Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Replying to Parecon

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." Syndicat, 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 [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."

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 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 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.

Syndicat claims that "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 he wrote:

 "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 on the idea of a priori central planning - 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 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.

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