ParEcon Questions & Answers

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 Parecon’s Intellectual Tasks

The material here is excerpted and adapted from the book Realizing Hope

vWhat tasks does parecon point to – conceptually?

New ideas have intellectual value largely in proportion to their impact on further new ideas beyond themselves. Does a new idea open doors or does it lead nowhere, sitting dormant?

Of course the main doors for innovative social ideas to open are practical. Parecon should provoke efforts to attain new institutional relations. But we can also ask whether parecon’s insights propel an intellectual agenda. Do they raise new questions to explore? Do intellectual tasks arise from parecon’s claims?

One type of intellectual extension of parecon’s insights will be exploring each new concept or claim it makes about existing capitalism more deeply and fully. For example, one can imagine a deeper look at markets to discern the details of their various parecon highlighted attributes — including their anti-social impact on personalities, their distortion of public/private consumption ratios, their constraining of the trajectory of investments, their snowballing mispricing of items with external effects, their coercive imposition on work length and intensity, their coercive imposition on work organization and divisions of labor, and their coercive implications for class definition and rule. Studies could reveal the extent of these claimed features and analysis could uncover their deeper relations and dynamics.

Or one can imagine similar extensive explorations of capitalist workplaces and their divisions of labor and modes of decision making. For example, what is the relation between different modes of conveying and assessing information in decisions and the influence that various actors have on outcomes in capitalist firms? Or what is the relation between different corporate decision tallying methods and actor influences? What decision patterns exist, what properties and implications do they seem to impose? In turn, what impact does the choice of decision making hierarchy and of the corporate division of labor have on capitalist technological innovations and work methodologies, escalating/diversifying or curbing/limiting their pace and their orientation, and what effects do the implications have on profit seeking, on quality of output, on use of talents and resources, and so on.

One could also imagine explicitly examining the implications of the existence and agendas of the coordinator class for capitalist dynamics. First one could seek to document the class’s existence and shared properties, including circumstances, consciousness, and aims. Then one could investigate how coordinator agendas impact profit-seeking, market competition, workplace organization, workplace and market decision-making, and the interface between workers and owners? Understanding what typifies relations between the coordinator class and the capitalists on the one hand, and between the coordinator class and workers on the other hand, would be beneficial. What consciousnesses, preferences, and interests emerge in the respective classes due to their mutual relations, and how do these class characteristics affect economic motives, income distribution, consumption patterns, family relations, schooling, sports, culture, and so on?

What about Parecon itself, is it finished, or is there more thought to be given?

A second broad area for extrapolation of parecon’s insights has to do with parecon itself. What are additional or deeper properties of parecon or of possible extensions and variations of it?

In exploring and refining parecon as an economic vision, however, we won’t want to make either of two mistakes:

1) thinking that all parecons will be alike and that by naming/describing a possible feature of a parecon we are naming/describing an actual feature that must always be present in all parecons.

Or 2) thinking that we have the means and information to closely read the future, or, for that matter, that there is good reason to want to try to closely read the future.

In other words, we don’t need blueprints. The details of future economies and societies will of course emerge from the unpredictable and often very varied choices their citizens will make, not from prognostications much less instructions developed in advance. People will do what they want to do. But of course rightly avoiding over-reaching into excessive details should not prevent us from  discussing what we are usefully capable of addressing now.

So even while avoiding mistaking possibilities for inevitabilities or over-reaching into excessive details, we can certainly usefully further explore the logic and implications of the key broad defining institutions of parecon, both intellectually and in practical experiments, and use the resulting insights to both improve the vision (without over-specifying the future) and to refine our comprehension of it and thus our ability to advocate and seek it effectively.

So, for example, what more can we say about the specifically economic implications of workers and consumers councils, of self managed decision making, of balanced job complexes, of remuneration for effort and sacrifice, and of participatory planning?

The issue isn’t trying to foresee tenth order or even third or perhaps even second order impact. The issue is to further elaborate and comprehend the main broad defining implications of these structural choices for liberating people’s options, behaviors, views, and fulfillment and development in order to test and investigate the worthiness and the viability of the vision. Likewise, what about demonstrating the mechanisms that would facilitate information exchange and preference tallying, in theory and experiment? That too would enhance the case being made. One could imagine not only practical experiments at various scales – such as workplaces or groups of them, and neighborhoods or groups of them, but also perhaps a larger scale simulation, whether in fictitious but carefully constructed computer form, or perhaps in a kind of parallel economic activity in the real world.

vWhat about the rest of society and parecon’s place in it?

A third broad area of parecon informed research and intellectual innovation involves elaborating on what has been loosely discussed here in this book, which is the interface between an economy and the rest of society, first regarding capitalism itself and then regarding participatory economics.

For example, what are the deeper and more fundamental ways that the “field of force” emanating from capitalist economic institutions impacts other realms of current society including gender, race, politics, ecology, international relations, education, science, art, and so on. And, likewise, what are the effects back on capitalist economies from other realms of society?

How do capitalist markets, corporate divisions of labor, and the three class economic division imposed by capitalism impact family life, education, cultural communities, political parties, science and technology, and art and music?

Are families seriously constrained and textured by the processes of market participation and competition? Do families deeply embody class consciousness and if so, in what respects for each class? Do they internally replicate, in some degree, economic structure such as divisions of labor or class relations, and if so, with what implications for nurturance and socialization? Do current families produce adults without economic categorization or do they produce members of classes? Is the sexism that exists alongside capitalism and that is impacted by capitalism different than sexism per se? Is it molded and constrained due to class pressures, market pressures, etc.?

How, more exactly than we have in this book discussed, does education in a society with capitalist economics reflect economic influences and constraints? Do the pedagogy, methodology, and roles of those who teach and learn embody imprints from the economy? Does the subject matter? Does the distribution of educational opportunities?

Are racial, religious, ethnic, and regional communities internally differentiated differently than they might otherwise be due to existing in the field of influence of capitalist economics? Do they show a significant impact of market competition and commercialization? Do they internally abide, incorporate, and reproduce class divisions? Do their modes of self definition, celebration, and mutual interaction embody features imposed by capitalist competition, class division, or remunerative logic?

Do the structure, role offerings, and programs of political parties and the roles and practices of the state reflect the pressures of capitalist competition, profit seeking, accumulation, and class division and rule? Does the state contradict the existence of classes, does it accommodate the existence of classes, or does it actually reproduce the class hierarchies of capitalism? Do government’s internal methods embody corporate norms and logic?

Is the structure of science and technology impacted in the processes employed, the roles available, the discoveries made and emphasized, the insights gleaned and communicated, and the products researched, conceived, designed, and widely implemented? Does all this reflect impositions from and connections to economic pressures generated by the market, corporations, profit seeking, and so on?

Is the production and enjoyment of art and music different by virtue of impositions from capitalist economy than its intrinsic qualities would dictate? Are the artist’s work conditions and well being impacted? Is the choice of focus? Is the remuneration for artistic work and the dissemination of its results? Are the music tastes of people freely arrived at or does peoples’ position in the capitalist economy, and particularly their class, bias their preferences?

And what about the reverse dynamics to those noted above? In particular, how does the sexist field of force, the racist field of force, and the politically authoritarian field of force emanating from those three spheres of social life contextualize, constrain, contour, and even define features of capitalist economy?

Are workplaces to some extent like families or like cultural communities or political states in their operations, structures, and role offerings? Are classes impacted by gender, race, and political divisions? Does the way corporate divisions of labor play out vary due to influences from other parts of society? Are there counterparts of men and women, mothers and daughters and fathers and sons in workplaces? Is there a racial community dynamic in work’s roles and products? Does market competition get contoured and constrained by the state’s intrinsic political logic?

Just a little thought reveals diverse examples of mutual implications–and many different schools of thought have of course tackled questions like those raised above. Indeed, their insights have in many respects provided the impetus for the inclusion of these questions here. But perhaps additional study which in particular incorporates and even emerges from parecon’s insights and modes of thought can discern additional features and especially additional patterns and dynamics that add to our understanding and, most important, that have strategic implications for activists seeking change.

And finally, in accord with the intellectual priorities of the rest of this book, all the above issues bearing on the mutual relations of capitalist economics and forces emanating from other dimensions of life apply also to the future. That is, a pareconish intellectual agenda includes further exploring the relations discussed in this book between parecon’s economic innovations and existing dynamics in other parts of contemporary life — which is to say the implications of parecon for racism, sexism, political authoritarianism, and unconstrained growth, and vice versa — but, more, it also includes the further elaboration of vision for other spheres of life and then the exploration of the interface between revolutionized other spheres of life and parecon.

In other words, a big parecon-related intellectual agenda item is for activists and movements to generate a compelling vision for other parts of society, and in particular to do this for kinship and gender/sexuality, for community and race/religion, for politics and the state and citizenship, and for relations to nature and relations among societies.

ffHow do we do this?

One possibility bearing on this desire for additional visions, is that the path of conceiving and advocating a parecon is more or less repeatable for other focuses. Perhaps we can set out key values, refine them for each new sphere of life we address, and then seek to conceptualize and comprehend new institutions for that sphere that get its key functions accomplished in accord with the preferred values.

For example, a feminist intellectual agenda influenced by parecon’s methods might start from the insight that the kinship sphere is concerned with procreation, sexuality, nurturance, socialization, and the handling of associated daily life relations. It might posit as guiding values solidarity, diversity, equity (meaning in this case that people should have kinship related responsibilities free of gender, sexual, or age-related social hierarchies), and self management. And it might then seek to describe favored feminist living and sexual arrangements — obviously celebrating a great diversity of types but also including certain key defining structures able to accomplish kinship functions while advancing the guiding values.

Or, similarly, anti-racists and liberation theologists and others concerned about cultural and community liberation might note that community is about self-definition, communication, celebration, etc., and might posit values such as solidarity, diversity, equity and security (in this case for cultural communities), and self management, and might then conceive and advocate multicultural (or perhaps it might be called intercommunal) ways of communities defining and mutually interacting with one another to accomplish cultural functions without generating racial, ethnic, religious, national, or other cultural community hierarchies of security, status, freedom, wealth, or power.

Similarly, anarchists and others concerned about political relations might note that politics is about legislation of shared norms, adjudication of disputes and violations, and implementation of collective projects and programs, and might pose as values solidarity, diversity, and equity/justice (meaning a desirable distribution of accountability and responsibility), and self management, and might then conceive and advocate liberatory new structures to accomplish political functions consistent with enhancing our political values. This would not be about eliminating polity per se, nor about capturing the current polity, but about conceiving and constructing a new polity in accord with the logic of a new society.

Finally, in all these cases of intellectual pursuit, beyond looking only toward conceiving the future’s defining features, just as for the economy another task will be to pose strategic implications of the visionary insights for the present and to test and continually refine proposed methods in practical work…which task we at least begin to take up in our next chapter.

 Next Entry: Organizational Tasks


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