Lecture 7: Remuneration and Consumption Arrangements
In this lecture, 7, as in past ones, I would like to begin by presenting my answers to questions raised last time. Then we will move on to the second consumption discussion.
Answers to Lecture 6 Questions
At a minimum economic democracy would be something like one person-one vote on all policy questions, and some form of self regulation with oversight on everything else. But given our values, economic democracy is something a little more subtle. That is, each worker should have a say in workplace decisions more or less in proportion as he or she is affected by those decisions. How I conduct myself when sweeping, say, or when writing something, etc., is going to affect others mostly in terms of whether I get the task done, unless I want to sing while I work, or something like that, and it bothers others. So, generally, but for exceptional disturbing choices, I decide how to carry out my personal responsibilities myself, within the bounds of fulfilling my responsibilities. It is autocratic, I suppose, but acceptably so...
Likewise, if I work in a small team, we decide our internal operations, etc., again within the bounds of fulfilling our team assignments. That is, within the bounds set by our overarching responsibilities, and the constraint that we not disrupt others activities, etc., we have essentially dictatorial say over our group. But, we do not have a dictator, but instead divide up the decision-making responsibilities within our team democratically. There are, of course, many ways this could be done.
The additional constraint, in both cases, me alone and me in a team, is that our choices have to be within the broad value norms that guide the economy, and they have to be in tune with not having deleterious affects on others (since, if they do, those others will gain a say and intervene).
So what do we have? It seems that workplace democracy implies having layers of decision making influence including individuals, teams, work groups, maybe sections of the work place or divisions, the whole place, and then more broadly, the industry. Each of these layers or levels would operate in context of decisions at a higher level and in respect of the implications for lower levels. We can call the larger units councils, the smaller ones teams and individuals.
I dont see one, other than the exigencies of the particular types of decision.
The difference is that in one case we are doing something productive with no necessary deleterious moral impact (taking account of specialized knowledge or skill) and in the other case we are doing something often not productive and in any event always engendering deleterious effects (using fixed hierarchies).
There is a difference between consulting an expert, or having an expert examine circumstances and propose options with accompanying assessments of implicationsand letting the expert make decisions. I need someone to tell me about the implications of using lead paint. But I can decide for or against using it, based on that special information. Same for nuclear power. Same for most anything. So in a workplace there will frequently be cause for reports and commentary from people with special knowledge or who have specially investigated a question, but then the decision can be taken in light of that information, by all affected.
Indeed, the principle of paying attention to expert knowledge leads inexorably away from depending on experts for decision-making. In fact, since I am the worlds foremost expert on my preferences, you on yours, and since a decision is supposed to account for our preferences proportionately, by the criteria of paying attention to expert knowledge when it is relevant, we must be involved proportionately in decisions that need to account for our preferences.
The word global here implies to me that these are the decisions that affect the whole workplace, and everyone in it. I should think these would generally be concerns about broad policy, to be decided by a vote (with, perhaps, some special requirements about what is necessary for a victorythus 50+% or 60% or 75% or unanimous...) of the whole workplace council.
Could some workplaces, or all of them, sometimes incorporate delegation of decision making about some mattersyes, I dont see why not, if it is consistent with guiding values and efficient or otherwise desirable to take this approach.
Save insofar as some choice might have impact on others, beyond the obvious issue of getting their job done, I should think this would be a matter for the group or team in question.
Again, save for the impact that some strange choices might have on others, it would seem that this decision generally rests with me. I might need to coordinate with my work mates in some cases, of course, but generally my personal work choices within the norms and goals of my job complex, in how to fulfill my responsibilities, impact mostly on me.
I dont want to answer this too fully, as we will deal with these matters more later, or whenever people in class bring up worries (which I wish there was more of). But I can imagine critics saying (a) people dont have the ability for this level of involvement, (b) teaching people would be too expensive and draining, (c) people dont want this level of involvement and democracy, (d) it would be inefficient lacking the orderlyness of more command-based models, (e) the meetings would take too long. Indeed these points have all been raised publicly, in reviews of parecon presentations, and also in the parecon forum here on LBBS.
I think this will emerge in coming sessionsbut in every case there are two issues: is what we are seeking consistent with our guiding values and is the critique therefore of those values...in which case we defend them, or are the values accepted and the criticism is that we are wrong in thinking that our choice of elaborating balanced job complexes is in accord with them, in which case we indeed discuss the logic and implications of job structures and their implementation.
No. Because I only have an equal say over my own circumstances as you and everyone else in the workplace, even if we are talking about just how I will organize my tasks over the course of my work day, and even if the choice has no effect on anyone but me. The decision making influence is off, and also it makes no sense to discuss such matters at length. I dont want to hear anyone elses view, save as a kind of advisory or consultation that I may seek, much less do I want to have to debate other people about when I get to go to the water fountain, or what order I do my tasks in, or whatever else, unless it impacts on them or is thought to violate some socially agreed norms.
By all means. Suppose we have one-person one vote for broad encompassing policy decisions that affect everyone more or less equallya perfectly reasonable choice. But suppose when we get together to have our session discussing these matters a very few people have the information needed to even have an opinion, and also have the skills and disposition required for developing and arguing for an agenda, and the rest of us dont know anything we arent told, and moreover have neither the disposition nor the skills to create or evaluate opposed agendas. And suppose the division of the whole group into these sectors always comes out the same, with the same people in respective positions.
In the discussion we can say without much doubt that the few who have knowledge and skills and disposition to adjudicate, create options, evaluate them, and make decisions, will dominate. In every vote, as they vote, so too will the rest of us. The democracy is only formal because underneath it there is a very real hierarchy of influence and power. Of course, such a hierarchy will soon act to entrench and reward itself, and to institutionalize the imbalance of power even more forcefully, on grounds of the deservingness and needs of those at the top relative to those at the bottom, but, nonetheless one can imagine the hierarchys presence even in a system with formally democratic structures.
It seems the only thing we can do to ward off this type compromise of our decisionmaking structures is to make sure that by both schooling and on-the-job effects everyone is empowered sufficiently so that the formal democracy inevitably becomes actualized in a truly participatory framework. We must avoid having jobs whose character is such that people in different jobs are markedly differently empowered by them.
Quite a bit, I think. We can demand that they not impose modes of behavior, or calculation, or interaction, or divisions of power or status or means, contrary to the values we hold. And then we can go a step further and demand that they not only function consistently with those values and not subvert them, but that working within our chosen institutions actually promotes personality, awareness, skills, knowledge, etc. and interests, that facilitate pursuit of those values.
A balanced job complex (BJC) is a combination of tasks such that the overall quality of work and overall empowerment characteristics of the total job are equilibrated to those of other jobs. There is one provisowhich we havent yet spoken much about. If it is OK with work mates, if it fits the production requirements of ones firm, etc., one can trade a bit (either working longer with more income, or less long with less income, or perhaps picking up some extra onerous work again, to earn extra income, while someone else is doing somewhat less of the onerous work, earning somewhat less income). Trades are not permitted that disrupt equilibration of empowerment effects. Thus, the full definition of balanced job complexes comes out empowerment is balanced among job assignments throughout the economy. Quality of work is balanced, with the possibility of deviations up or down from the average, offset by countervailing income changes.
The arguments in favor of BJCs are that they are the best possible choice of how to combine tasks into jobs if we are concerned that there be an equitable allocation of desirable and not-so-desirable and downright undesirable work effects (conditions plus income), and an equitable allocation of empowerment implications of jobs for workers doing them to allow and promote truly democratic decision making by all.
The most frequently raised arguments against BJC are: they oppress the highly knowledgeable or highly skilled by forcing them to spend some time in mundane work; they misutilize training and skills by having people waste these attributes by working at tasks that dont need their accumulated ability/training; they require people to struggle to work at a level they are not able to, demanding of people participation and involvement beyond their ken; they require too much schooling for too many people; they are hard to design and to continually update.
What the hell, I think I will answer these with my true unabashed unedited unalloyed (is that a word) sentiments. .
That is to say, any society has a certain amount of onerous, dangerous, tediousor otherwise not preferred work. Now why the hell should this be disproportionately done by some people while others enjoy better work conditions?
Do we oppress a slave owner by changing to a situation in which owning slaves is no longer permitted? We take away an advantage and an option, to be sure. But to call this oppression reveals much...
Do we oppress a set of people previously able to work at only desirable tasks if we establish the norm that everyone has to do their fair share of onerous tasks? We take away an advantage and an option, to be sure. Doesnt calling this oppression reveal much...
It is not oppressive, in short, that person a has to do their fair share. It is oppressive, instead, whenever person b must do a disproportionately great share of something undesirable so that person a can do less than a fair share.
The argument that the person currently avoiding these job tasks (by virtue of being a doctor, lawyer, or holding some other coordinator like role, or perhaps by being a top level professional athlete, etc.) is being oppressed by having their advantages taken back to improve the situation of those who truly have been oppressed, is rubbish. It wouldnt be worthy of discussion, it is so obviously grotesque in its assumptions, but for the fact that we live in a society in which the grotesque has become enshrined as common sense gospel...
There will be a time in the future when this type argument about BJCs will appear to people just as horrid as arguments that abolition oppressed slave owners appears to us now.
First off, once everybody has training, there is no way to avoid that trained people will be sometimes doing things that do not require their learned skills, or full talents. So, the real question becomes, in some sense, do we have everyone develop, or do we develop only enough people so that no resources are spent on development that does not, in turn, get utilized at full capacity in production.
Put this way, it makes sense to curtail education, training, etc. to the minimum level called for to complete desired production, if (a) education, training, etc. is onerous and not pleasant in its own right, and (b) if education, training, etc., has no benefits that transcend the implications for economic output (or, in some economies, profit). The underlying assumptions necessary for the complaint to even register as remotely sensible are therefore, to me, truly disgusting...
As a parallel, suppose someone said society should only feed people the amount necessary for them to work at the rate that their productive role in society (established by some elite, no less) requires (which, was, indeed, the notion predominant among capitalists before considerable labor struggle forced a different approach). With the exception of those at the top, the assumption is that people work, eat, and do some other irrelevant nonsense of no account, and should get no more from society (whether it be food or education or leisure, etc.) than is needed to carry out those two critical functions.
But that is only one problem with the complaint. Another reply might be: Yeah, sure. Causing, say, 20 percent of the population to pick up its fair share of onerous and non-empowering work may perhaps utilize their stored up skills, training, and talents less than if we didnt require that onerous work of them (though this assumes (a) that the people in question are utilizing their skills for full workdays and work weeks before such a change, which is a big (and in our society false assumption), and (b) also ignores the extent to which these people are actually currently utilizing these stored traits in socially useless or destructive ways that are part and parcel of maintaining their advantages in the first place).
But, give them the claim. Give them that these folks, if we dont have BJCs, will do only socially valuable work and will do it every hour and day they work, with no stretches of idleness, long lunches, golf trips, etc. What about the other 80% or so of the population? Those who would be freed to develop their capacities and abilities and to put them to use if the 20 percent did their fair share of onerous and not empowering work? To take this objection to bjcs as a serious argument we have to believe that (a) each person in the 20% will be, on average, four times more productive than each person in the 80%, plus additional to make up for use of the 20% enforcing their own dominance, keeping the rest passive and ruled, etc. etc.
It is utter nonsense and to even think it, it seems to me, again reveals underlying attitudes that are not too pretty...and that we ought to be uncovering and removing from our consciousness.
But suppose for a minute that the distribution of potentials among people, the costs of training, the nature of contemporary job tasks, etc., made the claim valid. The 20 percent would six times more productive per hour, on average, than the 80 percent, even with each constituency fully developing its skills and capacities. Even with this outrageous assumption, still regarding bjcs, for a person with an iota of moral sensibility, it wouldnt matter. Because attaining classlessness, equity, etc., so much offsets in worth any conceivable difference in productivity, were such a difference to actually exist in the first place. So, again, the complaint reflects not only a jaundiced view about what people in different constituencies can and cant do, even under ideal circumstances, it also reflects a jaundiced view of what matters in life, it seems to me.
Finally, the real productivity effect of instituting BJCs, would be an immense gain, especially if we are talking about the utilization of productive possibilities for creating things that are actually of social value.
I answer this plaint when it is offered by critics of parecon, patiently and without rancor, because I suppose I think that is civil and tactically right if the goal is to actually communicate and not affront people into resistance, but to be out front about my real feelings, which is what I am trying to do in this answer, I find this complaint almost too repulsive to reply to. Yeah, sure. Most people are genetically incapable of the immense degree of genius associated with making decisions about economic matters, exercising self management, assessing diverse information and evidence, in a field of their choosing, in a congenial environment, etc. etc. Who would this be? This person who would be crushed by the weight of having to actually take responsibility for their own life?
The same person who is a master of NBA strategy and statistics on the weekend even though now having to spend 50 hours a week on a mind-deadening assembly line, perhaps? Or the doctor or lawyer who despite immense education and huge tracts of time for reading, etc., is self deceptive and ignorant enough to believe that the U.S. was in Vietnam to free the Vietnamese to live a better life?
The housewife now raising three kids and dealing with low budget shopping and the juggling of countless decisions and demands, while fending off all sorts of patriarchal incursions and attacks on her dignity and intelligence, or the plant manager or engineer who has had endless years of schooling and who still has ample time for study but who nonetheless thinks blacks are inferior or that technology is chosen on purely objective productivity grounds...
And so on.
You know, a rather more accurate take on the situation, I think, is that in our society, most often, garbage rises...and so the real question is whether those now enjoying great advantages could ever manage to undo their socialization and lunatic value structures and belief systems to function in a humane and responsible fashion. I think yes, but this is at least a plausible concern...
This is another good one. We might reply by asking, what is the alternative approach that this person must prefer? We have only so many educational resources in any society. What should we do with them? Suppose we use the criteria that we ought to utilize them where they will have the largest impact on output, a criteria that this critic will employ whenever it suits him or her. If the product is schooling, meaning increased levels of competence and knowledge, then surely with the exception of pathological cases, to use the resources to advance those who have least ability to teach themselves, or least prior learning, would be optimal.
Second, how can one even mouth the idea that society ought to give people less schooling or that it is educating too many people...supposing that one believes that humans have every right to develop and utilize their talents and capacities to the fullest, whatever that may turn out to be? Or supposing that one believes in equity, democracy, etc.
In other words, under the surface all these types of objections strike me in more or less the same way that I imagine analogous questions of an advocate of the abolition of slavery, or, say, foot binding, struck them...
This objection is fair and reasonable, to my thinking. Any proposal has to be implementable, to be worth pursuing in any detail. If it is simply unworkable, ten regardless of virtues, it has to be dumped. Still, bcjs would have to be awfully hard to design and maintain and upgrade for them to be a bad idea, given the tremendous virtues they have.
Nonetheless, with even a little tiny bit of thought, it seems to me obvious that this complaint too has no basis. OK, it is easier to design homogenous job complexes, I suppose. But marginally so. Because once you categorize tasks as being comparable to one another, and have a bunch of such categories, (and this is a prerequisite for having homogenous complexes), now creating a balanced job complex is merely a matter of taking tasks from various categories instead of taking them from only one, while (and this is presumably supposed to be the overwhelmingly hard part) being sure (a) they can be handled in a smooth and sensible fashion, which is necessary in both events, and (b) that the mix you choose is average.
And as far as maintaining the arrangement once it exists: in either case the advent of new tasks or new social arrangements means there is a need to redefine things.
But the critical and oh so obvious point were we not all wearing what might be called class or to be nicer familiarity blinders, is that with hierarchical job complexes you need a vast store of repressive mechanisms to keep those below in line, which requires great attention and struggle, perverting relationships throughout society, misutilizing resources and energies, etc. Whereas with balanced job complexes, maintaining the system requires none of this.
That is, if one is on the wavelength to raise the issue of maintainability, if one cannot see that bjcs (once they exist and have been in place for a time) are far less difficult to maintain, one is, I think, simply blind to the existence of class difference and class struggle.
Not at all. Unless, of course, we just decided to rearrange, for variety or whatever.
I think I would wind up having to do some onerous or tedious work outside, to balance off... On the other hand, given the hours I work, there might be some gains as well.
They are here. But, to be honest, their value is modest because (a) we have such a small staff at Z Magazine (only 3) and such a minute staff at LBBS/LOLU (only 1).
On the other hand, after my years at Z and SEP, I think I would last about five minutes in a typical workplace.
We have BJCs. As a result our criteria for changing techniques, organization, or getting new software, etc., are a comparison of the positive impact of the change on the nature of the work we have to do, or the speed with which we can do it, or on the quality of it, with the cost of implementing the change and any costs re nature of work, speed of it, or quality of it...
The problem is, since most innovations depend on the outside world, for example Microsoft, etc., there are limits on what our different values can accomplish.
Because everyone is at a balanced job complex, if there is an innovation in some workplace, or industry, or whatever, its impact is not confined to that site. Rather, if the quality of tasks at that site change for the better, there is a tiny overall improvement in average job complex throughout society. Everyone who works benefits to that degree. As a result everyone has the same interest when assessing possible technological or organizational innovations. Implement those innovations that have the largest and most desirable effects on output per effort and sacrifice, and/or on the quality of the societal average job complex.
It is interesting to try to figure out what this actually means in practice, and what a flexible and sane implementation of the idea would mean in terms of how changes occur and how balancing happens. You might want to pursue that line of reasoning...
As with any question like this (replace the phrase having balanced job complexes with eliminating sexism or eliminating racism or whatever else) there are two angles to view it from. What we think. And what the person who is in the position of losing the advantage is most likely to think/feel.
Regarding the former, I think that the life situation of the person who is now free from onerous work may improve somewhat, on balance, from the switch that will cause them to have to do their share, on the one hand, but free them from a degree of guilt, etc., on the other, as well from the other ills associated with class division. But I wouldnt want to exaggerate this. A person who is now, let us say, a professor at an elite school, who earns say $80,000 to $100,000 a year, who has a congenial work environment and who has huge recourses at their disposal and who has minimal work responsibilities that arent pretty much what the person would most like to be doing with their time in any event, really does have something to losein having to do a fair share of onerous and non-empowering work, and in having to have a fair income, etc. And, yes, there are gains as well, very real and important ones. But...
Now, as to what this person is likely to feel and how they are likely to react, I think that until there is a massive movement from below, and until the prospects of that movement winning are evident, those with advantages will give very little attention to the benefits that they will garner from change, but will focus instead on the disruption of their lives, the losses they will suffer, etc. Yes, there will be many welcome exceptions. But this seems to me to be the likely general reaction...
And it raises an important strategic issue, which people might wish to begin to think about. Suppose, for the sake of the point, we think in terms of only working class, coordinator class, and capitalist class. Is the best way to improve life significantly in the foreseeable future to seek a goal that will alienate only capitalists, or one that will also alienate many many in the coordinator class, or even aspiring to it?
I know the structure of those I am involved with, or that I have investigated. I believe the structure of most left organizations is not common knowledge, not something they make known publicly, and discuss and debate, for the obvious reason that it is nothing to brag about, and is, instead, in most instances little different from the structures that many of their verbal flourishes attack as despicable.
I believe BJCs are not a widely discussed aim among leftists because what is widely discussed on the left is that which appears in left publications, on left shows, in left teach-ins, or is promulgated by highly visible left figures. These, we can deduce, are not pushing this notion. I think it is easy to figure out why given the backgrounds and social circumstances of the people involved...
I am hell bent on getting you all to participate in thinking conceptually. Also, at this point, those who have been keeping up should be pretty well prepared to do so, I think. As to the rest, there is no time like the present to begin getting the most out of the course. So, regarding consumption.
Finally, please comment on the following passage from Ursula Leguins The Dispossessed: