An advocate of participatory economics, Mark Evans, has proposed that to attain a self-managing, equitable, classless, participatory economy we don’t need to balance jobs for empowerment effects. He considers ”balanced job complexes” unnecessary. He feels that to dismiss them from our economic vision will provide an “easier strategic option for transitioning to a participatory economy.”
But what does an advocate of “balanced job complexes” even mean by saying some tasks “empower” while others “disempower”? Such an advocate means “empowering tasks” convey information, skills, confidence, time, access, and inclination that enables effective participation in decision-making. She means “disempowering tasks” reduce information, deskill, diminish confidence, deny time, prevent access, and stifle inclination thereby precluding effective participation in decision making. The advocate doesn’t want an empowered coordinator class that makes decisions for others to dominate a disempowered working class that obeys decisions made by others. Considering this, the advocate of “balanced job complexes” concludes that all employees should be comparably empowered by their economic circumstances. To achieve this, we should design jobs to all have comparable or “balanced” empowerment effects. Evans, in contrast, says we can remove the unwanted class difference by means other than replacing the familiar corporate division of labor with jobs that we balance for their empowerment effects.
Evans writes: “We can now fully appreciate why Albert and Hahnel included balanced job complexes as a key and essential component of their economic vision. From their point of view, both capitalism and 20th century socialism (i.e. coordinatorism) are class systems that violate the values of self-management, solidarity, diversity, etc.”
Precisely so, and I would add that this means activists can seek to end capitalist private ownership in ways that lead to participatory economic classlessness, or we can seek to end capitalist private ownership in ways that retain class division and class rule due to elevating coordinators above workers.
Evans suggests that there “appear to be a number of assumptions underlying Albert and Hahnel’s point of view. One is that the corporate division of labor is the only source of economic power for a third class that sits between owners and workers. A second assumption seems to be that empowering/disempowering tasks are expressions of objective facts and not ideological positions.”
Yet I am unaware of either Hahnel or I or any other advocate of participatory economics saying that the corporate division of labor is the “only” source of power for coordinators. On the contrary, we note as other sources prior education, nurturance in class defined living units, cultural images, movement commitments, and so on. We know consciousness and training can empower or disempower employees. We add, however, that if a society has a corporate division of labor in which 20 percent do empowering tasks and 80 percent do disempowering tasks, then the educational system and even household living and the surrounding culture will to a high degree “provide” to that economy people who are ready for the economic roles that await them. That is, it will provide some people who are confident and others who are not; some people who have various skills, knowledge, and expectations consistent with having a self managing say over their circumstances and other people who do not have these assets; and some people who are ready to be dismissive and or paternalistic to those below, and other people who are inclined to distrust but also submit to those above. More, we add that if by some means a society’s educational institutions, home life, culture, etc. were to cause all potential employees to arrive at workplaces comparably prepared, expectant, confident, and indeed mutually respectful of each other’s capacities to self manage their economic and social lives, but the workplaces had hierarchically designed jobs, then that population would seek to alter those jobs to accord with its prepared consciousness, or, failing that, the population would suffer its consciousness being steadily bent to accord with hierarchical class division and rule.
Evans argues that these views are wrong because the culprit here is an ideology, not the division of labor. He says “what we call the coordinator class might be better labelled the managerial class.” In contrast, I think the name “managerial class” tends to direct attention first and perhaps even only on the training, education, and socializing that occurs outside the division of labor. Indeed, when Hahnel and I opted to change from the name “Professional Managerial Class” to the name “Coordinator Class,” it was actually for Evans’ reason, but in reverse. We wanted to increase attention to social relations and avoid any misunderstanding that we had in mind only people who are typically called managers.
Evans thinks, instead, that what Hahnel and I called the “coordinator class” is really a “managerial class” because “after all, those who tend to monopolize the information and decision-making authority necessary to determine economic outcomes are typically referred to by most people, within the economic context, as managers.” But as members of this class, Hahnel and I have in mind not only managers per se, but also accountants, financial officers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and anyone who enjoys significantly empowering economic roles, as compared to other employees who endure significantly disempowering roles. Evans says, “managers do not gain their economic power via the corporate division of labor, rather, they acquire the rights to monopolize the information and decision-making authority necessary to determine economic outcomes primarily via their training in the ideology of managerialism.” I think Evans has in mind their training prior to employment. But their prior training, be it in law, sociology, psychiatry, engineering, accounting, management, or diverse other areas of focus, is undertaken to prepare students to fill waiting social roles. When the manager, doctor, accountant, or whoever is formally educated in “managerialism,” which is, I suspect, quite rare, what they hear certainly helps them rationalize their privileges, but it is their work situation that daily reproduces those privileges as well as the attitudes that rationalize and enforce the privileges. This is due to their roles, not due to how a school of thought portrays those roles.
Similarly, the training to endure boredom and take orders that about 80 percent of employees undergo prepares those employees to obey orders and compliantly accept conditions established and maintained by others. More, their daily work which provides no access to decision-making information, skills, etc., maintains their disadvantages and associated mindsets. I agree with Evans that the “ideology of managerialism” and in particular claims that undeserved class privileges and rights are justified rewards in a “meritocracy” rationalizes and informs the ensuing class hierarchy. I would add that that is even why the views exist, and I would agree that their existence, long-entrenched, itself has impact. But I see no reason to think those facts even suggest much less prove that the institutional corporate structure of work doesn’t also exist and also have impact. It doesn’t even intimate much less demonstrate that only manufactured ideas and beliefs cause a third class between labor and capital.
A thought experiment might help. Imagine we assemble a hundred employees to work together to produce vehicles. Imagine they all enter the workplace prepared to be subordinate employees or that they all enter prepared to be empowered employees. This is not always fanciful but actually occurs when, for example, owners leave a failing firm and its coordinator class employees also leave; or when only coordinators get together to form a co-op. Now imagine their workplace has an unchallenged corporate division of labor in place. The entering workers must therefore fill its slots to get anything done. Some will need to do finances. Some will need to do legal. Many will need to work on an assembly line, and so on. If the employees enter the workplace either as all expectant subordinates or as all expectant dominants, and thus with no initial class differences, perhaps 20 percent will get a randomly assigned empowering job and 80 percent will get a randomly assigned disempowering job. If the employees all accept their lot, which is a big if in each case, before long the 20 percent who fill the workplace’s empowering roles will have their circumstances increasingly prepare them to set agendas, generate proposals, and dominate outcomes. In contrast, the 80 percent who fill the workplace’s disempowering roles will have their circumstances increasingly prepare them to drift ever further toward passive obedience. The corporate division of labor will produce in previously similar actors the contending mindsets, habits, and beliefs of the coordinator/worker class division, which household circumstances, schooling, and societal culture rationalize and support. To replace the coordinator/worker class hierarchy thus requires replacing its institutional roles as well as, as Evans notes, the associated consciousnesses.
Evans says, “Clearly, having the knowledge and skill set of a doctor or engineer (both examples, in Albert and Hahnel’s view of coordinator class jobs) has very little, if any, overlap with the knowledge and skill set required to make workplace economic decisions about the production of goods and services.” Well, yes, it is true that the skill set of doctors doesn’t overlap much with that of a hospital lawyer or accountant. But surely it does overlap with the knowledge and skill required to make workplace hospital decisions, since the goods and services that are involved in a hospital include medical treatment, transplants and other operations, and other health related policies, and, for that matter, even bear upon machine design and production in the health industry. But a less obvious but equally important point is that job roles convey and require not only skills, but also confidence, expectations, and inclination—or their lack.
Evans says, “It is also important to note that, because a participatory economy would have self-managed worker councils as the basis for the production of goods and services, part of the transition away from capitalism would include a transition from the practice of managerialism to self-management.” Yes, and I think any advocate of participatory economics would agree that a critically important part of the transition to a participatory economy would be just such a change. But to move from hierarchical decision making to self management doesn’t just mean that people no longer believe or even just parrot managerial notions, but instead it also requires not having some employees do all the deciding for everyone, while other employees only do what is decided for them.
Put differently, a workers council doesn’t become self managing by simply calling itself self managing. Indeed it doesn’t become self managing even if it holds votes and has rallies that loudly proclaim the equal humanity and rights of all employees and while mainly praising those who do hard labor—as occurred in the old Soviet Union—while those who design and govern work and workplaces rule.
More specifically, a workers council doesn’t become self managing by simply calling itself self managing if 20 percent of its members have by virtue of their tasks the information, skills, access, self confidence, time, and inclination to develop and advocate policies, while 80 percent of its members by virtue of their tasks lack all those prerequisites for effective decision making and are too exhausted and alienated to even want to attend council meetings.
As a somewhat loose but perhaps helpful analogy, imagine someone says we can retain owners and non owners but nonetheless reach a desirable economy because part of our transition will emphasize the incredible importance of workers to everyone’s well being and will emphasize as well the responsibility of owners to respect and abide the desires of all workers. Or, for that matter, imagine someone says we can retain markets and nonetheless create a solidaritous and ecological economy because part of our transition will be to emphasize the importance of everyone respecting and abiding the collective will of all workers. I doubt Evans or any advocate of participatory economics would find such claims convincing. But why not?
I think it is because we all know that occupying the role owner or non-owner conveys to owners and non owners certain interests and attitudes whatever people might say they ought to favor. So what about the corporate division of labor, and, for that matter about markets and centrally planned allocation and also about remuneration for property, power, or output? To retain those institutions, I say, like to retain private ownership of workplaces, tools, and resources, would impose results contrary to self management, solidarity, equity, etc. So when we describe institutions consistent with our values we should include new institutions that replace private ownership but also include new institutions that replace the corporate division of labor, inequitable remuneration, and market and centrally planned allocation. On the other hand, when we describe consciousness, habits, ideology, etc., consistent with a participatory economy, I agree with Evans that we should describe replacements for the warped and warping framework called managerialism and meritocracy as part of the package. But hold on a minute. Evans might reply that while these arguments apply to ownership, remuneration, and allocation, they do not apply to the division of labor. So let’s consider that possibility.
To make his case, Evans writes: “As we have also seen, an important part of Albert and Hahnel’s argument for balanced job complexes is their claim that there exists empowering and disempowering tasks. Furthermore, the way they talk about empowering and disempowering tasks is as if they are objective facts.”
I read that and was unclear what Evans meant, but Evans anticipated the need for further explanation so he immediately continued: “What I mean by this is that Albert and Hahnel’s view seems to be that an empowering/disempowering task will be empowering/disempowering in any economic system. After all, if tasks weren’t objectively empowering or disempowering then why would we need to assess all tasks for empowerment and then reformulate existing jobs into balanced job complexes as part of the transition towards a participatory economy?”
As with the earlier incorrect assertion that Hahnel and I think only the division of labor empowers employees, here too I don’t think Hahnel or I ever made the claim Evans attributes to us. Actually, what we say matters is tasks in the system in which the tasks exist, not tasks in any past system or tasks in all systems. But, okay, perhaps that is nitpicking because what I suspect Evans has in mind is that if jobs impose class difference just because of how we think about those jobs and not because of the jobs’ own attributes, then to escape their class effects we don’t have to change the jobs, or at least not in the way Hahnel and I have urged, but we just have to change how we think about the jobs.
Evans argues, Albert and Hahnel identify today’s “brain surgeons [as] members of the coordinator class and cleaners [as] members of the working class.” They see “brain surgery…as an inherently empowering job and cleaning as an inherently disempowering job.” They argue “failing to institute balanced job complexes would lead to surgeons (and other coordinator class workers) dominating council meetings. This, so the logic goes, would lead to the cleaners (and other working class workers) feeling alienated by and from the proceedings.” And yes, we do say that unless we change the tasks that people who do (some) brain surgery do, and change the tasks that people who do (some) cleaning do, so that their overall situations are comparably empowering, the former will dominate council meetings while the latter may not even bother attending.
Evans says “as part of the transition towards a participatory economy/society” we will need to “challenge and undermine” myths about only some being able to do empowering tasks and others only able to do disempowering tasks, and then adds what if “in conjunction with the rejection of liberal myths about work, there is also a reevaluation of existing jobs.” So far so good. We of course need these steps. The question is, what does the “reevaluation of existing jobs” reveal, and in what ways do we change them?
Evans goes on to say, “for example, if we reevaluated surgery and cleaning and concluded that, in fact, they are both equally important jobs that deserve equal levels of respect, remuneration and investment then wouldn’t this establish an egalitarian division of labour that, by definition, systematically dismantled the corporate division of labor?” Well, no, it wouldn’t.
If Joe does surgeries and Jane mops the floor afterwards, saying that Jane is wonderful and that cleaning is essential would change very little just as it did in Soviet firms where all workers were guaranteed equal say by law and wall hangings and teachers loudly proclaimed the incredible importance of workers on the assembly lines or cleaning the floors while other employees with empowering tasks rose steadily higher in influence and grew steadily more dismissive in manner until they used their monopoly on empowering tasks and their resulting indispensability to also raise their own salaries.
Evans writes, “Doesn’t exposing liberal myths about work in conjunction with the reevaluation of existing jobs represent not only an alternative to balanced job complexes but also an easier strategic path to a participatory economy?” Well, if reevaluating existing jobs means altering them so that all employees can participate equally and effectively in decision making, then yes, that first part would be true, but that is what balanced jobs achieve and what the corporate division of labor precludes. But what about the second part of Evans’ question? What easier strategic route is he referring to? If Evans means that if we decide that we can leave jobs mainly as they are and only focus our attention on liberal myths, then our strategic path would be simpler, I agree. But I also think it would at best lead to coordinatorism as in the Soviet case, and not to participatory economics. If Evans means attaining new jobs that are without class division will take time and be difficult and will involve changing many ideas and beliefs along the way, I of course agree. At this point I wondered, even beyond all the above, what exactly Evans was trying to remove from the participatory economic vision.
He again anticipated the concern, and so to conclude he summarized, “Two main points have been made. However, these two points have additional implications for both vision and strategy for a participatory economy. The first main point is that the class that sits between owners and workers derives its power from an ideology managerialism and not from an institution called the corporate division of labor.” Okay, in contrast I think ideology, consciousness, and culture are important factors, but I also think the jobs people fill and their implications are important.
Evans continues, “One additional implication of this is that it therefore makes sense to refer to this class as the managerial class not the coordinator class.” If I thought we could ignore the division of labor and focus only on ideology, I would say sure—why not, no problem. But I don’t think that.
Evans adds, “A second main point is that empowering/disempowering tasks are ideological views not objective facts.” This seems to say that being a boss or a wage slave, making decisions or obeying decisions, and thus being coordinator or worker, are fundamentally different in their implications only because we believe they are fundamentally different. If Evans means that, we may have to agree to disagree.
Evans continues, “A major implication of this insight is that we can dismantle the corporate division of labor by exposing liberal myths about work alongside the reevaluation of existing jobs.” Indeed, on the road to a new society I agree that we must challenge and then change both myths and social relations. Sometimes this will mean we address mainly myths (though likely also referring to social relations). And sometimes it will mean we mainly fight for changes or we ourselves implement change in social relations (though likely also referring to views.)
Evans ends by saying “the logic of [his] argument shows that balanced job complexes are not “necessary for a functioning participatory economy.” Though I think there is, as with any such meeting of different views, much more that could be said, I admit that I just don’t see how Evans has undermined much less negated the claim that we must remove the corporate division of labor if we are to end class division and that the way to do so is to redefine how we combine tasks into jobs.
“Furthermore,” Evans adds, “and perhaps most importantly, this alternative to balanced job complexes not only increases our visionary options for a participatory economy, it also arguably represents an easier strategic option for transitioning to a participatory economy.”
I don’t see how what Evans has written offers “an alternative to balanced job complexes” insofar as I take an alternative to mean a different way to apportion tasks into jobs without fostering class division and class rule. But does it point to an easier strategic option? Here I sort of agree. For example, just as to seek social democracy (meaning to retain private ownership and markets but significantly reduce some of their ills) is an easier strategic option than to seek, say, a centrally planned economy with no capitalists, similarly, to seek an economy that retains familiar jobs while trying to reduce their ills is in some sense an easier strategic option than to seek what I call a participatory economy with jobs balanced for empowerment. For that matter, to retain markets is an easier strategic option than to establish participatory planning. But while these “strategically easier options” are highly likely to in various degrees exist during transition, if they are adopted as final aims and left unchallenged as we proceed, I believe they will preclude our getting to the classlessness we desire and will instead enlarge coordinator privileges under capitalism into ruling class privileges under coordinatorism.
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