We Need an Economy Without Bosses and Managers. Participatory Economics Is How.

Interest in worker cooperatives is high spreadingRecent developments in the U.S. This is largely due the increasing insecurity caused by structural changes in the workplace that have occurred during the neoliberal period, which has intensified since the last financial crises. In fact, worker cooperatives are well established in many countries of Europe, especially in France, Italy and Spain — countries with long anarchist and socialist traditions.

The movement for workers cooperatives transcends capitalism because it dismantles hierarchical structures and places workers and the community at its core. But there are still critical questions about the impact and function of cooperative economics. What would a post-capitalist society look like where workers manage productive facilities? How would production, distribution and who earns what decisions be made? What role would money play in an economy without bosses or owners? Is this a realistic economic future or a utopian dream?

Michael Albert has been advocating participatory economics for more than 40 years. In his view, “Participatory economics proposes a few key institutions that its advocates feel to be essential for an economy to fulfill quite widely held worthy aspirations including solidarity, diversity, equity, self management, and sustainability—classlessness—and to of course also be viable for producing and allocating to meet needs and develop potentials of everyone.”

Albert’s latest book, No Bosses: A New Economy for a Better World, This guide outlines the steps to a genuine economy that is self-managing and based on solidarity.

C.J. Polychroniou: Your new book, No Bosses: Creating a New Economy for a Better Future. A vision for a new economic system is called participatory economics (parecon). Your vision of an alternative economic system centers around worker self-management. Can you explain how this economy would function in terms of production, allocation and reward decisions? Workers are free to run their own businesses without any bosses.

Michael Albert: Participatory economics teaches that we all should have a say on decisions that affect us, in proportion to how we are affected. Workers’ councils should therefore make workplace decisions.

Workplace decisions must be made by employees, but not just by them. They also need to be informed and based on information. What can be done to facilitate this?

Look around now. Only 20% of employees currently do mainly empowering jobs. Around 80 percent of current employees do mainly disempowering jobs. The 20 percent have empowering situations that give them information, skills and access to decision-making, connections with other people, and confidence. The 80 percent find themselves in a rut, repetitive, and generally disempowering environment that reduces their access to information, skills and connections. As I look down at the workers below, I see that we have empowered lawyers, engineers and financial officers as well as other employees. coordinator class. Look up at the coordinators above. We have disempowered cleaners and short-order cooks as well as carriers, assemblers, and any other employees I call the Working class

If we decide to reject owners but keep this corporate division of labor, then the empowered 20% will view themselves as special, responsible, and valuable. They will create agendas and take decisions. They will pursue their interests and defend their dominance. The disempowered 80 per cent will have to follow a new boss instead of the old one. This class hierarchy, in which 20% decide and the other 80 percent follow, must be eliminated. AllWorkers must be equally prepared to participate in informed decision making. Participatory economics divides tasks into jobs, so the task you do and the one I do gives you and all other workers a similar level of empowerment.

No Bosses argues that “balanced job complexes” would not only end the coordinator/worker class division but also be productive, efficient and effective. But No Bosses also urges that we would still have a decision-related problem because beyond its workers, what occurs in a workplace also affects direct consumers of the workplace’s products as well as bystanders who may be inundated with pollutants. Direct consumers as well as bystanders nearby are required to have appropriate input in order for self-management. Additionally, workers who use a certain amount of an input to produce a desired output cannot use the same amount of input by other workers. Metals forged into bombs can’t be forged into bridges. Everyone has a right to have a say in who, what, and how it is made. It begs the question: How will consumers and participants in participatory workplaces exercise self-management to reach properly accounted results?

Economists say that there is no other option today. We must use central planning and markets to allocate. But No BossesIt is clear that markets and central planning are very credible tools for dominant elites. But for the rest of us, they degrade worker and consumer well being, destroy ecological balance, demolish humanity, demolish dignity and enforce coordinator class rule.

To escape all that, participatory economics proposes that self-managing workers’ and consumers’ councils develop and refine their respective preferences through rounds of decentralized deliberation that bring production and consumption into accord.

No Bosses demonstrates how this “participatory planning” with no top and no bottom would settle on appropriate product amounts and valuations and deliver equitable incomes consistently with self-management and balanced jobs. It shows how “participatory planning” would efficiently utilize society’s productive assets to seek human fulfillment and development in light of ecological, social and personal implications. It shows how “participatory planning” would generate solidarity and not a rat race; diversity and not homogenization; dignity and not alienation; and ecological sustainability and not collective ecocide.

What role would money have in this new economic system? And how would a national-based “self-management” economy deal with the forces driving the global economy?

Money would not account in a participatory economy. It wouldn’t accrue. People would receive income either for the duration, intensity and onerousness of their socially valued work, or because they can’t work but get a full income nonetheless. While some goods, such as heath care, would be free, most people would choose from the social products the goods and services that meet their needs. Workplaces would use different inputs to create outputs. Participatory planning would mediate the process without the need for authority or competition. Items would have prices that convey information that allows people the freedom to consume according to their income and produce to meet their needs, develop potentials and reduce waste while respecting nature. You could use a debit card to purchase. Money is just a tool to facilitate equitable allocation. Money is not a way to make money.

If the global economic was composed of national participatory economy that interacted through international participatory plan, the needs of its many nations would drive it. Imagine some participatory economies operating in a market-driven world. Participatory economies would have their own domestic values that reflect real social benefits and costs. The rest of world would have market values that reflect bargaining strength. I would hope that a participatory economic would transact with other economies using either of the two prices to allocate the benefits of each trade in ways that would promote equity and not encourage accumulation by the wealthy at the expense of those who are less fortunate.

How would unemployment be dealt with under this new economic system, or with individuals in general who refuse to join a workers’ enterprise or execute tasks assigned to them at workplace by the collective?

In a participatory economy, the amount of available work reflects people’s desires for the output of work. All the work available is divided among all the workers, and everyone is employed. If in sum people seek less output, it means everyone works less, not that some work while others don’t. The planning process plus participatory economy’s remunerative norm correlates people who seek work with workplaces who seek workers. And though I have barely mentioned it, that remunerative norm — that income is for the duration, intensity and onerousness of your socially valued labor — is another defining feature critical to participatory economy being an equitable and viable vision.

As you can see, workers councils would be the only way to work in a participatory economy. If I was to refuse to be part of any workers council, I wouldn’t work so I also wouldn’t get income for work. Similarly, if I were to violate collectively agreed, self-managed norms in my workplace — for example, if I didn’t do my tasks, or if I did them really poorly — I could lose my job. Participatory economies would allow us to earn income according to the amount and duration of our socially valuable work. Income would be retained between jobs. Only socially valuable work would earn us income. Someone unskilled in medicine or basketball wouldn’t be able to do surgery or shoot hoops for income. This inferior product is not what anyone would want. An associate worker council wouldn’t employ someone who is incapable of doing a worthy job. How can workplace councils ensure that their workers receive a fair amount of income? How do we all get our fair shares in our councils How can we decide which job to do? How do we get products to eat? No BossesThis and many other topics is addressed. For your immediate question, unemployment in a participatory economic system would only occur temporarily if people change jobs. Unemployed workers would still be earning their wages.

I assume you are well aware of the practical challenges involved in the transition to a worker-self-management economy. So what practical advice would you have for us regarding how we can move forward with the type of reforms required to create the building blocks for an economy without bosses.

We want an enlivening, equitable and self-managing participatory economy to replace class-ruled, moribund, impoverishing capitalism. This requires that we fundamentally transform the core features of a central area of social life. However, to achieve that result, we need to win less changes. This is both for the immediate benefit of deserving constituencies as well as to create the conditions necessary to eventually win and implement our greater goals. Two main issues arise. First, what should we win as part the process of building a new economic system? How can we fight for these immediate reforms that will contribute to a new economy?

In today’s society, anything that improves the situation of those suffering from economic ills is what we could win. For example, wage increases. Dignity. Medical care is free. You have the right to choose your work hours. Access to the internet for free Changes in investment habits. Changes in the national and local budgets. Free education. Protection against environmental violations And so on.

How can we win such social changes? We create a situation where those with the power to make the changes are able to do so because the risks to their power and wealth from refusing to accept the changes are greater than the potential losses they will suffer by giving in.

Next, HowDo we fight for such change? What words should you use? What are the demands? What organizations should we create? What needs should we address and awaken? Answer: Our choice should be based not only on whether we are able to win the reform, but also on whether it inspires us to continue fighting for more.

We advocate for a higher minimum income, but we also talk about equitable incomes. We fight for dignity, better work conditions, but we also talk about self-management and building worker and consumer councils. We advocate for dumping restrictions and reduced military expenditures. However, we also talk about escaping the market absurdity and achieving participatory planning.

Moreover, we don’t address economy alone. We are also involved in the above economic path. With equal commitment, creativity inspiration, audacity, priority, and equal commitment, we simultaneously strive to win cultural/community, gender, and political visions with all of them forming a participatory community.