Robin Hahnel on Participatory Economics I

Dennis R Redmond dredmond at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU
Tue Oct 27 17:10:47 PST 1998

On Tue, 27 Oct 1998, William S. Lear crossposted from Robin Hahnel:

> We also have delegated authority. There will be chairpeople
> of committees, there will be heads of work teams. There will be heads of
> departments and divisions who have authority to order those "under
> them." If I am the head of a work team and you do not obey my order in a
> work situation, I can put you on report and recommend you be dismissed.
> But what there will not be are some people who are always the order
> givers and others who are always the order takers in every work site in
> a workplace. Each person will experience both being in authority and
> being under another's authority in different situations and at different
> times.

My sense is that this confuses the power-hierarchies of late capitalism -- the fact that we all work in workteams of various kinds -- with the rule of capital itself. Even the biggest bosses are "under the gun" in the sense of having to show profit growth, increased market share and the like; Bill Gates is not an order-giver in that sense, in fact Microsoft has to listen very carefully to what its corporate customers want, and try to build solutions. ParEcon seems to be essentially a moralistic critique of the system from the standpoint of the engineers, scientists and technicians who design and redesign systems all the time; that could work for things like Linux, where you had a whole Unix community of free-spirited hackers and GNU's freeware to build on, but reorganizing an entire mode of production is an altogether different kettle of fish.

> Hopefully I have explained that this is inaccurate. The members of the
> iteration facilitation board wield no power because they do nothing
> until the plan has already been essentially hammered out and agreed to.
> Most emphatically, they do not pose alternative plans that people choose
> from. They are there for an efficient mop up operation at the very end
> when the social iterative mechanism has already settled on the
> alternative people want. If anyone feared them, their role could be
> eliminated entirely.

But who does that actual hammering? How do those iterations (a mathematical term, and one would doesn't do justice to the confused, protoplasmic messiness of politics or of daily life) really work? The assumption seems to be, producers will produce and consumers will consume, and we'll all know what we're worth in the end. But there's no way on Earth I personally could've foreseen than I would buy an Obsidian 3D video card (and a glorious thing it is) this year; how does that feed back into the system? How *do* we regulate the global economy -- the card was manufactured in Taiwan; if those people don't have councils, can the system really work? Hahnel's examples are suggestive: he mentions Cuba, Kerala and the Sandinistas, i.e. areas which aren't industrialized and need to delink from the world economy in order to grow, just as any successful industrializer has done, including the US (e.g. those 19th century tariffs). But what about northern Italy, southern Germany, and the industrial districts of Japan? These regions exhibit some really amazing forms of public cooperation and networking solutions to the problem of development; but they also have powerful trade unions, strong Left parties, and welfare states or powerful developmental states. As Brecht put it, so many reports, so many questions...

-- Dennis

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