A worker's critique of parecon

Full communism… because Michael Albert can't monitor every worker all the time

Criticism of the idea of participatory economics, or parecon, from the perspective of a worker. Despite its theoreticians' grand plans, we resist work now and we would continue to do so under parecon, Steven argues. Michael Albert subsequently responds.

Introduction

I have read a lot of discussions about parecon - a proposed economic model for a non-capitalist society. I have even taken part in one detailed debate here.

There is a lot of theoretical discussion about the nature of class, complimentary holism, some stuff about the Russian revolution, planning and so on. But I have never seen anything written about it from the point from the actual perspective of workers. And as members of the working class ourselves this should be the most important perspective from which we analyse things, so that's what I plan to do.

I have been meaning to write this article for a while and this recent discussion in our forums reminded me to actually get round to it.

Fair wages?

The four main planks of parecon are: 1
1. Workers and consumers self managed councils
2. Balanced job complexes
3. Remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor
4. Participatory planning

The most problematic of these, to communists or anarchists at least, is point 3: often summarised as "reward for effort and sacrifice". It is controversial because the central plank of the communist programme has long been the abolition of wage labour.2

So parecon does away with this, and instead of abolishing wage labour proposes a "fair" way of allocating wages. I totally disagree with this on political and logical grounds, and so this is the area I will examine.

This point has been argued on a theoretical level many times already, including in the debate I linked to above. So instead of criticising it on a political basis I will instead look at what that would mean from the perspective of workers in a parecon society. I will base my statements on how we respond to work as workers in the real world now.

So, what does rewarding effort and sacrifice mean? Basically "that if a person works longer or harder, or if a person undertakes tasks that are generally considered to be less desirable then they should be entitled to more reward."3

This raises a major problem, which pareconites seem to just brush over. Namely, this is how is effort and sacrifice measured?

This may seem like a minor point, however it is absolutely essential for the functioning of the system.

Parecon advocates attempt to address this by peer-effort ratings, everyone filling out a form of some kind on their workmates, rating how much effort people have put in despite their natural talents or disabilities.

However, this is an idea which has been devised from above, much like some kind of anti-capitalist management consultants. Their impact on the ground for workers, and workers' responses do not seem to have been considered.

Now if we look at capitalist society as it is, we see there is a central contradiction: employers want workers to carry out as much work as possible, for as little reward as possible. Workers on the other hand want to do as little as possible, for as much as possible. It is from this basic contradiction that class struggle arises.

If a new economic system retains wages, there will still be this fundamental contradiction. In the USSR, for example, instead of a mix of private and state employers in most countries, there was just one employer, the state. However the contradiction was the same.

So, what would I do if I was a worker under parecon? It would still be in my interests to perform as little work as possible and get as much money as possible. Although the way to get more would be to appear to be putting in more effort, and sacrificing more.

So some ways I would do this would be the way I and other workers do this now, and some of them would have to be altered to the new conditions.

Collective resistance

As for the peer rating of effort: even in my current workplace, which doesn't have a particularly high level of workers' solidarity, if management introduced such a scheme we would just get together and decide collectively to all rate each other as highly as possible. That way we would all gain.

And as for sacrifice, we could also collectively decide to do a minimal number of hours each day, and yet rate each other as having worked ten-hour days. (At several previous jobs colleagues and I have covered for each other by punching in for each other alternately, as I've written about here.)

Alternatively, if instead of peer rating there was some external assessor (which would seem to contradict the supposed egalitarianism of parecon), we would just put on a show whenever the assessor was there, as workers do currently when a foreman is about.4

Bear in mind that this is what occurs in workplaces in the UK today, where workers' solidarity has been broken up significantly. Parecon can only exist in a world where there has been a proletarian revolution, where workers have fought together on barricades and some will have died for each other. Especially under those sort of circumstances it would be unthinkable for people to go back to work and start spying and grassing on each other about people not pulling their weight or getting in late. Even now despite competitive workplaces and the risk of sacking (which presumably won't exist under parecon) workers often cover for each other and grasses are ostracised.

Additionally, if effort and sacrifice is what is rewarded, then if your team comes up with some new equipment or new processes which make the work easier, then you would have to do keep them secret, in order not to have your pay reduced. And of course this would be highly detrimental to society as a whole - as a rational economy would be based on trying to minimise the amount of work and effort which would have to be done.

Individual resistance

Apart from those sort of collective measures, other workers and I would also engage in individual ways of increasing our earnings and decreasing our workload.

Now, effort and sacrifice couldn't just be applied universally, as people have different abilities. Women who are pregnant, workers who might be smaller or weaker than others, people who have disabilities, or who are temporarily ill or injured might have to do putting more effort and time to have the same kind of output as other workers.

Not to mention that people have completely different sets of abilities anyway. Some may be quicker with numbers than others, for example, others may have quicker hands.

And aside from abilities, people have different preferences. For some working in an office all day would be unbearable, however for others manual labour would be much more onerous.

So if individuals' effort has to be assessed, it would have to be done so on the basis of their pre-existing abilities and preferences. Therefore I would just lie about mine. I would just say I had depression or whatever so even turning up for work in the first place would be a huge effort on my part, let alone actually doing anything when I'm there. And writing stuff up? I'm not very good at that, I'm dyslexic. And lifting? I'm very weak, and I have a bad back. Working long hours? I get migraines. Working indoors? I'm claustrophobic. Working outdoors? You guessed it, agoraphobic…

And of course this wouldn't just be me, these practices would be widespread. Far more widespread even than they are today, because under parecon there would not be the same sanctions as there are today, principally unemployment (or jail in the case of the more state capitalist economies like North Korea).

If anyone thinks I am over estimating this they would do well to read these accounts of how widespread shirking effectively destroyed East Germany and wore down the Soviet Union.

Conclusion

I believe the problems of parecon are shared by many politicos who have grand visions about the future who, like sci-fi nerds, like to imagine what a different world could look like.


2012 parecon convention

But like many politicos their mistake is rooted in their ideas being based on how better to manage capital. As communists we do not believe that capital can be managed in the interests of workers.5 Therefore our politics and our future vision of the world have to be based always in our everyday life and our experience as workers.

For if a revolution doesn't abolish "work" as a distinct activity separate from the rest of life, then workers will always fight against it. 6

And that being the case the only way to enforce effective labour discipline would be to recreate capitalism with its reserve army of unemployed workers and the threat of unemployment and destitution.

So in short if we want something workable our choice is one of full communism, or none at all.

  • 1. According to Parecon Today by Michael Albert, the leading proponent of parecon.
  • 2. Two major examples of this being the revolutionary union Industrial Workers of the World preamble which demands "the abolition of the wage system", and Karl Marx in Value, prices and profit stating: "take off your banners the reactionary slogan a fair days pay for a fair days work and instead inscribe upon your banner the revolutionary watchword; the abolition of the wages system".
  • 3. The project for a participatory society's vision .
  • 4. The picture, above, is a tongue-in-cheek clip from 1960s Italian film The working class goes to heaven, with Michael Albert's face crudely cut and pasted onto the body of the piece rate monitor.
  • 5. I believe that reading the excellent Aufheben series What was USSR? is also essential reading, and has important parallels with parecon in this respect.
  • 6. I won't go into detail about what this means as I think it is explained better in other detailed articles, like this one by the Anarchist Federation. But as evidence that it is not an unachievable pipedream I will quickly point out that many pre-capitalist societies did not have a word for "work", or in some which did it was the same word as "play". And just about every type of "work" currently done under capitalism, is also done by workers as leisure. For example, cleaning, caring for children, caring for the sick, playing music, making films, growing food, etc.
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Posted By

Steven.
Apr 11 2012 14:21

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  • So, what would I do if I was a worker under parecon? It would still be in my interests to perform as little work as possible and get as much money as possible. Although the way to get more would be to appear to be putting in more effort, and sacrificing more.

    Steven Johns

Comments

Alasdair
Apr 12 2012 23:29
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
People between jobs or unable to work are given the social average remuneration, same as someone working.

That seems quite problematic, though. I think it sort of speaks to Steven's initial point: if I'm still receiving wages/remuneration, what's to stop me from being between jobs forever? Will there be a limit of the time I can be between jobs? Will I lose my average remuneration? Who makes that decision and what happens to me once my supply of remuneration is cut off?
.

If people "between jobs" get the average remuneration, then some people working (many people working actually) must be getting *less* than those who aren't working. Which surely completely undermines the idea of incentivising work? Unless I'm missing something.

Alasdair
Apr 12 2012 23:32
JimJams wrote:
Oh yeah i agree.Think 10-20% is more likely. I've always thought if there's work a society wants and no one wants to do it should be shared in some manner. I don't know to what extent that would be the case though, maybe not as much as we think. Another option would be some sort of special reward for doing unwanted work but i think that's a dangerous road to go down.Also as the "goals" of society will be different technological advances could be used to reduce working time rather than increase production, or at least the balance between the two could change.

Yeah, with different goals I hope we could use technology to reduce work quite a lot, but that might take some time to develop and implement. And I agree entirely that unpopular work should be shared as much as possible. None of these issues makes me think a wage-labour-less society is impossible - it's still what I want to see - I just worry about the practicalities sometimes, and it's something people have questioned me on recently and to which I've not had a great answer.

JimJams
Apr 13 2012 02:06
Alasdair wrote:
JimJams wrote:
Oh yeah i agree.Think 10-20% is more likely. I've always thought if there's work a society wants and no one wants to do it should be shared in some manner. I don't know to what extent that would be the case though, maybe not as much as we think. Another option would be some sort of special reward for doing unwanted work but i think that's a dangerous road to go down.Also as the "goals" of society will be different technological advances could be used to reduce working time rather than increase production, or at least the balance between the two could change.

Yeah, with different goals I hope we could use technology to reduce work quite a lot, but that might take some time to develop and implement. And I agree entirely that unpopular work should be shared as much as possible. None of these issues makes me think a wage-labour-less society is impossible - it's still what I want to see - I just worry about the practicalities sometimes, and it's something people have questioned me on recently and to which I've not had a great answer.

I know what you mean. When people ask me questions like that they always seem disappointed that I can't give absolute answers. But i think if you try to map out exactly what will happen in any "free" society you're forced to fall into coercive traps like PARECON. A lot of people don't feel coerced to work today, even if they're in a job they don't particularly love, but can't imagine anyone else wanting to work if they weren't coerced.It's a bit of double standards really.

I've always liked the example of the three day week. During the miners strike industrial production only fell 6%:

UK: The ‘three-day week’, 1974
"For the first two months of 1974, the Conservative government under Edward
Heath imposed a three-day week to save energy during a time of soaring
inflation, high energy prices, and industrial action by the National Union of
Mineworkers. Commercial users of electricity (with exemptions for essential
services) were limited to three consecutive days’ use with no overtime. Some
people went on working by candlelight but altogether 1.5 million joined the dole
queues. The miners launched an all-out strike on 9 February. A general election
was held at the end of February and Heath lost his majority. Labour’s Harold
Wilson became Prime Minister, a deal was struck with the miners which finished
the strike, and the three-day week was officially ended on 8 March 1974.6 When
the crisis ended, analysts found that industrial production had dropped by only 6
per cent. Improved productivity, combined with a drop in absenteeism, had made
up the difference in lost production from the shorter hours.7 More than 1.5 million
people registered as unemployed as a result of the three-day working week.8"

Albeit that wouldn't have affected every industry and many would have been able to continue working.Still it's impressive. That's taking from a NEF report on shorter working hours "21 hours". They want that to be the average working week in modern market (although steady state) economies. achieved by greater distribution of wealth/less consumption.
http://www.neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/21_Hours.pdf

Interestingly a lot of the problems in transition wouldn't be as much of a problem under a communist system which would be a lot less consumer focussed. Also i think a communist society would be steady steady state so something close to 21 hours should be achievable especially with technological increases, intentionally falling production rates and little unemployment. But that's for only what is paid work today.

JimJams
Apr 13 2012 02:15

One other thing. The report points out that the average working week between all people of working age is actually 19.6 hours at the moment. So with work shared more equally we would be able to keep current rates of production (which i'm not sure anyone wants) at roughly current levels.

"The British Time Use Surveys offer a detailed portrait of how people in Britain
allocate their time over the 24 hours in a day, averaged out over a seven-day
week. They include men and women of ‘working age’, which means 16–64 for
males and 16–59 for females. A table summarising the main activities in which
people engage, and for how long, is set out in the Appendix.
The survey covers everyone within the ‘working age’ band – employed,
unemployed and those described as ‘economically inactive’, which means they
are not employed or looking for a job. On average, they spend 19.6 hours a
week in paid work – 24.5 hours for men and 15.4 hours for women. So these
averages are close to our suggestion for a ‘normal’ working week."

Right.Time for me to go to sleep.Again.

Steven.
Apr 13 2012 09:01
Alasdair wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
People between jobs or unable to work are given the social average remuneration, same as someone working.

That seems quite problematic, though. I think it sort of speaks to Steven's initial point: if I'm still receiving wages/remuneration, what's to stop me from being between jobs forever? Will there be a limit of the time I can be between jobs? Will I lose my average remuneration? Who makes that decision and what happens to me once my supply of remuneration is cut off?
.

If people "between jobs" get the average remuneration, then some people working (many people working actually) must be getting *less* than those who aren't working. Which surely completely undermines the idea of incentivising work? Unless I'm missing something.

Yeah, while syndicalist cat's make parecon sound less oppressive in terms of forced labour, that makes it even less likely to actually work!

Alasdair, you pose an interesting question (what proportion of current workers actually socially useful?) But I feel it is probably better off in a new thread rather than derailing this one. I have quite a lot of comments on it but don't want to derail this.

In terms of people still having to do tasks in a free society which aren't particularly enjoyable in themselves, I had some more comments.

Basically nowadays, in a capitalist society, what dominates the organisation of work processes is cutting costs and improving productivity. Basically pushing us to work as fast as possible and get the job done.

Without the profit motive, this incentive would no longer exist. We could decide on what our priorities were, which would probably be making tasks which had to be performed as enjoyable as possible. So we could reorganise some work processes to be like games or play. It might mean that it slowed the work down but that wouldn't matter anymore.

Under parecon the exact opposite incentive would exist - workers would be incentivised to make work as un-enjoyable and onerous as possible, in order to maximise earnings.

fletcheroo
Apr 13 2012 10:31
Steven. wrote:
Parecon advocates attempt to address this by peer-effort ratings, everyone filling out a form of some kind on their workmates, rating how much effort people have put in despite their natural talents or disabilities.

However, this is an idea which has been devised from above, much like some kind of anti-capitalist management consultants. Their impact on the ground for workers, and workers' responses do not seem to have been considered.

There's a distinction repeatedly emphasised by Hahnel/Albert, between the essential features of parecon which constitute the model, and various examples and ideas given of how this might happen. The latter, such as peer-effort ratings, are not necessary features of parecon, but a mere suggestion of how effort/sacrifice might be chosen to be approximated by worker councils. At the end of the day, workers councils decide how to determine this – this is by no means ‘devised from above’.

Steven. wrote:
Now if we look at capitalist society as it is, we see there is a central contradiction: employers want workers to carry out as much work as possible, for as little reward as possible. Workers on the other hand want to do as little as possible, for as much as possible. It is from this basic contradiction that class struggle arises.

So, what would I do if I was a worker under parecon? It would still be in my interests to perform as little work as possible and get as much money as possible. Although the way to get more would be to appear to be putting in more effort, and sacrificing more.

Parecon envisions the means of production as held in common, remunerative shares as not apportioned in terms of bargaining power but on the fair basis of effort/sacrifice (tempered by distribution for need), and self-management, solidarity and equity as present. Having a norm for determining remunerative shares is not the same as wage slavery. If you nevertheless maintain under such conditions that workers will (despite the fact this is near impossible) do as little labour for the most remuneration, then this sits more than uneasily against your vision wherein persons can do zero labour and take as much as they want.

Steven. wrote:
As for the peer rating of effort: even in my current workplace, which doesn't have a particularly high level of workers' solidarity, if management introduced such a scheme we would just get together and decide collectively to all rate each other as highly as possible. That way we would all gain.

And as for sacrifice, we could also collectively decide to do a minimal number of hours each day, and yet rate each other as having worked ten-hour days. (At several previous jobs colleagues and I have covered for each other by punching in for each other alternately, as I've written about here.)

I think this misses an important point – labour has to be socially necessary. That is, workplaces under parecon have to produce ouputs commensurate with inputs (labour, technical assets, time expended etc.), otherwise all their labour won't be judged as socially necessary – remuneration won’t just increase if everyone in a workplace gives each other maximum ratings, the remunerative share allocated to the workplace would reflect the disparity in inputs/outputs. Socially unnecessary labour (e.g. doing nothing) is not rewarded, so workplaces pay a price when they under-perform.

Steven. wrote:
Now, effort and sacrifice couldn't just be applied universally, as people have different abilities. Women who are pregnant, workers who might be smaller or weaker than others, people who have disabilities, or who are temporarily ill or injured might have to do putting more effort and time to have the same kind of output as other workers.

Not to mention that people have completely different sets of abilities anyway. Some may be quicker with numbers than others, for example, others may have quicker hands.

Effort/sacrifice takes differing abilities/talents into account, hence why it is chosen as the preferred remunerative norm over individual productive output. For example, the suggestion of judging effort/sacrifice by duration of work and peer-ratings doesn’t acknowledge abilities/talents as relevant. A brief reading of parecon would grant anyone this knowledge. Also, those who can’t work or who are hindered will receive need-based remuneration to fill the gap, which would be in accord with atleast the average remuneration, and any above to accommodate any special hardship.

radicalgraffiti
Apr 13 2012 11:18
fletcheroo wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Now if we look at capitalist society as it is, we see there is a central contradiction: employers want workers to carry out as much work as possible, for as little reward as possible. Workers on the other hand want to do as little as possible, for as much as possible. It is from this basic contradiction that class struggle arises.

So, what would I do if I was a worker under parecon? It would still be in my interests to perform as little work as possible and get as much money as possible. Although the way to get more would be to appear to be putting in more effort, and sacrificing more.

Parecon envisions the means of production as held in common, remunerative shares as not apportioned in terms of bargaining power but on the fair basis of effort/sacrifice (tempered by distribution for need), and self-management, solidarity and equity as present. Having a norm for determining remunerative shares is not the same as wage slavery. If you nevertheless maintain under such conditions that workers will (despite the fact this is near impossible) do as little labour for the most remuneration, then this sits more than uneasily against your vision wherein persons can do zero labour and take as much as they want.

actually there are various ways communism could deal with people doing no work at all, just no one has said "this is how it will be"
But paracon is based on a system of coercing people to work through requiring the to aquire consumption credits to live, so its obvious that people will be better of if they can get more for less effort, communism has a different dynamic.

fletcheroo wrote:
Steven. wrote:
As for the peer rating of effort: even in my current workplace, which doesn't have a particularly high level of workers' solidarity, if management introduced such a scheme we would just get together and decide collectively to all rate each other as highly as possible. That way we would all gain.

And as for sacrifice, we could also collectively decide to do a minimal number of hours each day, and yet rate each other as having worked ten-hour days. (At several previous jobs colleagues and I have covered for each other by punching in for each other alternately, as I've written about here.)

I think this misses an important point – labour has to be socially necessary. That is, workplaces under parecon have to produce ouputs commensurate with inputs (labour, technical assets, time expended etc.), otherwise all their labour won't be judged as socially necessary – remuneration won’t just increase if everyone in a workplace gives each other maximum ratings, the remunerative share allocated to the workplace would reflect the disparity in inputs/outputs. Socially unnecessary labour (e.g. doing nothing) is not rewarded, so workplaces pay a price when they under-perform.

so pay is actual based on production, just not individual production, piece work at the workplace level.

fletcheroo wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Now, effort and sacrifice couldn't just be applied universally, as people have different abilities. Women who are pregnant, workers who might be smaller or weaker than others, people who have disabilities, or who are temporarily ill or injured might have to do putting more effort and time to have the same kind of output as other workers.

Not to mention that people have completely different sets of abilities anyway. Some may be quicker with numbers than others, for example, others may have quicker hands.

Effort/sacrifice takes differing abilities/talents into account, hence why it is chosen as the preferred remunerative norm over individual productive output. For example, the suggestion of judging effort/sacrifice by duration of work and peer-ratings doesn’t acknowledge abilities/talents as relevant. A brief reading of parecon would grant anyone this knowledge. Also, those who can’t work or who are hindered will receive need-based remuneration to fill the gap, which would be in accord with atleast the average remuneration, and any above to accommodate any special hardship.

Except it doesn't because there is no way to really know how much effort anyone but yourself has put into something

Uncontrollable
Apr 14 2012 02:06
Steven. wrote:
Without the profit motive, this incentive would no longer exist.

Under parecon the exact opposite incentive would exist - workers would be incentivised to make work as un-enjoyable and onerous as possible, in order to maximise earnings.

And who is making a profit in the parecon proposal? It's a non-profit economy with production for use.

With workers self-management of workplaces people working would want to make work as unenjoyable and onerous as possible? I don't get it. It kind of sounds like conservatives who tell me that workers self-management is impossible.

Why? In a democratic worker self managed workplace would I want to make the work as unenjoyable and onerous as possible? To fuck myself over?

Uncontrollable
Apr 14 2012 05:23
Chilli Sauce wrote:
what's to stop me from being between jobs forever?.
Steven. wrote:
Human beings are naturally productive, innovative, playful and creative.

Chili - Steven answered that question for you. What Steven said above is exactly why people wouldn't want to be between jobs forever.

Spikymike
Apr 14 2012 11:51

I can see why syndicalistcat likes parecon as it sort of reflects the kind of trade unionist arguments about why certain types of work and worker deserve more or less wages based on skill, effort, clean/dirty, intensity, usefulness etc etc even though none of this counts for much in negotiations in the real world of capitalism.

I mean parecon comes over as a kind of trade unionist wet dream and a communist nightmare!

As syndicalistcat mentions here and I said on the other related thread, these ideas do have at least a tenuous connection with 'old labour movement' notions of a transition to communism and some syndicalists along with other leftists still want to hang on to these, at best, outdated ideas.

Let the dead bury the dead!

Chilli Sauce
Apr 14 2012 14:18
Uncontrollable wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
what's to stop me from being between jobs forever?.
Steven. wrote:
Human beings are naturally productive, innovative, playful and creative.

Chili - Steven answered that question for you. What Steven said above is exactly why people wouldn't want to be between jobs forever.

I think you've misunderstood Steven's argument. He's arguing that humanity's inherent creativity and productively is undermined when mediated through wages and remuneration.

The point is that under capitalism--despite human beings being productive, innovative, playful, and creative--we avoid and rebel against work because it's alienating and exploitative. One of the main ways way we experience that is through wages. The consumptions points offered by parecon means that production will still be mediated as a relationship between things instead of integrating production as part of the social process (in other words, by destroying the very idea of work as separate sphere of life) as advocated by communists.

noscman1
Apr 14 2012 16:52
radicalgraffiti
Apr 14 2012 17:10
noscman1 wrote:
Response by Michael Albert

http://www.iopsociety.org/blog/replying-to-libcom

less than 10% into that and he's completely misrepresenting the criticism.

Steven.
Apr 14 2012 17:42
radicalgraffiti wrote:
noscman1 wrote:
Response by Michael Albert

http://www.iopsociety.org/blog/replying-to-libcom

less than 10% into that and he's completely misrepresenting the criticism.

I was just reading it and thinking that. Then I noticed how long the article was, so I've not got time to finish reading it now, I'll have to have a look at it properly later.

I appreciate Michael putting in the time to respond, however.

Uncontrollable
Apr 14 2012 19:08
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Uncontrollable wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
what's to stop me from being between jobs forever?.
Steven. wrote:
Human beings are naturally productive, innovative, playful and creative.

Chili - Steven answered that question for you. What Steven said above is exactly why people wouldn't want to be between jobs forever.

I think you've misunderstood Steven's argument. He's arguing that humanity's inherent creativity and productively is undermined when mediated through wages and remuneration.

The point is that under capitalism--despite human beings being productive, innovative, playful, and creative--we avoid and rebel against work because it's alienating and exploitative. One of the main ways way we experience that is through wages. The consumptions points offered by parecon means that production will still be mediated as a relationship between things instead of integrating production as part of the social process (in other words, by destroying the very idea of work as separate sphere of life) as advocated by communists.

And I would think if people in a participatory economy are in control of their lives and the idea of "jobs" and "work" will be determined by the people themselves freely and democratically the idea of "work" will be radically different much the same way Marx is getting at in that quote. And everyone in your camp always say "work" will get done just the idea of it will change.

Awesome Dude
Apr 15 2012 10:01
Michael Albert wrote:
Work, which is producing socially valuable outputs, is not the same as my taking a bath, washing a floor, raising a child, playing a game, dancing, and so on. If all these latter activities are distinct things we can talk about, then so is work.

This where he's lost me. When "raising a child" I would imagine that involves giving the child a bath, washing floors so the child has somewhere hygienic to crawl over, playing games and dancing with the child. If I was being remunerated to do those "activities", then it would surely constitute "work, which is producing socially valuable outputs"

The state employs armies of workers to look after orphaned children and remunerates them for their efforts...and what a mess it all ends up. Most parents look after their children for no remuneration and do a better job to the "remunerated workers" (though Philip Larkin would disagree). I would imagine that, under full communism, the raising of children will be a radically different to the way it is carried out now. Out of curiosity, in paracon, would there be remunerated "social workers" to look after the children of workers who "volunteer" to do "work, which is producing socially valuable outputs"?

Banelion
Apr 16 2012 00:25

I do not understand how Stephen finds that Parecon could never work because people would cheat the system they themselves agreed on because the norms are supposedly hard to check but at the same time advocates a system that has zero checks and expects people not to cheat at that one. Guess if you can just make up stuff about how people would act in one or the other system its really easy to criticize.

If you imagine only anti social pricks and master actor/fraudsters in Parecon and perfectly social people not looking out for themselves in your own system then i suppose the critique could make sense. However normally one does not start critiques on a basis of a fantasy.

Banelion
Apr 16 2012 02:01

@Awesomedude

It is a common misunderstanding of Parecon being exhibited when you ask this question. It highlights that the questioner does not know what Michael Albert proposes. Albert says that worker and consumer councils will decide what is socially useful work and what is not. It is perfectly possible, even likely, that worker and consumer councils would like to disperse renumeration for raising children (in fact even under the brutal capitalist system this is done up to a point). It is possible but in my opinion quite unlikely that the councils would decide to renumerate someone for taking a bath. The point is, if you look at the quote from Albert you have to understand that is his opinion and that he would not in any way shape or form decide any of this. So the question "would in Parecon ..." should be worded "would I ...".

Awesome Dude
Apr 16 2012 03:05
Banelion wrote:
@Awesomedude

It highlights that the questioner does not know what Michael Albert proposes.

Does Michael Albert know what he's proposing?

Banelion wrote:
Albert says that worker and consumer councils will decide what is socially useful work and what is not.

No, from the passage I quoted from his reply (below), Michael Albert is quite specific about activities that don't constitute "work, which is producing socially valuable outputs".

Michael Albert wrote:
Work, which is producing socially valuable outputs, is not the same as my taking a bath, washing a floor, raising a child, playing a game, dancing, and so on. If all these latter activities are distinct things we can talk about, then so is work.

From the above it's clear that your Guru distinguishes activities which "produce socially valuable outputs" from those that don't. I simply demonstrated that all the activities he describes as "distinct things we can talk about" do in fact constitute activities, which produce "socially valuable outputs" in particular circumstances. In attempting to define work as a distinct sphere of human activity, (Michael Albert's) parecon seeks to repackage the fundamental problems of the "wages system" with a pragmatic programme. This is nothing new though. The workers movement has always had "revolutionary" pragmatic tendencies, parecon is simply the latest incarnation...the left wing of capitalist reformism.

Banelion
Apr 16 2012 12:05

Firstly. Yes he is specific in naming things that do not constitute socially valuable outputs. But it is his opinion. Decisions would still be done within the councils regardless of what Michael or anyone else said or did. Not that hard to understand.

Secondly. Not only "my Guru", but EVERYONE distinguishes activities that "produce socially valuable outputs" from those that do not. This is nothing new. If you think the activities Michael listed are indeed socially valuable then your relevant council can always decide to renumerate them. I think raising children should be renumerated for example, but going to a dance should not be. If the council thinks its stupid for people to earn a living by cleaning their own kitchen or playing chess with their neighbour, though they might not want to renumerate that particular part. Up to the council.

Thirdly. The silly part in these debates is the total focus on wages. "Wage" is just a word. It means people get something for whatever they do. If you use the From each according to ability to each according to need principle it means the same thing, people get something for whatever they are doing. People would get a part of the social product no matter what in whatever system you might imagine. The fact that the amount is decided according to some formula the participants themselves agree on hardly makes this wage slavery.

As for the "left wing of capitalist reformism". Under parecon there would be no capitalists, no state, no managerial class, no capital, no market, no surplus. It is rather laughable to call that capitalism. Seriously.

Vaga
Apr 16 2012 13:05

Personally, I do not think it is silly to debate the function of "wages"/"prices"/"money", quite the contrary.

In my opinion, a new social "system" that hopefully will replace capitalism, is necessarily to be seen in connection with a new consciousness, a new understanding of work/human activities. The new way of production, as well as the distribution of wealth, is connected to other moral principles and social norms.
In the history of mankind there have been communities (and there still are) that do without wages or some sort of remuneration of socially valuable outputs.
I think people are perfectly capable of creating a community that functions upon the principles of sharing the wealth and voluntary participation in the economy.
Of course the amount of capitalist shitheads that indeed are unwilling and not yet capable of sharing and working voluntarily suggest that there still is a lot of work to do in order to bring about this social change, but I keep going with my NOT remunerated activism to inspire this revolution.
I think that the insistence on the use of "money/wages/..." in a future society simply takes hold of capitalist thinking.

Btw, I do not think "wage" is simply a word.

Banelion
Apr 16 2012 14:44

I very much agree Vaga. Wages, prices and money should indeed be debated, very much so. However that is not what is being done either in the original article or in the comments.

What was done was basically say "Aha, Albert proposes some way of measuring it, therefore it is wage slavery!" This is not an argument or a debate. This is flinging mud.

For the other thing, it is a matter of concepts. When you say there have been and are communities that do not have any kind of renumeration of socially valuable outputs i completely disagree.

Renumeration simply means an individual gets something from society that they did not produce. This will happen in any society. If this does not happen then it is not a society at all.

Similarly socially valued product simply means society gets something from an individual that they did not produce. Both are part of social interaction that will always happen without fail.

I also agree that people are perfectly capable of creating a community that shares the wealth and does work voluntarily. I don't see however how using a measuring system in any way precludes it. I would posit there would be some criterion for receiving the social product in EVERY system. For example if in Communism some (rare) antisocial person declared he "needs" a 20 bedroom home with 4 olympic size pools around it while his "ability" to work was 1 hour a month i am pretty sure there would be some reaction from the rest of the society. If the society would just give him the mansion and the pools because after all he said he "needs" them, then i would argue there is something wrong with the society because it allows one person to exploit the labor of many. However if there was some reaction in the society that would prevent one person to "need" more than is rationally sensible then that means that there is already some criterion for renumeration. It also means that "according to need" really means "according to need your society agrees on".

So the difference between for example communism and parecon is not that one has some criteria while the other does not, it is that you (maybe not you, i dont know enough about you) accept the criteria of communism so much you do not even see them, while you possibly do not like the criteria of Parecon. Point is, both have criteria, so debate the criteria and do not pretend one does not have any. No one in the original critique or the entire comment thread has evaluated the criteria, they just declared "criteria? ewwww". How would knowing your social input corrupt you? Why would not knowing it work better? If you do not know how big your social input is how do you know what is fair to take from the social product? Is it even desirable that people take fair shares or is it not? If the people themselves decide what is fair how does that oppress them? If people misjudge how much their fair share is and take too little is that good? If people misjudge how much their fair share is and take too much is that good?

You see what i am trying to come at. There is a price paid by society for not knowing how much gets done and how much gets consumed. Even if i were an angel and i wanted to do my fair share or even more than that, how would i know what my fair share is? But to know it one needs to have some tool to evaluate it. As long as "money" and "wages" are the tool that does that and does not serve another, antisocial, function then that is fine by me. Now maybe they do have some inherent antisocial function, but certainly no one in these comments or the original post made an argument about THAT. Declarations have been made but they are not arguments.

lukitas
Apr 16 2012 22:04

Intrigued to see how rich the discussion has become here on libcom, while the albert response on Znet has only one (rather fawning) comment.

work is a big word. You could classify into paid and unpaid, but clearly these categories have very wide overlaps. People spend lot's of their free time doing things they love to do (or have to do), but these very same things other people get payed to do, and they tend to dislike the things they do for money.
Gardening, cooking, childcare : some people do these for free and for fun, for others it's hard labour.
My old neighbor never went to factory on a monday, because he was still drunk, in fact, most of them only showed up on tuesday, and they were all ready to go home before the whistle went. And then I've got a couple of cousins who spent all their free time and money on repairing and setting up vintage motorbikes. One of them has worked 30 years cleaning chemicals out of containers for a pittance.

Are people who get payed for what they like to do cheating?

One thing is clear across the paid/unpaid divide : unpaid work is for love, for fun, for need. Unpaid work is done with high motivation, attention and care. Being paid changes the relationship : the token of exchange makes it impersonal, abstract. The use of money as reward has strange and dirty effects.
I work on the trains, keep myself motivated with the thought that I am helping people get to their destinations. We get bonuses on the number of tickets sold, so quite a few of my colleagues are chasing maximum sales. The tricky part is this: they cannot let anyone go without paying, they lose sight of our primary functions, which are safety and information, and they become generous with fines. The system of fines in itself is problematic : if you can't pay, we'll charge 60€, if you can, it is only 12,50. Exactly those people who are already in financial trouble are hit the hardest.

A friend has a twelve-year-old whom he doesn't want to get caught up in talent shows, so she gave the kid a guitar and told him he'd get a fiver every time he practiced an hour. After a week she said she couldn't afford paying that much every day, and pretty soon, the guitar was purely decorative.

If money has to motivate us to do the things we have to do, we are not doing them right. I love helping people, but I will not answer queries on train matters after hours : See how wrong that goes? I'm perfectly willing to help total strangers while I work, but I hate it when my friends ask me which train to take...

There is much to like in Parecon. I like the principle of having a say in matters inasmuch they involve you. But I am very skeptical of money or wages or whatever name we give the token we use to exchange value. I think a truly communist society would not have money, and we would do things for love, for fun and for need, and not for money.

There are a lot of local 'currencies' springing up around the globe. Quite a few are based on 'hours of work'. I like the simplicity of this : an hours' work is worth an hours' work, whatever that work may be. An economy based on this system would be much more egalitarian than what we have now : there is a limit to how much you can work, and that will even out income disparity somewhat. But what happens to those who are incapable of doing something useful? Can we agree that one hours' cleaning the gutter is worth an hour of open heart surgery? How does 'stuff' get paid for in an economy based on 'time spent working' tokens?

It would seem simpler to dispense with money and accounting altogether, teach ourselves to do the things we have to do for love, fun and need, but I'm afraid that only works in reasonably small and reasonably self-sustaining communities. A railway can be self-administered, but it must be administered.

Parecon, communist anarchism, libertarian communism,... we all leave questions unanswered.

Michael Albert
Apr 17 2012 13:49

The article was brought to my attention, recently, via email. I posted a reply on ZNet, a site I work at - and figured I should also make it available here. If people are interested, I am happy to try to engage, seriously, rather than, say, via a cartoon image - or someone else standing in for me... since my name does pop up a lot...

I don't know how to submit the piece I wrote, in reply, here, as an article. So I will just place it below. Could someone here, put it here as an article, please. If that happens, and you let me know, I can visit periodically and answers queries or deal with objections - to the extent I can - that appear appended to the article. That way, the users of this site can continue exchanging with one another, in this thread - but for those who would like to deal with what I offer in reply - it could go in the thread under that reply. I apologize for asking this treatment, but it would be hard for me to catch everything meant for me, and not intrude on what isn't meant for me, otherwise...

Here then, is the reply I wrote to the original essay...

admin - moved the response to http://libcom.org/library/libcom-author-rejects-parecon-remuneration-quick-edit as requested

fletcheroo
Apr 17 2012 14:17
radicalgraffiti wrote:
fletcheroo wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Now if we look at capitalist society as it is, we see there is a central contradiction: employers want workers to carry out as much work as possible, for as little reward as possible. Workers on the other hand want to do as little as possible, for as much as possible. It is from this basic contradiction that class struggle arises.

So, what would I do if I was a worker under parecon? It would still be in my interests to perform as little work as possible and get as much money as possible. Although the way to get more would be to appear to be putting in more effort, and sacrificing more.

Parecon envisions the means of production as held in common, remunerative shares as not apportioned in terms of bargaining power but on the fair basis of effort/sacrifice (tempered by distribution for need), and self-management, solidarity and equity as present. Having a norm for determining remunerative shares is not the same as wage slavery. If you nevertheless maintain under such conditions that workers will (despite the fact this is near impossible) do as little labour for the most remuneration, then this sits more than uneasily against your vision wherein persons can do zero labour and take as much as they want.

actually there are various ways communism could deal with people doing no work at all, just no one has said "this is how it will be"
But paracon is based on a system of coercing people to work through requiring the to aquire consumption credits to live, so its obvious that people will be better of if they can get more for less effort, communism has a different dynamic.

Firstly, I envision labour won’t be a pre-condition to the access to the means of life; a supply of democratically decided unconditional lots meeting people’s basic needs seems minimally necessary.

Secondly, to state folly in parecon owing to the fact “people will be better off if they can get more for less effort”, then stating (without substantiation) that communism uniquely averts this pitfall owing to a ‘different’ dynamic, seems to A) restate the initial position B) begs the question, what is this dynamic and how is it captured in communism and not parecon?

How is it not “obvious that people will be better off if they can get more for less effort” within communism?

This seems like the transferring of the logic of capitalist alienation to a completely antithetical environment – when common ownership of the means of production, classlessness, self-management, and remuneration on a fair basis are instituted, and equity and solidarity present, will people really rail against remunerative lots to the point of abusing the very system which they self-manage?

radicalgraffiti wrote:
fletcheroo wrote:
Steven. wrote:
As for the peer rating of effort: even in my current workplace, which doesn't have a particularly high level of workers' solidarity, if management introduced such a scheme we would just get together and decide collectively to all rate each other as highly as possible. That way we would all gain.

And as for sacrifice, we could also collectively decide to do a minimal number of hours each day, and yet rate each other as having worked ten-hour days. (At several previous jobs colleagues and I have covered for each other by punching in for each other alternately, as I've written about here.)

I think this misses an important point – labour has to be socially necessary. That is, workplaces under parecon have to produce ouputs commensurate with inputs (labour, technical assets, time expended etc.), otherwise all their labour won't be judged as socially necessary – remuneration won’t just increase if everyone in a workplace gives each other maximum ratings, the remunerative share allocated to the workplace would reflect the disparity in inputs/outputs. Socially unnecessary labour (e.g. doing nothing) is not rewarded, so workplaces pay a price when they under-perform.

so pay is actual based on production, just not individual production, piece work at the workplace level.

Remuneration is distributed in accord with effort/sacrifice – the point here was, when a workplaces output isn’t commensurate (using averages) with its inputs (including effort ratings and work duration), then either some of the labour performed was socially unnecessary or of a low intensity. As a result, the remunerative share allocated to that workplace will reflect this disparity, and not enlarge in accord with the hypothetically falsified ratings/measurements.

radicalgraffiti wrote:
fletcheroo wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Now, effort and sacrifice couldn't just be applied universally, as people have different abilities. Women who are pregnant, workers who might be smaller or weaker than others, people who have disabilities, or who are temporarily ill or injured might have to do putting more effort and time to have the same kind of output as other workers.

Not to mention that people have completely different sets of abilities anyway. Some may be quicker with numbers than others, for example, others may have quicker hands.

Effort/sacrifice takes differing abilities/talents into account, hence why it is chosen as the preferred remunerative norm over individual productive output. For example, the suggestion of judging effort/sacrifice by duration of work and peer-ratings doesn’t acknowledge abilities/talents as relevant. A brief reading of parecon would grant anyone this knowledge. Also, those who can’t work or who are hindered will receive need-based remuneration to fill the gap, which would be in accord with atleast the average remuneration, and any above to accommodate any special hardship.

Except it doesn't because there is no way to really know how much effort anyone but yourself has put into something

Well I think there are suitable means for approximating effort/sacrifice (of course no measure is perfect), and that workplace experimentation would obviously contribute to revealing the most desirable means of doing such. Though I think the (unaddressed) suggestion of duration of work and some kind of peer-rating system is one plausible way of measuring effort/sacrifice

Steven.
Apr 17 2012 17:01

Michael, thanks for your response. I read it today, and will respond to it when I get a chance in the next few days. I need to write more important article first however

Vaga
Apr 17 2012 19:34

I would also like to thank for the elaborate response. It clarified many questions that had arisen with my admittedly superficial study of parecon's ideas.

Mike Harman
Apr 19 2012 04:08
Michael Albert
Apr 19 2012 12:13

For a full discussion of Chomsky's views, and as best I can discern, those of advocates of from each according to ability to each according to need - for remuneration - there is an essay on ZNet - Querying the Young Chomsky. It is also linked from my reply to Johns, that appears on this site.

Michael Albert
Apr 19 2012 12:18

That some form of remuneration will be necessary is like that some form of production will be necessary, or of nurturing young - remuneration refers to the norms by which it is determined how much claim on social output each member of society has - as well as what they contribute to it by their work in the economy. The anarchist desire, from each, to each - is a remunerative norm.

Your question is legitimate - but there is no need to think of it as shirking. If I am perfectly warranted to do less work and enjoy more income - than why should I not do so, if I so desire. It is not shirking, if it is allowed. In the from each to each maxim, it is allowed. There are other problems than you mention. It is impossible to know what is fair and just - with that maxim, also to know where desires are greater and where they are less, so that investments can be oriented. For more, see the reply essay, I guess... or, for those serious about the issues and interested in parecon, a full presentation...