Isn't participatory planning just central planning by another name? Aren’t the facilitators just central planners? Isn’t this not really a new system, but the same old authoritarian one, at least in practice?
The planning process, and thus the role of “facilitation boards” is, remember, more or less like this. Each actor (which is sometimes an individual, sometimes a workplace, or sometimes a consumption council), submits a proposal for what they wish to consume or produce, that is, their economic activity. The proposals of course do not mesh into a workable plan immediately. For most goods more is sought for consumption than proposed as supply even when people try to make sensible proposals based on projections of the likely average income for the coming period and awareness of their past period’s actual results. Demand is brought into touch with supply and vice versa by a decentralized process of refining proposals in light of data from prior rounds of proposals as well as technical data about capabilities and other factors we have described.
Facilitation boards are, in this process, just workplaces like any others in the economy. They include various tasks combined into balanced job complexes. If the facilitation board’s average job complex rating is better than the average for society, people working in a facilitation board have to work at sub-average options outside as well. If the facilitation board job complex is worse than for the rest of society, facilitation board workers have to work at better than average tasks outside the board as well.
As to what a facilitation board does—there are different kinds, with different purposes, but basically they either accumulate proposals and information, prepare data for access by others, and with various socially agreed-upon algorithms cull insights from data, passing back into the process the resultant information, or they facilitate meeting people’s preferences, such as by helping people find new places to live or work. And that’s it. Facilitators make no decisions other than about their own circumstances. What facilitators do can be checked by anyone at any time since all information is freely available. Moreover, virtually everything facilitators do could be largely and perhaps completely automated— though in practice this would likely be inefficient.
A critic hears all this and is not swayed.
Surely you are starting to imply a coordinator class, just by having people working in an institution whose role is to decide who is affected by a certain decision and to what degree, are you not?
To answer, one has to look further at the model, taking into account what it does and doesn’t address. The planning process has no need for anyone to play the role the critic indicates and indeed explicitly precludes it. The proportionate impacts on outcomes for different actors emerge organically from their involvement at various levels of the planning process and not from being decreed by some person or group from above.
However, suppose such estimates did have to be made by someone specially assigned to the task, which in fact they do not. That would still not mean that there is a coordinator class in the economy any more than the fact that there is a managerial function in many industries in a parecon implies that there is a separate coordinator class there, or the fact that there is an engineering function, or a surgical function, or a need to have agencies that do calculations or that summarize information means that folks involved in those activities will be a separate and privileged class. It is not the existence of important technical or conceptual tasks per se that engenders class division, but rather how those tasks are distributed among the populace.
If everyone has a balanced job complex, then no one has disproportionately more empowering work than others. Moreover, if there are no ways to make aggrandizing decisions to advance oneself or one’s class at the expense of others, then systematic abuse of even temporary powers is virtually impossible. If your work group needs to have a “conductor” and Leonard gets the nod next week, he can be good or bad at it, and can even be a pompous ass or an exemplary genius at it, but he cannot use the position to enrich himself or some class of actors. That option doesn’t exist because remuneration and circumstances are beyond his or anyone else’s capacity to privately manipulate.
The critic is steadfast.
Suppose I work in an institution that controls some of the critical levers of the economy, she says. Then even if I have a balanced job complex within that institution, I may still have an unbalanced job complex with regard to economic power and the broader community, right?
No, at least not in a parecon, because if you worked in the type of institution just described, as part of your job complex you would have to work part time elsewhere, to attain a balance.
But more important, which institution is it that the critic has in mind as providing a base for abuse? And what advantages does it bestow upon a worker there, such that he or she and others like him or her will become a class with advantages to defend and expand?
The worry is valid in the abstract, of course, but then we have to look to see whether in any particular kind of economy this problem exists in practice. For example, if someone was a central planner in a centrally planned economy, they would be able to bend and massage economic outcomes to serve all planners and also all folks with relative monopolies on decision-making power in workplaces by further enlarging the advantages that such folks enjoy. They could accomplish this by promoting investment patterns that enhanced information centralization and thus further aggrandized coordinator class privilege, not to mention by directly decreeing greater rewards for such folks. So here the claim would be right. These individuals, by virtue of their central planning positions, would have means to advance their interests contrary to the interests of other actors. But, none of this exists in a parecon.
Yes, there are boards or bureaus in a parecon that disseminate and even summarize information, but there is no way for anyone working in one of these boards (or doing other highly valued or conceptual functions as a part of their balanced job complex, for that matter) to benefit themselves, either in isolation or collectively, by doing anything other than what is also in everyone else’s interest—that is, by doing their work as well as they can. For one thing any deviation would be obvious. But, even more important, there could be no self-serving deviation in ways that were not trivial, such as direct theft. It is precisely this kind of attribute that is striking about parecon, in fact.
The idea behind this claim is pretty simple. In a parecon or really any economy at all, to improve one’s economic lot one needs more income or better circumstances (or more power since that facilitates the other two). But in a parecon everyone gets a share of income based on the effort and sacrifice they expend in their work (or based on their need if they cannot work) which means there is no way to gain more for oneself or for a group other than by working harder or longer, which, in fact, benefits everyone. For me to get ahead, the total product must grow or I have to expend more effort and sacrifice in producing that product, which is fair enough. I cannot get ahead at the expense of others by grabbing a bigger share than I am entitled to and leaving them with less than they are entitled to.
Similarly, since we all have balanced job complexes, my work situation only improves if the society’s average job complex improves so that everyone’s situation at work benefits. Yes, I can select from among balanced job complexes one I prefer over one that doesn’t suit me, and of course I will do so and I should do so, but that has no broad class implications and is as it should be for everyone.
Could a class of fakers arise who make believe that they cannot work, who consume the average bundle, but who do not work the normal load?
It is hard to imagine, but more important than being far-fetched, it would be a minimal achievement and they would not have any authority over anyone, and since they would have to show all the signs of a work-preventing ailment, on balance they would gain little, if anything, at considerable risk.
At any rate, participatory planning is neither a market system nor a centrally planned system precisely because it has different defining institutions and roles than each and because in theory and also in practice there is no tendency for it to devolve into either.
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Parecon in Many Languages
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