ParEcon. The Participatory Economics Project

ParEcon. The Participatory Economics Project

Participatory Economics (parecon for short) is a type of economy proposed as an alternative to contemporary capitalism.

The underlying values parecon seeks to implement are equity, solidarity, diversity, and participatory self management.

The main institutions to attain these ends are workers and consumers councils utilizing self management decision making methods, balanced job complexes, remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, and participatory planning.

Michael Albert of Z Magazine is the impetus for Parecon. However it has grown way beyond one person, spawning several websites and books,. Many people have invested serious time and energy creating this, their framework and vision for a non-capitalist, socialist (but non-Marxist), fair and equitable economic system. A big job? Yes. Crazy dreamers? Absolutely not. If you can’t dream it, if you can’t envision it – then you’ll never create it.

“A great many activists and concerned people ask, quite rightly, what alternative form of social organization can be imagined that might overcome the grave flaws — often real crimes — of contemporary society in more far-reaching ways than short-term reform. Parecon is the most serious effort I know to provide a very detailed possible answer to some of these questions, crucial ones, based on serious thought and careful analysis.”

    –Noam Chomsky

Daniel Morduchowicz, a Z Magazine collective member, describes what Parecon is.

It functions based on the idea that people will have the ability to make decisions proportionally as these decisions affect them. So, for example, nobody can tell me what pictures of my family to put up in my workplace, as it doesn’t affect anybody but me. But, if all of a sudden I want to listen to Metallica full blast, now other people around me will have a say on that as it affects them quite a bit.
On a larger scale, if a neighborhood council decides they want to build a swimming pool, that has ramifications all up and down society: water will be taken for a swimming pool that another neighborhood might need to be able to drink. So, the other councils in the society will have a say on whether or not you can use those resources.

The whole idea is to have kind of concentric councils of decision making, from the individual to the society at large, but no one individual has ultimate decision power. The thing works and is facilitated by what Michael calls “facilitation boards” whose jobs is to make suggestions so that different rounds, or iterations, as Albert calls them, don’t have to go on forever. However, the workers in the facilitation boards have nothing to gain from their suggestions, so the possibility for corruption is totally minimized.

Not everything needs to be decided by consensus. That would be ridiculous and unworkable. Also, in a complex society such as ours there is definitely a need for specialization: we can’t ask an assembly which font to use on a flyer. For that you assign the job to a specialist.

I think what’s confusing about the whole idea of Parecon is that it is a form of organized anarchism: there is no “government” workers or leaders per se, but there is a structure that needs to be followed so that a complex society such as ours can function, and the resources that it creates can be allocated equitably and efficiently.

What they propose appears to be a networked model of organization. Like the Internet, no one would be “in charge.” Nodes would communicate with other nodes as needed, with no top-down hierarchy issuing directives.

Some thoughts/questions. How does this economic model scale to the national level? Can a large industrialized country be run on a completely decentralized and cooperative basis? How does Parecon deal with conflict, which could arise from either within or from the outside? How do you reconcile the role of the specialists with that of the groups as a whole, considering that specialists sometimes must do things that impact the entire group?

I’m sure these questions have been considered and discussed on Parecon, and that the conclusions are well-reasoned. Whether or not you agree with specific points being made, you’ll be impressed by the thoughtfulness.

The Parecon Project has a huge amount of intelligent conversation and information about their model for a just and fair economic system. Check it out, then spend some time there.


Parecon home site

Capitalism and Participatory Economics: a comparison.

Z Net debates about Parecon with Marxists, anarchists, etc.

Z Net. An huge website with enormous amounts of information for progressives.

Z Magazine

Z Video