Lecture 2: Existing Visionary Options
This lecture focuses on various existing economic options and evaluates their production, consumption, and allocation role structures in light of the values we enunciated in lecture 1. First, however, I need to offer my own answers to the questions raised last lecture.
Answers to Lecture 1 Questions
A word, first, about the point of these questions. The really important things overall in these exercises are:
So what about the questions asked last lecture? Taking the content of lecture 1 as a starting point, and in light of our purposes, the following brief answers would be more than satisfactory, to my thinking.
Inputs include material items (such as resources, goods produced elsewhere, and infrastructure), but also peoples work or labor, people themselves (including the level of knowledge they have, health, the moods and levels of fulfillment they have, their personalities, skills, etc.), and the social relations of the workplace (including the roles of the workplace and the rules of its operation, relations between actors, etc.). Saying these are all inputs means that all these entities enter into the production process as aspects needed for it to occur and influencing its outcomes, being reproduced, altered, or used up in the process.
As obvious as every aspect of the above answer is once one sees them listed, many people indicating inputs stop with material things plus peoples work. But despite the fact that material things plus work is also the answer most often offered by mainstream economists and even most schools of radical economists, this is woefully inadequate. Imagine a psychologist listing human interests and leaving out sex, or a nutritionist listing inputs to the body and leaving out vitamins. Similarly, what sense does it make to list economic inputs and leave out peoples skills, knowledge, and emotions?
Well, in fact, the strange truth is that for some purposes this can make good sense.
Remember, we choose concepts to highlight features that we care about and that we need to pay attention to for our subsequent thinking and visualizing to be effective. But what if your priority was only to maximize profits for an owner, regardless of effects on anyone else save insofar as these effects mattered for the size of profits? Then for you to use concepts that left out certain features that we as citizens or workers might think are important to include, given our different priorities, makes sense. This is why the bottom line for accountants paid by owners of companies, does not include any reference whatever to the effect of economic life on producers and consumers, but only includes reference to monetary costs and revenues and, ultimately, profits. The theorist has an agenda, and what matters to that agenda is conceptualized, while what doesnt matter to it, or what might distract from it, is avoided.
In any event, to continue with the answer to the question raised, outputs of production processes certainly include material items (such as the intended material products and by-products of the production process, whether desirable or harmful, including pollution, etc.), and services produced, but also include people (with potentially changed knowledge, health, moods and fulfillment levels, personalities, skills, etc.) and social relations (which, likewise, may be altered due to the production process). Here too the absence of the latter two categories of output from production typifies most economists views and, obviously, once the point is made, consigns them to inadequacyat least regarding our priorities. For how could you possibly evaluate a production institution vis-à-vis its effects on solidarity, equity, diversity, and self management, if you dont even include in the conceptual tool box you use to examine the institution reference to its affects on human personality, knowledge, skills, and social relations?
How could it make any sense to list the inputs and outputs of work and not list the state of being of the people who participate in it and the state of social relations among them if one is concerned with designing (or evaluating) economic models to benefit people? How can you design the model to benefit factor x, when you leave factor x out of the conceptual apparatus you use in building your model in the first place? You cant, obviously.
On the other hand, however, to repeat a critical point for understanding the logic of conceptual systems and theories, if your focus is not people per se, but profit or material surplus, and if you care about people only insofar as you must to address these other profit or power centered aims, then different criteria guide what parts of reality you decide to highlight. That is, with profits as your priority it makes sense, however inhumane it may be, to use concepts that leave effects on people out of the analytic picture save insofar as the effects bear on profits.
I want to elaborate (perhaps beat to death would be a better term for what I am doing) this point about concepts just a bit further before proceeding to the next question.
We are trying to build a theory. We want concepts that highlight what we care about, and anything that significantly effects what we care about. Someone might say that air goes in the windows of the workplacebut who cares? Or that dirt goes into the workplace congealed to the incoming raw materials, but this too is not something to put in our theory at the level of basic concepts. But what is it that we do care about in a workplaceand, in light of that, what goes in?
Each worker has a certain physical condition going in, and perhaps another, even including a lost limb, say, or just plain exhaustion, coming out. Notice, if we simply elide this from our theoryignore it, leave it out, not have any concepts that focus on itthen the recognition leaves our thoughts as well. This is precisely what happens in what is called neoclassical economics, or professional economics, or economics propaganda, as I might label it. Why propaganda? Because from the start the framework highlights only some facets and ignores others (this much is in fact true of any intellectual framework) according to a criteria that distorts understanding in the interests of elites and ignores the plight of workers. Here is something to think about, therefore, and in light of all this: Is what we are doing merely a different kind of propaganda, now taking the perspective of workers but ignoring the conditions and interests of elites?
Well, there are those who own the place and by virtue of this have a claim on profits and have ultimate authority over operations. They may have inherited their deed to ownership, or they may have begun the firm themselves and worked fantastically hard making it successful, or they may have bought it. Regardless, we call these folks capitalists.
Then there are those who have considerable control over their own circumstances of work and usually also over the definition of or the conditions of the work of many other people as well. They have their position as manager, engineer, lawyer, doctor, etc., by virtue of educational certification and monopolized skills, knowledge, and access to information and decision-making authority. I call these folks coordinators.
And then there are people who have nearly no control over their own conditions of work, or over anyone elses either, and whose circumstances are determined only by their ability to win higher wages or better conditions through organization with others in like straits, the workers.
Of course, we could refine endlessly beyond this, but these three classes are, I think, a sufficient demarcation for most broad analytic and visionary purposes. With contrary interests to one another and different world views arising from the different roles they fulfill in the economy, these three classes contend over quality of circumstance and share of productive output, as well as for power over outcomes. They even have different agendas for what an economy should be...a point we have already touched on in explaining why mainstream economic theory leaves out some focuses that we find critical.
If we define a workplace as a place where inputs are transformed into outputs, then, yes, of course, all these are workplaces. If we confine the term workplace to refer to places where production in this broad sense occurs and where it is also the primary defining feature of the institution, then no, the school and family are not workplaces. It is really a matter of the conceptual breadth that we want our choice of words to have at any given time. In fact, since such institutions must partake of economic involvement to get their inputs and provide their outputs, I think it makes sense to pay attention to them as workplaces to precisely that extent.
Actually consumption and production are each economic activity, distinguishable only by the fact that in the former the focus is on the items taken in (and the level of human fulfillment immediately resulting) whereas in the latter the focus is on the items (material or service) made available as outputs. But really, the answer for inputs and outputs to production does quite nicely for inputs and outputs of consumption as well, with only a few minor word changes. In and out of each we have material things (some natural and some produced, some sought, and some as by-products), and people including their mood, fulfillment, and attributes (changing, perhaps, along the way), and social relations (again, subject to change).
The focus of attention of the person doing the labeling.
Ah, now there is some difference because of the institution in which most of what we will generally want to call production (due to its focus) or consumption (due to its focus) takes place. Consumption, as we will most often use the word, occurs via choices made in some living unit or group of such units, often with roles that are highly influenced by gender relations, community relations, etc.
Thus, in different societies with different organization of living units, there may be quite different attitudes about consumption and different rules by which it is carried out. Does a patriarch make all choices, or parents, or a tribal elder, for example? Are there taboos and requirements? Do people meet and discuss options before determining what they want? Do children have a say, or take what they are given?
Of course, it is also relevant to consider the degree to which class allegiance alters ones consumption role by affecting ones attitudes, options, and so on.
Clearly, yes, if we view them in terms of what they take in, or in terms of their place in the economy as recipients of outputs from elsewhere. Which is exactly how we ought to view them when we are thinking about the consumption part of economic activity. However, when we have on other hats, these institutions rightfully take on other primary aspects.
Power, which can in turn be affected by many variables such as monopolization, unionization, consciousness and organization, prior distribution of wealth and assets, race, gender, age, laws, government intervention, supply and demand, and so on.
Perhaps I should have said bargaining power. The concept is, however, a bit of a catch all. For example, suppose you produce some needed product and corner the marketthat is, you become a monopoly or monopsony. You now have more power then if there were many other firms offering the product. You can extract more payment. Or imagine you are a small business and I am a very big client of yoursyou depend on me to exist and I could go elsewhere. Then you have another small client who cant go elsewhere to get your service or product, and depends on you. I have great relative power in our transaction. But you have great relative power in the transaction with the smaller client.
Suppose I am a worker in a union, or not in a union, my bargaining power changes. Suppose I am a woman or Latino worker. In a racist or sexist context or a society in which these oppressive dynamics are absent, my bargaining power changes.
The point is, in a market economy buyers and sellers do not, as the rhetoric informs us, meet with prices and the character of the exchange globally set regardless of their individual relations. Instead, prices for the same good and services for the same payment often vary dramatically depending on the relative bargaining power of the buyers and sellers. If people living in a poor community cannot travel far at all, then a local supermarket may be able to charge them more for carrots than the same supermarket would be able to charge rich people in a different neighborhood, able to shop elsewhere.
Again, power, and the wills of the actors who have the power to manifest. Thus we have struggle over the length of the work day, or work intensity, etc.
Investment is just a decision to apply certain resources, energies, and materials to creating new productive facilities, relations, and capacities to be utilized in the future. It is important by virtue of influencing the playing field tomorrow and thereafter. The relation to allocation is that some amount of societys product is earmarked, during the allocation process, for investment rather than for meeting immediate ends. The word is not intrinsically pejorative and has no accompanying implication regarding who gets what or the goals of innovations, etc. Investment in a particular type of economy, however, will be contoured by that economys norms to have certain qualities, which we may or may not like.
The best way for me to answer this question will be to proceed with lecture 2.
Further Discussion of Values and Economies
As noted in Lecture 1 economies influence what we do (by providing roles that we have to fill) and what we get from the productive output (by affecting allocation outcomes). These two facts in turn have much to do with our possible life stories.
If the economy propels anti-social attitudes or distorts and under-utilizes human capabilities, or if it rewards people unjustly or creates hostilities among people, or if it wastes time and effort needlessly or inexorably distorts personalities or violates the ecology, these would be issues to take up in evaluating it. The task is to assess the built-in dynamics of the economy and their inevitable implications for peoples lives.
So what would we like an economy to achieve in the way of broad general aims for peoples lives? I noted last lecture four values, plus some basic economic criteria, meant to be necessary and (at the broad level) also sufficient as evaluative norms for designing and judging economies. Now lets develop each just a bit further.
The idea isnt, however, to have a fair playing field and then a race, like a land grab, in which everyone starts at the same time with no advantages. In such contests outcomes can and generally are still unequal even if we go so far as to handicap fast runners with extra weightthats why people run like maniacs, because some get good land and some bad.
Our aim isnt, therefore, to have a fair contest but with gross disparity of outcome. Our aim is to attain fair outcomes. And so the question arises, well, what is fair? In talking about material distribution and about life circumstances, what should be our criteria for what people get? And so we have our first thought question for this lecture, to be answered preparatory to undertaking lecture 3:
This value requires little explanation, I think. If economic functions and requirements produce sociality and solidarity, good. If they produce hostility and anti-social attitudes, bad. It would seem that to contest this is impossible for all but a psychopath.
Partly this is because diversity of outcomes is a good hedge against errors. If everything is always done one way, then if that one way is wrong, one has to start from scratch. But if there are generally many approaches being utilized and employed, then when one proves detrimental there are others to choose among, well conceived and tested. And partly diversity is valuable because life is short and we can enjoy other peoples different involvements vicariously, or via their product. We get pleasure, that is, vicariously appreciating the products and attainments and life stories of others who choose different pursuits than ours. We need to put diversity in our brief list, as compared to many other values we might mention, because otherwise one could attain the other three aims we have enumerated by simply homogenizing everything into exact oneness. It is not derivative, therefore, but essential to the list.
But what is a fair say? Well, we should be able to affect the decisions that in turn affect us, and we should be able to do it in proportion as we are in turn affected. But please noticethis is not just one person one vote nor is it consensus decision-making, for that matter. One person one vote is sometimes useful, sometimes not, because it gives identical impact on outcomes to each person, not proportionate impact. Likewise consensus is also sometimes useful, sometimes not, because it ultimately gives veto power to each participant.
Clearly there is no point, pragmatic or ethical, in the person on the other side of the plant having the same say as I do (much less veto power) over how I arrange my desk space. To give others that power over my space is not democracy in action, but a kind of silly knee-jerk notion of democracy leading to waste, bedlam, or fisticuffs. Participatory self management instead allots to each actor a say in decisions proportionate to the degree the actor is affected by the decisions. This seems to us to be what most people really mean by democracy, and to be what we ought to mean by it, in any event.
So what is efficiency? To most people, this is not so obvious, I think, and therefore bears just a bit more comment. The answer is, in the abstract, there is no such thing. There is only efficiency in light of some set of aims and valuations.
Efficiency means utilizing assets fully, effectively, without waste. If you have waste, then you could attain whatever positive ends you got without the waste (if it is inevitable it isnt waste) and therefore with improvement. So you do want to be efficient in the sense of avoiding waste.
But, notice, if we say that the end sought is maximizing output, or profits (which is not the same) and we place no value on, for example, the well being of the work force (so this is not an asset we care about), then not utilizing every last ounce of energy, even if it means disempowering workers entirely, is inefficient. On the other hand, if we value worker well being so that we see it as an asset that we care about or even part of the goal, then we get a very different view of what is efficient and what isnt.
In our society the word efficient is taken to mean not wasteful, but also correct, mature, professional, careful, reasoned, and so on, and is therefore deemed good. But it is also taken to mean getting the most profit from available inputs regardless of the impact on anyone or anything outside the transaction. Which is not so good. And therein arises the confusion.
In any event, to return to our list of values, my claim about these evaluative criteria is intuitively pretty obvious but hard to demonstrate logically.
The list of broad aims is useful, therefore, in being both necessary and sufficient to our over all goals. Economies often demarcate people into groups with opposed interests such that people in one such group are better off than people in others, have more power, and so on. These economically defined groups are called classes, and classlessness, for example, is a an aim that emerges naturally from those we have chosen because if you have classes, as compared to not having them, you are worse on all these values. Class division reduces equity (the dominant class has more than its subordinates), curtails solidarity (classes struggle with one another), reduces diversity (within classes homogeneity is the rule), and limits self management (as one class has preponderant power over others). The elimination of classes improves on all these criteria. So, with our values as guide, clearly no classes is better than classes...
What about ecology? How come we dont have a separate value for, say, sustainability? Certainly lots of progressive economists do list such a value and of course we in fact have such values ourselves. So why not list it? Is it really implicit in the four that we do list?
I will first tell you the actual history. When we first developed the parecon model, Robin Hahnel and I thought about this stuff pretty much as you are doing in these exercises, though over a longer time, of course. But when we thought about values to organize our structures around, the aims that roles we would advocate would try to attain, we came up with the values I offered here and nothing about ecology. I have to admit, with some embarrassment, that this wasnt because we self consciously assessed the possibility of including an ecological value and decided not to. The truth is, it just wasnt on our minds.
Now the interesting thing is, I think, it didnt matter that we were not as self conscious as we ought to have been about this issue. That is, I honestly think the economy that emerges from applying the values so far listed is just as good re the ecology as it would have been had we put in another value highlighting the ecology. I'll go even further. I think it is better re the ecology than what many Greens advocate for the economy, starting from sustainability as their primary aim.
Why do I say these things?
Well, the values we have enumerated will cause us to require of our economic institutions that they account for ecological effects insofar as these impact on human well being and development. The values we have chosen will not, however, cause us to design our economic institutions to have built-in features for judging the ecology, or nature, or particular species, regardless of implications for people. And I happen to think this makes good sense. If a society wants to impose on its economy that regardless of economic impact on people a particular species must be defended, for example, that is fine. And the economy ought to be able to accommodate such extra-economic (in this case ecological) requirements. But the economy itself should not do this a priori. The economyin my view, anyhowought to provide people the means to determine their economic actions in accord with their desires and capacities and in tune with others doing likewise, but without prejudging issues that are extra-economic.
Some Greens, as another example, argue that scale of operations, or degree of industry, are critical matters that must be dealt with in principle at the level of guiding values. They will argue, that is, that a good economy is one that always and aggressively (or even maximally) promotes small scale, or that utilizes industry only as a last resort. I think, instead, that such aims, as a matter of principle, make no sense at all economically (or ecologically, for that matter, but that is another story). What an economy ought to do is settle on scale of operations for firms, for example, or on levels and types of technologies, all in accord with higher values, such as, in our case, equity, self management, and so on. Sometimes a larger scale will make sense for a project or workplace, sometimes smaller. Sometimes new technologies ought to be utilized, sometimes not. The idea is that the economy should provide actors the information needed to make these judgments, rather than making the judgments a priori, due to some built-in abstract norm.
Still, at each step in these lectures, you should, if you feel this value (sustainability) or any other value strongly as an independent aim, consider whether what I am saying is missing something or not. And attempt to incorporate whatever additional features, or change whatever features I offer as you see fit, for your own developing economic vision.
To summarize, I think the models we develop using the values enunciated here will be attuned to ecological valuations and choices precisely insofar as these impact on human well being and developmentand will also be able to be constrained by ecological choices that might be made on other grounds, for example, the rights of nature, or whatever else. Our economic vision will, of course, attend to sustainability, since to have an economy that isnt sustainable is catastrophic from the human point of view.
So, for now anyway, and with the caveat that you must do otherwise if you see fit to, we can plausibly take our goals as the four noted, plus, within the bounds of meeting those values and human needs generally, economic efficiency. Could we choose other combinations of values that might also be as necessary and as sufficient? Sure, yes, I think perhaps we could. These few are chosen, I suppose we could say, out of experience/intuition and in the expectation/hope that they are well-suited to guiding economic evaluation and design. I think they make our job easier than some other ways of highlighting things, and so until the experience of using them proves otherwise, I proceed. Indeed, this is always why we choose concepts, methods, and values for our toolbox. We want to put in what is useful to attaining our intellectual and practical aims. And we want to leave out what would waste our time or distract or distort our efforts. Too little detail or any wrong detail is no good. But so is too much detail.
Existing Economic Models
Suppose someone asked how many different stereo systems are there to choose from. You might make a list of the major components (suppose it is amp, receiver, speakers) and then count the instances in each group. If there were 20 types of amp, and 15 types of receiver, and 40 types of speaker, (not just different colors, but really different types) and if you could mix and match these in any combination, then there would be 20x15x40 = 12,000 different unique types of stereo system to choose from. If some components were incompatible with others, however, the total would drop, perhaps quite a bit.
Now consider economies. How many distinct economic models are there to choose from? Well we can usefully think of economies as including ownership relations, production institutions, and allocation institutions. If we list the types available for each of these components, and check for compatibility problems, we can enumerate all existing (and perhaps all possible) types of economic models that we might choose from for our future.
Why did I leave out consumption institutions, and put in ownership relations? Well, because variations in the former prove in practice not to be so critical to the overall character of modern economies that we might consider in thinking about an economic vision, and therefore not so important for us to highlight in this book, whereas variations in the latter, ownership relations, do prove to be a particularly critical factor in determining the defining character of economies.
So, what possible choices for institutions do we have?
So to figure out all possible economies, we can just ask how many combinations there are, remembering that combinations which cant hold together because of incompatibilities, have to be ruled out. Well the total number of unique combinations is 3x3x4 = 36. But it turns out that once we evaluate each of these individually things simplify dramatically because many combinations just dont work together.
To get more models, someone has to come up with other types of institutions or show that some other combination of the ones we have already enumerated are viable, it seems to me. This is not an apriori impossible task, to be sure. Indeed, this book purports to provide the kind of conceptual approach needed to do it well. But, for now, finding more options is not on our agenda. (Of course, in a real society, economies dont exist in the abstract, as models, but only in combination with states, kinship spheres, cultures, and so on.).
And thus arise a few thought questions preparatory to moving on to lecture 3:
To render judgments on these models is not so difficult as it might at first seem. We need only assess their basic institutions for implications vis-à-vis the evaluative standards we decided to highlightequity, solidarity, diversity, and self management. If we are going to be disciplined about this, as we ought to be, then, if we find that a basic component institution is bad on one or more of these counts, we should want to reject it from our preferred economic vision. This is no different than deciding that amplifiers that use tubes are too costly, or receivers without FM are too inflexible, or that speakers that dont generate enough volume are insubstantial, and ruling these out on such grounds while moving on to compose a preferred stereo system from the remaining possible components. The logic for economies is essentially the same. Rule out economic components that violate our aims. Build a workable, desirable economy out of those components that further our aims by mixing and matching them into a workable whole system. Nothing subtle is at work here. We consider component ownership options, production relations options, allocation options, and then we have the basis for thinking about economies as a whole.
First, consider private ownership.
We know, and I am not going to rehearse all the evidence and arguments for want of time, that private ownership means that capitalists almost exclusively monopolize wealth. But this is contrary to equity (whatever precise definition we ultimately give it), and to solidarity (haves and have nots will not be getting along well), and to self management (haves will have more say than have nots), and so we simply have to rule it out as a possible component of our economic vision.
Another way of saying it would be to say that we immediately reject private ownership on the grounds that rather than producing classlessness, it produces class division with capitalists on top, and class divisions are incompatible with attaining our four evaluative norms. I know that people spend lifetimes discussing this, as if there is something complicated involved. But there isnt. And since you are reading a book on conceptualizing economic vision, I will assume you already know this and not waste a whole lot of time on the tangential issues, however much fun we might have rehearsing them.
Next, consider state or public ownership.
Well, we know that under this option the state has ultimate control over productive property, either directly or as representative of the public. And even though the state tells us they will look out for the whole populations interest, we know that...
So it follows that without much ado we can and indeed we must reject state or public ownership for our economic goal on grounds that its intrinsic authoritarianism thwarts self management and also equity. You may now be thinking to yourself, hey, this is too quick, too cavalier, too simple. But is it? Really?
Go back to the example of the stereo. If we establish some norms, for example we say that our system has to be able to hit some notes, or volume, or whatever, and we assess a possible component and by its very structure and definition it cannot do what we want, well then, it seems to me we have no choice. If we are serious about the norms we established, we must reject the component. Surely if this applies for stereos, it also applies for economiesmore so, if anything, since so much more is at stake.
Next, we can consider collective ownership.
First, it refers to a situation in which everyone equally owns every productive unitthough not peoples clothes or houses, etc. This sounds good, but what does mean?
If it means that everyone has an equal say in the disposition and control of each institution, that would clash with participatory self management as we have defined it and thus we would have to reject it. In practice, however, this formulation of equal say for all in all matters is a bit hard to envision in any event...
If it means no one has any say or any claims by virtue of ownership, then this ownership option is essentially neutral, or absent, with no decision making or distribution implications at all, thus leaving the economys fate to be decided by other features. So we could certainly employ it, with no fanfare but also with no loss. It would have no implications for any of the values we are pursuing or for anything else, for that matter. (Perhaps we should break collective ownership into the two options, equal say and no implications for say, but for convenience I am only going to treat the second, neutral version. If you would like to address the other version, by all means go ahead.).
So, what have we discovered about ownership. We dont like and cant abide private ownership or state ownership. We can abide collective ownership, at least in its neutral sense (though not with any glee as it has neither good nor bad implications).
Production Relations Options
First, how about hierarchical workplace structure?
Well, what is it? The idea is simple enough. There is a hierarchy of status, power, and rewards associated with jobs, and people fit at different levels depending on the job they get. Think of a job as a collection of things to do or tasks/responsibilities. Different individual tasks and responsibilities (take out the trash, deliver the mail, talk to clients, take orders, put this ratchet in that slot, design the product, solve personnel problems, make policy decisions, or whatever) embody different skill and knowledge prerequisites and cause the person involved to have to do different things, with different effects on the person including different implications for the persons status, power, and reward.
Now for there to be a hierarchy, in practice it is both necessary and sufficient that jobs be defined by combining like quality tasks/responsibilities with one another into relatively homogenous packages. Thus we get janitors, secretaries, line workers, managers, engineers, and so on, with jobs that are differentially empowering and differentially rewarding in circumstances and also remuneration.
How do we evaluate this option, familiar in nearly every production institution in the U.S. and the old Soviet Union and every other contemporary economy as well?
Well, we can see right off that this option offers only homogenized jobs (and therefore not much diversity), authoritative decision making from the top (by those with more empowering work assignments and circumstances), more fulfilling conditions and more reward for some actors than others (depending on which quality job you get), and a situation with those below hostile to those above and vice versa. The option scores rather poorly, that is, on all our axes of evaluation.
[Sometimes folks have doubts about the claim that class division actually reduces diversity. After all, arent multiple anything more diverse than one of the same thing, so isnt having three or four classes bound to be more diverse, whatever its other failings, than having classlessness? Well once we have classes we have large sectors of people with shared interests, arrayed in a hierarchy of reward and power. Now a significant part of the existence of each class becomes defending its niche, so to speak. This means there are powerful pressures causing all members of the class to adopt certain postures.
Is this real, or just rhetoric?
Well suppose you tell me. Consider music, sports, entertainment of other sorts, reading material, eating habits, daily life habits, etc. Are there large commonalties within classes, and big differences from class to class? Can we with some reasonable accuracy (actually often pretty high accuracy) predict peoples tastes and preferences, values and views, in diverse domains of life, merely knowing their class affiliation? Of course other factors are at play as well, including, in the economy, markets, say, but just plain old class seems to me to have this impact of constraining and delimiting the options of people in ways that limit and homogenize outcomes, thus stemming diversity.]
In any event, even without a lot of detailed analysis (which, however, is very worthwhile to do if you have the time for it) we can immediately reject hierarchical workplace structure as not fit for our economic vision since it fosters class stratificationworkers at the bottom and then coordinators, or then coordinators and capitalists depending on the type of economywhich is inconsistent with equity, self management, solidarity, and even diversity.
The second option for production relations we have called formal but unimplimented workers control.
The thing I have in mind here is a system that has in fact existed, for example in Yugoslavia. In each workplace there is a council of all the workers which has full authority over all decisions. The workers, organized into councils, have ultimate authority. However, we also know that that these councils choose, for reasons we'll understand after talking about allocation, to have homogenized jobs and to hire managers and plant bosses to rule over work, so the actual result is a hierarchical workplace structure.
Therefore, despite its formal pluses, in that workers power is at least formally recognized, we reject formal but unimplimented workers control for the same reason as we reject hierarchical workplace structure, because in practice it is a coordinator ruled workplace obstructing the values we favor. The origin of the hierarchy is not an imposition from the defined production relations, but an imposition from the allocation system on each workplace. Nonetheless in Yugoslavia with formal but unimplimented workers control, the structure of roles in each workplace was only marginally distinguishable in practice from what exists at a U.S. Ford or a Soviet Latka factory.
So what about balanced job complexes?
We will of course spend considerable time on this option, later. For now, briefly, the idea is that we combine tasks/responsibilities into jobs so that each job is comparable to all others for quality of work experience, status, and particularly for empowerment implications even though each has its own particular combination of tasks and responsibilities. And, likewise, we incorporate an array of workplace councils to facilitate participatory proportionate decision making.
Balanced job complexes means that:
And nested council democracy means...proportionate decision-making and a sensible approach to meetings and time in general.
So, assuming we can fill it out and substantiate our claims for it, balanced job complexes will be a worthy structural choice for production (and also consumption) because it is by its very definition and by the dynamics it imposes fully self-managed, capable of diversity, equitable in job assignments, and compatible with material equity and solidarity, assuming, that is, that we can also build those features into allocation.
Balanced job complexes are, moreover, a classless choicewith no difference in power/reward and no class difference among actors in workplacesand it therefore a good one for our new economic vision, again, supposing we can make it work in its own right, and along with viable, compatible allocation institutions.
First we ought to consider markets, though to deal with this matter in any kind of detail would tax available time and energy. What do we mean by markets?
Moreover, we know both by our ability to analyze their intrinsic dynamics and by looking at history that as a result of the operations of markets, a market economy inevitably has:
Though there are other problems as well, on any of these grounds, which sound abstract when presented so succinctly but yield the kind of depravity we see throughout our societypoverty, profit-seeking, homelessness, greed, anti-social individuality, unemployment, a few percent of all people owning grossly disproportionate wealth, ecological disasters, and so on, and which obviously conflict with all four of our guiding evaluative criteriawe can reject markets as an allocation system for our visionary economy.
And now we have some thought questions, based on the discussion to this point.
Next, we need to consider central planning. Well, right off we know that.
And we also know that as a result of the operations of central planning, a centrally planned economy inevitably has:
Again it sounds pretty abstract, but in practice it is the disastrous dynamics we saw in the Soviet and other Eastern Bloc economies, and so, I think we can reject central planning too.
So what about complete decentralization and no allocation among separate locales?
For now, lets leave this one as an exercise. How do we evaluate it? Each region is separate and self sufficient. Economic relations are deduced to community barter, with no significant allocation system to speak of. How does it measure up by our values? Equity, Solidarity, Self Management, and delivering the goods efficiently.
Whats left is Participatory Planning.
We are of course going to spend considerable time conceptualizing this last allocation option later in the lectures, but, for the sake of completeness, and with comparable brevity, we know that it embodies.
In participatory planning workers and consumers express their desires, efficiently modify them in light of ever fuller information concerning their implications for others, and finally, democratically settle on an equitable plan.
Social interaction permits all actors to evaluate the full social burdens and benefits of their own and other peoples proposals.
Consumption and work equilibrate as consumers discover whose requests require more than average social sacrifice, and workers discover who is proposing to shoulder less than average social burdens.
Each participant influences decisions in proportion as he or she is affected by them.
Allocation involves a new social, iterative procedure that differs fundamentally from central planning and markets.
Each council assesses past experience and an accumulated record of prior planning to estimate the kinds of efforts others would have to expend to provide a proposed list of inputs, and the uses to which others could put a proposed list of outputs, and then makes its own initial proposal.
After seeing all initial proposals, each council gets new information about the human effects for others of different options. New estimates of the social values of goods in turn facilitate revising requests until a workable plan is achieved.
In a nutshell, the procedure whittles down from an incompatible set of optimal desires to a mutually compatible group of economic choices in two ways.
Both kinds of whittling move us from incompatible to compatible proposals. The first kind promotes equitable outcomes and the second promotes social efficiency.
Some questions arise: