Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Participatory Economics and Economic Theory

Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel are two of the main writers of the general radical theory that I talked about in the last post. After developing the general theory, they also came out with work specifically oriented toward the economic sector. They are clear that they don't think this sector is primary, just that this is where they've started and worked hardest on. They've stated their wish that others develop similar theory for the other sectors.

Their theory is called Participitory Economics or Parecon for short. I will only briefly summarize it. There is a Parecon website that has booklists, instructionals, and discussions. (They actually have three books--Parecon, Thinking Forward, and Moving Forward--online at this site. Albert and Hahnel have written quite a few books about Parecon.)

Parecon is built around 'balanced job complexes' (work that is organized so that everyone has an equal proportion of enjoyable, empowering tasks, and basic hard and tough grunt work), 'remunerative justice' (everyone gets paid for how long and hard they work, and not for the status of the position), self-management through workers and consumers councils, and 'participatory planning' through a highly developed process that Albert and Hahnel lay out in their work.

I think Parecon is the best developed alternative economic theory that I've come across.

The only thing I've found wrong with it is Albert and Hahnel's claim that it is the only viable, nonoppressive alternative to capitalism. Sometimes they act like it's The Answer. There are actually a variety of approaches to economic change.

One example of a current alternative economic system (I think it's actually somewhat similar to Parecon although Albert and Hahnel might not think so) is the one that they use at the Twin Oaks community in Virginia. The economic system there has evolved over the years (and is still evolving) but their system takes care of all the 'needs' of the people living there in what they describe as a 'fully communal economic system'. (See Is It Utopia Yet? by Kat Kinkade for a full description. She devotes several chapters to both the economics of the community and how it is governed.) Some of how it reminds me of Parecon is the egalitarian nature of the system--everyone gets the same credit regardless of the work and, while they have 'planners'and 'managers', they try to share these duties (almost anyone who's been there a while and wants a manager position can get one) and "members who are managers in one area are workers in someone's area." Kat Kinkade goes on to say that "All of us take as much responsibility as we feel we can handle, and nobody bosses anybody else around." It's not quite as well thought out as Parecon, but Parecon is a theory and Twin Oaks is a real life situation. And it's been going strong for over 40 years now, so something is working. If you're interested in economic theories in practice, it's worth checking out Is It Utopia Yet? to see how some of this can work out.

For an overview of several alternative economic systems, Starhawk, who is among other things an anti-globalization activist, includes one in her book Webs of Power. (She also gives an overview of the antiglobalization movement in the book along with her thinking about rethinking nonviolent direct action. I'll talk more about some of Starhawk's thinking in a future post.) One thing I like is that she lists nine points which she sees as a minimal agreement for a new economic system.

Her list (from Webs of Power):

1. We must protect the viability of the life-sustaining systems of the planet, which are everywhere under attack.

2. A realm of the sacred exists, of things too precious to be commodified and must be respected.

3. Communities must control their own resources and destinies.

4. The rights and heritages of indigenous communities must be acknowledged and respected.

5. Enterprises must be rooted in communities and be responsible to communities and future generations.

6. Opportunities for human beings to meet their needs and fulfill their dreams and aspirations should be open to all.

7. Labor deserves just compensation, security, and dignity.

8. The human community has a collective responsibility to assure the basic means of life, growth, and development for all its members.

9. Democracy means that all people have a voice in the decisions that affect them, including economic decisions.

She expands these principles and then condenses them into the statement: "The job of the economy is to produce security and abundance for all, equably, efficiently, and sustainably, in a way that furthers human freedom and mutual solidarity, that strengthens our bond to place, and that protects the interests of future generations." She calls this 'Restorative Economic Democracy' and sees this as a starting point to build whatever alternative economic system (or systems) we decide on.

Quote of the day: "If hard work were such a wonderful thing, surely the rich would have kept it all to themselves." - Lane Kirkland
Word (or phrase) of the day: Walkshed
Hero(es) of the day: Frances Moore Lappe

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