ParEcon Questions & Answers
What about attainability, can we get to parecon? Is parecon an attainable aspiration for the populations of countries like the United States, Brazil, Italy, Venezuela, Greece, England, Australia, Russia, Mexico, France, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Argentina, Haiti, and Japan, etc.?
Normal citizens feel two very important obstacles to undertaking social change efforts:
Parecon directly addresses point (1), at least regarding economics. It argues that if we manage to attain a parecon it will be vastly superior to capitalism and it will not devolve or degenerate back into the oppressive modes we now know, but will instead prosper and evolve positively, consistent with its guiding values. The model is thus viable and worthy. Attaining it would be worth it.
This is a very different question. Ultimately the only proof is to succeed. Short of that the only argument for its possibility is:
Still, if the proof is ultimately only in the practice, the confidence to even try to attain participatory economic goals that comes from faith in human progress, from experience of expanding successes, and from consciousness of plausible scenarios of change depends first on more people entering the camp of those advocating parecon and trying to make it a reality. This book is obviously an effort to help propel that process.
Even if we win something like a parecon won’t there always be huge resistance from some people who preferred the old system?
You ask, suppose that most citizens decide in favor of parecon, or militate in favor of it, and we win this transformation. Some won’t want the change – in particular, rich people with lots of property. True enough.
Indeed, capitalists will fight by any means they can usefully and self-servingly muster to prevent any new system that would take away their private property.
There is no parecon created in the U.S., say, alongside Ross Perot (the example you gave) still owning means of production. Creating a parecon means, among many other things, that the private holdings of economic infrastructure of the rich are taken from them...against their wills, no doubt, in most cases.
Yes, over time, increasing the workers in GM become advocates of a new type economy even while GM is still privately owned and pursuing profit. And during this period the GM workers battle for better conditions, new job definitions, and all manner of other positive steps. But, when the GM workers and all others seeking a new economy win, there is a large change. No longer are they fighting against a class of owners seeking profit. Now, the prior owners no longer own....
All historical progress, from the ending of feudalism and slavery through women’s rights, and so on and so forth is impossible if one cannot make progress against a richer and better armed opponent – but, of course, one can. This is what organizing and developing opposition movements is all about.
The best approach is the approach that works ... most likely this involves, in part, winning a variety of reforms that make the existing system less painful for most folks, etc. But one can do that, and still not create the launch pad for real change, so to speak, falling back, later, when capital becomes resurgent. Sweden is an example. Or one can win the gains, and win at the same time an ever stronger movement, able to aim for still more...
It seems that ParEcon would be less efficient in the way that efficiency is defined now. I don’t see how a socially responsible system could compete with one that doesn’t concern itself with questions of pollution and oppression. However, if that is true, how can we ever expect the whole world to suddenly change?
Parecon doesn’t have to appear everywhere in the world all at once. While it is a system with a logic and with principles, and capitalism is a different system with a different logic and with different implicit principles, and the logic and dynamics of each system are inconsistent with that of the other – and undermine the successful reproduction of the other system to the extent that they co-exist in the same time and space – parts of parecon can exist and grow in a hostile capitalist framework. In fact, that is exactly what will have to happen. It is part of what we should call “the transition from the economics of fear and greed, i.e. capitalism, to the economics of equitable cooperation, i.e. parecon” and recognize as the really important and difficult question.
However, if a country adopted a parecon system, it could still trade and even borrow from or lend to countries using capitalist systems. With capitalist economies that were richer than the parecon economy relations would be quite simple. Enter into trade and borrowing relations that benefit the parecon economy – and bargain, maneuver, push, pull, manipulate to get the best terms of trade and credit terms possible for parecon – since getting more than the lion’s share of the benefits of international economic relations for the poorer country is completely consistent with parecon principles.
If the other country is a poorer parecon economy, the only trade and credit relations that are consistent with parecon principles would require the richer parecon economy to grant the poorer one more than half the benefits that result from the efficiency gain due to the trade or lending activity. If the other country is a poorer capitalist country things are a little more complicated. Parecon principles would require that the parecon country NOT drive the hardest bargain it could get – and appropriate the lion’s share of the benefits from trade and lending – but instead to make sure that the poorer economy, even though it is capitalist, benefited equally if not more from the trade or international lending arrangements.
The exception to this is if such actions helped stabilize the capitalist ruling class in the poorer capitalist country. Then the parecon country should let the anti-capitalist movement in the poorer capitalist country decide if the parecon economy should drive a hard bargain, drive a hard bargain and give the liberation movement the financial gain, or boycott in order to help the liberation movement overthrow capitalism. Exporting revolution and international solidarity are admittedly tricky, tricky issues. But these are political, not economic subtleties.
Have you considered that the risks of a drastic change in the system may be too great? Isn’t incremental change towards a more principle based economic system a better alternative?
Well, what are the DRASTIC things that change? Private ownership of means of production disappears Production for profit or surplus and misspecification of exchange values disappears Hierarchicalization of daily life economic functions disappears And so on...
All things that should change...
This is a goal. How we get to it is another question. It isn’t going to be monopoly capital one day, all nice and comfy for the owners, and then parecon the next day, obviously.
There is one sense in which your question has a lot of weight, I think. One can seek changes in capitalism that do not bother capitalists much, or even benefit them. These are easy to fight for and win, relatively. One can fight for changes that reduce or even terminate capitalist’s advantages, but benefit coordinators, and these are much harder to win because capitalists oppose these and have many resources with which to fight. One can also fight for changes that not only reduce and eventually eliminate capitalist advantage, but also coordinator advantage – the parecon path.
Is this harder? Well, it comes up against two-pronged instead of one-pronged opposition. At the same time, however, it will arguably (I believe this) far better galvanize and motivate allies – working people. So both sides are strengthened, potentially. Will it be easier or harder, once it gets going? I don’t know. But I do believe that devoting one’s life to attaining changes which leave capitalists as a ruling class, or coordinators as a ruling class doesn’t gain enough in probability of successful innovation of worth to make it the preferred option.
In fact, my inclination is to think that pursuing the road to parecon is probably the fastest way to win the kinds of innovations that a seriously concerned and pro-worker activist (who, however, thinks capitalism is forever) would want to win.
In our city, we have what is called a LET System – a barter system involving virtual exchange of imaginary dollars – credits are created on a computer system... Is there any reason why such a system couldn’t be based on a ParEcon-like structure?
No technical reason, I think. But there are some big differences, to my understanding, between these systems and anything like parecon. Most of the alternative money arrangements include people working for “dispensers” of these currencies at remuneration rates that are, at best, very low, sometimes well below minimum wage. I don’t know all that much about these systems, but this seems to me to be the “down side” whereas people taking some active say over their economic surroundings is the “up side.”
I think the initial problem would be to get enough people to commit to a parecon from the start. Perhaps we could start by forming a consumer’s council (in the spirit of a Nader-like consumer group, but with the goal of building a new economy).
I think there is nowhere in the country where anyone is anywhere near having a community that could function largely outside the market economy...because we don’t have means of production, clearly. But establishing consumer councils that operate as much as they can along parecon like norms, and, for the matter, councils in workplaces with similar agendas, or whole workplaces, within the economy, but utilizing parecon like values and structures, are all, I think, worthwhile undertakings. But so is trying to win non-reformist reforms in existing structures...
That is, there are two broad ways to pursue a new type of economy – building infrastructure that teaches its characteristics and prepares for it literally creating elements of it in the present, on the one hand, and pushing existing institutions toward it, on the other. Each approach, to make progress, needs also to address current needs and desires. Each approach, to avoid pitfalls, needs to be tightly connected to the other, I think.
It seems to me that the left is sorely lacking when it comes to talking about/supporting alternative business models. What do you think?
Robin and I would both certainly agree that creating pareconish institutions is a very positive thing to do. There are many reasons...they are schools for the future; they display the values we favor in real settings and are examplary and hopefully inspiring in that sense; they will presumably do many tasks better than if they had mainstream structures, instead – and certainly the type tasks we are generally trying to accomplish.
I think the same can be said, by the way, for trying to embody the aims/values we have for gender, race, and power in our efforts...though that is another matter.
But believing something is very valuable (after all, I have spent a lot of my time trying to build such institutions) is not the same as thinking it is alone valuable. Yes, creating a bookstore or food distribution center or publishing house or production plant that embodies parecon values and structures is valuable. But so is organizing inside existing institutions to make them (a) less painful to people and (b) more in tune with future aims.
If creating a pareconish project or coop or whatever is good on grounds that it is exemplary, that it educates, that is trains, that it also is liberating for those involved, etc. then surely all this can also be said for organizing a labor movement, for example, that begins to build council structures in existing workplaces, to win reforms that benefit folks and embody desired values, etc.
In order to get parecon going I think you would have to have enough of the basic industries (food, fuel, etc...) such that the parecon economy would be somewhere close to self-sufficient. How can we ever get that far?
This just isn’t the way the world works. You can’t even conceive that folks will in huge numbers separate from existing institutions and create counter ones, such that, for example, there is a sphere of food production and distribution that is pareconish, next to one that is capitalist, and the former is comparable in size and scope to the latter.
Well because long before you got anywhere near that stage there would be no capitalism. Parallel structures do not exist in isolation. At the same time, if those are growing, it means the values of the new orienation are spreading, and that will be happening because there are movement finding for changes and gains all over society. And long before half of the people working in various industries would pick up and leave them, they will, in effect, seize them.
More, what does one use for property, for capital, in these parallel ventures? If one is taking that, too, then that is an immense struggle and if one can win that, well then one has long since achieved the capacity to, again, transform the existing institutions.
Half the economy parecon, half capitalist – that isn’t going to happen. Isn’t the capitalist side too powerful?
The process by which parallel pareconish institutions grows is not some kind of isolated dynamic which occurs off by itself. It impacts and is fed by what is happening throughout society.
A more accurate formulation, i think, would be that a movement which attempted to transform (in this case) the economy, more or less by stealth – that is, by simply building the whole new one step by step while not contesting inside the old one, would be totally doomed and misconceived. It just doesn’t have anything to do with reality. It would have no means of gaining the resources, no means to defend against incursions – and, much more to the point, it would not have a process recruiting support and participation.
On the other hand, if efforts to create parallel institutions are tied to and very aggressively support efforts, as well, within existing institutions, to win changes, that is another story. But in that case, long before the independent parallel institutions were so huge, we would have won.
Now, suppose we think of parallel institutions a bit more flexibly, a bit more in tune with what is in fact possible on a massive scale. Thus, we think of the formation of a worker’s council in a plant and in an industry as a parallel institution – just as much as we think of a pareconish publishing house or food center as one. Now we are getting more real. We have these parallel efforts and projects and structures which take many forms in many venues and which are able to reach out to the whole population and to be entered by that population without enormous dislocation. And if those parallel structures (whether the publishing houses or the food coops or the councils inside workplaces, or, for that matter, the neighborhood or regional consumer councils, or whatever) in turn also support efforts to win valuable changes in the mainstream – changes which improve people’s conditions and lives and which also empower people (and those dissident structures, too), we are on to something valuable, I agree.
What are the impediments to building pareconish institutions?
The impediment to the massive vision as it was expounded was that, as noted above, real world social struggle involves more than just that facet and wins, in fact, long before that facet becomes so huge (at least, if we mean totally separate institutions as compared to ones, like councils, evolving literally inside the shell of the old).
As to the impediments to creating pareconish institutions, there are of course many. People with training and talent can often get much more materially by following other paths, sure. But others exist, as well, such as the near impossibility of getting financing, capitalization, and thus of being in position to purchase needed infrastructure, inputs, etc.
You might like to try, sometime, going to a bank for a loan if you are from a pareconish institution...it isn’t a very lucrative way to spend one’s time. On the other hand, if huge movements were emerging in unions, let’s say, that had pareconish norms and values, then yes, they might instruct that their pensions should be spent in productive ways, including in creating pareconish institutions, among other good uses. But again, you see how that is a process that involves more than one leg, more than one front, so to speak.
What do you think of trying to pass a law that says that corporate polluters, violators of workplace safety, consumer safety, and those convicted of fraud would be taken over, without compensation as penalty, and ownership given to the workers? Since most large corporations eventually do commit such violations, this is essentially a syndicalist proposal. How could you structure this to lead to a Parecon?
I think there is a prior question – what would give any such proposal teeth? If the law was passed tomorrow, virtually the entire economy would be transferrable, immediately, yet none of it would be transferred. A different way of saying this is that if you had movements strong enough to pass teh above law, you would have movements strong enough to take over capital on the more positive grounds of desiring a new type economy – you would also have built those movements over a long period of time, an they would have attained a high level of consciousness and organization already, etc.
But, okay, I will take the hypothesis at face value. Suppose there is a steady transfer, a bit at a time, of private holdings to the workers operating them, for whatever reasons. What additional things would have to occur for this to be a transition to a participatory economy? I think the answer is that (a) the workers would have to be organized locally and within industries into democratic councils. (b) There would have to be a very high consciousness of the need for balaqnced job complexes and, in general, an elimination of the structural basis for rule by what I call a coordinator class. (c) There would need to be a parallel steady development of a participatory planning apparatus and commitment.
For the transfer of property one needs a movement that is anti-capitalist and strong enough to impose its will against the desires of recalcitrant capital to retain their ownership of material assets. For the institution of real council democracy, balanced job complexes, new norms of remuneration, and participatory planning, one needs a movement that has a positive vision and is strong enough to impose its will against the desires of recalcitrant coordinators to retain their relative monopoly on decision making related knowledge, skills, and positions.