newbie on Participatory Economics

John Woodford johnwood at
Fri Jul 17 09:56:06 PDT 1998

I appreciate and share the sentiments that motivate your interest in ParEcon, and hope that you are successful in helping put them into practice somewhere. I simply think that it would require an oranization or coalition of organizations capable of achieving a socialist revolution to create the political space necessary for people in a highly developed and complex society to set the agenda you describe. Such organizations would have to have already formulated their vision of how things ought to be if hey were to succeed in democratically winning the support of their fellow citizens. So I see your prescription for ParEcon as a cart-horse inversion. ------------- Original Text
>From Brett Knowlton <brettk at>, on 7/17/98 11:25 AM:
G*rd*n and John,

Thanks for the responses.

The thing I like the most about Participatory Economics, or ParEcon, is that it is an attempt to develop an alternative economic vision, which is sorely lacking. The left spends a great deal of time trashing capitalism and western imperialist tendencies, and rightfully so, but often has no response when challenged to come up with a better alternative. Most people seem to think that the only viable alternative to capitalist markets is communism, if you can call communism viable.

Given this choice, I'd choose capitalism too, and so most leftists try to dull the capitalist blade through various reforms and regulations, to make it as warm and fuzzy as possible. But I've lost confidence that these efforts will really be able to achieve their goals and stamp out the horrible injustices which are routinely visited upon the poor and the weak, especially in the third world. Capitalist institutions create powerful incentives for exploitation, so that even if we succeed temporarily there will be significant pressures pushing to repeal reform if we leave these noxious institutions intact. I think structural change is the only means by which the left can achieve permanent gains.

As for ParEcon, it is actually pretty well thought out. Albert has spent a lot of time developing the theoretical basis for ParEcon and trying to envision practical difficulties and ways to get around them, so I think your criticism that it is "hopelessly naive and utopian" is unfounded, although admittedly its a little hard to explain in one email message, so I see how it might come across that way. It is true that it has never been put into practice, but these kind of social experiments are very difficult to perform for a whole host of reasons, from the simple fact that nobody really knows about ParEcon to more cynical reasons like the fact that any such experiment which attained significant success would be actively undermined by the current establishment.

Still, maybe there was more to your critique - why do you think ParEcon is naive and utopian? I'm very interested to hear about concerns anyone might have with it and problems you think might arise.

As for the "we" of my first message, I meant everyone - all of society. If ParEcon, or something like it, ever does get implemented, it will be with the consent of all its members, who will have to decide the exact form their society will take.


At 08:05 PM 7/16/98 -0400, G*rd*n wrote:
>Brett Knowlton:
>> I'm new to the talk line here, so forgive me if this topic has already
>> beaten to death.
>> It seems to me that our current political and economic system is
>> flawed. It may not be as bad as other systems, past or present, but it
>> bad enough that I would like to see it changed drastically.
>> The correct approach, to my mind, is outlined by Michael Albert in his
>> books on Participatory Economics. That is, to decide on what our values
>> are first, and then build economic and political institutions which
>> reinforce and nurture those values. If your values include democratic
>> self-management, for example, then our current system fails pretty
>> ...
>I'm also new on this list, although I've been on the Net a
>long time (comparatively speaking). I too hope this subject
>is neither beaten to death nor otherwise reprehensible to
>the audience.
>As it happens I became interested in ParEcon, as its
>friends nickname it, through a set of threads in Usenet
>News (in the anarchist newsgroups, mainly). I went to
>ZNet, in whose chat groups I'm already a desultory
>participant, and read some of the material there. It
>seemed a bit heavy on theory and light on praxis, although
>there is now a chat group there dedicated to the latter
>(with just 12 postings in it as of last viewing).
>ParEcon strikes me as a good approach to the
>immediate realization and furtherance of a subversive
>anarcho-socialist economics. I've begun doing some
>research on whether any of the hundreds of communities
>allegedly organized on a communistic, anarchistic, or
>democratic-socialist basis are already involved in some
>version of it in their relations with each other or with
>the world in general. However, my studies in this area
>are only just beginning.
>Extensive information on ParEcon theory can be
>found on ZNet, which has various web sites: try
> for starters. The chat groups
>are best read through browsers, for which you can get
>directions at the same web site.
>Gordon Fitch gcf at

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