ParEcon or libcom?

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Joseph Kay
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Aug 7 2009 09:43
ParEcon or libcom?

the libcom.org groups critique of Participatory Economics is now online, if you like that kind of thing.

http://libcom.org/library/participatory-society-or-libertarian-communism

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Aug 7 2009 10:20

jack, if you're going to edit the title, spell 'parecon' right eh?

Boris Badenov
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Aug 7 2009 18:08

having just read this thing, I have to say I really like the clarity of your responses, Joseph; Evans' replies are mostly clear too but permeated by a weird parecon jargon that often feels very awkward (strange for someone who takes strong issue with techno-bureaucratic elites).
I think their notion of "balanced job complexes" is more problematic than it looks; not only does it appear to propose a mere reorganization of work as a separate sphere, but it seems to come dangerously close to a glorification of work along stakhanovite lines (more and harder work, more reward).
Also, like Joseph, I don't get how exactly you can measure the extent to which you are affected by a decision (and therefore the amount of say you have in making that decision), given that such things are often impossible to quantify; this makes the whole notion of "democratic self-management" a bit problematic.

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Aug 7 2009 20:14

Hmm,

Joseph Kay wrote:
For those things which we enjoy most in life – friendship,love, play – the concept of measure is absurd or even obscene. (...) Instead of generalizing work, wage labour and measure ‘fairly’ across the whole of society, we seek the opposite movement; a generalization of human activity that is fulfilling in its own right, negating the need for the incentives or sanctions of a wage system.

You don't explicitly break it down this way but it seems to me that, if we crudely remove the crucial element of the historical dynamic, the parecon vs communism debate comes down to two "visions of human existence".

- In the 'parecon vision', each person would prefer to get more quantifiable goods. The goal of society is to produce more of these goods and to fairly reward those who work harder producing more stuff in general with more stuff of their own. Society would operate democratically with the view of "incentivizing" a minority of slackers (or "free riders") to contribute their fair share of effort as well as making sure the whole operation is run efficiently.
For Parecon, the fundamental problem of capitalism is that it is unfair and somewhat irrational, people like capitalists who just own things and do nothing can get lots of stuff and the processes of production are wasteful and polluting. Under Parecon, the current processes of people working would still exist and people would still be subject to explicit controls while working, these control would just be fairer and more rational.

- In the 'communist vision', each person would prefer to get more unquantifiable "goods", "goods", such as friendship, comradeship, festivals, etc, which are naturally produced by society-as-a-whole without the need for explicit controls. Just as much, while formal democratic process could be used for administering various things, especially the production processes required for physical survival good, these would be supplemented by the informal processes of the "social fabric", by society-as-a-whole.
For communism then, the fundamental problem with capitalism is that it produces capitalist society, that it impoverishes society-as-a-whole - though communists are certainly aware that capitalist society produces immense physical impoverishment as well. Now that capitalism produces more than enough for human beings' physical survival, the problem is that capitalism only produces "enriched survival". It produces substitutes for human social contact that could be better satisfied by giving people the time needed to directly "produce" this human social contact.

Interestingly, the question of rationality or irrationality under capitalism can be quite difficult to puzzle out. A fascinating example is this justification for the rock band Van Halen's contract, which specifies that band be provided with a bowl of M&Ms but that, on pain of cancellation of the entire show, all brown candies be removed from the bowl. In this example and others, it seems that even the most seemingly irrational excesses of capitalist society are ultimately necessary corollaries of the mere existence of commodity relations.

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Aug 7 2009 20:29

Seriously?

The difference between parecon and communism is that in parecon we have incentives, in communism we have festivals 'which are naturally produced by society-as-a-whole without the need for explicit controls'.

I'm a communist but if that were the choice I wouldn't be.

vanilla.ice.baby
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Aug 7 2009 21:13
georgestapleton wrote:
Seriously?

The difference between parecon and communism is that in parecon we have incentives, in communism we have festivals 'which are naturally produced by society-as-a-whole without the need for explicit controls'.

I'm a communist but if that were the choice I wouldn't be.

What?!? confused

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Aug 7 2009 21:45
RedHughs wrote:
You don't explicitly break it down this way but it seems to me that, if we crudely remove the crucial element of the historical dynamic, the parecon vs communism debate comes down to two "visions of human existence".

- In the 'parecon vision', ...Society would operate democratically with the view of "incentivizing" a minority of slackers (or "free riders") to contribute their fair share of effort as well as making sure the whole operation is run efficiently. ...

- In the 'communist vision', each person would prefer to get more
unquantifiable "goods", "goods", such as friendship, comradeship, festivals, etc, which are naturally produced by society-as-a-whole without the need for explicit controls..

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Aug 7 2009 22:36

Is there are an argument somewhere in your posts that I missed?

Sorry if this comes off clunky but IF I'm saying something different from what Joseph Kay says, or if you disagree with the original point, perhaps you could explain.

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Aug 7 2009 22:57

No point really, I was asking 'Seriously?'. Is that seriously your understanding of the difference between communism and parecon? Do you really think that in communism we won't measure things but instead festivals will naturally happen?

Boris Badenov
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Aug 7 2009 23:26

I don't think JK was saying that in communism people would prefer unquantifiable goods like friendship and have no interest in material goods. The point was that many things that we as human beings care deeply about, fuzzy things like friendship yes, are not exactly quantifiable, which goes to show that the economistic argument that parecons make about work (where rewards as well as work are strictly quantifiable) is a bit out of touch with reality.

RedHughs
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Aug 7 2009 23:38
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No point really, I was asking 'Seriously?'. Is that seriously your understanding of the difference between communism and parecon? Do you really think that in communism we won't measure things but instead festivals will naturally happen?

I'm not talking about a primitivist scheme for throwing out numbers but about an informal scheme. I guess I hoped it was obvious that this isn't an "either total control/or total lack of planning" thing. Going back to Joseph Kay's quote, it's not that friends never measure anything about how they get together but that when a group of friends gets together, they do so in a way that's not fully specified and controlled and that it happens as natural part of simply enjoy one's social relations.

There are a lot of levels of such a thing. A small group of folks might, for example, plan a performance very tightly but they would be acting outside overall control if, say, they weren't getting any go-ahead from some general organizing council.

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Aug 8 2009 01:40
RedHughes wrote:
You don't explicitly break it down this way but it seems to me that, if we crudely remove the crucial element of the historical dynamic, the parecon vs communism debate comes down to two "visions of human existence".

the 'visions' thing is the way ukwatch framed the debate. it is somewhat problematic as it tends to pose things as a simple choice between blueprints, which would be a kind of utopian socialist idealism. but that's certainly the way the debate is structured.

Vlad336 wrote:
I don't think JK was saying that in communism people would prefer unquantifiable goods like friendship and have no interest in material goods. The point was that many things that we as human beings care deeply about, fuzzy things like friendship yes, are not exactly quantifiable, which goes to show that the economistic argument that parecons make about work (where rewards as well as work are strictly quantifiable) is a bit out of touch with reality.

george, this. it's not that communism won't measure things (pull production is impossble without quantified consumption, for instance), but rather the point of communism is not simply to arrive at an optimum, democratic, fair quantification of human activity, but to free us as much as possible to pursue things we enjoy, which are often qualities that are impossible to measure. parecon seems to reduce human existence to the measurable, which seems a very Homo economicus approach to things.

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Aug 8 2009 12:36
Joseph Kay wrote:

george, this. it's not that communism won't measure things (pull production is impossble without quantified consumption, for instance), but rather the point of communism is not simply to arrive at an optimum, democratic, fair quantification of human activity, but to free us as much as possible to pursue things we enjoy, which are often qualities that are impossible to measure. parecon seems to reduce human existence to the measurable, which seems a very Homo economicus approach to things.

not only that, it's a recognition of the fact that in the current society it's not material possessions themselves that people crave, it is the status they are meant to convey, the acceptance, respect and friendship of peers.

On this discussion, having to going on at the same time in the forums and on the article, is going to get confusing. We should combine them and then lock one. I reckon keeping the discussion under the article itself is the best place. I not got time to do this though - anyone?

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Aug 8 2009 14:00
Jack wrote:
Steven. wrote:
not only that, it's a recognition of the fact that in the current society it's not material possessions themselves that people crave, it is the status they are meant to convey, the acceptance, respect and friendship of peers.

surely more not only the material possessions themselves?

Well, maybe a small amount.

But consumption is not driven by the actual objects themselves, but the images of them, or more specifically the image of what the consumer's life will be with these items.

However, this image rapidly evaporates before your eyes, and a new image is created for you, with new consumer items to purchase.

For example, baggy jeans are cool, you buy baggy jeans. Then skinny jeans are cool, you buy them. The baggy jeans are still the same objects, but now they have been stripped of their illusory qualities of the kind of person they will make you, and how you will be perceived by others. The baggy jeans are no longer cool, they are a joke, they are awful, how could you ever have worn them...

Then of course skinny jeans are no longer cool...

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Aug 8 2009 18:26
Joseph Kay wrote:
Vlad336 wrote:
I don't think JK was saying that in communism people would prefer unquantifiable goods like friendship and have no interest in material goods. The point was that many things that we as human beings care deeply about, fuzzy things like friendship yes, are not exactly quantifiable, which goes to show that the economistic argument that parecons make about work (where rewards as well as work are strictly quantifiable) is a bit out of touch with reality.

george, this. it's not that communism won't measure things (pull production is impossble without quantified consumption, for instance), but rather the point of communism is not simply to arrive at an optimum, democratic, fair quantification of human activity, but to free us as much as possible to pursue things we enjoy, which are often qualities that are impossible to measure. parecon seems to reduce human existence to the measurable, which seems a very Homo economicus approach to things.

Yeah that's fair enough. I've no problem with that.

However, not necessarily directed at you, two things. One small, the other big.

Small first, the statement 'unquantifiable' gets thrown around alot on the left. Pretty much everything is quatifable to some degree. Even friendship. I'm pretty sure if I wanted to I could group my friends into 1. Closest friends 2. Friends but not very close 3. Acquaintances. That's an ordinal ranking, giving a quantitative value to my friendship with people. I'm only using this example cos its the one being used, a better example would be the enviroment. I don't know how often I've heard people say that the virtues of a good enviroment are unquantifiable when not only are they quantifable but they need to be quantified. End of small point.

Big point. Consumption is driven primarily by 'the objects themselves'. I spend pretty much all my money on rent and food. These are essentials. (The rest of my money gets spent on drink and my education. These are not so essential perhaps but still hardly "image" driven.) Skinny jeans and baggy jeans are still trousers, and there for to some degree essential. End of big point.

Oh and just to be clear communism is the abolition of value not the abolition of measure.

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Aug 8 2009 21:20
george wrote:
Consumption is driven primarily by 'the objects themselves'. I spend pretty much all my money on rent and food. These are essentials.

Surely you must mean your needs. How can the objects drive consumption?

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Aug 9 2009 10:09

I was quoting Steven.

banpen
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Aug 9 2009 12:36

I found this really interesting - simple and accessible; will spread it around. Really good work must have taken a lot of effort!

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Aug 9 2009 13:08
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communism is abolition of value not the abolition of measure

what does the "abolition of value" mean?

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Aug 9 2009 17:21
georgestapleton wrote:
the statement 'unquantifiable' gets thrown around alot on the left. Pretty much everything is quatifable to some degree. Even friendship. I'm pretty sure if I wanted to I could group my friends into 1. Closest friends 2. Friends but not very close 3. Acquaintances. That's an ordinal ranking, giving a quantitative value to my friendship with people.

well the quote in context reads:

libcom in the debate wrote:
But there is also a deeper problem. I would argue that parecon’s fixation with measure (of effort, sacrifice, aptitudes, disabilities…) is itself a product of capitalist society; that is of a society ruled by value, by the drive to minimize socially necessary labour time (i.e. to constantly modernize, automate, impose a division of labour that reduces productive activity to repetitive work etc).

For those things which we enjoy most in life – friendship, love, play – the concept of measure is absurd or even obscene. Who would think to measure their friends, lovers or those they have a kick about with in the park on a scale of one to ten? Who would wish to be so measured? Economists perhaps, but the concept strikes us as absurd because the fixation with measure comes from the world of work, where time is money.

Instead of generalizing work, wage labour and measure ‘fairly’ across the whole of society, we seek the opposite movement; a generalization of human activity that is fulfilling in its own right, negating the need for the incentives or sanctions of a wage system. (The assumption such rewards and sanctions are necessary, nay, foundational aspects of a future society is what I mean by an ‘economistic view of human beings.’ It seems to presume Homo economicus, not people capable of producing collectively to meet their needs without wage incentives, and furthermore enjoying it too!).

are you an economist george? tongue

on your big point, I think use value consists of both direct utility and social signifiers. marketing ,branding etc seek to increase the latter, innovation seeks to increase the former. for some products the use value is almost entirely spectacular, for others it's pretty inconsequential. I don't think this is central to the argument we make, which is that parecon is fixated with measuring (effort, ability, utility) - since it's essentially an economic schema drawn up by (radical) economists (albert and hahnel have written extensive technical literature to demonstrate the viability of parecon in neoclasscal terms, using supply/demand curves etc). but the point of communism is not to make commodity production fair but to liberate us from 'the economy' as a separate sphere which dominates social life.

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Aug 9 2009 18:41

I would add that any Parecon-like system, ie, any labor-voucher or similar system, would have to have the same fixation on measure since any such a system is primarily intended to "prevent free riding", ie "catch cheating" and so must avoid the wiggle room that cheaters would otherwise use.

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Aug 9 2009 19:03

I may be wrong but it seems to me that Communism is about negating the supremacy of the economic sphere/wage slavery/the commodity form/blah blah blah, while Parecon is about taking the economic sphere and making it as egalitarian and democratic as possible but not getting rid of it. That sound good?

Zeph
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Aug 9 2009 20:55
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Furthermore a society that makes reward for effort and sacrifice a foundational principle
provides no incentive to reduce effort and sacrifice.

I'd have liked to see their response to what I think is a great point here.

Also the thought of having your effort rated by your peers sounds like an absolutely awful idea, a recipe for a terrible workplace environment if there ever was one.

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Aug 9 2009 21:55
Zeph wrote:
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Furthermore a society that makes reward for effort and sacrifice a foundational principle
provides no incentive to reduce effort and sacrifice.

I'd have liked to see their response to what I think is a great point here.

Also the thought of having your effort rated by your peers sounds like an absolutely awful idea, a recipe for a terrible workplace environment if there ever was one.

this is a really key point, and one which we hoped to raise with the debate continuing (which we hope it will shortly).

Not only is it a terrible in the sense of making everyone spy on each other, but what would happen in reality if this was implemented is that workers would resist it.

In my workplace now, we only got organised relatively recently, within the past two years, and have only had some relatively minor disputes: a couple of small boycotts, strike ballots, etc. But even so, we would have the sense of solidarity to collectively just say that we would stick together, and all rate each other as putting in the maximum possible level of effort and sacrifice.

Even with workers as atomised as they are now, if the a system such as this put in place now, people everywhere would resist this system by just deciding to rate each other really highly.

And if you imagine the only type of society that could possibly have implemented parecon, then that would basically have to be a pretty revolutionary society, with much higher levels of workers organisation and solidarity than we have at present.

And the idea that workers who have been through a violent and terrible revolution, being on long drawnout strikes, fought on picket lines together, large numbers would have been imprisoned, tortured or shot. All this for equality, and workers solidarity, then march straight back to work and then start saying "Sally doesn't putting enough effort", "Ahmed gets in late", "Jimmy spends too long in the toilet"... so they shouldn't get as much. The idea is absolutely ridiculous. I'm sure it sounded good thought up in an abstract setting, but in terms of practical application it's completely unworkable.

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Aug 10 2009 00:30
RedHughs wrote:
I would add that any Parecon-like system, ie, any labor-voucher or similar system, would have to have the same fixation on measure since any such a system is primarily intended to "prevent free riding", ie "catch cheating" and so must avoid the wiggle room that cheaters would otherwise use.

Something we comment on in the debate is that in their urge to avoid repeating the problems of 20th century socialism (essentially reduced to Leninism and is offshoots), parecon seems to draw heavily on 19th century socialism (utopian blueprints, labour vouchers etc).

banpen wrote:
I found this really interesting - simple and accessible; will spread it around. Really good work must have taken a lot of effort!

glad you like it. we put a lot of effort into making arguments in accessible language - I think mark did too which makes it very readable imho, without dumbing down. it took about 2 1/2- 3 months, producing draft responses, discussing and agreeing them. hopefully it's not over.

smg wrote:
I may be wrong but it seems to me that Communism is about negating the supremacy of the economic sphere/wage slavery/the commodity form/blah blah blah, while Parecon is about taking the economic sphere and making it as egalitarian and democratic as possible but not getting rid of it. That sound good?

yeah I think that's a pretty good summary. communists tend to criticise capitalism at the level of social forms and relations, whereas parecon criticises it for being unfair and undemocratic.

Steven. wrote:
this is a really key point, and one which we hoped to raise with the debate continuing (which we hope it will shortly).

yes, we've emailed PPS to let them know we've put it online and hopefully stimulate a continuation of the debate. the points you make on effort ratings are also really pertinent.

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Aug 10 2009 06:17
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I'm sure it sounded good thought up in an abstract setting, but in terms of practical application it's completely unworkable

the whole debate centers around ideals being thought up in abstract settings (which no amount of materialism will salvage it from) - the practical application of both sides of the debate being something that no one can comment authoritatively on as they have not, and will probably never, be tested - so seems bizarre to use the unworkability of practical application as an argument in this case, especially because it can so easily be thrown back as an argument against your own case

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Aug 10 2009 09:32
oisleep wrote:
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I'm sure it sounded good thought up in an abstract setting, but in terms of practical application it's completely unworkable

the whole debate centers around ideals being thought up in abstract settings (which no amount of materialism will salvage it from) - the practical application of both sides of the debate being something that no one can comment authoritatively on as they have not, and will probably never, be tested - so seems bizarre to use the unworkability of practical application as an argument in this case, especially because it can so easily be thrown back as an argument against your own case

as often, I think you almost have a point here. But I think maybe you didn't read the full document.

The context for the discussion was "in the face of the crisis of capitalism, what is your vision for the economy?"

We specifically spelled out that our vision for the economy was for in the here in now for workers, as much as possible, to try to engage in defensive struggles in the most effective way possible (which we believe mean uniting across boundaries of nationality, gender, union membership etc, and as much as possible trying to take control of our own struggles using mass meetings, and using direct action).

In this way, by asserting our human needs against the inhuman forces of capital, we lay the basis for a potential future society where production is organised according to need, rather than the tyranny of the market. We also spell out that it is not for us to lay out all plan how the society will work, but it will be the task of workers at the time, using the methods of organisation they develop.

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Aug 10 2009 11:05
Steven. wrote:
We also spell out that it is not for us to lay out all plan how the society will work, but it will be the task of workers at the time, using the methods of organisation they develop.

yeah, we were very wary of 'blueprints' - which i think must have been what prompted Mark Evans to subsequently write on Znet:

Mark Evans wrote:
in my experience of debating with LibCom's here in the UK they can not even answer basic questions about what a post-capitalist classless economy might look like.

http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/21577

however, we do put forward some ways a libertarian communist society might function, the 'basic questions.' what we don't put forward is a blueprint as detailed as parecon, not least because any blueprint we come up with would likely be as flawed, being the pure product of imagination detached from practice (i.e. a utopia). as we said in the debate:

libcom wrote:
We can make suggestions as to how such a society might work, and indeed we are doing so in the course of this debate. But these are no blueprint, merely an exposition of possibility. We think it unlikely that would-be political ‘thinkers’ such as ourselves can anticipate all the details of a future society – no society has ever been designed in such a way in advance (indeed the desire to do so is another characteristic of 19th century socialism, and the utopian strand in particular).

Necessity is the mother of all invention, so while we can offer a guiding vision and some speculation as to how it could work, the details will need to be filled in by the self-organisation of millions, whose collective genius far exceeds that of any individual or group of intellectuals. This is not a cop out – as I say we do make suggestions as to how a libertarian communist society could be organised – but an informed humility.

like i say i hope we can recommence the debate, as there is a lot of shared ground (criticisms of capitalism, advocacy of a council system, abolition of hierarchy and classes) despite the important differences.

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Aug 10 2009 12:27
Steven. wrote:
as often, I think you almost have a point here. But I think maybe you didn't read the full document.

The context for the discussion was "in the face of the crisis of capitalism, what is your vision for the economy?"

We specifically spelled out that our vision for the economy was for in the here in now for workers, as much as possible, to try to engage in defensive struggles in the most effective way possible (which we believe mean uniting across boundaries of nationality, gender, union membership etc, and as much as possible trying to take control of our own struggles using mass meetings, and using direct action).

apologies, your right i didn't read the full document, not through lack of interest but time

I did however read far enough to see this:-

Communism is a stateless society where our activity –and its products –no longer take the form of things to be bought and sold. Where activity is not done to earn a wage or turn a profit, but to meet human needs. It is also a democratic society, in a way far more profound than what ‘democracy’ means in its current parliamentary sense.

As there will be no division between owners (state or private) and workers with the means of production held in common, decisions can be made democratically among equals. As production is not for goods to be sold on the market, there are no market forces to pit different groups of workers against each other or compel social and environmental ‘externalities.’ We will work only as long as we decide is necessary to produce the things we need at an intensity we are happy with, not how long the boss demands of us according to the norms of the labour market. Thus production is socialised under our conscious control, and so the separate spheres of economics (where we produce) and politics (where we are governed) are abolished.
There is only a self-managed, self-governing society which exists to meet the self-determined needs of its members. A libertarian communist society.

which prompted the point i made earlier - now I understand the context and the location of this point, but there's no getting away from the fact that this is just as utopian and abstract (if not more) than the point you dismissed as being unworkable in practice and sounding great dreamt up in theory/abstract setting

and i do think there's a fair leap behind the argument about asserting our needs against and in spite of capital in the here and now and a fully fledged libertarian communist society outlined above - that's more utopian/abstract than anything to be fair - and given the statement above forms the conclusion of the introductory argument for 'libcom' then surely a reasonable person would read into that that this is a core point (or at least ultimate development) of the argument and therefore would not be unreasonabl in pointing out that's a fairly abstract/utopian position and not really much to do with the here and now and practicalities of daily life

but as i said, i didn't read the whole article so my point was only based on the introductory statements, i'll try and read the rest of it at some point

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Aug 11 2009 01:15
Joseph Kay wrote:
are you an economist george? tongue

i actually just checked your facebook, laugh out loud

petey
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Aug 11 2009 02:35
Steven. wrote:
Zeph wrote:
Also the thought of having your effort rated by your peers sounds like an absolutely awful idea, a recipe for a terrible workplace environment if there ever was one.

this is a really key point, and one which we hoped to raise with the debate continuing (which we hope it will shortly).

yes it is a key point, and steven gives a thoughtful answer. however, unless i misunderstand it, JK makes an equally objectionable claim on the other thread:

Quote:
needs are arrayed along a spectrum from physiological neccesities to luxuries. luxuries could be inherently scarce items or those which we desire but would soonest give up if given a choice (which would probably be quite different under communism than now). maslow's 'hierarchy of needs' is something in this ballpark, although i don't particularly agree with its specifics. the order of goods/services on such a spectrum would need to be the product of councils, as i say clearly in the debate:

it's not a capitalist deformation of my personality, that i would be impatient of any large group, even one including myself, determining what is the hierarchy of needs and wants to which i must subscribe. maybe this requires fuller exposition.

(btw, it was lazy's posts which first brought home to me the difficulty of parsing the needs/wants business. just sayin'.)