Parecon: Life After Capitalism
Parecon: Life After Capitalism
The word "Parecon" in the title of this book is unknown to almost all Greeks. Likewise, unknown is to all the inhabitants of the Earth what will be the "Life After Capitalism", which is the subtitle of this book.
Michael Albert tries to offer a vision for this unknown life after capitalism.
After a brief survey of the dictionaries on the word "vision" we discover that the meaning of vision as pursuit of social change is rather recent or is entirely missing. The famous multivolume Oxford English Dictionary introduces this meaning only in 1987 in the Supplement to the dictionary with the entry: "Vision: Ability to conceive what might be attempted or achieved, esp. in the realm of politics;" Even more advanced seems to be the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, of 1995, with the entry: "the ability to imagine how a country, society, industry, etc. will develop in the future and to plan in a suitable way".
The American dictionaries [especially the important Merriam-Webster's] have no entry for social vision. Webster's stops at the entry "unusual discernment or foresight." This entry has been repeated since 1945 up to 2003 [11th Collegiate]. Before 1945 even that is missing.
There is no entry whatsoever for the social vision in the French dictionaries. In the German dictionaries there is simply the meaning of "planning for the future" [Duden, 2000].
Finally, in the Dictionary of the Modern Greek Language, by G. Babiniotis, there is the following comment: "The metaphorical use of the word orama as rendering of the English word 'vision', was introduced in the political discourse during the decade of 1980 by politicians of the PA.SO.K [party]". [Note: PA.SO.K. was established by the US-bred Andreas Papandreou as a socialist party but in reality it was and is a deeply rightist organization."] As expected, the Greek "socialists" copied not only the word "vision", but also they copied the [non-existent] content of the Western vision.
Any human has the ability (and the right) to conceive a social vision, that is how a human society can function in the future. In reality, all humans by instinct have a general social vision. It is most probable that all these visions are the same in their general elements. However, for a person to publicly express his vision one ought to have courage. It is considered rather arrogant for an individual to propose to the millions of his fellow men how they can or they ought to live.
Nevertheless, many people accept the visions of certain "wise men" from history or for personal reasons (rather of self-interest) they accept as right certain social systems that developed in the course of history.
One should recognize that Albert has the courage to express his vision publicly.
But, what is Albert's vision? It is Parecon. That is, PARticipatory ECONomics.
It is natural that Albert's vision is based on the accumulated philosophical, political and social knowledge from history, but also on his personal experience.
The core of the parecon vision is the values that guide this vision, that is its moral foundation. These values are: equity, solidarity, diversity, and self management. Albert makes sure to repeat these values in the text of the book innumerable times. At first, it seems strange that Albert insists on repeating them. But, as the reader moves on it becomes clear why this was necessary.
At this point it is apt to make a general comment on the way this book should be read. Many times reading only part of a book suffices for someone to accept or to reject the content of that book. Albert's book belongs to that category of books that reading the ENTIRE book is crucial. The reader of this book is urged to have the patience to read it in its entirety. The reader who will not read the entire book will not be fair to himself or to Albert.
Albert's vision is limited to the economic sector of the organizing of society, hence the name "parecon". Albert's analysis of the economic problem, aside from the above mentioned fundamental values, rests on completely rational thinking (and therefore honest thinking). This kind of analysis could be called "pareconish". According to Albert, later maybe others could analyze the political, cultural, kinship, etc sectors of society in a pareconish way.
These characteristics of the pareconish analysis (moral foundation, rationality and honesty) are pushed by Albert to their limits. Maybe, that is where the difference between parecon and other visions based on a humanitarian foundation (socialist, anarchist, etc.) rests.
For example, Albert introduces the "balanced job complexes" and remuneration according to "effort and sacrifice".
The balanced job complex is a mix of pleasent and unpleasant tasks that every worker should carry out. For example, a surgeon besides surgery should do work that is not interesting or comfortable, but which it is necessary to be carried out by someone. Or, the job complex of a cleaning woman should include a part which "empowers" her, as Albert says. That is, it will raise her at higher level of education (training), information, and ability. The moral base of this proposition is far more advanced than anything that has been suggested up to now.
Similarly, to remunerate people according to their effort and their sacrifice and not according to their personal contribution to output as for example is suggested by socialism, is a much more advanced proposition from a moral point of view.
The proposition for a pareconish way of decision making, based on the rule that the decision-making input of an individual should be proportional to the impact of that decision on him, is of analogous moral quality.
To test the validity of his vision Albert uses a very efficient (and daring) method. He himself raises the expected questions by the possible critics of parecon and answers them in an impressively frank manner. We think that he did not evade answering any critical question that could be logically raised.
Parecon has already a history of about ten years. The Italian and the Spanish translations are out by now. Translations in other languages are in the process of being prepared.
Finally, we offer a rather enlightening example of the application of parecon. Let us suppose that the buildings in a town is necessary to be constructed according to method A, which is structurally and socially correct. However, with the existing social system in the town, a small group of people decides to construct the buildings according to method B, which is structurally incorrect but profitable.
If instead of the existing social system in the town parecon had taken effect, the decision to build would have been made in a participatory manner and the choice would have been method A, that is the correct one (and not the profitable one).
The example is not hypothetical. The town is the town of Volos, in central Greece. After the earthquake of the mid-1950s the engineers started building one-story or two-story buildings according to a correct earthquake-resistant method. About ten months later there started the construction of multi-story buildings (apartment buildings) which were incorrect from the point of view of earthquake resistance, but which were (very) profitable.
The next big earthquake in this town will probably prove the value of the fundamental moral logic that is in the core of parecon.