Friday, 3 April 2009

Parecon Optimism

Robin Hahnel is one of the goto guys for the whole parecon thing, probably the most developed form of post-Marxist socialist economic theory. (So post, in fact, they don't even use the word 'socialism' very often; I'm never clear how far this is a purely tactical choice or something deeper). Part of me is strongly attracted to this green, semi-anarchist vision, but another part is more than little skeptical about the viability of any schema depending on such a remorselessly high level of popular participation. But I'd recommend his ABC of Political Economy book to anyone as a fine, 'A Level-ish'* introduction to thinking about economic issues from a critical perspective.

All this is by way of clearing my throat before pointing to a very clear article he's written explaining the motivations behind the G20 protests. I particularly like this bit - its optimism cheered me up:

"....we reject the economics of competition and greed as a human necessity and embrace the possibility of an economics of equitable co-operation. These approaches to solving our economic problems are fundamentally different. One way motivates people through fear and greed and pretends that market competition can be relied on to bend egotistical behavior to serve the social interest, when too often it does not. The other way organizes people to arrange their own division of labor and negotiate how to share the efficiency gains from having done so equitably. This way motivates people to work at tasks that are not always pleasant, and to consume less than they sometimes wish, because they agreed to do so, secure in the knowledge that others are doing likewise. The driving force behind our economic world is participation and fairness, no longer fear and greed.

There is agreement among us that economic decisions should be made democratically, not by an elite or left to market forces. We would also give workers, consumers and localities more decision-making autonomy than traditional approaches to economic planning have allowed.

But, not surprisingly, there are different ideas on how best to do this. Given that before the demise of the communist economies most anti-capitalists simply looked to those economies for answers, and that after the fall of the Berlin wall many people stopped thinking about alternatives to capitalism altogether, it is surprising how much progress has been made. Much work in fleshing out visions into rigorous models, comparing similarities and differences, and evaluating strengths and weaknesses of different procedures to guide equitable co-operation has occurred already, and the pace of this work will surely increase in light of renewed interest. "

*Well, ‘A Level-ish’ if you ignore the equations, the way I do...


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