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.

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  • 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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tastybrain
Apr 27 2012 09:58
ajjohnstone wrote:
"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

Yeah, there seems to be a strong undercurrent of Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek in Albert's thought which he tries to obscure by dressing it up in left wing rhetoric.

Konsequent
Apr 27 2012 15:46

Really enjoyed this response, especially the kittens.

Uncontrollable
Apr 27 2012 15:53
tastybrain wrote:
Yeah, there seems to be a strong undercurrent of Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek in Albert's thought which he tries to obscure by dressing it up in left wing rhetoric.

The land, natural resources, the means of production being owned by everyone in society. Production for use and not profit. Replacing markets with a direct democratic participatory planning process between direct democratic workers/community councils. Workers self management in industries with no capitalists or bureaucrats. Yeah, sure. That sounds exactly like Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek. wall

Steven.
Apr 27 2012 16:15
Uncontrollable wrote:
tastybrain wrote:
Yeah, there seems to be a strong undercurrent of Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek in Albert's thought which he tries to obscure by dressing it up in left wing rhetoric.

The land, natural resources, the means of production being owned by everyone in society. Production for use and not profit. Replacing markets with a direct democratic participatory planning process between direct democratic workers/community councils. Workers self management in industries with no capitalists or bureaucrats. Yeah, sure. That sounds exactly like Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek. wall

I haven't had time to respond fully to Alberts second response yet. But on this quickly: uncontrollable, you will see that the issue which I and other communists have is not with those things you mention, it's with the continuation of wage labour, albeit with supposedly "fair" wages. It is in this area that logic is constrained within capitalist boundaries.

Uncontrollable
Apr 27 2012 17:49
Steven. wrote:
Uncontrollable wrote:
tastybrain wrote:
Yeah, there seems to be a strong undercurrent of Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek in Albert's thought which he tries to obscure by dressing it up in left wing rhetoric.

The land, natural resources, the means of production being owned by everyone in society. Production for use and not profit. Replacing markets with a direct democratic participatory planning process between direct democratic workers/community councils. Workers self management in industries with no capitalists or bureaucrats. Yeah, sure. That sounds exactly like Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek. wall

I haven't had time to respond fully to Alberts second response yet. But on this quickly: uncontrollable, you will see that the issue which I and other communists have is not with those things you mention, it's with the continuation of wage labour, albeit with supposedly "fair" wages. It is in this area that logic is constrained within capitalist boundaries.

And a wage in parecon comes from the society which is organized in direct democratic workers/community councils (me, you, and everyone else) not capitalists or bureaucrats in a state. It's an agreement that says you are going to use OUR natural resources and OUR means of production to do stuff that other people like, want or need and not waste our natural resources and means of production.

Having a budget in parecon doesn't mean there's a market. It just means you're going along with the plan that you helped come up with by participating in direct democratic workers/community councils and the direct democratic participatory planning process between them.

Ernestine
Apr 27 2012 21:47

John 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 love most of my work. Work/leisure is a false and ugly dichotomy. That comment about dance and child-raising and cleaning just about said it all about parecon for me (though I haven't read the book, and from this introduction am unlikely to.) Childcare is just about the most 'socially productive' work in the world. It inevitably involves both dancing and floor cleaning, the former joyful, the latter also necessary. Now I have hardly ever worked in a field that didn't involve a balance of both. That balance can't be achieved by incentivism, be it remunerative or social. It seems to me it is a matter of judgement on a far more subtle and experiential basis, that can only be made in a free paradigm. The parecon model as described seems a recipe for normative behaviour modification. 'Workload' and all that is a ridiculous idea - we all work hard for what we value intrinsically. Sometimes we need time to think about how to work better rather than harder, and we achieve more beneficial results by having the scope to do this, rather than following a shallower 'effort curve' ethic, even if presented as 'social productivity'. What can 'income' possibly have to do with 'value'? If I need to take some time to write poetry, I fucking well will,
whether I get paid for it or not. It is part of my 'work' in a broad sense. I also don't expect anyone else to clean up my mess, and freely contibute toto maintain similar essential services in the community.

Would any intelligent self-organised collective decide that everyone has to work from 12 to 5, every working day, no matter what? This would be pretty stupid, wouldn't it? When we have children to care for, some degree of flexibility is necessary. And who is to decide what is intense and what is onerous? 'How are people to know what is fair or reasonable for them to take?' I know that I can labour long hours and get little done, and work short intense bursts and make marvellous things. I'll judge what to do and when, and I don't see why we can't all have that scope, given education through life and supportive communities. I would struggle hard for this. I wouldn't give a toss for parecon.

MotherofExiles
Apr 28 2012 02:56

Hi there all-- I'm new here... I have been aware of parecon since 1993 when I had Hahnel as an econ prof and he made us read his and Albert's texts alongside our regular econ textbook. Also let me admit that I didn't read the entirety of every statement made in this debate... maybe 40% or so, I didn't measure (word count, for example).

I think what gets lost in this debate is the simple fact that in a capitalist economy, capital is rewarded far far more greatly than labor. Labor under capitalism is exploited by whomever has enough capital to build a factory, buy extracted resources from the earth, buy labor, put the three together and profit. And of course, speculators don't even need to do any of that-- they profit from pure speculation-- their capital makes them more capital. The capitalist class hold a full monopoly over the means of production and reap a far far disproportionate share of society's products.

What Albert is trying to do is address this by only rewarding labor-power.

Now, what I value most in life is my time. I have a ton of personal interests that I like to pursue for their own sake. But I would be willing to contribute some of my time to the manufacturing of products because I benefit from those products. Looking around my room right now-- I am benefiting from electricity, a lamp w a light bulb in it, furniture, my bass and bass amp, a computer, a refrigerator, etc. Because I am reaping the benefits of these products, I don't think it is too much to ask that I participate in making them. I actually think it would be an opportunity to learn more about the things I use-- I would be less alienated from them because I would have to understand them from the inside out, understand their ecological costs by seeing how much/what kind of materials go into them etc. The process of creating these things would become a part of my job-- and I don't see why creativity and learning would be seen as unfree.... And if the job requires intensive training or in-depth knowledge or major physical exertion, and if I am still willing to do that work, whereas someone else may not have that inclination, then that other person could search until s/he finds something that s/he is willing to contribute her time to, and at a pace/level of intensity with which s/he is comfortable.

Also I think that people who work together deciding their own schedules is totally compatible with anarchist principles. I mean jesus-- even capitalist bosses give you sick days and such-- obviously the schedule isn't some kind of oppressive obligation that would force you to go to work even if your daughter is home sick.... Each person would get to decide how much time they want to spend working, vs. how much time they want to spend doing other things. When I'm really into something, I could work on it for hours, because i'm into it. If I'm not into it, I'm not into it....

As for remuneration, my question for Stephen is this. I will refer to a children's story I had when I was little, called "Pig 'I Will' and Pig 'I Won't." The characters (obviously) were two little pigs. Pig "I Will" liked to help around the house. He always volunteered to sweep, take out the trash, help cook the meals etc..... Pig "I Won't" never offered to do anything, never helped around the house, never bothered with the meals. And no he wasn't disabled. How would you handle this discrepancy... ???

Rob Ray
Apr 28 2012 03:27

Not exactly a hypothetical, almost everyone I know has flatshared before now and I'm yet to find an example where people measured their rent against the amount of cleaning done, probably because it would almost immediately end up with everyone wanting to kill each other. But amazingly enough, flatshares still operate across Britain. How do you explain THAT discrepancy?

Spikymike
Apr 28 2012 13:42

And MoE.

1. Don't live with pigs.

2. Children's stories like that are precisely part of the socialising of childrem to fit into a capitalist value system.

Parecon may not be identical to the capitalist exploitation of wage labour but it would not involve a complete break with the capitalist value system either, assuming it was a practical option anyway rather than an abstract model dreamed up by Albert.

I know it takes valuable time without any financial reward but do read some of the other 60%.

Uncontrollable
Apr 28 2012 20:34
Spikymike wrote:
abstract model dreamed up by Albert.
Syndicalistcat wrote:
the only part of parecon that is actually new was participatory planning. even there, tho, it wasn't entirely new because the guild socialists in UK back in the early 20th century came up with the idea of negotiated coordination between community assemblies on the one hand and worker councils.

the part about eliminating the taylorist/fordist division of labor was discussed by Kropotkin, who calls it "integration of labor". this was revived by New Left Marxists in the '70s...partly out of reflecting on worker resistance to lousy jobs & speed up in those years. Albert & Hahnel were part of those discussions back then.

the part about self-managing work obviously was developed originally by radical worker militants & organic intellectuals of the class. same with worker councils, neighborhood assemblies, etc.

and the part about remuneration for work effort also has a long history. Marx advocated a form of this in Critique of the Gotha Program and Bakunin advocated something similar. Within the Spanish labor movement in the early 1900s Ricardo Mella advocated this.

tastybrain
Apr 28 2012 21:35
Uncontrollable wrote:
tastybrain wrote:
Yeah, there seems to be a strong undercurrent of Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek in Albert's thought which he tries to obscure by dressing it up in left wing rhetoric.

The land, natural resources, the means of production being owned by everyone in society. Production for use and not profit. Replacing markets with a direct democratic participatory planning process between direct democratic workers/community councils. Workers self management in industries with no capitalists or bureaucrats. Yeah, sure. That sounds exactly like Rand, Von Mises, and Hayek. wall

As I understand it there is remuneration under parecon for onerous work in the form of "increased income"...that is a labor market, however rudimentary. The bureaucracy is democratized and everyone can behave like everyone else's boss. The similarity to Rand et al is in the obsession with "moochers" and the laziness of the masses, and the need for incentives.

Uncontrollable
Apr 29 2012 04:36
tastybrain wrote:
The similarity to Rand et al is in the obsession with "moochers" and the laziness of the masses, and the need for incentives.

I don't think anyone who promotes the participatory economic model has an obsession with moochers and incentives or even remotely believes in the "laziness of the masses", whatever that means.

Spikymike
Apr 29 2012 10:51

OK Uncontrollable my last comment was a bit lazy and reflected some exasperation with late posts that seem to ignore the many previous contested points made in the discussion so far.

So perhaps based on your quote from Syndicalistcat this would be more my view as I have previously expressed it on these threads:

'..an abstract model based on a remix of old ideas from the past including some good and some plainly out of date or unworkable....'

rednoise
Feb 9 2014 08:10

Putting it in Marxist terms, I think the parecon model would be good to have in place as the way of running things during the revolutionary period, or the proletarian dictatorship. With the issues of money and remuneration, parecon is obviously concerned with a society that still deals with scarcity; however, in a communist society, there needs to be post-scarcity, which means, in part, revolutionizing the means of production, which is certainly what parecon would do. I don't think these ideas have to be in conflict with each other, and I think rather than Albert having undercurrents of "Von Hayek, Mises" etc., there are actually strong currents of councillism here.

If we go back to how Marx addresses the proletarian dictatorship, there are two things I think we should note: a.) during this period, it would -- and should -- be a period of "from each according to ability, to each according to contribution" and b.) the DotP would be a process that would take a few generations to complete.

If we can (as I do...I flippingly call myself a "Marxist-Pareconist") think of parecon in terms of a model of the DotP, then things like money, and how influenced the model is by capitalism, are less problematic, considering what he said in the Critique of the Gotha Programme:

"What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society -- after the deductions have been made -- exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another."

Given this context, Albert's idea wouldn't be that far removed from Marx's.

I'm also pretty surprised to see the attacks on "work" by a Marxist (but if the OP is not a Marxist, I apologize) since he says himself that work should be, in the end, "life's prime want."

All that aside, under this argument I am only proposing a parecon way of organizing as a way for the proletariat to express themselves and ultimately maintain a dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, and as a means toward communism. Since one of the keystones of communism is post-scarcity, a parecon society with this sort of reading should also be in a state of revolution toward that goal and never just settle in the scarcity stage of social relations.