ParEcon Again

K d-m-c at
Fri Oct 30 04:30:29 PST 1998

Brett Knowlton wrote

>> My understanding of ParEcons proposed iterative method for
>> prices goes something like this: consumers have a budget, and
they write
>> down what they want for the next period.

This is just a hoot. A laugh riot. You mean that ParEcons think that people are actually capable of knowing what they will want or need in the future? That they can actually calculate these budgets. I wrote recently that people often find it hard to fill out 1040EZ. They really are just daunting for many folks. I'm not altogether sure why, but obviously it likely has much to do with illiteracy and innumeracy. And probably more importantly, a socially produced fear of forms, bureaucratic language, and anything that comes in the mail that has U.S. Federal Gummint stamped on it. I rec'd an reply off list recounting a story which reinforced this claim. What do the ParEcons propose to do about this problem?

>>Producers will do the same
>> (propose output levels). These initial requests/plans are
then compared
>> and prices for each commodity are determined.

Who are the producers who make these decisions?

>>This could conceivably be
>> done in a completely mechanical fashion (i.e., a computer
could do it -
>> presumably the algorithm for arriving at the resulting prices
would be
>> subject to popular approval).

Oooooh great. Now the the mysteries of market supply and demand are now further obfuscated by the mysteries of computer algorithms. Oh I suppose that computers are just like any other form of technology insofar as technology is often shrouded in mystery. Lots of folks have no clue about how electricity works, where it comes from, for example. And we've managed to survive I guess. There was an urban legend that went round in the first part of the century: an elderly woman put cups under the electrical outlets in order to catch any 'juice' that might leak out. Or that other marvelous urban legend that accompanied the widespread introduction of the microwave: you know, the woman whose cat gets soaked in the rain, so she nukes it in the microwave in order to dry it off. And of course, today we have urban legends roaming all over cyberspace: good times virus, the little boy dying somewhere collecting sigs from emailers, and so on. Urban legends like this reflect the degree to which people don't understand how something works. It is a register for their fear or, as in the first two cases, urban legends allow folks to feel superior to those who'd be so stupid as to think that electricity is really 'juice' or not understand how microwaves work. The algorithms of computer logic it seems to me are just as mysterious to most folks, so I don't see how they'd willing allow a computer program to mediate this process.

It seems to me that ParEcon just wants to replace one form of technocratic administration (managerial/professional expertise) with another that lots of folks don't understand either. Isn't that a problem for them? Do they not see how undemocratic that is? Well, it may be *procedurally* or *formally* democratic, but it sure ain't fully participative democracy. It's just another way in which people register their so called private preferences without asking how those preferences are socially produced and why.

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