Re: [ox-en] Participatory Economics
- From: Graham Seaman <graham seul.org>
- Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2002 19:43:00 -0500 (EST)
A long rant in reply... sorry, not remotely directed at you..
On Sun, 10 Mar 2002, I. Claude Harper wrote:
something people on this list might find interesting...
I didn't know about them before (I've read zmag articles, but hadn't even
noticed the parecon pages!), but after a quick look my first reaction
is 'interesting, but yuk'. The base idea seems to be this:
"The participants in the planning procedure we call participatory planning
are the workers? councils and federations, the consumers? councils and
federations, and an Iteration Facilitation Board (IFB).
The IFB announces what we call "indicative prices" for goods, resources,
categories of labor, and capital stocks. Consumer councils and federations
respond with consumption proposals taking the indicative prices of final
goods and services as estimates of the social cost of providing them.
Workers councils and federations respond with production proposals listing
the outputs they would make available and the inputs they would need to
make them, again, taking the indicative prices as estimates of the social
benefits of outputs and opportunity costs of inputs. The IFB then
calculates the excess demand or supply for each good, resource, or
category of labor and adjusts the indicative price for the good up, or
down, in light of the excess demand or supply. Using the new indicative
prices consumer and worker councils and federations revise and resubmit
In other words what they have is a system based on Walras' theory of
market economies, but with the imaginary auctioneer replaced by
a real one in the shape of the IFB. It's a neat idea, because it
should keep economists happy, and because it seems to get round the
problem of huge bureaucracies in purely planned economies. It also,
to me at least, sounds:
1. totally unreal (not based on anything developing in real current
2. still based on some kind of fetishism (prices are supposed to by magic
reveal 'social benefits and opportunity costs', but in the end how much I
work is determined by prices produced by the system, not my own choice -
unless I'm prepared to go without).
3. just plain impractical (the process is supposed to hill-climb to an
optimal point. All the complaints made over the years against
theories of optimal equilibrioum in capitalist systems apply just as much
here - with hill-climbing there's no guarantee you'll converge, ever,
or not miss the global minimum and fall into a local one. And if the
process doesn't work automatically, behind people's backs, then the
bureaucracy of the IFB is going to have to grow to paper over the
4. Finally, the goals are different. I don't think I'd like to live in
their society with it's vision of efficiency and 'work as sacrifice'. I'd
rather have the gpl-society's 'work is something you do because you want
to'. They say: " If some prefer to sacrifice more by working with greater
intensity we allow them to consume more -- provided their workmates
confirm their greater sacrifice by awarding them a higher effort rating."
Stakhanov, step forward...
On their FAQ they say one of the reactions they were surprised at was that
people thought the society described had unpleasant elements, rather than
being unworkable ("That came as a surprise to us, I admit. We thought
pretty much anyone on the left would agree that IF this system was
workable, surely it was desirable."). But it shouldn't have been such a
surprise: they keep referring to Edward Bellamy as a predecessor of their
ideas. William Morris, a contemporary of Bellamy wrote in 1889:
"Mr. Bellamy worries himself unnecessarily in seeking some incentive to
labour to replace the fear of starvation, which is at present our only
one, whereas it cannot be too often repeated that the true incentive to
useful and happy labour is and must be pleasure in the work itself...
[his] book should not be taken as the Socialist bible of reconstruction;
a danger which it will perhaps not altogether escape, as incomplete
systems impossible to be carried out but plausible on the surface are
always attractive to people ripe for change, but not knowing clearly what
their aim is."
Do other people here have the same rather negative reaction to their ideas
as me? Maybe I'm just having a bad day... (I read the William Morris essay
just before reading the Parecon pages, which maybe biassed me..)
On the other hand, writing for ZMag does sound like a good idea - it's got
a big audience and I would think a much wider circle of supporters than
or actually I think that parecon would benefit from hearing about
Oekonux/Free Software Society/Unfolding ideas.
I suggest Stefan Merten (or whoever) contact Z Magazine for an
interview/article to get them thinking about some of these things.
(Michael Albert is an editor of Z Mag and one of author of Looking Forward
on Parecon and speaker at WSF on Parecon.)
It'd be nice to see more conversations with those outside the world of Free
Software/OSS. And it'd be nice to see Parecon rewrite their pathetic
chapter on computers/information society with our help. Scanning, I don't
see anything on FSF/OSS or more general intellectual property issues. If
nothing else, I think I may have to submit something on that.
Parecon and Oekonux sort of fall into the same category of post-capitalist
socio-economic theory and practice. You also see a similar mix of ideas,
what I might call post-anarchist/leftist. That is, people in both might say
they are or were anarchists or libertarian socialists, are critical of
capitalism, do not seek statist solutions, are focussing on what it is
instead of what it's not, etc. Both would probably benefit/enjoy a