Participatory economics


Below are some excerpts from Michael Albert’s 2003 book Parecon: Life After Capitalism.

Albert offers an abstract critique of our contemporary economic structures and offers some insights about what kind of alternative vision we might put forward.

problems and solutions

Indignity, disempowerment, and hunger accompany capitalism worldwide. No one sensibly denies this, yet even among those who despise capitalism, most fear that suffering would increase without it. […] [However,] [a]nti-corporate globalization activists favor sympathetic and mutually beneficial global activists favor sympathetic and mutually beneficial global ties to advance equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management. Globalize equity not poverty. Globalize solidarity not greed. Globalize diversity not conformity. Globalize democracy not subordination. Globalize sustainability no rapaciousness.

the current system is a self-perpetuating aristocracy

Current international market trading overwhelmingly benefits those who enter exchanges already possessing the most assets… Benefits go disproportionately to the stronger traders who thereby increase their relative dominance… [C]apitalist globalization’s flow of resources, assets, outputs, cash, capital, and harmful by-products primarily further empowers the already powerful and further enriches the already rich at the expense of the weak and poor.

market competition destroys solidarity and interest in the public good

Each actor advances at the expense of others so that capitalist globalization promotes a self-interested “me-first” logic that generates hostility and destroys solidarity between actors… Collectively beneficial public and social goods like parks, health care, education, and social infrastructure are downplayed while individually enjoyed private goods are prioritized… Humanity’s well-being doesn’t guide the process but is instead sacrificed on behalf of private profit.

unequal wealth means unequal political influence

The idea that the broad public of working people, consumers, farmers, the poor, and the disenfranchised should have proportionate say is considered ludicrous. Capitalist globalization’s agenda is precisely to reduce the influence of whole populations to the advantage of Western corporate and political rule… Anti-globalization activists, who might more usefully be called internationalist activists, oppose capitalist globalization precisely because it so aggressively violates the equity, diversity, solidarity, self-management, and ecological balance essential to a better world.

international finance institutions ought to be replaced

The IMF’s priority became bashing down all obstacles to capital flow and unfettered profit-seeking — virtually the opposite of its mandate… [T]he World Bank became a tool of the IMF, providing loans to reward countries that offered open corporate access while withholding loans to punish those that did not. […]

[the IMF, WB, and WTO ought to be replaced with an International Asset Agency, a Global Investment Assistance Agency, and a World Trade Agency that] would work to attain equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological balance in international financial trade, and cultural exchange. They would seek to direct the benefits of trade and investment disproportionately to weaker and poorer parties, not to richer and more powerful ones… The new institutions would be transparent, participatory, and bottom-up, with local, popular, democratic accountability. They would promote and organize international cooperation to restrain out-of-control global corporations, capital, and markets by regulating them so that people in local communities could control their own lives… The new institutions would encourage the major industrial countries to coordinate their economic policies, currency exchange rates, and short-term capital flows in the public interest… directing the shift of financial resources from speculative profit-seeking to productive, sustainable development. […]

Anticapitalist globalization activists are unrepentantly internationalist. The problem is that capitalist globalization seeks to alter international exchange to further benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak. In contrast, internationalists want to alter internationals exchange to weaken the rich and powerful and empower the poor and weak. Internationally we want global justice and not capitalist globalization.

The pareconist internationalist says that we ought to receive for our labors remuneration in tune with how hard we have worked, how long we have worked, and how great a sacrifice we have made in our work. We shouldn’t get more because we use more productive tools, have more skills, or have greater inborn talent, much less property. We should get more only by virtue of how much effort we have expended or how much sacrifice we have endured in our useful work.

how should decisions at workplaces be made?

“Votes could be majority rule, three-quarters, two-thirds, consensus, etc. and would be taken at different levels and with… voting rules depending on the particular implications of the decisions in question. … Different decisions would employ different voting and tallying methods. There would be no a priori correct, detailed option, but there would be a right norm to implement: decision-making input in proportion as one is affected by decisions. […]

Every person participating in creating new products is a worker, and each worker has a balanced job complex, meaning the combination of tasks and responsibilities each worker has would accord them the same empowerment and quality of life benefits as the combination every other worker has. Unlike the current system, we would not have a division between those who overwhelmingly monopolize empowering, fulfilling, and engaging tasks and those who are overwhelmingly saddled with rote, obedient, and dangerous jobs. For reasons of equity and especially to create the conditions of democratic participation and self-management, balanced job complexes would ensure that when we each participate in our workplace and industry decision-making, we have  been comparably prepared by our work with confidence, skills, and knowledge to do so. The contrary situation now is that some people have great confidence, decision-making skills, and relevant knowledge obtained through their daily work, while other people are only tired, de-skilled, and lacking relevant knowledge as a result of theirs. Balanced job complexes do away with this division. They complete the task of removing class divisions that is  begun by eliminating private ownership of capital.

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