ParEcon Again

Brett Knowlton brettk at
Fri Oct 30 16:57:03 PST 1998


>> But, of course, unions exist as a defensive mechanism
>> to protect workers from capital, so presumably, we wouldn't need them
>> per se in a fully participatory society.
>But the problem is, ParEcon assumes what needed to be proved in the first
>place -- that if we all were nice to one another and looked out for one
>another, things would be fully participatory. But you don't organize
>unions by telling people, "Unions are only a limited tool and can't really
>change anything and will disappear someday like dinosaurs, but you should
>really help out and join anyway". I respect ParEcon's attempt to make
>economic democracy a real issue, that's cool and all, but it's not really
>linked to what Marx called the "ruthless critique of what exists", that
>is, an analysis of what makes global capitalism tick.

ParEcon is not attempting to be a critique of what exists, but instead a vision of how a post-capitalist future might look like. ParEcon doesn't even address how you transition from what we have now to ParEcon (although you could go through this exercise too).

Even so, workers councils aren't that different from unions, are they? Except that they would actually control the means of production - there would be no managers to fight, only an operation to run.

>> >So if my salary is currently $9000 a year, and I want $18000 worth of
>> >goods next year, how would the system handle this? *Everyone* is going to
>> >want a bigger piece of the pie, right? (Including -- and especially --
>> >firms). ...
>> Then, since you are judged to have put out an effort worth $9000 by
>> your peers, unless you can give a good argument why you should get
>> more, you'll be $9,000 short of your dreams.
>Again, this begs the question of how every single person is supposed to
>judge every single other person's effort, and how all those decisions
>feed back into production. It might work for very small institutions
>or collectives of highly-motivated people (like the folks who
>came up with Linux, praised be their usernames!).

I think ultimately individuals will always be judged by a small group of their peers. This is natural in a small company or work group, but even in a larger organization you can always identify a small group of co-workers who could be charged with each other's work evaluations.

Although I work at a small company now, I worked for Digital right before they were bought out by Compaq at a site that employed about 2,000 people. But there were about 10-15 people who could have served as my "evaluation committee", and who in fact did serve this function when I had my salary review by providing my boss with input on my performance.

What about self-employed people? You can always judge their performance based on their output or some other criteria. Its a different problem though. You might be able to fool people for a little while (i.e. claim you work more than you really do), but not indefinitely.

>But the global end of
>the analysis -- i.e. the harsh realities of global accumulation, class
>struggle, and monster multinationals ("Corporasaurus Rex") rampaging up
>and down the planet -- gets left out. Participation is not enough;
>we also need to imagine and innovate a new political *content* for these
>democratic forms. And I'll be the first to admit that I do not have all
>the answers or any prefab agendas, but the question needs to be asked.

As I said before, I don't know how a ParEcon might interact with non-participatory economies. Maybe Bill could get Robin to answer those questions. As for the political sphere, I agree with you. But ParEcon is only designed to create economic institutions which are compatible with the values A/H deem important (solidarity, self-management, diversity, etc.). There is a lot of overlap, of course.

>>> Who are the producers who make these decisions?
>> The people who work in a workplace. I'm in a small software company. We
>> would all get together and say, OK, I'll work so many hours and I promise
>> to get these projects done, etc. After this meeting, the company as a
>> whole can say, we will finish 2 new programs this period which will do the
>> following things, etc. This is what gets submitted.

>For small, self-selected groups of professionals, this can work, provided
>there's an existing public space you can latch on to (the freeware
>movement and those lovely, lush Federal subsidies of our
>information/computer net). But what about giant corporations like Intel? A
>chip plant runs $2 billion or more nowadays and involves the collaborative
>efforts of thousands of people. How does exchange get regulated when
>Fujitsu, say, produces a better, cheaper chip than Intel and people start
>buying the former, thus completely throwing the existing production
>and consumption plans out of whack?

My response here is similar to what I've said above: large organizations can be broken down into smaller, more manageable groups. The proposals of each group can then be summed to determine the plan for the larger organization.

There is nothing to say you can't have a hierarchy of people making decisions on how to use resources to create a new fab, for example, but the people in charge on that project will probably have to take out the trash the next week in order to balance their job complex. I'm parodying a bit, but not all decisions have to be reached by taking a majority vote. You can still elect representatives to make decisions for the group - you just can't have the same people making all of the empowering/important decisions all the time.

As for your point about competition (from non-ParEcon firms/economies, I presume?), I don't know. Sure, if the US goes to ParEcon, and then Japanese companies start dumping chips on us, then that will disrupt the agreed to consumption plan.

But I doubt such micro disruptions would be severe enough over a single period to ruin the system. Another distortion somewhere else in the economy (like unexpectedly high auto exports to China or something) might partially offset the distortion from chip dumping. Or the built in slack would hopefully be enough to deal successfully with such shocks.

Ultimately, who knows? The experiment has never been done. It could potentially cause big problems. But again, our system is not immune to these things either. What if tomorrow Fujitsu started selling a chip twice as fast as Intel and at half the cost? Intel would have to lay off workers. Our system doesn't necessarily adjust seamlessly to these kinds of events either.

>> One of the goals of ParEcon was to come up with a system that
>> recognizes, specifically, that preferences are socially produced
>> and to deal with this fact in an appropriate manner. This is why
>> A/H propose to make qualitative information
>> on how products are produced publicly available. Prices just can't get
>> across ideas like working conditions or waste disposal procedures.

> This is an excellent idea. You'd want to create a kind of informatic
> public space, where the data and information are freely available to all
> -- starting with the CIA and Pentagon archives, of course (I keep
> telling myself it won't happen in my lifetime, but ya gotta
> dream). This would fit nicely with the democratization of the mass media,
> i.e. genuinely public TV, the reigning in of the media multinationals,
> etc.

Wow, you actually liked an aspect of ParEcon. Pretty cool.

Although I might not come off this way, I'm not that committed to ParEcon as our only hope for salvation (although I haven't found any fatal flaws thus far). There's nothing wrong with taking what works and discarding what is shown not to work. But this kind of exercise (A/H have done some hard thinking about the problem of what you need to create and maintain egalitarian and just social institutions) can be very fruitful, and I believe they've made a substantial contribution.


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