Looking Forward. By Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel
"Economic pundits claim that hierarchy, inequality, and markets or central planning are inevitable. We claim these are myths that only serve economic elites."
Wonder each morning how you're going to hold on till evening each Monday how you'll make it to Saturday. Reach home without the strength to do anything but watch TV, telling yourself you'll surely die an idiot ... Long to smash everything... once a day, feel sick ... because you've traded your life for a living; fear that the rage mounting within you will die down in the end, that in the final analysis people are right when they say: "an, you can get used to anything."
Capitalism in Crisis in Everyday Life
"Can't we agree that it would be desirable to transform our economy so that every citizen can lead a dignified, fulfilling life, employing their capacities as they prefer, and enjoying society's offerings equally?"
The task for a modem industrial society is to achieve what is now technically realizable, namely, a society which is really based on free voluntary participation of people who produce and create, live their lives freely within institutions they control, and with limited hierarchical structures, possibly none at all.
Language and Politics
An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning.
Capitalism institutionalizes inequality, promotes poverty, wages war, and denies dignity. It champions competition, eviscerates ecologies, and provides malls with miles of aisles - some for Moneybags, others for the average consumer. Eastern bloc economies reduced inequality but also deadened, decayed, and dissolved. Moreover, they offered no malls for anyone. Can an alternative new economy yield consumer satisfaction and equity, variety, solidarity, and self - management?
The generally accepted answer is "no, we must accept Western or Eastern economic models, tempering their ill effects via clever reforms." The effect of the resulting cynicism on popular aspirations was best described by an Italian scholar - activist, Antonio Gramsci, who said: "Indifference is the dead weight of history. It is a lead ball to the innovator, it is the inert matter which drowns the most sparkling enthusiasms, it is the swamp which surrounds the old city and defends it better than the most solid walls, better than the bodies of its soldiers, because it swallows the assailants in its slimy mires, it decimates them, disheartens them and, at times, makes them desist from their heroic undertaking."
Economic pundits claim that hierarchy, inequality, and markets or central planning are inevitable. We claim these are myths that only serve economic elites. We believe that, contrary to popular opinion, people can quite effectively manage their own economic affairs, and that they can do so equitably, humanely, and efficiently, To aim for endless abundance or for saintly behavior is "utopian" in the negative sense, and is not our purpose. But to think about how an economy can promote rather than subvert participatory, egalitarian goals is "utopian" in the positive sense that recognizes that to have no goals is to passively accept an "old city" that squanders our potentials.
We live in the richest country in the world. It is tied for 31st, with Albania, in infants with low birth weight and 211 children die each week from malnutrition and poor care. We live in the richest country in the world and so do over 31 million poor people, 3 million of whom are homeless and wander the streets eating garbage - can dinners and sleeping in alleys. Why this pain amidst riches? In part because the top one - half of I percent of U.S. citizens hold about one - third of all U.S. wealth.
We live in the richest country in the world. One out of four children under six years of age are growing up poor, including 40 percent of all Latino, children and 50 percent of all Black children. Violent crime is up 37 percent in the past decade, one person in twenty suffers some sort of burglary, assault, rape, or murder each year, there are 250 reported rapes daily, one every 6 minutes, and a woman is beaten every 19 seconds. We live in the richest country in the world. The mortality rate for black infants is twice that for whites and there is 1 successful suicide every 20 minutes with over ten times that number of failed attempts. Why this crime and despair amidst riches? In part because in 1988 the average chief executive officer of a U.S. corporation earned as much as 93 factory workers or 72 teachers. We live in the richest country in the world but capitalist success triumphs only in boardrooms and mansions.
In countries outside our immediate borders where our influence is greatest, Central America, of the 850,000 children born yearly 100,000 will die before the age of 5 from preventable disease and malnutrition because their resources are used to benefit our elites.
Depending on the type of economy a society has, work can build or erode confidence, consumption can fulfill needs or feed alienated habits, economic decision making can incorporate or exclude participation, and allocation can enrich the few by impoverishing the many or generate equality for all. Can't we agree that it would be desirable to transform our economy so that every citizen can lead a dignified, fulfilling life, employing their capacities as they prefer and enjoying society's offerings equally? Can't we agree that it would be desirable to transform our economy so that we respect others and are respected by them, all sharing in decisionmaking? Can't we agree that it would be desirable to overcome alienation, inequality, and the war of each against all, and to transform our economy so young people face the future with eagerness instead of resignation, so we do not destroy the planet, and so hierarchical structures are reduced until there are "possibly none at all"?
In this book we describe a new type of economy. In this new economy, work is carried out under the auspices of democratic
workplace councils, one person one vote, with sensible delegation of responsibilities. There is no fixed workplace hierarchy. Each worker has a complex of responsibilities - some conceptual, some manual; some empowering, some rote - such that each worker's set of tasks (or "job complex") is balanced equitably with those of other workers. Each worker has a fair share of both desirable and not so desirable things to do, has comparable responsibilities and opportunities, and is equally prepared to participate in decision making.
Consumers receive roughly equal shares of the social product. While they still shop, act on impulse, and borrow and save, consumers must also do a reasonable job of predicting their consumption in advance. Changes in production and consumption eliminate needless waste in packaging, advertising, product duplication, etc. Collective goods are chosen by consumer councils with one person one vote. Equity and self management prevail, but so do respect for privacy and a positive attitude toward diversity and experimentation.
Participatory planning in the new economy is a means by which worker and consumer councils negotiate and revise their proposals for what they will produce and consume. All parties relay their proposals to one another via "facilitation boards." In light of each round's new information, workers and consumers revise their proposals in a way that finally yields a workable match between consumption requests and production proposals. The system rests on a comprehensive exchange of information including a new type of "indicative prices" to help with calculations, data about supply and demand to help people create proposals, and qualitative accounts of social relations to promote better decisions and greater solidarity.
The following 6 chapters deal with the norms and structure of workplaces (I and 2), consumption (3 and 4), and allocation (5 and 6). Then chapters 7, 8, and 9 deal with the mechanisms of decision making from the perspective of work, consumption, and allocation respectively. Chapter 10 discusses the role of computers in a participatory economy, and the implications of our findings for strategy and transition are treated in chapter 11. A Glossary, beginning on page 15 1, includes brief definitions of original and technical terms used in the book.
While all this is logical and orderly, it places a heavy burden on readers who may have different opinions about what we should address first. Though Looking Forward addresses all important aspects of a new economy, we discuss production and consumption before allocation, and institutional structures before details of decision making procedures. For some readers questions will arise in early sections that are not addressed until later. We apologize, but no ordering could entirely avoid this inconvenience.
Throughout Looking Forward illustrations and graphics clarify points raised in the text. With only a few exceptions, these were conceived and produced by Matt Wuerker. At various points written commentary appears in the margins. In most instances these are quotations meant to clarify or situate ideas in the text. When these appear in italics and with quotation marks, they are lifted directly from the main text. In all other instances their author is identified. Occasional sidebars in roman type provide factual information about relevant circumstances in the U.S.
Readers might be interested to know that a companion volume to Looking Forward, The Political Economy of Participatory Economics (Princeton University Press 1991), covers the same ground more abstractly, using arguments and mathematical demonstrations geared to economists. But anyone who reads this book will be able to follow the main line of argument in the companion volume.