Steven Johns responds to Michael Albert's reply

Steven Johns responds to Michael Albert's reply

I must admit this reply has taken me a while, as I didn't expect a response to my original article of only 1500 words to be so extensive (nearly 9000 words). And I've got a lot on my plate at the moment.

Not only that, but as we at libcom.org stressed in our previous debate with a parecon advocate, we don't think that debating the minutiae of a post-capitalist society is a particularly useful activity for those of us who oppose capitalism today.

Nonetheless I appreciate that Albert took the time to respond in such depth. However, I was quite disappointed that his response was based almost entirely on a complete misrepresentation of my views and my initial argument.

In addition to that, there are several areas where we have significant disagreements, which I will address in the order in which he discusses them.

Johns prefers, though it is never made very explicit, much less seriously explored in his piece, that we instead work to our ability, and receive to our need, leaving society no need to have remunerative norms other than personal preferences. My most recent round of addressing views like these - which were put forth considerably more extensively than here - can be found in another article: "Querying Young Chomsky," at http://www.zcommunications.org/querying-young-chomsky-by-michael-albert If concerns over parecon's remunerative norms and methods concern you, that might be a good additional "exchange" to view for further exploration, as the young Chomsky was a very strong advocate of the "from each, to each" position.

In this assertion, Albert is broadly correct. I do hold, like Chomsky outlines in this interview, that in a good society we will be able to contribute what we can, and receive what we need from society.

I disagree that the only "remunerative norm" will be personal preference, which is an assertion which to me comes off as a dismissive strawman. Of course personal preference will be a significant factor (as it is in capitalist society) but other factors such as availability/scarcity will also have an impact. Albert repeats this strawman multiple times through his article.

Fairness

Johns, however, usefully explains further: "parecon … instead of abolishing wage labour proposes a "fair" way of allocating wages."

Whether parecon is wise to do this, we address below. Interestingly, Johns puts the word "fair" in quotes, but never in the essay addresses whether the parecon norm strikes him as anything other than "fair," equitable, etc. That isn't the issue for Johns.

As I stated in my article, its intention wasn't to debate the ethics of parecon, but was to hypothesise about how workers would react in it. In our previous debate with parecon, we did discuss fairness. And if Albert is really interested, then I am happy to inform him that no I do not believe that this is "fair" (whatever "fair" means). Nor do I believe it is workable, for the reasons outlined in my previous article.

On the concept of "fairness" of wages in general: I think that Karl Marx made mistakes but something he was dead right on was his call to workers: "Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wages system!’"

On the "fairness" of remuneration for effort and sacrifice specifically, a quick personal example comes to mind. At the council where I work management for several years has been attempting to introduce performance related pay. A system which they claim will be "fairer" as it will better reward those who work harder. Now, my co-workers and I have successfully resisted its introduction so far as we believe it will be neither fair nor conducive to a productive working environment (management are now attempting to impose it once more using the crisis as an excuse, but that's another story).

I believe it is unfair as it will discriminate against the disabled, and people with different types of abilities. It will also most likely institutionally discriminate against women and workers from ethnic minorities. And it will harm the working environment as instead of cooperating we will be competing with one another to work harder and longer than each other. Which again will discriminate against disabled people and people with caring responsibilities -who are disproportionately female.

Some of these criticisms of performance related pay are equally relevant for parecon. So with parecon either it would discriminate against people with disabilities or caring responsibilities, or else it would be unworkable as people could just pretend to have disabilities (particularly invisible ones like anxiety, depression, etc) or different abilities.

Wage work

Next comes a key area of disagreement, where Michael Albert gets into all sorts of semantic manoeuvrings to try to claim that wages under parecon are not actually wages:

Wage labor, sometimes called wage slavery, is a term most often meant to cover the employment and payment of workers by owners via a system of workers selling their ability to do work for some period of time to owners who in turn extract as much actual work as they can coerce from the workers' time they have bought control over, all for maximizing owners' profits. Okay, Johns says he rejects that. Well, parecon advocates too say, we reject that.

I referred to wages as meaning remuneration for work performed which can be exchanged for a share of the social product.

Albert's definition of wage labour here is inadequate, from a revolutionary point of view. In the former Soviet Union and other state capitalist economies, enterprises do not have "owners" in the same way as more free market economies do. Nor do "owners" make "profits" in the same way. However, the workers are still wage slaves, people compelled to work for a share of the social product, and for survival. And the subjective experience of work is very similar in both types of economies. Certainly the response of workers, which is to resist work (whether by not trying their hardest, absenteeism, covert sabotage or open strikes) is the same in both.

In fact, however, having a way of allocating income, and thus a guiding norm for income allocation, and a means of accomplishing that norm, whether implicit or explicit, is simply unavoidable. It will exist in every society and every economy that will ever exist because in all such societies people will get a share of the social output.

In the former part of this assertion, Albert is completely incorrect. Of course in all societies people will get a share of the social output. However this is not the same thing as all members of the society having a monetary income. For the majority of the time humans have existed, money and therefore income did not even exist.

Parecon believes its norm and methods offer a fair, worthy, viable option. Johns' mistake, assuming he believes that parecon's norm means it is preserving "wage labor" as this term is used by critics of capitalism, is to think that the mere fact that people get income - wages - means the system has wage labor, or wage slavery, as it exists under capitalism, or even just waged labor that is exploitative and alienating, as in any class divided system.

In this Johns goes beyond merely being wrong. It is quite like if someone argued that if we have production, then we have capitalism. Or if we have decision making, then we have authoritarianism. Or if we have procreation, then we have sexism.

Here Albert reels off a string of complete non sequiturs to counter my point which I believe is based on reality. And certainly my subjective experience as a worker.

The point I'm making is nothing to do with someone making the ridiculous argument that if there is production there is capitalism. The point I am making is that if people are forced to work for wages in order to receive a share of the social product, then people will resist this imposition.

I believe I am backed up by empirical evidence here, as every society I'm aware of where there are wage workers -i.e. there are people working for a wage (to avoid Albert attempting any more semantic gymnastics to try to say that it won't apply to parecon) - workers have resisted work on an individual and collective basis. Whereas in moneyless societies where "work" as a separate sphere of life didn't exist, this did not occur (indeed it couldn't, as there were no workers, and there was no "work").

If Albert could point to any examples in the real world of groups of wage workers which did not resist work then of course I will take this into consideration.

The only reply I can imagine from Johns that would reveal that he does not have this particular confusion would be for him to say, wait, I don't mean parecon preserves wage slavery.

In response to this point, if you say that workers under parecon will have to work for wages, in order to get a share of the social product (and if we do not then like now we will either have to starve or scrape by like the unemployed do now on benefits) then I would say that yes from the perspective of wage workers ourselves, we will still be wage slaves.

[Johns says] I just mean that parecon preserves workers getting income that is related to their work, and that is what I reject.

Well, okay, if that is what Johns means, then he is right that parecon does include that. And he would also be right if he said that it is instead possible to propose that people to get income for reasons having literally no connection to what they do in the economy, for example, they could get what they need and provide in accord with their ability. For example, the "Querying Young Chomsky" essay responds to the young Chomsky arguing just that, and a full reply to his formulation is rendered.) But a desire to disconnect income from economic activity, if it is Johns' view, isn't viable, nor I think, is it even equitable. Nor is it argued consistently, by Johns, at any rate.

Some of this point I will get into later, although I would refer people to the interview with Chomsky linked to earlier for discussion of people receiving what they need from society.

A problem with Albert's points here is that he seems unable to break from bourgeois (i.e. capitalistic) concepts. Namely here I'm referring to his comment about disconnecting "income from economic activity". Not only am I saying that "income" should not exist, as money should be abolished, but the entire idea of "economic activity" as a distinct sphere of life separate from everything else I think is inherently capitalistic and should be done away with. As I said, I'll get into this in more detail later.

Johns says he wants to look at the allocation norm from the "perspective of workers in a parecon society." … Johns then adds, however, that he "will base [his] statements on how [he and others] respond to work as workers in the real world now." This is worrisome, to put it mildly, depending on Johns' precise meaning.

Albert then goes on in some detail about how he disagrees with this approach. Myself, I base my ideas on practical evidence in the real world.

So in order to have some idea of how wage workers under parecon will act, I can only go on how wage workers in other societies, such as workers for private capitalists (i.e. owners as Albert describes them) or in state capitalist societies act.

If Albert has counterexamples of societies of wage workers who don't want to work as little as possible for as much money as possible, i.e. who don't have the same fundamental economic interest as workers under capitalism, then I would be very happy to learn from them.

It suggests that we can look at how wage laborers under capitalism act, and we can then predict by transferring the behavior, how workers under parecon would act, because we take as a given that workers under parecon are wage laborers quite like those under capitalism… In other words, if this is what Johns does, it is simply continuing a horribly flawed assertion that if a system has income based on some aspect of what we do in the economy, then that system has workers with interests, motives, and behaviors like those of workers operating in capitalism…
There is nothing necessarily wrong with paying attention to how people act now, unless, of course, this means that one is going to assume that contemporary behavior will persist even in changed institutional settings. It is hard to imagine a libertarian communist thinking such a thing, or evaluating in such a way - given that it would obliterate prospects for any positive claims and hopes at all.

On this last point obviously completely disagree with Albert. Of course, as I am a libertarian communist it should be clear to Albert therefore that he is misrepresenting my views. As of course I do think that there is the possibility of positive change in the world.

Where Albert seems confused again is around the nature of work. We for the most part do not like work which we are compelled to do. For wage workers as a whole across the world, our interest is primarily in our wages, rather than in the work we happen to do (of course, a minority of people to work in an area which they enjoy, however it being work still strips a lot/all of this enjoyment from it).

If we remain wage workers where we are compelled to work to get by, then our interests as workers will still be in earning as much as possible to have as good a standard of living as possible, and in doing as little work as possible.

This does not mean that I do not think that it is possible to act differently, of course. But I believe the only way we will act significantly differently is if we abolish wage work.

As Chomsky points out, when working for ourselves in an un-alienated way we are happy to work hard. This is because it doesn't even feel like work.

At work I try to do as little as possible. But for myself each week I spend dozens of hours working hard on things which I enjoy, which are paid work for other people. For example, web design, editing, cooking, cleaning.

Similarly, when I was at school and I had to read things for school, I just wouldn't do it. I would just put it off and put it off. But for myself I read all the time, for fun.

As I said in my initial article, us humans are naturally inquisitive, creative and productive. But when we are forced to do things we also naturally resist them.

Most proletarians, like me, spend huge amounts of time every week carrying out activities which for some people are paid work, but for fun.

And in a better society, instead of prioritising profit, we can prioritise turning as much currently under its work as possible into fun activities, which we take part in because we enjoy them, or because we get a sense of community from collectively doing what we need to do.

All spying on each other, grassing on who isn't doing what, who is working harder than who and so who should no longer have their needs met is not conducive to this kind of collective effort.

Monitoring effort and sacrifice

Albert goes into some detail on how effort and sacrifice can be monitored under parecon, to determine how workers should be paid.

And to be honest the type of methods he suggests are the ones I criticised in my initial post:

Briefly, duration is, time spent. There is nothing complex about measuring that. Intensity is most easily viewed/measured by workmates, again by looking, working with, etc., but output can certainly also be used as an indicator. Is Joe working like the rest of us, or is Joe taking extra long and frequent breaks and otherwise not exerting? Is Sally, working much harder. with agreement from people that it is okay to do so, taking up more than an average share of responsibility for output?

Now, first of all, there is a problem here in terms of talking about "output". Many employers today talk about that kind of objective measure, however, many of us workers do not have any sort of tangible output to our work which can be measured. How do you measure the "output" of a nurse, or a doctor, or a bus driver, or an educator?

Pretty much all workers' organisations (which are overwhelmingly very conservative compared to "revolutionaries" like parecon advocates or libertarian communist), pushed by their membership oppose monitoring of outputs. For a few reasons, including that they are often meaningless (i.e. monitoring teachers by how well pupils perform mostly is to do with how well off the parents are rather than anything to do with how good the teachers are), they are hugely time-consuming, and most importantly that they make the working environment horrible.

We should (and do) fight against this type of monitoring even under capitalism, let alone in a supposedly free society.

And as for Joe or Sally, rather than spying on them all day seeing if they are taking too many smoke breaks, I would rather get on with my own tasks and trust that however they are acting they have their own reasons.

Often when people suffer bereavement, relationship breakdown or some other kind of problem at home it can mean their work performance is affected. I don't think that grassing on them so that their pay is cut, or alternatively making them tell everyone what may be their own private business so that we can take a vote on whether or not to cut their pay, is a practical response -let alone humane one.

And Albert has completely failed to respond to my point about how intensity/effort would be impossible to measure as you will not be able to tell between a hard-working average person and a gifted slacker. I mean before I became disabled I was able to type 80+ words a minute. Whereas many of my colleagues can only type about 40. If I was to be rewarded by my effort I would not let anyone know that I could type twice as fast as everyone else!

Onerousness, finally, is measured by workmates assessing job roles, again… the bottom line is, who measures these things, who decides issues, who agendizes and acts regarding the workplace, is always the same, in a parecon - the workers self managing that workplace.

Again, as I pointed out in my previous article, if this were introduced at my work we would just collectively vote to give each other the maximum ratings of onerousness for all of our jobs. Certainly, this would be the collectivist thing to do, and I would suspect someone suggesting otherwise would be socially ostracised like a snitch.

As but one example, suppose 100 of us work in a plant. It is part of parecon, has targets for production that fit the self managed participatory plan. We are all workers, there is no boss. Suppose the plan produces the output target as envisioned. The plant is then entitled to 100 times the average income in society. Now how is the income allotted among workers inside the plant? Well, if the plant workforce agreed to requests from 10 workers to work half time, say, and to some other workers to work double hard, or double time, or whatever - all to arrive at the planned output, then incomes would vary due to those differences. If not, incomes would be average for all. If you are convinced workers in a self managing plant would be trying to rip off one another, you might well feel that it could get pretty chaotic. But if not, then not. If the workers wanted to rip off the rest of society, they could all together claim to have worked way more than they did - or harder, which amounts to the same thing. The trouble is, in that case, why wasn't output higher? There is no extra income to disperse if the work did not generate socially valuable output.

As that this example, I must say I'm pretty shocked. This does sound very much like a Soviet style setup. I've already pointed out the problem with measuring "output". But even in this type of factory scenario where concrete outputs could be measured, there are huge numbers of problems.

What if there were problems with the equipment? Or with the component parts? Or with the local energy supply? It would be entirely unfair to cut the wages of everyone working at a factory if they were unable to meet targets due to circumstances out of their own control. And of course different production units could put the blame on each other for any delays. So how could you determine who was really to blame, and who should really have their pay cut?

For those people who doubt the seriousness of this problem, I would suggest reading the texts I linked to in my first article going into the chronic inefficiency of the Soviet Union. Where production for planning targets basically meant that quality dropped. And faulty equipment sabotaged the entire economy.

This seems really odd to me. Parecon is the product of "anti capitalist management consultants"? It would be awfully hard to explain, in that case, how it is that parecon is arguably the only serious economic model out there that emphasizes eliminating the class division between managers - and other coordinator class members monopolizing empowering work…

I'm not going to get into an extended debate about the ridiculous idea of the "coordinator class". But to explain my point about anti-capitalist management consultants I wasn't saying that management consultants now would advise people to have workplace democracy (although some do). The point I was making was that management consultants coming and have grand ideas about what measures can be put in place to improve employee performance - like the parecon idea of reward for effort and sacrifice - which are completely unworkable and even counter-productive in practice.

With the example of performance related pay I gave above, which used to be strongly recommended by many management consultants, it is on its way out in many places in the private sector as its focus on individual reward has been shown to have a negative effect on collective productivity and performance. Collective effort is by far the most important element of work in human society, and in production, as by working collectively we are able to achieve infinitely more than we can as atomised individuals.

Is the impact on workers of this remunerative norm, in in the parecon institutional context, considered. Of course it is - that is the point. The impact is workers do not compete with one another, they have mutually shared interests, they get equitable conditions and claims on social output, they exist without having to repress or resist others with different interests, and so on.

Michael Albert asserts here that workers under parecon will have mutually shared interests. However that is not the case. In a communist society where we receive what we need from society, it is in all of our interests to contribute to society because we enjoy being creative and productive, take part in onerous activity is in order to be socially accepted, and to contribute enough that we can all have what we need.

Under parecon individual workers will get more if they exert more effort, sacrifice more and work longer than other workers (or appear to do so). And if rewards are per enterprise as Albert outlines then it gives workers individual incentives to unfairly down rate their colleagues. Or for example say that work in another department is less onerous than in theirs, so they should be better rewarded. And if their department is bigger then they could vote this through.

The idea of having a collective, proletarian revolution, and then reverting to this type of individualistic or slightly collectivist piecework reward system -which is even more individualistic than many large capitalist or state capitalist employers today to me is completely unthinkable.

Johns says, revealing not only a pretty jaundiced view of working people - that parecon's workers would behave, and not just some of them, but essentially the whole workforce, as he says he would, and this even in an equitable economy, even with self management, even without class rule, etc.

This is perhaps the element of Albert's response which I am most offended by. And I find the point actually quite ironic.

At the centre of my politics is the idea that humans are naturally social, co-operative and productive. And do not need to be coerced into being productive by the threat of destitution or starvation. Advocates of parecon, however, do not accept this view of humans, and believe that we do need to be coerced into being productive by wages and the threat of being denied them if we do not work long hard enough.

That Albert is now claiming I have a "jaundiced" view of working people is hypocritical in the extreme. And furthermore I don't believe is valid (indeed, further down his article he even criticises me for holding the exact opposite view, see below). Far from lazy wage workers being anti-social, or workers resisting work being selfish in doing so I think is entirely laudable.

Self managed alienation and forced work is still alienation and forced work, and I think that collective resistance to alienated and enforced activity is a great thing to be encouraged.

Albert’s verbal attack on workers who would continue to resist sounds a lot like Soviet denunciations of workers who weren't doing their bit to build the glorious socialist society, now that they didn't have owners anymore.

Seriously? After struggling for a new, equitable, self managing, classless economy, what Johns thinks is that in it, to implement equitable remuneration, means spying on one another, etc. Well, I admit that this is a point various parecon advocates do wonder about.

I would like to point out Albert that this spying is exactly what he has advocated in his response to me.

To what extent, in a parecon, with equitable remuneration, would there be tight, or very loose accounting of duration, intensity, and onerousness, and how precisely would workers implement their arrangements? For the latter, however they choose. That is what self management means. For the former, however, I think, for example, that whatever roads lead to its implementation, in a parecon, at least after it has operated for a time, most folks will decide that fraud is a relatively small issue and the need for close attention to claims about duration and intensity is relatively slight, and even the number of levels of remuneration that ought to exist is quite low - as in, say, way over average (meaning perhaps 20% over), over average (meaning 10% over), average, under average (meaning 10% below), and way under average (meaning 20% below). Others might think the range of incomes folks should be entitled to earn should be wider and the precision of them more accurate. Different workplaces might opt for different arrangements. But the main point is, different workers, and different firms and industries, can opt, via self management, for different approaches in their own workplaces ways of measuring and allotting income for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor.

Now, this paragraph doesn't sound that bad. I think that Albert is right to say that in a rationally organised society, fraud would be a minor issue. If you say you are communist people often respond by saying "what would you do about freeloaders?". When actually under capitalism we have huge numbers of "freeloaders". Apart from people who don't work because they don't want to, and the tens of millions of people working in socially useless jobs (like the military, finance, insurance, etc) there are millions more people who want to be productive but are part of the mass of the unemployed.

However, I don't think this is an argument for parecon, but an argument for communism: for people to receive what they need from society.

Especially if Albert is saying that wages would be on a range of 80% of average-120% of average. If that is the case, then what is the point of reward for effort and sacrifice? If you earn doing zero hours worked per week only a tiny bit less than if you work 80 hours a week then why would you bother?

Of course, no one would want to do zero hours of productive activity in a week, because that would be far more onerous than carrying out a good few hours productive activity. But I believe this is evidence that keeping wages is unnecessary.

Other parecon advocates in the comments below my first article also stated that under parecon people would also be paid the average wage while not working, between jobs, or while studying.

And again I believe this demonstrates that all the work and potential problems with measuring and remunerating effort and sacrifice are unnecessary and counter-productive.

Johns says, "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 minimize the amount of work and effort which would have to be done."

In fact, in parecon there is every interest, for every citizen, in developing technology that reduces the onerousness of labor and increases output per effort expended… And there are no adverse effects from innovations on people's incomes. Why? Because, over time, jobs alter and are balanced, innovations spreading since there are no copyrights, etc.

This doesn't counteract my argument. There still would be the incentive for people to keep innovations secret, as it would enable them to increase their wages while decreasing the amount they had to work and the onerousness of their work.

Albert then goes into a hypothetical case study to try to demonstrate that this would be pointless, however his points are based on poor assumptions. Like saying that the workplace would have a fixed workforce every day. To me it sounds like this counteracts parecon's balanced job complexes. And that people would notice if the workplace was closed. But who's going to be aware of what workplaces are meant to be open when? And it implies that work under parecon will be very similar to how it is now in terms of there being specific workplaces open at specific times. Whereas in a rational economy we should have much more flexibility in terms of where we "work" and when.

Suppose Johns is right that people would do this - and their benefit would be that they spend four hours each day in the workplace playing cards. What would it take to prevent it. How about a job in the economy which is to research workplace effectivity…by visiting. Done.

Here we get to the crux of the problem I think. Albert is acknowledging that parecon would need paid spies to monitor workers. I've already gone into most of my issues with this.

But one point I would like to meet again is that this would be another pointless job which people would have to do, which would actually waste time which we could otherwise use constructively. Rather than me have an "jaundiced" view of working people, I don't think we need to be spied on and compelled. So in effect I guess I'm saying "no u".

And of course many of us who work now have to put up with occasional visits and inspections from outsiders or consultants. And we know how to fool them, I'm afraid. We can put on a show while they're about. So to this Michael could respond, well in that case instead of outside specialist "workplace effectivity (sic)" researchers (who sound a lot like they would be part of a "coordinator class" if you believe in such a thing [and probably look like the guy in the picture at the top of my first article, lol]) you could have people inside workplaces doing this -but then you have managers again. Or at best a Stasi style network of informants. But of course if parecon is open and transparent then these informants would have to be named publicly. And of course their role would set them against their colleagues, so to incentivise them to grass on their coworkers they would have to be rewarded in some way, presumably with additional pay. But then of course you have managers/coordinators again.

But truly, there is no point in us now trying to figure out every variant structure people in the future might opt for. Future workers will decide their own paths. There is point in our determining a set of core institutions that are workable, viable, and that would generate not anti social attitudes, like those Johns claims he would manifest, but solidarity and mutual aid; not domination and subordination, but self management; not class division and class rule, but classlessness.

This point is attempting to be insulting. And I'm sorry to disappoint Michael Albert, but I'm an extremely pro-social individual. Even at work I always go the extra mile to help out my colleagues.

But I repeat my assertion that resisting alienated, enforced labour is not anti-social in the slightest. In fact I think it's about the most pro-social thing you can do!

If bureaucrats in the Soviet Union hadn't paid themselves better than ordinary workers, and say rotated regularly as well, this wouldn't change anything significant about the nature of the Soviet Union. (The little bit of extra salary money spread out wouldn't have made any significant difference to the mass of workers. And the state bureaucrats didn't act the way they did because they were evil people, but because of the institutional roles they occupied and the pressures they came under as a result.) Workers there would still have been right to resist as they did.

Work versus productive activity

I'm feeling bad about having to repeat the same points again and again, especially as I was trying to keep this response brief. But the same strawmen keep cropping up again and again in Albert's response. So sorry to have to repeat this but in response to this:

But the heart of the matter, again, is Johns sad and defeatist slight of hand - that typically is the exact opposite of the mindset of libertarian communists - which the libcom site represents, I believe. That is, the formulation that everyone will try to fuck over everyone else in a good society, merely because they get incomes - which is true in any society - even as they do in a rotten, classist, market system.

As I have already pointed out, this is the exact opposite of my actual point of view. I emphatically do not believe that in a good society (especially one following a proletarian revolution, where collective solidarity would have to have become the most powerful force in society) people will try to fuck each other over.

I think where Albert is having trouble understanding what I'm saying is that I do not believe that parecon is a model of a good, free society, if it contains wages.

Johns says, "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." Suppose that was true - which I think in fact it is a large exaggeration of this one factor - it is even in that case amazing to me that Johns doesn't realize, apparently, that what he is saying, which is that as bad as things are, anywhere, is what they must be, everywhere, always. If in the Soviet Union and the U.S. workers try to finagle greater income and less work to whatever degree they can get away with, than that will be true, too, in a parecon, and, I should think, in any system - or else, why in a parecon?

As I have said repeatedly, this tendency has proved correct for wage workers. But not in societies, such as "primitive" communist and some indigenous societies without wage work.

And here is the incredible punchline. Suppose we take Johns at face value. We assume he really feels all this after serious assessment, and that if he hasn't paid much attention to what he is critiquing it is only because he read someone who led him to believe there was no need, because it was so transparently dumb, or something like that. Libcom, and probably Johns, thinks that what we should really favor for remuneration in a good society is that each person should work the amount they choose to, and consume as much as they wish to. This is what the young Chomsky argued, as well. But there is a big difference. The young Chomsky had an optimistic view of workers' motives and inclinations. Johns has a pessimistic one.

This is completely incorrect. I have the same optimistic view as Chomsky.

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

I have no idea what Johns even thinks he means by this. I would be curious to find out. 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.

I am quite bemused as to why Albert doesn't understand this quite simple point. Albert I'm sure must be aware of the existence of societies where work didn't exist. And I'm sure he must be aware that for the majority of human existence "work" did not exist.

Albert's idea of what work is I think throws up more problems with parecon, including some quite worrying ones. He says quite definitively that washing a floor, raising a child, playing a game and dancing are not "work". And of course he's right in that they are not inherently "work". Many people do those things either for fun or through obligation. But under capitalism all of those things are also "work" which some people are paid wages to do, and these people as a result do not enjoy these activities to the same extent when they are counted as "leisure". And of course they resist them. Cleaners, nursery nurses, play workers and dancers all resist work individually and in many cases do so collectively with strikes to defend or improve their conditions -to either work less and earn more, or slow the rate at which they work more and earn less (sadly under austerity it is more often the latter).

I say worrying because I do find it concerning that the socially "useful" work Albert refers to throughout his response is primarily manufacturing work which historically is predominantly male, whereas the tasks he refers to which do not constitute "work" in his view: cleaning, childcare, etc are predominantly female-dominated and mostly grossly underpaid.

Cleaning, childcare and dance are all needed by society as much as factories.

In a decent society, there will be no distinction between work, play and leisure in this way. Indeed, keeping a distinction can be inherently discriminatory. See all the unpaid work throughout the world carried out by women which is totally unrewarded.

Tasks which need to be done which aren't enjoyable in any way at present, we can try to reorganise to make them as enjoyable and un-onerous as possible. But even now boring tasks like washing up we do anyway without problems as we know that our standard of living with clean dishes is better then without. And if we just expected everyone else to do it for us then we would be socially ostracised.

And of course what matters more than financial reward to everyone is social acceptance and community.

It really is incredible that Johns thinks this constitutes serious analysis. Everything but what he favors must be capitalism in disguise. Somehow it seems that Johns thinks that if we simply say everyone can have anything they say they need, and can do any amount they say they want to do - suddenly everyone will not only behave wonderfully by internal inclination, but also will know quite well what actions constitute behaving wonderfully.

Here Albert has tied himself in a bit of a knot. Having just accused me of having an unacceptably pessimistic view of human nature, he now dismissively implies that I have a naive faith that people will behave naturally "wonderfully". I would say that Albert should make up his mind of what he thinks my views are.

I do think that people are naturally cooperative and social (unless put under external pressure not to be so, as we are under capitalism). And as for knowing what actions specifically "constitute behaving wonderfully", this article has already gone on far too long and I've already said are not interested in the minutiae of a communist society, however I will just say that I don't think paying people according to how hard or long they work helps anyone determine what is a socially beneficial behaviour. And I don't think that Albert has demonstrated anywhere that this would be the case.

Conclusion

In summary, I contend that remuneration by effort and sacrifice: supposedly "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work" would be neither fair nor practical.

And especially if regardless of effort and sacrifice the proposed differences in remuneration were only 80% of the mean wage to 120% of the mean then the building in of complex structures of monitoring and accounting would be a waste of resources. And that's not to even mention the social costs of having people spying on each other.

If, like me, Michael Albert or anyone else does acknowledge that human beings are naturally creative and social, then they should realise that we do not need to be compelled to work as we are now. We don't need the wage system.

In a free society we wouldn't just sit around doing nothing until we starved. We could organise society on the basis of fulfilling human needs and desires in as joyful ways as possible. And we could decide exactly how to do this by ourselves, collectively, at the time.

1

  • 1. Unfortunately it has come to my attention that this image has been lost on some non-UK resident readers. This video should explain.

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Steven.
Apr 23 2012 19:47

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  • If, like me, Michael Albert or anyone else does acknowledge that human beings are naturally creative and social, then they should realise that we do not need to be compelled to work as we are now. We don't need the wage system.

    Steven Johns

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Comments

Joseph Kay
Apr 23 2012 20:03

I'm starting to think the points of contention are actually quite succinct, but at the same time intractable because they're incommensurable. It's not really anything to do with the fine points of organisational forms in a post-capitalist society (workers councils, consumer councils, iteration boards, fancy databases, pull production and so on).

The core of the disagreement seems to be basically ethical: what everyday social relations do we envision, informed by what values? As we said in the original debate, parecon's values seem highly influenced by capitalism: elevation of sacrifice and work ethic to fundamental principle, emphasis on 'fair pay', a worry about 'freeloaders' so strong as to structure the whole system against them.

I think this is related to the libcom argument that you can't talk about a future society in isolation from the struggles that create it. it isn't going to fall from the sky fully formed, but be the product of mass struggles which not only transform the world but the ways we relate to one another. Solidarity and mutual aid will become much more central factors in the absence of commodity relations or coercive authority. In a sense the anthropological literature on non-commercial societes is more informative here than speculations on democratising wages.

Kittenization
Apr 23 2012 20:29

"In a sense the anthropological literature on non-commercial societes is more informative here than speculations on democratising wages."

Couldn't agree more, at least on the question of possibilities. Homo sapiens sapiens existed for around 190,000 years before homo economicus. While going back isn't all that appealing, it does point to possibilities for different ways forward.

Chilli Sauce
Apr 23 2012 21:09

Great article, especially as I stopped following all the long discussion after the first one. Well written, too.

Steven.
Apr 23 2012 22:08

Joseph, I think you're exactly right.

Kittenization, I agree with that as well. And of course going back isn't an option even if it were desirable (which it isn't).

Chilli, thanks for your comments, I wasn't sure how clear the article was as I pretty much rushed through it, and found it quite hard to get into order as there was just so much to respond to (who expects a response six times as long as their initial text?!) and so much repetition.

micapam
Apr 23 2012 23:49

The rot started with the so-called agricultural revolution: the archaeological record shows that life expectancy went down, malnutrition increased, disease became more widespread, society became more stratified and hierarchically structured, kinship came to be understood in terms of patriarchy. This is not to say that what went before was wonderful. But you can analyse that change in society without falling into noble savage fallacies. Of course we can't 'go back', but it's worth avoiding the teleology implied in that phrase altogether, IMO.

Better to parse that (pre)historical 'break' more carefully. One big difficulty today in discarding the repressive & exploitative apparatus that facilitated agricultural life and urbanism is that it's so tightly entangled in the history of centralisation per se. Collective, non-hierarchical solidarity has no historical instance at a super-tribal level.

Marx was wrong (an understandable mistake for a disciple of Hegel's, no matter how much he thought he had moved beyond the latter) to assume that history tends towards centralisation; that was a historically contingent effect of the moment at which he was writing. 'Socialism in one country' is misguided not because it's insufficiently universal but because it operates on too *large* a geographical space. If we are to learn a lesson from the 20th C, it's that a revolution at the national scale is probably not a revolution at all but a coup. A radically emancipatory change in society, I believe, would require polities at a more human (i.e. much smaller) scale than the modern nation-state, if they are not to repeat the imperialist repression of the Russian and Chinese disasters.

(Since I'm relatively ignorant of libertarian communism, I'm not sure if this is obvious to you libcons or anathema; just throwing in my 2p.)

jwhite1979
Apr 24 2012 00:12

Somewhere above you asked for examples of wage-workers who did not do the least amount of work required for the greatest compensation they could extract. I don't know how one would quantify these variables, especially when looking at historical examples. However, my mind wandered toward a section early in The Fall of the House of Labor which discussed the short-lived compensation framework of steel workers in the late 19th century America. Laborers agreed among themselves how much they would charge per ton of product, and agreed upon how that compensation would be distributed among themselves. This system was undercut when owners began to give extra incentive to a hand-picked middle-management class who could ensure a quickened rate of production by hand-picking the hardest and longest working laborers. Morale broke down, and the system of collective bargaining was eventually dissolved. Production more than doubled, and soon there was more cheap steel than people knew what to do with.

So there were people who wanted to work less, and people who were willing to work more for extra wages. So you could say that the former group were under-performing, but you could also say that they were performing their work at a more sustainable rate under a democratically-controlled wage system. The system only broke down when owners overturned the system from the outside.

I guess what I'm saying is this: wage-laborers in a democratic workplace may not perform at their maximum capacity, but that doesn't mean they are trying to do as little as possible for as much compensation as possible. They worked at a pace that they felt was reasonable and sustainable, drawing whatever compensation their work allowed. I don't know much about this whole parecon thing, but I am more inclined to side with a system that allows democratic controls like the one in the 19th century steel industry and prohibits outside interference, than with a system that abolishes compensation for work performed.

For now. Once we have in place the kind of democratic framework that allows for sustainable production, then we can figure out whether or not we want to liberalize further.

lukitas
Apr 24 2012 01:12

Thanks.

Wages are a problem, using them as a carrot or a stick are an even greater problem.
Wages diminish the pleasure you have in doing things you love doing.

Let's give people what they need because it is what they need, and not because they 'deserve' it.
Let's do things because they need to be done, for fun, for the thanks and gratitude of those around us, and not for shekels.

'Deserving' is a dangerous concept : "If I, 'manager of a call center', earn more, it is because I deserve it. Ipso facto, those who earn less, deserve less, and those who earn nothing are worthless bums". (note the switch in value from what you do to what you are)

I think the fulfillment of our basic needs should not be contingent on the amount of work we do or not do : there should not be an ethical link between what we get and what we do - it should be a matter of course that each gets what they need, because only then can it be a matter of course that each does what they can.

TexMackenzie
Apr 24 2012 02:47

I believe it is impossible to imagine the social relations that will develop through the struggle to birth a new society, at best we can see glimpses in what transpires between individuals as we struggle. For me the parecon wage system is just that a wage system ... the continuation of capital under a new name. I'm in this for the joy I feel when in those moments of struggle I feel truly free...I am hoping that if the struggle is successful I won't be seeing anything that harkens back to what I'm living thru now. I thought this was about reinventing life not reforming it.

LBird
Apr 24 2012 05:43
Joseph Kay wrote:
I'm starting to think the points of contention are actually quite succinct, but at the same time intractable because they're incommensurable. It's not really anything to do with the fine points of organisational forms in a post-capitalist society (workers councils, consumer councils, iteration boards, fancy databases, pull production and so on).

The core of the disagreement seems to be basically ethical: ...

To be even more 'succinct', Joseph, I think that 'the core of the disagreement seems to be basically' philosophical, not 'ethical'.

Here is my summing-up of the debate from another thread, for those who haven't seen or followed it.

http://libcom.org/forums/organise/international-organization-participatory-society-06042012?page=6#comment-478463

LBird wrote:
The central philosophical issue here seems to be:

Are 'free riders' a natural or a social phenomenon?

The supporters of Parecon seem to suggest that 'free riders' will always be with us, to the extent that they will cause a social problem.

The supporters of Communism seem to believe that 'free riders' are produced by socialisation processes, and will be, at worst, a minor problem.

To nail my colours to the mast, I think that 'free riders' are a product of bourgeois socialisation, the notorious 'free individual', who need have no concern for 'society' and their comrades.

The 'free riders' that we clearly have with us now will be changed or removed during the process of revolution, and post-revolution they won't be produced.

If anyone thinks that 'free riders' will always be with us, that is a theory of 'human nature'.

And a 'well done' to Steven, for having the energy to wade through Albert's confusing and 'un-succinct' posts.

Steven.
Apr 24 2012 07:37
LBird wrote:
To be even more 'succinct', Joseph, I think that 'the core of the disagreement seems to be basically' philosophical, not 'ethical'.
LBird wrote:
The central philosophical issue here seems to be:

Are 'free riders' a natural or a social phenomenon?

The supporters of Parecon seem to suggest that 'free riders' will always be with us, to the extent that they will cause a social problem.

LBird, to be honest that's what I thought as well, which is why I was so surprised reading Albert's reply that he says that basically freeloaders wouldn't be a significant problem (as you would no more free than steal an ice cream from a child now).

That being the case, I see that as an argument for communism, not a tortuous system of monitoring and differential remuneration.

jwhite1979 wrote:
my mind wandered toward a section early in The Fall of the House of Labor which discussed the short-lived compensation framework of steel workers in the late 19th century America.

Laborers agreed among themselves how much they would charge per ton of product, and agreed upon how that compensation would be distributed among themselves. This system was undercut when owners began to give extra incentive to a hand-picked middle-management class who could ensure a quickened rate of production by hand-picking the hardest and longest working laborers. Morale broke down, and the system of collective bargaining was eventually dissolved. Production more than doubled, and soon there was more cheap steel than people knew what to do with.

So there were people who wanted to work less, and people who were willing to work more for extra wages. So you could say that the former group were under-performing, but you could also say that they were performing their work at a more sustainable rate under a democratically-controlled wage system. The system only broke down when owners overturned the system from the outside.

that's an interesting post, thanks. But to be honest, I thought that this was an argument against parecon. As workers being given the "extra incentive" to work "hardest and longest" is exactly what parecon does. And what I'm against.

In your example, like workers today who try to fight for better conditions, what we do is build in safeguards to ensure that people aren't pitted against one another as workers. So we fight against performance related pay. And we fight against piecework. And we fight against people working too many hours being rewarded more - as that pushes everyone into working too much.

This is what workers do now, including ones that aren't even that militant. Ones which have been through a workers' revolution simply won't put up with these kind of practices being reintroduced. (Not without a violent state to compel them like in Russia at least)

LBird
Apr 24 2012 09:53
Steven wrote:
LBird, to be honest that's what I thought as well, which is why I was so surprised reading Albert's reply that he says that basically freeloaders wouldn't be a significant problem (as you would no more 'free[ly]'... steal an ice cream from a child now) [my amendment].

Yeah, you're right, Steven.

This moral stance will be the basis of our Communist socialisation processes.

I suppose, in contrast, Parecon will be happy to compensate/remunerate the kid for their tears, eh?

Just 'measure' the 'amount of liquid' which streams down the kid's face, to get an 'objective measure' of their distress/compensation ratio, eh?

Bastards!

Steven.
Apr 24 2012 10:28

An interesting comment I thought on our Facebook about this:

Ilan Shalif wrote:
In libertarian communist society there will be differential "remuneration" according to efforts and toil... but the rewards will be in social esteem, respect and emotional needs - not in the economical means for survival.
yourmum
Apr 24 2012 10:35
Quote:
As but one example, suppose 100 of us work in a plant. It is part of parecon, has targets for production that fit the self managed participatory plan. We are all workers, there is no boss. Suppose the plan produces the output target as envisioned. The plant is then entitled to 100 times the average income in society. Now how is the income allotted among workers inside the plant? Well, if the plant workforce agreed to requests from 10 workers to work half time, say, and to some other workers to work double hard, or double time, or whatever - all to arrive at the planned output, then incomes would vary due to those differences. If not, incomes would be average for all. If you are convinced workers in a self managing plant would be trying to rip off one another, you might well feel that it could get pretty chaotic. But if not, then not. If the workers wanted to rip off the rest of society, they could all together claim to have worked way more than they did - or harder, which amounts to the same thing. The trouble is, in that case, why wasn't output higher? There is no extra income to disperse if the work did not generate socially valuable output.

marx called and said you should go read him, mr fair trade surplus value lover.

LBird
Apr 24 2012 11:32
Steven. wrote:
An interesting comment I thought on our Facebook about this:
Ilan Shalif wrote:
In libertarian communist society there will be differential "remuneration" according to efforts and toil... but the rewards will be in social esteem, respect and emotional needs - not in the economical means for survival.

In other words, qualitative, not quantitative, rewards.

As Einstein is reputed to have said:

'Not everything that is measureable is worth measuring, and not everything that is worth measuring is measureable'.

We can measure a child's tears, but we can't measure a child's hurt.

Will Parecon be able to measure the price of everything, but the value of nothing?

wojtek
Apr 24 2012 13:46

Libcom kitties by comparison are obviously free range! smile

Spikymike
Apr 24 2012 15:19

Steven,

You've the patience of a saint - and all that effort without any remuneration!

Now when you have got your wind back have a look at the related thread on 'Inclusive Democracy' and Takis Fotopoulos.

Perhaps LBird can offer some help as well?

Nadia
Apr 25 2012 15:07

I have a bit of an offtopic technical question - why do you guys (not just from the Libcom group; even Mark from PPS-UK) use the term "complimentary holism" when Google says it is "complementary holism"? (the term does not appear in this article but it does in the previous one). I am getting confused here, having read it for the 10th time...
Thanks for a fast reply.

Joseph Kay
Apr 25 2012 16:11

Yes, it should be complementary (to supplement) not complimentary (to praise).

Michael Albert
Apr 25 2012 16:39

I took a brief look at comments, above, after writing what follows in reply to Steven... hope this has some relevance for folks... I wish I had time for more, but I don't. And, honestly, the characterizations make it hard to engage, in any case -

Steven,

I think maybe we will have to disagree about many matters. You look at parecon, or actually, one aspect of it, and see spying and predict cheating and resisting and so on. I have indicated in what you took to be a very long reply, but what is very short once one has to address diverse issues - and as well in another article I noted - where I disagree. It didn't have any positive impact on you - and as much as you think I am mishearing or twisting or otherwise not taking seriously your words, I feel quite the same. So I will try to briefly address just a few points, and maybe we can both move on to more fruitful pursuits.

I don't think we are debating "minutiae" - and I certainly agree with you that doing so is not fruitful. But whether a worthy economy provides people income according to the maxim from each according to ability, to each according to need - or, according to that maxim when a person is unable to work, but, when they can work, according to the duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor they do - is not minutiae but rather, a first order concern - on a par with should we have private ownership of the means of production - or should we have markets, or should we have a corporate division of labor, and so on.

Our first disagreement, seems to be what the from each to each norm even means. It could mean, that I as a citizen work the amount I choose, at what I like, and I take from the social product the amount that I feel I need. Or, it might mean something more like, I as a citizen give of my energies doing work for the social good, in accord with an understanding of total social needs, and thus also of appropriate levels of work for each person, including doing socially valued work that suits me - and I receive back from the social product, an amount whose total value is just, in light of the total product .

The thing is, certainly the unadorned meaning and even the more nuanced one, leaves open if I don't decide what I need, and what is my level of work - or if I do decide it but only in light of social indicators - who else decides, or where do those indicators come from and why do I abide them. The parecon norm, answers those questions, so that, in fact, people can work justly and consume justly while the economy operates sensibly including investments, etc. The from each to each norm leaves out nearly everything that could yield such desirable outcomes.

Okay, your adding that I can't have beyond what scarcity allows, as you now do, is an addition - but what sets scarcity? Well. the amount we all work, mainly. And the total social product is enormous. It is way beyond my most unrestrained desires, so why can't I have my limits - everything that I would ideally want? Well, because it would be unjust, unfair, and take some from others, etc. But by what norm is it unfair? It is either up to me, or there is some social agreement that I must abide. Parecon indicates a social agreement that works and is just.

Abolition of the wages system means abolition of a system that is beyond my control and agreement, and which gives me my income by norms I don't respect and agree to. It is abolishing working for someone, or for some entity - that is other than me and my workmates - and which gives me wages, trying to keep them down and to force my work up. But getting rid of wage slavery of that sort is not abolishing that we still of course receive a share from the social product, which simply is the case, and always will be.

When you say that in a capitalist firm workers reject performance related pay - well, I would too. But in a firm that workers self manage, in an economy that they self manage, your observations doesn't extrapolate to evidence that workers would reject being able to choose to work more or less in order to have a larger or smaller share of the social product.

If you think otherwise, I suggest that even now, without experience of a liberated classless economy, you ask some workers, in a good economy, if the average income for the average duration of work is some amount - that we all agree is just - would you like to have the option to choose to work longer so as to have some more income, or to choose to work shorter (enjoying more leisure) at the cost of receiving less income? Or, you could ask, do you think you should just be able to work longer, or less long, as you decide, and to also take more or less income, as you decide, including working less and taking more. Even if we ignore that from each to each is socially unviable for many reasons, I think you will find workers' views of fairness, and I would be so bold as to say even your own views of fairness, correspond to parecon and not to from each to each. Ask them to imagine a thousand people and them all together being on an island, alone, and conducting their lives - and see if they think each should just work whatever amount he or she wants, and take as much as he or she claims to need and what their response would be to the person who is taking a ton and working not at all - though just as healthy as they are?

As far as people with disabilities being discriminated against - Steven, I have to assume you haven't read parecon at any length. Performance in parecon isn't according to output - you most certainly don't get more because you happen to be more productive, whether for reasons of inborn traits, or what you happen to produce, or the equipment you happen to have, etc. You get more for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, and only that - unless you are unable to work. If you can't do a job well, working at it is unlikely to be socially valuable. And, if you can't work, or must work less, etc., then - as is true even in many current economies, you of course get a full share. And we don't compete for more work. First off, doing lots more work, to get extra income, is not something most people will desire. But if they did, then the average duration of work would be higher, in the whole economy, because people want more stuff even at the cost of less leisure. There is no competition because we can all just do more, if we really want to work more and have a larger social product to consume from. Most will instead prefer leisure, I suspect, beyond a certain income level, to having more income. Indeed, many will prefer less work and income than average. Income, again, is claim on the social output.

Steven when you say: "So with parecon either it would discriminate against people with disabilities or caring responsibilities, or else it would be unworkable as people could just pretend to have disabilities (particularly invisible ones like anxiety, depression, etc) or different abilities." I just have to scratch my head. First, pulling off such scams is actually not so simple. To claim to be disabled, one must act disabled. Most would not want to make believe they cannot work, are unable to walk, can't see, or whatever, in order to get an income without working. But second, your for some reason think people will, willy nilly, try for some unfair extra income, even at the expense of others like themselves, or try for some unfair diminution of workload, again even at the expense of others like themselves, not to mention they will carry off the scams, is extremely odd to me. But, if in your view so many will do this in parecon, why in hell's bells won't they just take more stuff, and give less effort, in a system that says that is perfectly okay? And while you believe people ought to do it in conditions of being exploited, why does that cause you to think they should, or would, do it, in conditions they self manage?

I think about the points above, and the rest too, honestly, that perhaps we can just agree to disagree. I certainly am not even a little convinced by your extrapolations from now to the future.

You take issue, for example, with my saying that when you use the term wage labor pejoratively - I would call it wage slavery - it has no bearing on parecon, because parecon ends wage slavery - though it retains, of course, people getting incomes, which is getting a share of the total social output. This is not semantics - it is the case. In a from each to each economy - supposing such an economy could exist for long - while people would not be wage slaves they would still get wages, meaning, a share of the social output.

You are right to reject, in my view, old style socialist economies - which were in fact, in my view, coordinator economies, with a ruling class that wasn't owners of capital - but was those who monopolized empowering work. That is why parecon, for example, has balanced job complexes.

Now I have to agree with you, Steven, we do have semantics issues galore.

You quote me:

In fact, however, having a way of allocating income, and thus a guiding norm for income allocation, and a means of accomplishing that norm, whether implicit or explicit, is simply unavoidable. It will exist in every society and every economy that will ever exist because in all such societies people will get a share of the social output.

You reply: "In the former part of this assertion, Albert is completely incorrect. Of course in all societies people will get a share of the social output. However this is not the same thing as all members of the society having a monetary income. For the majority of the time humans have existed, money and therefore income did not even exist."

I don't see anything about money in my quote - though I do think it is not the point. And not having money does not mean people got no income, unless you define income as money and money as income. Income means a claim on the social product. Money can be vehicle of that claim - but is not the only possible such vehicle. The idea that people get a share of the social product - you agree with. The idea that society has a way of allocating those shares, you say is completely incorrect because in some societies there was not what you call money. This is hard for me to fathom, I admit. Parecon's way of allocating social product is the norm that people able to work get income according to duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor (for those who can work) and need (for those who can't). Your norm is from each according to ability (with no indication what that means for hours, intensity, or anything else, other than, presumably, either I state my ability and act on it as I choose, or someone or something else else decides what I have to do) and to each according to need (with no indication what that means for the amount I can take from the total social output other than I simply decide, or someone or something else does). Both approaches have a means of allocating social product - to say otherwise eludes me. Parecon's is fully enunciated. From each to each, isn't, unless it literally means, I take what I want and do what I choose.

Steven, you say, the point you are making "is that if people are forced to work for wages in order to receive a share of the social product, then people will resist this imposition."

And, to a degree, I agree. If people are forced by some higher separate authority that operates beyond their control and involvement, and without their acceptance, to do anything - they will, if able, resist what is demanded. Sure - though it happens less than we might both hope. But what if people collectively agree on a norm and procedures? Then what? Suppose you work in a firm in the future. The worker's council, since everyone works interactively with others, has to decide a shared schedule, otherwise there is no way for anyone to work effectively. Suppose everyone deliberates and settles that the schedule is that the plant is open and operating from noon to 5 each day, at least for your team's work shift. Do you resist this imposition that you can't choose, instead, to waltz in at 2 and leave at 4, or at 7? I don't think so. But in capitalism, and in soviet style coordinatorism, I happen to think you would be perfectly justified in resisting this and every other rule. The difference is you being part of a self managing body, and you being imposed upon by a ruling class above.

You somehow seem to think that you are eliminating wages, income, even work and workers - by having a very vague norm that actually says, if one gets careful about it, almost nothing. So we disagree.

You say: "If Albert could point to any examples in the real world of groups of wage workers which did not resist work then of course I will take this into consideration." Here I assume you mean people doing work and getting a share of social product for it, which is claims on social product. Well, sadly, the truth is that even almost all workers in oppressive systems rarely resist - but I won't claim that as evidence since we both know that is not a sign that they like their plight. But I suspect the number of workers who function in coops and other self managed or at least largely democratic workplaces, still way short of pareconish, and especially if they do not have a coordinator/worker hierarchy, who resist their labors on grounds of not liking that they are remunerated for it, is pretty much zero.

Steven, you say, if "workers under parecon will have to work for wages, in order to get a share of the social product (and if we do not then like now we will either have to starve or scrape by like the unemployed do now on benefits) then I would say that yes from the perspective of wage workers ourselves, we will still be wage slaves."

I read that and I try to understand what you have in mind. A first reaction is why will people reject what they collectively, in a self managed economy, agree to? Everyone is doing it, and in your view, everyone is a wage slave - no over lords, just other slaves. Strange formulation. A second reaction is that since we are talking about people who are able to work, to me what you write says, if I am able to work, then in any economy that you, Steven, would say lacks wage slavery, it must be true that I do not have to work to get my full income (much less whatever I say I need). In other words, for you to be satisfied that wage slavery is gone, I must be able to say, I am not going to work this week, this month, this year, this decade - even though I could - and I want the same income as if I did work as hard as the hardest worker in society. I want, and get, everything I want. If that is what you are saying, we can simply agree to disagree. If it isn't what you are saying, then I apologize, but I do not see what your words mean.

Steven says, "A problem with Albert's points here is that he seems unable to break from bourgeois (i.e. capitalistic) concepts. Namely here I'm referring to his comment about disconnecting "income from economic activity". Not only am I saying that "income" should not exist, as money should be abolished, but the entire idea of "economic activity" as a distinct sphere of life separate from everything else I think is inherently capitalistic and should be done away with. As I said, I'll get into this in more detail later."

My gosh. I guess we really could stop here. Saying income doesn't exist doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Nor does giving it some other name. Or having a different norm determining it. Saying that work doesn't exist…etc. Economics isn't separate, but nor it it the same as everything else. It is entwined, but with its own attributes.

Steven, you say, "in order to have some idea of how wage workers under parecon will act, I can only go on how wage workers in other societies, such as workers for private capitalists (i.e. owners as Albert describes them) or in state capitalist societies act."

Suppose I said, to understand how workers will act in Steven's from each to each economy, I will look at how they act now, in capitalist firms, doing work, and consuming. I think you, Steven, would say, hold on - that is nonsense. In capitalist firms there is remuneration for power and property; comparing that and what I favor is apples and oranges. You can't extrapolate from resistance to wages based on power and property in the form of people working to rules, or slacking off, or feigning illness, or stealing, and so on - to people abusing the norm from each to each… And Steven, you would be right. Just as I am right that the extrapolation from wage slaves to parecon's self managing workforces is also apples and oranges.

Steven, you say: "If Albert has counterexamples of societies of wage workers who don't want to work as little as possible for as much money as possible, i.e. who don't have the same fundamental economic interest as workers under capitalism, then I would be very happy to learn from them."

You may think, I am not sure, that the reason workers want less work and more income is simply to be ornery. I think not. I think it is because they benefit from more income, because they can enjoy the social product they can get for it, and they also benefit from less (alienated, bossed) work, and even, at some point, from less self managed work. This is true in any economy, you suggest, and I agree. It is why in parecon we eliminate alienated, bossed, work. And it is why we nonetheless retain a norm for equity. Because even without alienated bossed work - that is, without class rule - it is still the case that beyond a point, people will prefer more leisure to more work, and by and large, people will also prefer more income up to a very high level, if it is their's just for the taking, and, for that matter, to an extent, even if they have to contribute effort to have it. It will be true, in other words, even if the norm is from each, to each, that I may wish to work less than the social average, and, if there is no reason not to want more than the social average, that I will want more.

I think I am repeating - I will stand by the earlier reply, and the longer and I think deeper discussion of Chomsky's views, as well. Remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor is both socially viable, and morally sound. In context of classless self management, it allows workers and consumers to easily behave justly, and it also conveys the information needed if investments and production generally are to be properly aligned to what actually benefits people.

The rest of your points start to get a bit nasty, such as paid spies, etc. - not to mention the graphics - and I would just as soon not get into that type exchange. The substance, in any event, is addressed in the earlier pieces, the reply to you and commentary on Chomsky's anarchism, not to mention in the full works on parecon, if you want to explore cases, applications, etc. If people care, they will take a look, or I hope so, at any rate. I could go through each paragraph you write, again, but it really does seem it is not getting us anywhere…and it will certainly spiral larger and larger.

I did ask earlier, one thing, and I still wonder about it. Have you even read the book, Parecon: Life After Capitalism? You address one element, taken separate from all the rest - when they really only work all together - and you raise point after point that is dealt with, without rejecting what is said in the parts so dealing. It seems like, perhaps you haven't read that book, or any other, on the topic. If so, might I guess you give it a whirl?

ajjohnstone
Apr 25 2012 17:45

"A problem with Albert's points here is that he seems unable to break from bourgeois (i.e. capitalistic) concepts."

I find very much the same and by coincidence have posted an article on my blog about Parecon so apologies for taking th liberty of re-posting here.

Quote:
When faced with the communist proposition that "The free distribution of goods means the appropriation of goods by individuals according to their self-determined needs." A supporter of Parecon, throws cold water over the idea "So this means anything goes, a person gets whatever they want, no conditions. that does not describe any kind of feasible social arrangement."

He uses a few arguments to bolster this view.

In capitalism and Parecon workers are paid to work and this the incentive or coercion that makes them go to work. We wouldnt be paid in anarcho communism so according to it we will all tend to disregard the needs of others apart from those in our immediate vicinity because well we are all basically lazy who don't care for anyone but ourselves and our kith and kin. Therefore a moneyless economy is a non-starter.

"your [i][moneyless] system will also encourage anti-social individualism. that's because a system encourages the development of traits if those traits enable people to win. if a person completely disregards social costs of production and leaving some items for others, that person may simply make it a point to be the first when new stuff comes in, and may take 10 shirts instead of 2 and so on. their greediness enables them to win in the sense that they end up with more stuff."[/i]

Or when he writes:
"if people can request whatever they like, if we were to then aggregate the total requests, it is extremely likely this would be more than we have the capacity to produce...especially given a desire to shorten the workday. and what is the incentive for people to work on farms or behind sewing machines? their livelihood doesn't depend on it."

Challenging the views that people cannot control our consumption, that abundance is not achievable and unpleasant work will have no volunteers since there is no longer any monetary incentive tying (chaining) them to it.

But, in addition, to the above that he explains that without prices those social opportunity costs cannot be ascertained by people except in a numeric scale as in prices which fulfil that.:
"even if people want to be socially responsible, they can't be if they don't know the social opportunity costs of the things that have been produced. "laziness" or "greed" may continue to exist in the attitudes of people raised up in capitalism for some time but that isn't the only problem...and that problem would tend to diminish if the economy is organized on a self-managing and solidaristic basis. but how are people to know what is fair or reasonable for them to take?"

Nevertheless, to his credit and to a certain extent contracting himself, he actually agrees that in the social context people will be equally contributing.
"... in an egalitarian, worker run system I think there would be...and should be...an assumption of everyone who is able contributing insofar as they are able to do so, and, in that sense, putting in a similar effort."

And to discourage free-loaders, workers will be policed and sanctions imposed

"I think workers will work out some system for dealing with this. Workers are likely to resent those who are perceived as goofing off and not putting in a level of effort they are capable of and is expected of them by workmates. But there are various ways they might deal with this. They might penalize, reduce their consumption entitlement, censure...and ultimately kick them out of the production organization if the problem persists."


"...i think everyone should be given the same credit per hour of work. of course someone may be slacking off, not pulling their weight. but their coworkers will know this if this is happening. and they'll resent it. they can warn someone, penalize them in some way...or fire them"

Kropotkin recommended a similar approach, "Friend, we should like to work with you; but as you are often absent from your post, and you do your work negligently, we must part. Go and find other comrades who will put up with your indifference!" yet he declined to throw out the baby with the bath-water arguing that those who maintain against the case for voluntary labour that compulsion is necessary are little better that those critic who declared "without the whip the Negro won't work" or "free from their master's supervision the serf will leve their fields uncultivated."

Parecon promoters create a complicated and complex of checks and balances since its proponents are unwilling or unable to accept that if given the right economic framework, then, in fact, humans can consciously co-operate, work and consume collectively. Parecon lack confidence that either there are sufficient resources on the planet to provide for all, or that human beings can work voluntarily to organise production and distribution of wealth without chaos, and consume wealth responsibly without some form of rationing. To have a system that allows wages to be dispensed on the basis of work carried out, allows money to circulate, and restricts access to wealth ( food or housing) unless you have sufficient money to purchase something, doesn't seem to be too far from capitalism in terms of its outward appearance and retains major elements of the market system.
Parecon appears to be about building a massive and wasteful and socially unproductive administration for policing all the wage levels, labour outputs, prices etc.
Anarchism/world socialism is not about creating ever greater bureaucratic structures, but the opposite - it will be about removing the barriers capitalism has developed which prohibit access to wealth, and at a stroke create an economic environment without individual (ie monetary or, in Parecon language, consumer credit accumulation) incentives. It is deeply and profoundly conservative, ideas that are derived from the theories of Von Mises and the Economic Calculation Argument. In denying free-access socialism/anarcho-communism Parecon adherents remain fixated to the lazy person, greedy individual critique of human behaviour and simply repeat conventional bourgeois wisdom about peoples' selfishness.

Michael Albert can be read explaining "...I think you believe, instead, that there is a capacity for humanity to generate as much nice and fulfilling goods and services as anyone could possibly desire to have, plus as much leisure as anyone could want, and so on. Well, is that really your view? If so, okay, we can agree to disagree. And, honestly, I can't imagine discussing it - further - because for me it is so utterly ridiculous, honestly.... Suppose everyone would like - if the cost was zero - their own large mansion, on the ocean, with wonderful fantastic food every day, with magnificent recording and listening equipment, with a nice big boat, with their own private tennis courts, or basketball, or golf, or whatever....a great home movie system, a wonderful violin, magnificent clothes, and so on and so forth, and, also, while they like creative work a lot, they would like a whole lot of time to enjoy their bountiful home and holdings - so they want to work only twenty hours a week and of course not do anything other than what interests them. What you seem to be saying is that you think that is possible... or, even if all that were possible, no one would want it. Both are false..."

"...if something is of no cost, and I want it, sure, I will take it, to enjoy it, why not..."

"...Tell everyone that they can have a free house, a really nice car, or two, whatever equipment the like for sports or hobbies, whatever TVs they would enjoy and other tools of daily life, whatever food they want nightly, etc. etc. because it is all free, no problem for them to take what they want. And see what happens....no one will be able to conduct themselves responsibly..."

"... since they can have product, from the available social product, regardless. So sloth is rewarded. Likewise greed..."

It appears that Parecon projects on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism, paying no heed to the changes in social outlook that would occur when people's needs are met and people feel secure, when the world is no longer based upon dog-eat-dog that in distrust, where the ostenatious accumulation of material goods cannot validate an individual's personal worth or their status since access is unrestricted. Goods and services made freely available for individuals to take without requiring these individuals to offer something in direct exchange creates a sense of mutual obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency arising from this would change people’s perceptions and influence their behaviour in such a society.

Society does require a rational, long-term attitude towards conserving resources yet present day society imposes intolerable conditions on the actual producers (speed-up, pain, stress, boredom, long hours, night work, shiftwork, accidents). Socialism, because it will calculate directly it kind, will be able to take these other, more important, factors than production time into account. This will naturally lead to different, in many cases quite different, productive methods being adopted than now under capitalism. If the health, comfort and enjoyment of those who actually manipulate the materials, or who supervise the machines which do this, to transform them into useful objects is to be paramount, certain methods are going to be ruled out altogether. The fast moving production lines associated with the manufacture of cars would be stopped for ever ; night work would be reduced to the strict minimum; particularly dangerous or unhealthy jobs would be automated (or completely abandoned). Work can, in fact must, become enjoyable. But to the extent that work becomes enjoyable, measurement by minimum average working time would be completely meaningless, since people would not be seeking to minimize or rush such work.

And let us not forget that the establishment of socialism through the struggles of a mass socialist movement it is reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the pre-requisite conscious understanding of what it entails and involves, will influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. So why would most people want to undermine the new society they had just helped to create?

It can also be seen a third objection is raised to a moneyless society by Parecon.

"...if all goods and services are free, there is no way whatsoever for the economy to know what the real preferences of people are for product. you won't have an effective economy. even if regions or communities decide to provide certain things for free, they will still need info on the relative costs and benefits of providing those things if they are to be able to discuss and make a collective rational decision about what quantity and mix of goods and services to provide thru free social provision. and to know what the social costs are you have to be able to measure costs on a common numeric scale, that is, you need prices for social accounting."

And elsewhere:

"if all goods and services are free, there is no way whatsoever for the economy to know what the real preferences of people are for product."

Of course there is. Its a called a self regulating system of stock control. It already exists and operates alongside the price mechanism (anarcho-communism will simply dispense with the latter and keep the former). How does it work? You go to a store and take a good. Other people take the good as well. What happens? The stock on the shelf declines. Someone comes along and monitors the rate at which stock levels fall (these days its all done automatically). This triggers an order for fresh stock from the suppliers. The suppliers too might find they are running low of particular input to manufacture the good in question. So this too triggers orders for more stock of the input in question. And so on and so forth. Right down the productiion chain. The economy knows exactly what the real preferences of people are! These preferences are indicated by the rate of take up or depletion of stock. Stocks which are are not depleting very rapidly suggest that people dont have a particularly strong prefernece for them. Conversely , stock which are depleting rapidly suggest a strong preference is being expressed. All this information is instantly picked up and acted upon in a completely self regulating manner by the anarcho communist economy. Their problem is that they are not looking at anarcho-communism in terms of a feedback mechanism and are fixated deciding what to produce first and then setting about to organise production according. This is wrong.

Parecon claim that without the guidance of prices socialism would sink into inefficiency. According to the argument whatever one decides to do has an "opportunity cost", that is, to do something else which one thereby forgoes. Whereas Parecon relies on monetary accounting, socialism relies on calculation-in-kind. There is no general unit of accounting involved in this process such as money or labour hours or energy units. In fact, every conceivable kind of economic system has to rely on calculation in kind, including capitalism. Without it, the physical organisation of production (e.g. maintaining inventories) would be literally impossible. This is one reason why socialism holds a decisive productive advantage over Parecon because of the elimination for the need to tie up vast quantities of resources and labour implicated in a system of monetary/pricing accounting. In socialism calculations will be done directly in physical quantities of real things, in use-values, without any general unit of calculation. Needs will be communicated to productive units as requests for specific useful things, while productive units will communicate their requirements to their suppliers as requests for other useful things.
Such non-monetary calculation of course already happens, on the technical level, under capitalism and as proposed by Parecon. Once the choice of productive method has been made, according to expected profitability as revealed by monetary calculation, then the real calculations in kind of what is needed to produce a specific good commence so much raw materials, so much energy, so much labour. In socialism this choice too will be made in real terms, in terms of the real advantages and disadvantages of alternative methods and in terms of, on the one hand, the utility of some good or some project in a particular circumstance at a particular time and, on the other hand, of the real “costs” in the same circumstances and at the same time of the required materials, energy and productive effort.
On the one side would be recorded the resources (materials, energy, equipment, labour) used up in production and on the other side the amount of the good produced, together with any by-products. As already stated this, of course, is done under capitalism but it is doubled by an exchange value calculation: the exchange value of the resources used up is recorded as the cost of production while the exchange value of the output is recorded as sales receipts. If the latter is greater than the former, then a profit has been made; if it is less, then a loss is recorded. Such profit-and-loss accounting has no place in socialism and would, once again, be quite meaningless. For Parecon costing it all remains an inherent imperative.

Albert discloses "When I tell them that this means they have not only jettisoned prices, income, etc., but they have done away with all possibility of sensible allocation because they have no way to decide between options based on valuations ... ", they simply ignore it."

That of course as we have seen is simply not accurate or the truth. Anarcho-communists have put forward alternative means, whether they are practical or not may be questioned but it has never been ignored.

Other articles about Parecon and Michel Albert can be found on my blog here

dohball
Apr 25 2012 19:32

having the picture at the beginning is very useful as i think it will act as a summary about parecon until i read the full exchanges in 2014

Rob Ray
Apr 25 2012 20:23
Quote:
You get more for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, and only that - unless you are unable to work.

BRING THEM TO THE COURTS OF JUDGEMENT, WHERE WE SHALL DECIDE WHETHER THEY ARE WORTHY OF OUR LARGESSE OR JUST A BUNCH OF FILTHY BENEFIT CHEATS - HARD-WORKING PEOPLE OF THE VILLAGE WHAT IS YOUR VERDICT?

lukitas
Apr 26 2012 03:09

Money, slavery and warfare are intimately interlinked. One of the first uses of money was to pay mercenaries, who, when victorious, brought back slaves, who were put to work digging for gold, which was used to pay mercenaries, and so on.

Of course, today we have outgrown such barbarity as paying for mercenaries, and we wouldn't use money so basely in a socialist world. Or would we?

What would happen to those who would be shunned and expelled for lack of work ethics? Could they find a job elsewhere? would they get a living allowance, or just drop out of the 'income distribution system'? Wouldn't that open the door wide open for a two class society, the ones who are in parecon, and those who are out?

Money is such a strange thing. Join a poker game and see what money can do to you : from deep depression to wild greed. Or maybe people wouldn't gamble in a parecon society, but I doubt it. Both gambling and divination are older than money. It's how we deal with chance.

Mr. Albert, you should read 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' by B.Traven.

kaustisk
Apr 26 2012 06:07

ParEcon is Dictatorship of the Academician. Revolution must come from below. Not from overprivileged whites like Albert. In one response I heard him say there should be a specialized security force i.e. police. ParEcon is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

I think its best to just ignore Albert and the ParEcon people. The majority of the IOPS members seem to be privileged white liberals who don't understand the difference between social democracy and anarcho-commusism.

Spikymike
Apr 26 2012 09:58

Well I don't normally just post quips but in this case I can't resist suggesting that we just let the 'pareconists' and the 'inclusive democracy' lot fight it out and then bury the bloody entrails once and for all.

Olive Plaid
Apr 26 2012 18:17

Perhaps Mr. Albert could answer this question that has been bugging me about Parecon: what, in actual day-to-day life, is the difference between the "income" Parecon advocates and the wage we are paid at our jobs today. I don't mean in the sense that it is "democratic" or not, but that the point of being paid is to manage consumption. That is, I can only acquire what I have the funds for.
This means that I am not really in control of how I use my time, since I'm constantly having to worry about paying my bills, getting food, etc., even in Parecon's supposedly post-capitalist society. I can't just say "hey, its a beautiful day outside, I think I'm gonna go to the beach", or "I would rather write a book for the next 6 months than work". How is this any different in Parecon than in modern capitalism?

tastybrain
Apr 26 2012 20:03
LBird wrote:
Steven. wrote:
An interesting comment I thought on our Facebook about this:
Ilan Shalif wrote:
In libertarian communist society there will be differential "remuneration" according to efforts and toil... but the rewards will be in social esteem, respect and emotional needs - not in the economical means for survival.

In other words, qualitative, not quantitative, rewards.

As Einstein is reputed to have said:

'Not everything that is measureable is worth measuring, and not everything that is worth measuring is measureable'.

We can measure a child's tears, but we can't measure a child's hurt.

Will Parecon be able to measure the price of everything, but the value of nothing?

smile Fucking well put.

Steven.
Apr 26 2012 22:26

I will respond Albert more fully in the next couple of days, but I just wanted to point out this significant error in logic (and maths):

Michael Albert wrote:
And we don't compete for more work. … Most will instead prefer leisure, I suspect, beyond a certain income level, to having more income. Indeed, many will prefer less work and income than average. Income, again, is claim on the social output.

I think that Albert will find that half of people will end up doing less work and having less income than average. Because that's what an average is!

This Michael Gove-esque maths fail is part of the reason why Albert believes that it won't make people compete against each other whereas of course in reality it will because of the logic of the system, which worryingly its leading theoretician and proponent doesn't seem to understand.

no1
Apr 27 2012 01:07
Steven. wrote:
I think that Albert will find that half of people will end up doing less work and having less income than average. Because that's what an average is!

Actually you're wrong, that's what the median is. And since the minimum work you can do is none, but there won't really be a maximum, with libertarian stakhanovites pushing up the average - so there will presumably be more people working less than the average.
Not that it matters.

Joseph Kay
Apr 27 2012 09:01

Well average could be mean, mode, median... I suspect Albert means mean and Steven's assuming a normal distribution.