelve economic vision and program commentaries will appear online at http://www.zmag.org/econvpcmts.htm, linked via the Sustainer Zine page for the duration of their "publication period." Who knows maybe we can together even launch a Participatory Economic Movement.