Lecture 3: Production Values
In this chapter we are going to try to refine our general values into a set of more precise requirements for production relations and workplaces generally. First, however, here my answers to the questions raised last lecture.
Answers to Lecture 2 Questions
Well, this was a thought question, the answer to which doesnt arise in lectures until later. Possibilities would be that we should remunerate for property held, productive output, the value of ones contribution, prior education, skills, effort, sacrifice, or need. Choosing among these depends in part on ones aims, of course, but also on a clear understanding of the implications of each for the values we hold dear. You might want to think about this, preparatory to future discussions.
Because most of the combinations are not viable. The idea is simple enough. If we are putting together a stereo system from components, each has to have requirements and implications compatible with the context established by or the conditions needed by other components. We cant have speakers that require a whole lot of power, and am amp that gives off very little power, for example.
Well, it is similar in an economy. For example, you cannot have markets or central planning and non-hierarchical work places because these allocation systems impose hierarchy on workplaces and dont operate properly in its absence. This is most of the answer, the rest is that I cheated. That is, I left out some conceivable options. For example, private ownership plus central planning by the state (generally called a fascist economy) was left out.
Beyond academics playing games, people advocate visions because they want the outcomes those visions promise to deliver. Those who will wind up owning (or who already own) the means of production will most aggressively advocate capitalism. They will also try to convince others of its value (by hook or crook).
Those who will wind up (or already are) coordinators will most aggressively advocate coordinator economic systems (usually called, misleadingly, to entice other supporters, market socialism or centrally planned socialism).
Politically identified elites (fascists and Stalinists) will prefer variants on capitalism or coordinatorism in which a one party state runs the show by monopolizing planning posts and the government.
Ultimately, I would argue, working people will most aggressively advocate participatory economics, it being a system that elevates them to optimal status (as the only economic actors and thus the dominant ones, as well).
This is all, of course, a bit oversimplified, as one may prefer the least evil, having ruled out the best option as impossible: the excuse given by many who profess left values but advocate market coordinatorism, despite its many failings.
The ownership relations and hierarchical production relations of capitalism generate a three tiered class structure of capitalists (owning the means of production), coordinators (monopolizing knowledge and skills and job slots prerequisite to control over not only their own economic circumstances, but those of others lacking these claims), and workers (who simply sell their ability to do work for a wage and follow out orders given by others, carving out the best existence possible by organizing to increase their bargaining power).
With the private ownership of capital eliminated in the post capitalist societies I call coordinatorist, the remaining allocation and production relations demarcate two classes, coordinators and workers, and elevate the former to dominance over the latter.
In participatory economics, or parecon for short, there is no class distinction generated by ownership, production, or allocation relations (not consumption either), and, on the contrary, these aspects of economic life all generate classless dynamics.
This is a big and a bit unfair question.
Briefly, markets compel us to consider our own well being and ignore (as well as be ignorant of) the well being of those who produce what we consume or consume what we produce. We must compete. We will try to fulfill ourselves in consumption and due to the biased pricing of products under market allocationthose that are private will be under-priced and those that are public will be over-priced. We will, in reaction, bend ourselves to prefer the former.
Instead of markets delivering what people want, therefore, people come to want what markets deliver. Thus our beings follow a trajectory of preference development that arises outside ourselves in the dynamics of markets and the reproduction of the conditions of profit of the few. We become self-centered and egocentric due to market impositions, rather than markets delivering every more egocentric and self-centered products because the drive for these is built into our beings.
In the first case markets would be a kind of neutral conveyor belt of economic life letting us manifest our preferences freely. We, our beings and preferences, would be determinant. In the second case, regardless of who we are and what we might want in the most free conditions, markets will contour us in predictable ways. In other words markets affect us, causing us to evolve preferences for what markets are biased to deliver to us. These results are aggravated when markets are combined with private ownership, but they exist even when property is socialized, but markets are retained.
To understand it, think in terms of someone being deposited in prison and developing (sensibly) a taste for what the prison commissary has to offerthough, if the same person were outside the prison, he or she would dismiss all the offerings as horrible, not distinguishing among them. The prisoner reconstructs his/her preferences so as to be able to get the best out of what is available. Notice then that what is made available is critical to the prisoners evolving preferences, as are the prices attached. If some things are under priced and others over priced relative to their true worth, we incline toward developing preferences for the former and away from the latter.
Markets do not just make any old thing available, and only at correct prices. Rather they impose biases into what is provided and at what prices, and we then operate in context of these biases (just as the prisoner operates in context of the biased/limited offerings of the commissary) and the result is that we learn to like what is available, rather than what is available coming into accord with what we freely want. This is the difference between freedom and alienation.
I suppose we could argue about this. Many people do. But to me, to be blunt, it is an idiotic notion. Not that there isnt a kernel of wisdom in it. Sure, face to face relations are sometimes preferable to larger scale arrangements. And if we make these face-to face structures democratic and participatory, thats all the better. But small is good is not some kind of unbridgeable principle. It will be valid when it is the better way to attain aims like justice, equity, solidarity, diversity, ecological balance, efficient use of productive assets, and so on. But when it doesnt better propel these ends, then it is a bad choice. Elaborated into an entire economic visionlittle self-sufficient communities acting in isolation from one anotherit means either gargantuan redundancy of effort and huge inefficiencies, waste, and ecological harm; or extreme deprivation. It also means, inevitably, gross inequality between regions that have different local assets (and to redress this by allocation, is to argue for a different model).
It seems also to curtail diversity and variety, to even be inconsistent with the idea of universal entwinement (which it tries to sunder) that is generally typical of ecological thought.
What is sought in this vision, ecological balance, participation, no alienation, etc., is not, in fact, attained. So why people advocate the view is a bit of a mystery to me. It seems almost like an intellectual fetish, incompletely thought out.
It seems to me that if the brief description I offered in our multi-economy discussion was valid, then we would know that Parecon fulfilled the values we set out for a visionary economy. The questions, of course, are can it actually work? What are the details? Why wont it just collapse in chaos or stasis, etc.
It is, by our criteria of judgment, a dung heap. It destroys solidarity, creates inequity unparalleled in history, gives some people almost unlimited power over outcomes while denying most people even marginal say over their own economic circumstances, and it even distorts personalities and preferences in such ways as to homogenize outcomes and reduce diversity. The fact that most academics would be horrified by my terminologyit is a dung heapis no testament to their civility or integrity.
Social Democracy is capitalism with a more powerful working class (and coordinator class) and a weaker capitalist class. It is, as a result, better, with a variety of reform structures incorporated to ameliorate and even, in some instances, redress problems arising from the underlying capitalist structure. It is a quite unstable economic structure, however, as a shift in balance of economic power can quickly cause reversion to more aggressive capitalist dynamics. The structure is capitalism, but the balance of power between class is less favorable to those at the top.
Either because we have thought long and hard on the issues and decided that some alternative arrangement has much better qualities and is possible, or because we have no compelling answers of that type but we realize that without hope for something better, we will only get worse. This latter, I suppose, is a kind of religious belief and historically it is not so easy to say which type of hope serves a progressive movement better... I myself think having both at once is a nice combination.
And, now, on to the new material for lecture 3.
So, what norms do we want to have guide our design of workplace relationships? Well, we know from the prior discussions we have had that my answer is equity (of material and circumstances), solidarity, diversity, and participatory self management, plus efficiency (in the sense of attaining desired outcomes with as little waste as possible). But what does this set of aims translate into in a workplace environment? What, more specifically and precisely, are our goals for workplace life?
I want to point out, as a kind of sidebar, that you should see the methodology at work here. Its obvious and easy, once one gets into it. If you want to follow along using other values that you prefer to those I am using in the lectures, by all means do so.
A workplace involves tasks that need to be done and decisions that need to be made. There will be a host of roles people fill which is what makes it an institution, in my view. And so, the question becomes, what goals do we have for those roles (in light of the need to get work done and decisions made) to meet our overarching aims of equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management, plus minimizing waste (of things we care about)?
So lets take each value in turn, and assess its broad implications for production relations.
Equity, remember, doesnt mean a fair race, in our usage. Instead it refers to fair outcomes. So what does it say to us about workplace role structures, for example?
Well, the possibilities for role defining would seem to be
And, perhaps, you can think of some other options as well.
And the thought questions that arise are:
A condition of solidaritywe will defineis that people care about each others well being and assess their own actions in part in light of the effects on others. Optimally, in includes a high degree of empathy.
So, again, we have the problem of figuring out what kind of relations among actors, what kind of apportionment of tasks among them, and what kind of distribution of decision making power are consistent with promoting solidarity, and what kinds are contrary to promoting solidarity?
Before you get irritated about my lecture approach to piling on these questions, please remember this is a book about conceptualizing new economic models...not about learning a particular one or merely hearing an argument in favor of this or that perspective. If you dont try to do some conceptualizing, well, you arent going to get as much out of the lectures. And, anyhow, I will also provide answers, all in good time. So:
Diversity is simply a condition of many outcomes, many approaches to accomplishing ends, many variants and circumstances which one can either choose among, at different times, or benefit vicariously from, via the different effects on others, seeing others in different forms of action, etc.
Well we have already refined this into a notion that immediately translates to production and the workplace. We want each actor to have a say in outcomes proportionate to the effects the outcomes have on that actor. Can we translate this more, in light of the details of the workplace context?
Remember, the idea of efficiency is that we dont want to set a goal for the actions of a workplace and then meet that goal, but in a way that wastes things we care about in the process (time, materials of value, energy, whatever).
On the other hand, efficiency does not mean that the only thing that matters is quantities we can enumerate on some scale of measurement.