Parecon: Life After Capitalism

Parecon: Life After Capitalism

What do you want? is a constant query put to economic and globalization activists decrying current poverty, alienation and degradation. In this highly praised new work, destined to attract worldwide attention and support, Michael Albert provides an answer: Participatory Economics, Parecon for short, a new economy, an alternative to capitalism, built on familiar values including solidarity, equity, diversity and people democratically controlling their own lives, but utilizing original institutions fully described and defended in the book.

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In Parecon (participatory economics), Albert lays out a new economic vision for society. While everyone with a brain enjoys a good leftist or anarchist rant about how much capitalism sucks, corporations are evil, and the US government are corrupt fascists, this book actually goes beyond these complaints and presents a viable alternative to our economic system. It doesn't get into the political side of things, but instead focuses on how we can set up an economic system to replace the current unsustainable capitalist market economy that we've all been taught is the inevitable pinacle of man's development. The system of "participatory economics" that Albert proposes is presented in a very meticulous and logical way. Equity, solidarity, efficiency, and self-management are *not* qualities of market capitalism as we are taught, but rather would be the primary products of a participatory economy if we had the courage to implement it.

If you are not comfortable taking on a book of this magnitude, and are still interested in the ideas, try starting with Albert's more manageable works like 'The Trajectory of Change'.

Albert addresses this but waves it off, suggesting that it'd be just like "paying bills." It wouldn't be and he's naive to think turning nearly every economic activity into strings of committee meetings would not be a tedious disruption.

I asked: What if I had an entrepreneurial idea, for a new product or service, that wasn't approved by a committee - is there any way I could carry that out with the hope that if my idea was good, I could benefit from my work and creativity? An important experience about related concepts is described in Living Walden Two by Hilke Kuhlmann: "a recurrent problem in moving past the planning stages was the nearly ubiquitous desire among members to be gentle guides, coupled with strong resistance to being guided." (From the book description, viewable on Amazon and elsewhere.) I suspect that comparable statements will be made in hindsight about Parecon if it is ever tried in practice.

If you do wish to waste the time and effort to read this book, please take note: Mr. Albert takes great effort to avoid the use of the words "pay," or "money." This is quite serious in a book about economics. His cute example of a good musician getting paid more than a bad one being unfair is a pretty great example of why parecon is unrealistic and won't happen. For example: I want to listen to a good musician, thus I pay him for his efforts (Buy tickets to his show, his cd, etc.). He wants to close (eliminate?) the gap between the super rich and the poor, working class and give everyone a fair and balanced daily routine. Yes, people understand that working in a coal mine isn't at all like trading credit default swaps or organizing worldwide trade agreements, but not everyone can be involved in every deal. If parecon works, as Albert suggests in the book, why doesn't he show us how? A good argument would at least involve describing how maintaining private ownership would not translate into one person/family/group/city/state/nation owning more property than others (Something Mr Albert glosses over).

I think to the extent at which Albert synthesized the rewards of past struggle from below and to the left into a coherent theory of economics (whether from anarcho-syndicalist Spain, or horizontal planning in Porto Alegre), this book (and the concept of parecon itself) was a success. He uses the defense of "don't get caught up in the tiny details, this is merely a vision that has yet to be implemented" in one paragraph (a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with) and in the next, he is documenting, in the most tedious way, how a swimming pool might be collectively purchased with participatory economics. During the "demonstrations" of ParEcon, I found myself wishing that Albert had coauthored this book with a sci-fi writer. Ursula K LeGuin, for example described a unique economy in a unique world, and showed daily life within those contexts, in her book, The Dispossessed. Albert also has a tendency to, understandably, compare his vision with capitalism, and shows how criticisms of participatory economics are more valid criticisms of the current economic order.

Trajectory of Change is a great little book about building large social movements, a good intro to his insights...

Albert identifies himself as a market abolitionist and favors democratic participatory planning as an alternative.

  • English

  • Economics

  • Rating: 3.57
  • Pages: 320
  • Publish Date: May 17th 2004 by Verso
  • Isbn10: 184467505X
  • Isbn13: 9781844675050