By the description of the translator -- "a translation of the review of parecon that appeared on `il sole24ore' on sunday 12 october 2003. il sole is the Italian financial daily (akin to the financial times), expressing mainly the view of confindustria, the italian industrial association."
It's widespread opinion that there is a crisis of democracy, while at the same time capitalism is bursting with good health. But is it really the case that capitalism is working so well? To many, doubts on this issue appear legitimate. Too long, for many, are the negative cycles of capitalist economies, and too large the inequalities that market economies contribute to create. This becomes even more apparent if we look at the situation at the global level. At least, this is the thesis of Michael Albert, in his book "Parecon - Life After Capitalism", which invites us to "globalize equity, not poverty. Globalize solidarity, not greed...".
Essentially, the first step of participatory economics, or parecon, thus consists in the complete rejection of capitalist globalization.
This, according to Albert, must begin by replacing the the most influential international organizations, such as the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, with new agencies so structured as to favor investments in the Third World and reduce inequality. This idea is not totally surprising. Maybe in a less radical manner, I too would be in favor of a general re-thinking of the roles those organizations play, particularly when we are confronted with the great problems rising from absolute poverty.
The problem, usually, with proposals of a substantial reform of capitalism such as this, of course consist in indicating who and how will manage the economic system as a whole. Although one could agree - essentially - with the fact that capitalism generates excessive inequalities and that the division of labor attributes highly unpleasant jobs to some, we are often at a loss when it comes to indicating how to allocate and distribute resources. Problems such as: "If there is no market, how do we know how much to produce and how much each person will earn?" appear crippling. Particularly so, after centralized and state-run socialism has shown the unlikelihood of the most common alternative solution to markets.
This is not the case with undaunted Albert. Indeed, he does not hesitate to present a whole program of utopian socialism based on the participation of all the citizens to relevant social and economic decisions. In this neo-anarchic project of self-management, Albert attributes to democratic workers and consumers councils the task of replacing capitalist markets in their main functions. According to him, a world with social ownership of property, with balanced job complexes, council structures, and self-management is capable of adequately replacing capitalism.
In sustaining his daring thesis, Albert, with some shrewdness, often takes off from classical economists. Essentially he quotes Smith, Ricardo and John Stuart Mill more often than he quotes Marx and anarchist thinkers. This, one can guess, also to credit his own thesis as less ideological and more traditionally scientific. Appreciating the spirit and the courage of his intentions, we can't however but repeat to Albert what Keynes already argued on the same issue: "Capitalism is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous - and it doesn't deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed".
Brief Resposne From Albert...
I would think that a major financial daily in Italy could do a better job of arguing against an alternative to capitalism than borrowing a quote by Keynes that appears in the book. Regretably, however, advocates of parecon shouldn't take too much pleasure in the absense of rejection in this corporate venue. The reviewer appears to have skimmed the introduction and also noticed the quotes that adorn the first page of each chapter -- but to have gone no deeper than that. If so, the absense of rejection does not inability to critique but instead laziness. Alternatively, I suppose we could imagine that this reviewer read the 300-page book and had not a single substantive thing to say about their content...but that seems even more disparaging.