Race and Parecon
What about race and racism – in capitalism is racism really endemic?
There is nothing in capitalism’s defining institutions that says that people in one cultural community should be treated by the economy differently than people in any other any more than there is anything in capitalism’s defining institutions that says people of different heights, or with different pitch voices should be treated differently.
On the contrary, capitalism, unto itself, is what we might call an equal opportunity exploiter. If you have the requisite luck, brutality, or in rare instances talents plus the needed callousness to rise in power and income, then regardless of any cultural or biological features, you get to own and to profit, or, one notch down, you get to monopolize empowering circumstances and enjoy the fruits of being in the coordinator rather than the working class.
On the other hand, if you have none of the requisites of success in capitalism, regardless of your race, nationality, religion, etc., you get to sell yourself as a wage slave doing overwhelmingly rote and obedient work, taking orders and pocketing only small change.
The less derogatory presentation of this insight is made, for example, by the Noble prize-winning economist Milton Friedman when he says, “The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate each other to deal with one another and help one another.”
The first part of Friedman’s observation is true of capitalism per se, but not of capitalism amidst people who hate each other, which makes the second part of his statement a manipulative lie.
The wrinkle in Friedman’s analysis is that capitalism is not race blind, or religion blind, or ethnicity blind, or blind to any other cultural feature whenever a society’s broader social structures outside the economy consign the holder of the feature to a subordinate cultural position or convey to them a dominant cultural position. In such cases, the economic logic of capitalism will notice the extra-economic differentials and will operate in light of them rather than ignoring them. Hate outside the economy is not overcome by capitalism, as Friedman implies, but is reproduced and enlarged by capitalism.
If racism in a society, for example, or religious bigotry, or whatever else, consigns some community to having less status and influence, then in the capitalist economy members of that community will not in general be elevated above their “superiors” but will, instead, generally be made subordinate to them. The economy will use the existing expectations of community members such as the expectation that whites are superior to blacks to enforce and even where possible to enlarge its own economic hierarchies of exploitation. It will not instead violate those external hierarchies at the potential expense of its own operations.
Thus, the capitalist employer, even one who is personally free of racist beliefs or even personally hostile to racism, will, in general, if racism is ascendant in the broader society, to that extent not hire blacks to rule over whites as managers or in other positions of relative respect and influence, but will instead hire whites over blacks. The first choice is ruled out because it risks disobedience and dissension. Capitalism, in other words, uses accustomed patterns from cultural life to enhance desired patterns inside the economy.
Similarly, if due to its cultural position a community can be paid less, it will be paid less in light of market competition to reduce, again even against some employer’s personal preferences.
At the same time, it is also true that to the extent that growing opposition to racism begins to make racial hierarchies discordant with expectations and desires and conducive to dissent and resistance, capitalist employers will shy away from their more overt exploitation of race but will continue to try to extract any pound of flesh that they can get away with when selling products or when buying people’s ability to work. Thus in the case of heightened opposition to racism in society, we will see a shift from Jim Crow racism to James Crow Esquire Jr. racism, as noted by Sharpton earlier.
The statistics and other accountings of racism and of other cultural oppressions and economic life are well known and well revealed in countless studies and sources. How does a desirable economy reverse such phenomena?
What about in a parecon – racism?
If a parecon exists in a society that has cultural hierarchies of race, religion, etc., what does it contribute? If it instead exists within a society that has desirable communities without hierarchies, what then? In general, does a parecon’s needs regarding its own operations impose any constraints on cultures?
Change the U.S. economy to a parecon without altering the U.S. racial, religious, and ethnic landscape and you have a contradiction. Existent racial and other dynamics pit groups against one another and give people expectations of superiority and inferiority. The participatory economy, however, violates these predictions and produces solidarity.
Parecon provides income and circumstances inconsistent with cultural hierarchies. It tends to overthrow cultural hierarchies by the empowerment and means that it affords to those at the bottom of each.
People in a parecon won’t and indeed can’t systemically economically exploit racism and other cultural injustices. Individuals in a parecon could try to do this, of course, and they could harbor horrible attitudes, of course, but there is no mechanism for racists to accrue undo power or wealth even as individuals much less as members of some community.
If you are black or white, Latino or Italian American, Jewish or Muslim, Presbyterian or Catholic, southerner or northerner, or what have you–regardless of cultural hierarchies that may exist in the broader society, in a parecon you have a balanced job complex and a just income and self managing power over your conditions, all like everyone else.
Lingering or even continually reproduced racism or other cultural injustices could penetrate a parecon in the role definitions of actors, but they could not do so in a manner that would bestow economic power or material wealth or economic comforts unfairly. Thus, blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc. in a transformed U.S. might have statistically different characteristics in their balanced job complexes, but these differences could not violate the balance of those complexes. Such disproportionately distributed job features might have otherwise denigrating attributes, it is true, though one would think that if they did, the self managing dynamics of the economy would tend to undue those injustices.
Indeed, one can imagine and even anticipate that in a parecon members of minority communities would in workplaces have means to meet together in what are typically called caucuses to assess events and situations to collectively guard against racial or other denigrating dynamics that might otherwise tend to arise, or to fight against those that are present as residues from the past or as outgrowths from other spheres of social life. This would seem to be about the best one can ask of an economy regarding it obstructing the continuation or emergence of cultural injustices.
But what about parecon and desirable cultures in a desirable society? There is no reason why cultural norms established in other parts of society cannot impact economic life in a parecon and we can predict, I think, that they will. The daily practices of people from different cultural communities who have different customs, religions, ways of celebrating, and moral beliefs, could certainly differ not only in what holidays their members take from work, say, but in their daily practices during work or in consumption such as arranging periods of prayer, or disproportionately engaging in particular types of activity that are culturally proscribed or culturally preferred. There could be whole industries or sectors of the economy that members of a community would culturally avoid, as with the Amish in the U.S., for example.
In a parecon the limits on such cultural impositions on the economy would be that the special economic needs of cultural communities would have to be consistent with the self managing desires of those outside those communities as well as of those within them.
One possibility, for example, is that in more demanding cases it might make sense for members of a workplace to nearly all be from one community so that they can easily have shared holidays, workday schedules, and norms about various daily practices that others would find impossible to abide. Self management doesn’t preclude such arrangements and may sometimes make them ideal.
Alternatively, a workplace may incorporate members of many diverse communities, as will larger and sometimes also smaller consumer units. In such cases here may be very minor mutual accommodations–some members celebrate Christmas and others celebrate Hanukkah or some other holidays, and schedules are accorded–or perhaps there are more extensive accommodations having to do with more frequent differences in schedule or with other practices affecting what type work some people can undertake.
The point is, parecon’s workplaces, consumer units, and planning processes are very flexible infrastructures whose defining features are designed to be classless, but whose details can vary in endless permutations including accommodating diverse cultural impositions due to people’s community practices and beliefs.
Finally, how does parecon impose on cultures? Do the needs and requirements of the roles of worker, consumer, and planner in a parecon put limits on what practices a culture can elevate in its own internal affairs?
The answer is in some sense, yes, it does. Cultural communities in a society with a parecon cannot without great friction incorporate internal norms and arrangements that call for material advantages or great power for a few at the expense of many others.
A culture could exist, say, that would elevate some small sector of priests or artists or soothsayers, or elders, or whoever else and that required all other members to obey them in particular respects, or to shower them with gifts, etc. But the likelihood that such a cultural community would long persist would likely be quite low in a parecon.
The reason is because the people involved will be spending their economic time in environments that produce inclinations for equity, solidarity, and self-management, as well as diversity and school them in respecting but not obeying others. Why would they then submit to inequitable conditions and skewed decision making norms in another part of their life?
Assuming that in a good society people will be free to leave cultures, and it is hard to imagine a parecon arising in a society that forbid such personal freedom, since people would have both economic wherewithal and education and disposition to manage themselves, we might guess that many would exercise that freedom to leave any cultural community that denied them the fruits of their labors or denied them their self managing say. That, at least, would be my expectation.
Here is a talk from Justin Podur on this topic…
Life After Racism?
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