PARECON

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harris
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Dec 27 2005 04:13
PARECON

What do you think?

STI
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Dec 27 2005 05:37

I think it sucks.

Any other questions?

harris
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Dec 27 2005 18:33

That's not a very substantive critique.

dot
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Dec 27 2005 22:37

it wasn't a very substantive question.

what do *you* think? why are you asking about it? what do you know about it already?

anna_key
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Dec 28 2005 16:45

what is parecon?

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cantdocartwheels
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Dec 28 2005 17:12

Parecon, short for 'Participatory Economics'

http://www.parecon.org/defend.htm

Some bits are useful, some bits of it look suspiciously like gaping holes have been left in alberts thinking, but its all somewhat utopian and blueprinted, plus it gives you very little hint of how to get to this proposed model and so somewhat misses the point really.

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Steven.
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Dec 28 2005 17:20
anna_key wrote:
what is parecon?

Brief intro here:

http://www.libcom.org/thought/ideas/parecon/

gordonL
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Dec 28 2005 19:12

While I have many sharp personal differences with Mike Albert, I do consider him a comrade; and believe that the work he and Hahnel have done on parecon is a welcome heuristic contribution (and yet should not be taken as a blueprint, or anything grander than it actually is).

One major difference I have with Albert concerns his strategy for promoting a system of democratic planning. He has often behaved, perhaps unconsciously, as if he considers himself to have written the last word on visionary economics and has thus for the most part obstinately neglected comparison and interaction with those who qualify as his theoretic peers. I think it is in fact useful for those interested in social change to make comparisons between relevant visions, such as those of Pat Devine with his model of democratic planning, or Takis Fotopoulos with his model of inclusive democracy, or the potentials of LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems). Albert, who has expressed interest in stimulating visionary discourses, in effect seems to favour a one-note visionary discourse, namely the discourse emanating from himself and that associated with the "Parecon" brand-name. The other original partner, Robin Hahnel, is much superior in this regard, he is equipped with a full working knowledge of contemporary radical, ecological, and mainstream political economy and thus draws on a plurality of insights for his wide-ranging work. Albert, for his part, appears to be abitrarily limiting himself to a narrow rationality; he typically ignores the theoretical work of like-minded peers, admitting to a preference for reading science fiction novels for his intellectual edification.

Some other more substantive flaws of Parecon are:

1) the device of the annual consumption proposal for individuals which I think would be a hard sell to the extent that it expects relatively detailed enumeration and budgeting of personal comsumption on a yearly basis. I expect that the device of the consumption proposal may be helpful and consistent with self-management at the macro level; ie) with giving citizens a voice in the determination and allocation of a community budget; while microeconomic decisions could be effectively handled by markets for consumer goods, with the advantage of less effort and more efficiency, without significantly contravening pareconish values such as solidarity, efficiency and self-management.

2) A second major flaw concerns parecon's undesirability on grounds of a vulnerability of such a thorough-going system of democratic planning in the aftermath of social revolution. In this respect I doubt that Albert and Hahnel have sufficiently heeded Chomsky's explanations for the waning of historical libertarian socialist movements. In a recent book Hahnel wrote a long chapter discussing the achievements and failures of historical libertarian socialist movements. In a reply Chomsky gently reminded Hahnel that he had left out of his explanation for the "failures" the fact that these movements were "destroyed by violence," in Russia by Bolsheviks, in Spain by a coalition of "Stalinists, liberal democracies and fascists" and in Germany, "led by Social Democrats." By way of conclusion Chomsky notes that "There is often, I think, lack of sufficient willingness to assess the consequences of actions that are undertaken, including the effect they will have on the population one is hoping to reach with them." Like Marx before him, I think Chomsky effectively points out the limitations of over-eager utopian engineering and the need for a revolutionary strategy anchored to a realistic assessment of present circumstances, including possibilities of counter-revolution. Parecon, if anything, is model for a society that is well-evolved in the formation of a revolutionary subjectivity. It's thorough-going system of decentralized planning requires a public whose consciousness is such that many of the pareconist values have been internalized so that participation in the planning process and acceptance of its rewards system and unique division of labour is voluntaristic and rationally informed. It is perhaps a noteworthy touchstone for the intial stages of the "withering away of the state" , but to talk, as Albert is inclined to do, of a "movement for a participatory economy" as if it could appear in a matter of decades seems premature and not a little irresponsible.

On the other hand, I would like to emphasize that most "off-the-cuff" internet critiques I have seen of Albert's work have been errant or dishonest, largely based upon miscomprehension or blatant misrepresentation. I see it all the time where people attribute arguments to Albert that he never made (of course they don't quote him) or they draw negative conclusions and make inferences without fully considering the many counter-arguments he has made in response to criticisms.

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 28 2005 21:11

Hi

Quote:
it gives you very little hint of how to get to this proposed model and so somewhat misses the point really.

Agreed. A viable transition proposal should be its advocates' number one task.

Love

LR

selig
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Dec 31 2005 00:58

Personally, I dislike Parecon primarily because 1) it doesn't help me organizing against capital and state here and now, and I think all plans for "after the revolution" can be harmful and dangerous; and 2) its an economic model for production based on wage-labour, and so hardly "communist".

1) Is the problem for communists/revolutionaries really what we want to "replace capitalism with"? How can Parecon help me and my friends, co-workers, etc, organise against and attack capital and state more efficiently? For that reason Parecon seems, to me, totally irrelevant. Instead, I think these kinds of projects can be restricting, and in worst case an element for control and managing revolts.

If we still believe in the necessity of a revolution of some sort (which I doubt all the pareconists do..), it will for sure be a very caotic and uncontrollable process. Grand plans, especially those based on wage-labour, can in these processes become recuperative.

Btw, didn't Bakunin say something like "anybody who makes plans for after the revolution is a counterrevolutionary"? wink

2) As so many critics have pointed out, Parecon is still founded on "capitalist" premisses: wage-labour, the state (a more decentralised and "democratic", sure, bit still...), and so on..

The problem with capitalism isn't unjust distribution. The capitalist economy should not be replaced with another better, more just economy. I second Gilles Dauvé in 'Re-Visiting the East... and Popping in at Marx’s':

Quote:
Any economic definition of communism remains within the scope of the economy, i.e. the separation of the production moments from the rest of life. Communism is not a society that would properly feed the hungry, nurse the sick, house the homeless, etc. It can’t be based on the fulfillment of needs as they exist now or even as we might imagine them in future. Communism does not produce enough for everyone and distributes it fairly among all. It is a world where people get into relationships and into acts that (among other things) result in them being able to feed, nurse, house... themselves. Communism is not a social organization. It is an activity. It is a human community.
dot
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Dec 31 2005 01:36

points two and three of what selig said,

plus the idea that everything is going to be decided by committee.

ew.

harris
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Dec 31 2005 02:00
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Any economic definition of communism remains within the scope of the economy, i.e. the separation of the production moments from the rest of life. Communism is not a society that would properly feed the hungry, nurse the sick, house the homeless, etc. It can’t be based on the fulfillment of needs as they exist now or even as we might imagine them in future. Communism does not produce enough for everyone and distributes it fairly among all. It is a world where people get into relationships and into acts that (among other things) result in them being able to feed, nurse, house... themselves. Communism is not a social organization. It is an activity. It is a human community.

This reads like gibberish to me. Maybe you can explain it.

In response to Selig, I guess I'm interested in:

What your definition of the 'state' is.

What your definition of 'wage labour' is? Is not distribution attempted according to effort a just form of distribution?

gordonL
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Dec 31 2005 17:20

In fairness to our confreres who originally created the model for Parecon, the output of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel has always included tactical and strategical considerations of how to struggle against capital and achieve a just society.

It's been going on, unnoticed, for a long time. For example: years ago Albert wrote "What is to be Undone" a critique of, among other related matters, Leninist and Marxist-Leninist strategy, "from the perspective of political effectiveness here and now in present United States contexts." He has continued to write about present and mid-term strategy alonside his advocacy of Parecon. Robin Hahnel's recent opus "Economic Justice and Democracy" devotes over 120 pages to transitional strategies. They are also both of them embedded in activist communities. One may or may not agree with their ideas, but it is dishonest to suggest that they have produced nothing about transition when in fact they have done more serious work on it than most or all of their critics. It seems to be the case that Parecon has been such an attention grabber and it provokes such emotional responses that many people are not noticing the now considerable body of work on transitional strategy.

Finally --- Parecon can by no means be held to be based upon the institution of wage labour. Workers in Parecon do not rent their labour-power for wages. Anyone who asserts this has obviously not read the material with the least bit of mindfulness.

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 31 2005 18:15

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Parecon can by no means be held to be based upon the institution of wage labour

Agreed. As an advocate of PARECON, please explain your programme of transition as if you were selling it to a "normal" working class person.

Love

LR

gordonL
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Dec 31 2005 19:50
Lazy Riser wrote:
Hi
Quote:
Parecon can by no means be held to be based upon the institution of wage labour

Agreed. As an advocate of PARECON, please explain your programme of transition as if you were selling it to a "normal" working class person.

Love

LR

hello!

Actually I do not consider myself an advocate of PARECON. As my opening salvo suggested I am much more in favour of a comparative dialogue at this point. I am hardly an expert, and am not certain about anything except perhaps that the current system is unsustainable and cannot come close to realizing human potentialities. As such I consider myself an eclectic revolutionary socialist for the time being. One thing I do recognize is the need for alot more intellectual and moral discipline among so-called revolutionaries. If they are to achieve their goal of a legitimate social revolution, revolutionaries will have to set a positive moral example. This includes representing views that we think we are arguing against honestly, as well solidaritously respecting specific differences among folks who agree with one another on important general issues.

Your request for a transition programme is obviously a daunting challenge, being somewhat beyond my current capabilities. Nevertheless I am certainly willing to partake in a discussion about some such possible programme. I'm ready to learn.

To begin I would suggest reading the following link by PARECON co-creator Robin Hahnel... Fighting For Reforms Without Becoming Reformist

One point that Hahnel elaborates here in the section on "Community Development Initiatives", that perhaps resonates the strongest for me is his suggestion to "Combine Reform Work with Experiments in Equitable Cooperation." I think it is paramount for our task to focus on building revolutionary socialist neighborhoods that attempt, as much as possible to circumvent the dictates of capitalist institutions while at the same time struggling actively against capitalism and imperialism. In past times when socialism was a real threat, entire neighborhoods could be identified as socialist neighborhoods, and there was a socialist community life. Since the incentives for new members to join such communities are not likely to be those of personal material prosperity such communities will have to be a visible testament that quality of life cannot be reduced to material possessions and selfish desires.

love- g.

selig
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Jan 1 2006 14:24
harris wrote:
This reads like gibberish to me. Maybe you can explain it.

What exactly is "gibberish" and unclear with this: "Communism does not produce enough for everyone and distributes it fairly among all. It is a world where people get into relationships and into acts that (among other things) result in them being able to feed, nurse, house... themselves."

harris wrote:
What your definition of the 'state' is.

What your definition of 'wage labour' is? Is not distribution attempted according to effort a just form of distribution?

I don't have any strange or unusual definitions. Was there something I wrote that indicated that? I think the most basic definition of the state would be the constitution of institutions for the apparent relative autonomy of the political from the economic and, conversely, the relative autonomy of the economic from the political. Wage labor is of course the selling of ones labor-power for it's value. This exchange is just even today under capitalism. It is not the distribution that is the problem.

gordonL wrote:
Parecon can by no means be held to be based upon the institution of wage labour.

Then why is labor measured?

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Jan 1 2006 15:37

Hi

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Then why is labor measured?

Why not for the sake of idle curiosity?

Love

LR

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Jan 1 2006 15:39

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Then why is labor measured?

Also, so you know how effective your effort reduction technology is.

Love

LR

Mike Harman
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Jan 1 2006 17:02
selig wrote:

I don't have any strange or unusual definitions. Was there something I wrote that indicated that? I think the most basic definition of the state would be the constitution of institutions for the apparent relative autonomy of the political from the economic and, conversely, the relative autonomy of the economic from the political.

I'm guilty of not having read loads on parecon, but 'par-polity' appears to allow for quite a lot of seperation between the economic and political

I'm not sure I'd call the system put forward in parecon wage labour - or more specifically I'm not sure if you could call the consumption credits money - more like labour notes. My main problem with it, and the thing it hinges on, is the idea of 'effort ratings' - where your work is assessed by your peers (and you assess everyone elses) in order to determine who's done the most effort. It seems like a laborious and unpleasant process - and someone who wrote a bit about trying to run a parecon-like system in a café/bookshop said that bit made it almost unworkable because it was so unpopular.

In that sense I'm not sure it's even 'measuring labour' - is subjective assessment by your co-workers measuring?

harris
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Jan 1 2006 22:01

Aside from some kind of an effort rating system, what sort of incentives would you support for people to work harder? Surely, you don't think that everyone will suddenly be putting equal amounts of effort into their work?

Mike Harman
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Jan 1 2006 22:33
harris wrote:
Aside from some kind of an effort rating system, what sort of incentives would you support for people to work harder?

Why would I want to incentivise people to work harder? I want to minimise the amount of work that people have to do, and ultimately eliminate work as a category separate from the rest of human existence. At the moment, most of the work people do does very little to satisfy theirs or anyone elses needs or desires, and time spent on activity devoted to the circulation of capital is extending further and further outside the workplace via commuting, shopping etc. etc.

Eliminate all that wasted effort from human society, and although I think a lot would need to be done in terms of reorganising industry, especially agriculture and energy production, you'd end up with very high quality of life and much less time spent working. In that context, I'm much less interested in how much 'effort' people put into working, much more into turning work into an activity which is simply anything which satisfies human need. At the moment, growing vegetables in your garden is generally considered a leisure activity - regardless of the amount of effort spent - whilst sitting in an office all day doing nearly fuck all is considered work.

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Jan 1 2006 23:27

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Why would I want to incentivise people to work harder?

Indeed. Rewarding effort and sacrifice over performance increases the risk of starvation significantly. That aside, in an open market, increased productivity is its own reward.

Love

LR

harris
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Jan 1 2006 23:32
Catch wrote:
harris wrote:
Aside from some kind of an effort rating system, what sort of incentives would you support for people to work harder?

Why would I want to incentivise people to work harder? I want to minimise the amount of work that people have to do, and ultimately eliminate work as a category separate from the rest of human existence. At the moment, most of the work people do does very little to satisfy theirs or anyone elses needs or desires, and time spent on activity devoted to the circulation of capital is extending further and further outside the workplace via commuting, shopping etc. etc.

Eliminate all that wasted effort from human society, and although I think a lot would need to be done in terms of reorganising industry, especially agriculture and energy production, you'd end up with very high quality of life and much less time spent working. In that context, I'm much less interested in how much 'effort' people put into working, much more into turning work into an activity which is simply anything which satisfies human need. At the moment, growing vegetables in your garden is generally considered a leisure activity - regardless of the amount of effort spent - whilst sitting in an office all day doing nearly fuck all is considered work.

I meant within the context of a socialist/communist society. Surely you think that those who do put more effort into their work than others, should be rewarded in some way? This seems to just to me, and I think it does to most.

Mike Harman
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Jan 1 2006 23:54
harris wrote:

I meant within the context of a socialist/communist society. Surely you think that those who do put more effort into their work than others, should be rewarded in some way? This seems to just to me, and I think it does to most.

No I believe in the principle "from each according to ability; to each according to need", not wanting to make unfair comparisons, but it was the soviet constitution of 1936 under Stalin that changed it to "from each according to ability; to each according to work". The only justification for systems based around differing rewards for labour are in a society based on scarcity. We now have the productive potential to remove scarcity from human society - much of which is imposed by capitalist social relationships rather than actual shortages - in other words a communist society.

If there were real shortages, I'd be all for rationing, but rationing isn't done according to effort either.

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Jan 2 2006 00:49

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Surely you think that those who do put more effort into their work than others, should be rewarded in some way?

Not at all. Only the end result counts. Sacrifice is for Christians.

Quote:
This seems to just to me, and I think it does to most.

Capitalist liberal democracy seems “just” to most, I wouldn’t rely on this line of reasoning to defend it.

Love

LR

harris
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Jan 2 2006 01:15

So we both work at a factory.

You're responsible, and work hard. I goof off, put in a minimum amount of effort when I do work, and am frequently sneaking off for long intervals to smoke pot.

You argue that we should be payed the same amount, or 'according to need'? Or would this type of situation never take place in our socialist/anarchist utopia?

afraser
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Jan 2 2006 01:41

Parecon is a well thought out vision for a future society. I think its ‘balanced job complexes’ are especially important, also the concept of a third ‘co-ordinator class’ (although uninspiring choice of name). But in being brave enough to spell out their vision, Albert and Hahnel have made its faults obvious, and those faults are fatal to it:

1) Many planning decisions would inevitably devolve to the professional ‘facilitation boards’, which are reminiscent of state socialist apparatus. Consumers and workers councils voting directly on different plans would greatly enhance the democratic nature of the planning decisions, but the economic inefficiencies inherent in planning a complex economy would persist. The major new lesson from the decline of the state socialist economies is that in complex economies, planning is inferior to market mechanisms for allocating resources.

2) Preventing market trading by law enforcement agencies (which Albert supports as a necessary evil) requires restrictions on individual liberty, reminiscent again of state socialism.

All goes to show that spelling out detailed political-economic vision is essential, should be a requirement, a pre-requisite, of any ideology that wishes to be taken seriously. Libertarian Municipalism, Libertarian Communism in general (except Primitivism) has noticably failed to do that, except I think where Peter Staudenmaier advocates a solution similar to parecon over the large scale, with communism locally.

Good posts from GordonL. I read Hahnel’s Fighting For Reforms Without Becoming Reformist a while ago but had forgotten it until came up again here. Heartening to see how similar it is to the programme I posted. I’d disagree with his pessimism that financial reforms and full employment policies are too complex and distant for activists, but then he may be speaking from bitter experience of trying and failing to get those taken up.

GordonL wrote:
while microeconomic decisions could be effectively handled by markets for consumer goods, with the advantage of less effort and more efficiency, without significantly contravening pareconish values such as solidarity, efficiency and self-management.

I’d very much agree with that, but for Albert and Hahnel, markets are anathema, to be completely forbidden. When Hahnel grudgingly supports worker co-ops and trading between participatory firms in his transitional reforms he’s doing so through gritted teeth.

Harris wrote:
Surely you think that those who do put more effort into their work than others, should be rewarded in some way? This seems to just to me, and I think it does to most.

Including me - but not to Communists, they say no, that distribution should be according to need only. Marks the fundamental difference between Parecon and Libertarian Communism including Libertarian Municipalism [http://www.zmag.org/debatelibmuni.htm].

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Jan 2 2006 09:29

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I goof off, put in a minimum amount of effort when I do work, and am frequently sneaking off for long intervals to smoke pot.

Providing your output is up to scratch, not only would you get the same rewards, I might even consider a request for a special allowance to subsidise your experiments with Mary Jane.

You may be asked to run a seminar on how drugs help you maintain productivity whilst reducing effort, do you think you’d be up for that?

Love

LR

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Jan 2 2006 09:49

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But in being brave enough to spell out their vision, Albert and Hahnel have made its faults obvious, and those faults are fatal to it

We're back on common ground now, afraser. But I’m still not happy with a number of elements of your own economic vision…

1.

Rewarding “sacrifice” over performance. Your incomes policy is to the right of the Euro Greens.

2.

A government owned commercial sector with it’s accompanying tax and usury.

3.

No viable transition plan with no account taken of the need for robust local primary industrial and agricultural regeneration to provide us with the means for our own economic security.

Love

LR

Mike Harman
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Jan 2 2006 12:01
harris wrote:
So we both work at a factory.

You're responsible, and work hard. I goof off, put in a minimum amount of effort when I do work, and am frequently sneaking off for long intervals to smoke pot. You argue that we should be payed the same amount, or 'according to need'? Or would this type of situation never take place in our socialist/anarchist utopia?

I don't think there should be either a market in labour or a market in commodities, which I think payment for work introduces, nor do I think humanity will ever reach a state of utopia. Utopia is static, perfection, communism is a process, a movement. However, I'll try to answer the question in terms I think would be acceptable.

If someone contributed nothing to a community for a very long period of time - to the extent where this put a lot of extra work on the rest of the community and affected their ability to satisfy their own needs, first I'd hope an attempt was made to find them productive activity which they could enjoy (growing cannabis perhaps?) - rather than your obviously alienating example of a factory job. If that didn't work, then the rest of the community could withdraw their labour out of protest, since they'd be effectively working for the person by that point, or they could be asked to leave and go elsewhere. The other option would be to try to automate whatever it was in the factory that was boring enough to send someone off smoking weed for hours to cope with it. None of this requires anyone being paid wages. There's always the possibility for sanctions if people are consistently anti-social, but bringing wages into the equation immediately means people are working for the money and what they can by with it, which is what happens now.

I'd like to see a society where people simply take what they want as and when they need it - the closest thing to that at the moment is free software and p2p - by no means perfect but it has a lot of potential. Now free software is tied into and dependent on capitalism and access to computers as much as most things, but it's also a model where people contribute what they can, usually to something they want to use themselves, but then make it available to anyone who wants it. Now there are incentives for putting a lot of time into free software - notoriety and the potential for either money for tech support, or work in non-free software, but even within capitalism it's a model that works without direct work-for-wages.

Mike Harman
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Jan 2 2006 12:23

afraser, in that Staudenmeier article, all he does is extend mandated decision making to a regional level from face-to-face assemblies. I see nothing there which is any different to other social ecology stuff, but please point it out if you do.

fwiw I think there's some value to sketching out possible ways human society could function, certainly it was partly those that got me interested in anarchism in the first place. I think Bookchin and the rest of the social ecology people have done this much better than others. Parecon seems almost distopian to me whenever I read about it, based on the idea that people won't work at all without some kind of coercion.

However all libertarian municipalism does is take forms of organisation that have been present to some extent during revolutions for a long time (face to face decision making in assemblies), and try to apply them to the way a society might function if they were more generalised, and within an ecological context. fwiw that parecon/LM debate afraser linked to is with a mate of mine.