ParEcon Questions & Answers

Next Entry: Crime?

Dissent in ParEcon


gDoes parecon squelch dissent? It worries me that a Chomsky equivalent (although lets hope that s/he would have one hell of a lot less to say…) might find it even more difficult to speak out under parecon than they do under markets.

I may be missing something, but I certainly can’t see any reason why this would be so.

First, no one has significantly greater resources than anyone else, so a free press in a parecon is not hobbled by being owned by and servicing a few.

Second, a parecon values diversity. This has considerable bearing. It means that dissent is valued in its own right, even in lieu of evidence of its validity, for the proper grounds that progress often depends on it, etc.

Finally, decisions in parecon are made by constituencies affected with impact, as possible, proportionate to the degree they are affected. Thus a majority can’t simply pass upon the conditions of a minority if the effects on the minority are greater. And, finally, there can of course be extra-economic norms imposed on economic dynamics and choices, as well – whether having to do with speech, or the rights of some type of animal, or whatever else.

But wouldn’t the community get to decide whether the work of a dissenter was worth remunerating?

Parecon does not work like this. The whole community doesn’t pass judgment on each workplace in such a manner. Rather, a group of people can decide to create a workplace, like a magazine or whatever, and begin to operate within the economy. Your problem takes a different form, of whether the output of the effort has sufficient value to warrant inputs to it. But that isn’t just a big vote by everyone…it depends on the folks who want the output.

To prevent disapproved outcomes, society could collectively decide – I believe it would do so, in fact – that minority viewpoints, dissident viewpoints, etc., actually deserve greatly disproportionate support, beyond what economic accounting might spontaneously arrive at, on the off chance, for example, that they are valid, and will grow in relevance and impact.


Couldn’t a parecon block dissent in the same way that markets do, and perhaps even to the extent that something like Z Magazine couldn’t exist?

There is a sense of this, yes. Suppose Lydia and I decide we want to create a magazine in a parecon. And suppose very very few folks want it – too few, using the typical planning procedures to decide the issue, to warrant the planning system providing us all the inputs we need due to regarding it as socially valuable work. What is the option, then?

Well, we could do it on a volunteer labor basis – trying to get it to catch an audience, and then proceed thereafter.

Or we could appeal to some bureau or other for special dispensation, on grounds of the dissident value of the thing, “dissident value” being something the economy recognizes in the large, as a kind of social investment (more or less like philanthropy now, in some senses, but democratically controlled, etc.).

These are real problems in any society. But it is hard for me to see how parecon isn’t vastly superior on these axes than any other economic model we know about…

The following longer answser is an exceerpt from the book Realiing Hope

Is parecon all there is? No more? No improvement? What about dissent inside a parecon?

There is no end to history. There is no end to dissent. A participatory economy has, we believe, highly desirable features. For a new economy to eliminate unjust income differentials, to produce solidarity rather than anti-sociality, to diversify rather than homogenize outcomes and opportunities, to engender self management rather than authoritarianism, to attain classlessness rather than class rule–these will be major advances for humanity but they will not be the last advances for humanity.

Within a society with a parecon there will without doubt be frequent issues and situations which call forth dissent. Even more, intermittently there will be broader dissent directed not only at a policy or a habit, but at underlying institutional features. It is not that there will arise desires to return toward capitalism. That would seem very unlikely. Indeed, a passage from Ursula Le Guin about reactions of characters in her novel The Dispossessed toward capitalism is quite germane. While Le Guin’s revolutionized economy certainly wasn’t parecon and lacked convincing institutional details, its broad qualitative character had many features remarkably similar in intent and motivation to parecon. So here is a character from her preferred economy attempting to learn about capitalism:

“He tried to read an elementary economics text; it bored him past endurance, it was like listening to somebody interminably recounting a long and stupid dream. He could not force himself to understand how banks functioned and so forth, because all the operations of capitalism were as meaningless to him as the rites of a primitive religion, as barbaric, as elaborate, and as unnecessary. In a human sacrifice to deity there might at least be a mistaken and terrible beauty; in the rites of the money-changers, where greed, laziness, and envy were assumed to move all men’s acts, even the terrible became banal.”

So, while dissent in a parecon is unlikely to look backward, maybe in the economy there will arise movements to make levels of fulfillment, pleasure, and dignity equal, not to only make the material conditions and social relations that contribute to these equitable. Or maybe the focus will be removing the whole idea of measure regarding human traits or rewards, or even the the whole idea of warranting rewards at all. Here is one of LeGuin’s characters, again:

“Do not speak of what men deserve. For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead Kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.”

Whether this makes sense and rises to prominence or whether some other new set of aspirations do, even beyond parecon’s logic, in any event, whatever types of dissent arise whether regarding other social features or regarding the economy itself, what should be society’s reaction to them?

There is a place in human life for caution, perhaps more so than many radicals and revolutionaries would care to admit. Long-standing gains, hard won conditions, social habits and relations honed over decades, centuries, and even eons, can certainly have virtues that transcend first appearances, and it may well be wise to be cautious in proposing and then seeking replacements. But, while a cautionary attitude may have merit to avoid carelessly losing hard-won gains, an attitude that says the past is the future because there is simply no avenue forward but instead only preservation or loss, goes too far.
We should always realize that there is no horizon to progress. A degree of caution regarding proposals to reject past achievements makes sense, but there will always arise moments in history when innovation makes even more sense. In other words, it behooves us to be open to and to even welcome possibilities for change.

Even more, we know that changes come, almost always, on the heels of critique. It is when some individual or some group makes a compelling case that there are inadequacies and when additional people then begin to conceive alternatives and to agitate for innovations that serious changes occur.

Criticism and the seeking of innovations are the lifeblood of the major gains of humanity. So shouldn’t it be true that humanity should welcome dissent and not repress it?
Using an economic analogy, think of what an investment is. We get some inkling of an idea that something could be beneficial. We think it through a bit. We assign time, energy, and insight to elaborating and attaining it.

Of course not every such effort pans out. Some investments tell us only what doesn’t work but give us nothing new. Others barely even manage that much. Nonetheless, we don’t say that we shouldn’t support investments on the grounds that not all investments work. We instead gamble because we know that enough investments work to greatly make up for those that fail.

Consider the composer, writer, painter, or scientist. Each will often embark on a path forward in their own particular discipline that fails. Are they being a bad composer, writer, painter, or scientist when they undertake a project which doesn’t deliver as they hoped?

No. Their successes won’t come without their failures. Not only does one learn from the failed efforts–even more so, there is no way to undertake only projects that will succeed. We don’t know outcomes in advance. We can try to avoid frivolity and ignorance, though we should do it cautiously since it may be us and not the composer, writer, printer, or scientist we reject as frivolous who is ignorant, but for the most part, where there is a reasonable level of competency and reasonable seriousness, investment makes sense.

The same goes for dissent. Perhaps a good society should on occasion ignore, dismiss, or even obstruct what seems without doubt to be frivolous or ignorant dissent, though there should be a considerable burden of proof on doing so. But in serious, informed cases, society ought to not just abide dissent, even dissent against its own structures, but should subsidize it.
Indeed, a case could even be made that we will have a civilized society, at last, when it has this characteristic of welcoming and promoting dissent against itself.

If this is the mark of a good society, how will a parecon fare as a part of it? A parecon has as a central value diversity. It is a small stretch, even a natural extension from diversity within a system to diversity regarding a system.

Likewise, a parecon equips all its participants with confidence and knowledge in accord with their inclinations, laying the basis for critical thought.

Moreover, a parecon supports economic initiative and innovation whenever it has sensible promise of meeting needs and developing potentials–so why not support with the same vigor dissent that has the potential of institutional innovations that benefit people?

There is no reason, one hopes, for the advocate of a parecon to feel an insecure fear about his or her economy that would lead him or her to defend pareconish values or institutions from critique to the point of reflexively rejecting prospects for innovation.

Why should even a sensibly cautious pareconist oppose exploring the possibility of structural alterations that would benefit humanity more than current arrangements do?

In a parecon economic costs and benefits are equitably distributed. Any proposal for innovation that violates the fairness of the system by advantaging some people at the expense of others will presumably meet stiff resistance at least from those who would be disadvantaged. But why would any proposal that claims it can benefit everyone and makes a compelling case to that effect meet a priori or reflexive dismissive opposition? People might doubt a critical idea’s possibility, of course. But the answer for that is not rejection, but testing.

A parecon should by its logic and its values accommodate to and even better propel the idea of society continually subsidizing critiques of itself and experiments in its own renovation and even redefinition. A society that includes a parecon and a compatible and comparably worthy polity, kinship sphere, culture, environmental context, and so on…will be, on this score too, a civilized rather than pre-civilized system.

But what about now? What about before winning a new economy and a new world? What about dissent from the parecon vision now?
A Pareconist replies:

For the economy, I want workers and consumers to have control over their own economic lives.
I want everyone to have fair conditions that fully utilize their talents and potentials.
I want incomes that accord with the duration, intensity, and onerousnesss of the work people do.
I want what is produced, by whom, under what conditions, and with who consuming the result–all determined in accord with enhancing human well-being and development and all decided by the people involved and affected.
I want an end to hierarchies of power and wealth and an end to class division with most actors subordinated to an elite few.
To accomplish all these ends I favor the institutions of participatory economics–worker and consumer councils, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning.
I believe after years of evaluation and considerable experimental implementation as well, that these choices are worthy and viable, which is why I advocate them. But if someone should argue that parecon’s institutions would somehow fail to accomplish necessary economic functions or would have social or personal by-products either within or beyond the economy that would outweigh their benefits, then I and other advocates must listen to the claims, hear and comprehend the complaints, and address them feeling hopeful of refining the parecon vision and improving its qualities.
And if someone should find flaws that resist correction and preclude improvement of the vision, I and other advocates should simply return to the drawing board. We should never surrender on developing a viable vision but we should be open not only to improvement of but to supersession of any vision being advocated.
Exploitation, alienation, poverty, disempowerment, fragmenting and debilitating labor, production for the profit of a few–much less harsh homelessness, starvation, and degradation–are not like gravity. They arise from institutional relations established by human beings. New institutions also established by human beings can generate vastly superior outcomes that liberate our talents and spirits, entwine our desires and cares, multiply our options, equilibrate our costs and benefits, and deliver, finally, worthy freedom–which is the kind that extends to you and I the same as it extends to him and her.
Defining and working to attain those new institutions ought to be our economic agenda. Defining and working to win a new world including a good economy ought to be our social agenda.

Next Entry: Crime?

Leave a comment

Skip to toolbar