ParEcon Questions & Answers

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Decision Making in Parecon?


bIs parecon democratic? Does it go further?

Economies affect how much say people have over decisions. What is our social value for that? How much say should people have? The idea of self management, the value that advocates of parecon favor for decision making, is simple. As a value it is premised on wanting good decisions that also, however, permit and even facilitate and demand appropriate participation and distribution of influence. A decision is to be made. Who decides? With what level of influence?

Typical answers are a ruler decides, period, so that his or her will is law. Or, the experts or experts decide, their collective will, sometimes with disparities in relative influence among them, is law. Or, the people decide, their will, with each having equal say, is law.

These typical answers are all flawed, however, when looked at through a pareconist lens. The logic subscribed by parecon simply approaches the whole problem from a different angle. Rather than looking for a single rights answer, pareconists recognize the obvious: The method of tallying preferences for a decision, and of presenting relevant data and working through it even before arriving at preferences and tallying them, are not themselves a matter of principle. They are, instead, what we might better call contextual tactics.

One person alone cogitating about a decision and then making it, dictatorially, is an approach or tactic. A group endowed with some special attributes assessing and then deciding is also an approach or tactic. And so too is a whole population doing so – say everyone in a workplace, or neighborhood, or even both, out to a whole economy. More, tallying preferences among a group deciding by one person one vote majority rules is a tactic, and so is tallying with the norm that some have more votes than others, or with more than a majority being required, right up to requiring consensus.

Saying that methods of assembling and assessing options and related information and of then tallying preferences into a decision, are contextual, mere tactics, is saying that our value for decision making operates at a different level than all these operational choices. The value sits behind and allows a choice among these contextual communications and voting options. The value, in our case, is that each person should have a say in decisions proportionate to the affect those decisions will have on him or her (as conditions, our patience with fine differences, our knowledge, and even our capacities to mediate permit).

  • If a decision will affect only or very nearly only me, it is appropriate that I have huge say in it, or maybe even sole say, like a dictator. None of us thinks that there should be a majority rule vote of all employees in even the absolute best imaginable future workplace regarding what pictures I hang in my work area. That decision overwhelmingly affects only me so only I should decide, alone, as, in that case, a dictator.
  • On the other hand, no one – outside advocates of capitalist rule – thinks I or any other person alone should decide overall policies that impact on every workers’ life. Rather those affected should be involved, and proportionate to the extent they are affected.

The morality of this is transparent…we are all one species, none entitled to dominate the rest. But what of experts? Doesn’t this approach relegate them to less involvement than desirable if our aim is also to make accurate and worthy decisions?

Not at all. Self management not only doesn’t say we should ignore expertise, it incorporates in its choice of communications and deliberation the best expert information available. But it doesn’t give the experts excessive power, only proportionate power and appropriate voice.

More, for those still harboring a fascination with the centrality of expertise and concern that this approach won’t consult It, notice that in fact when it comes time to tally your preference, you are the world’s foremost expert in that. So a consistent concern not only for incorporating expert insights regarding the meaning of options and their implications, which is done via consultation and conveyance of their insights, but also the accuracy of accounting for tastes entails, yes, self management. My taste can’t be properly tallied unless I, the world’s expert in it, get to register it. It is therefore both morally sound and operationally suited to accuracy and insight, at least it is if carried out sensibly, to pursue self management.

And what is sensible regarding the mechanics of self management? The answer is to not fetishize perfection. There is no such thing as perfect self management, or perfect anything in a social arena. Neither achieving self management nor achieving any other social aspect of a good economy or society is a physics problem or math calculation. It is always and only a social process including deliberation and, hopefully, cooperative negotiation. You seek the sought balance of self management but only within the reasonable possibilities of your knowledge and to the extent that further precision adds less to benefit than further time spent seeking precision detracts.

Thus, we set up broadly, on average and over time, self managing social relations. They diverge, unavoidably, from perfection, as in precise allocation according to exact accountings of effects of choices on every party, but they are acceptable both in not trying for greater precision than needed and in incorporating quality of choice.



Self Managemnt

Excerpt from Realizing Hope

In capitalism owners have tremendous say. Managers and high level lawyers, engineers, financial officers, and doctors, each of whom monopolize empowering work and daily decision-making levers, have substantial say. And people doing rote and obedient labor rarely even know what decisions are being made, much less influence them.

In contrast, a good economy will be a richly democratic economy. People will control their own lives consistent with others doing likewise. Each person will have a level of say that won’t impinge on other people having the same level of say. We will impact decisions in proportion as we are affected by them. This is called self management.

Imagine a worker wants to place a picture of his daughter on his workstation. Who should make that decision? Should some owner decide? Should a manager decide? Should all the workers decide? Obviously none of that makes any sense. The one worker whose child it is should decide, alone, with full authority. He should be literally a dictator in this particular case. Sometimes, in other words, we think making decisions dictatorially makes sense.

Now suppose instead that a worker wants to put a radio on her desk and to play it very loudly listening to raucous rock and roll. Who should decide? We all intuitively know that the answer is that those who will hear the radio should have a say and that those who will be more bothered or more benefited should have more say. The worker no longer gets to be a dictator, nor does anyone else. Instead, those who would hear the radio have a say, and others outside the range of hearing, do not.

And at this point, we have already implicitly arrived at a value vis-à-vis decision making. We easily realize that we don’t want one person one vote and 50% plus one to decide everything all the time. Nor do we always want one person one vote and some other percentage required for agreement. Nor do we always want one person to decide authoritatively, as a dictator. Nor do we always want consensus. Nor do we always want any other single approach to discussing issues, expressing preferences, and tallying them. All the various methods of making decisions make sense in some cases but are horribly unfair, or intrusive, or authoritarian, in other cases, because different decisions require different approaches.

What we hope to accomplish when we choose from among all possibilities a particular mode of decision making and processes of discussing issues, agenda setting, information sharing and so on, is that each actor should have an influence on decisions in proportion to the degree he or she is affected by them. And that is our fourth parecon value, called self management.

Participatory Economics pursues the above listed values of solidarity, diversity, equity, and self management via a few centrally defining institutional choices.

Next Entry: Efficiency?


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