If PE is the solution, what is the “problem”?

I think that one goal is to convince people of the merits of the participatory economy model, and I think that practical applications of the model — to SHOW in tangible terms how it would work — would help greatly in that effort. However, in the thirty years since the introduction of the model, there has been precious little in the way of practical applications of the model.

The closest I can think of is the relative handful of enterprises, mostly in North America, that have explicitly tried to implement the participatory economy model in one degree or another. Unfortunately, nearly all of these enterprises are defunct.

I wonder: How can a participatory economy help people here and now? But as I write this, I wonder further: CAN the model help people in the here and now, in one or another small-scale ways? That’s been difficult to answer. It’s a model of a proposed future economy, not a recipe for a better soup. A participatory economy might not the sort of thing that can be applied to other spheres. Maybe it doesn’t have any practical applications?

Or maybe there are practical applications and we just haven’t found them yet. It reminds me of the (apocryphal) quote about electricity attributed (with no evidence) to Michael Faraday. When supposedly asked what practical use electricity has, Faraday said “someday you can tax it”. The great irony of this quote is that one-sixth of all economic activity on Earth is connected to Faraday’s work; arguably nothing is more practical in our age.

Perhaps the participatory economy model will follow the same path. But in order to advance on that path, we need to advance the conceptual work. MAYBE someone can come up with an idea where there’s a tangible problem in the world, and that’s the question I would like to pose here (if anyone has an answer or an idea): What specific tangible problems in the world here and now can the participatory economy model solve?



Maybe Parecon needs to be broken up into parts so it can infiltrate by stealth existing projects, coops, community economics, the Chiapas, Rojava, or whatever.

That way the blueprint fallacy can be avoided. Individuals could introduce things like BJCs disguised in ways that separate it from Parecon. Then they may get a look in rather than being associated with a traditional left evil demon universal blueprint-like certainty (*see John Jordan incoherent assertion below) that must be avoided and ignored at all costs for fear we are overstepping (bogus ignorance argument) or seen as too economistic (economystic).

Of course, if you step outside the meeting or whatever, and leave your stuff lying around, someone may notice your Parecon Handbook, or see on your kindle you left open on the table, Parecon: A Very Short Introduction. In which case you’ll have some explaining to do later, be forced to do a series of talks under the heading, Utopian Kitchen Nightmares, as penance or maybe even get thrown out. But you may be able to catch out other Parecon aware folk by accident, by tripping them up, exposing them, at least to yourself, which could lead to starting a kind of clandestine “Shhhh Parecon” group within that particular org you’ve penetrated like, DSA, the Next System Project, Democracy Collaborative, Commons Transition, a coop, a worker owned enterprise, your union, your tiny anarchist club, a Marxist twitter or Facebook feed or whatever people are feeding nowadays.

Interject at conferences discussing economic justice and fairness and serious philosopher’s intuition pumps about ignorance veils and jars for people to pop their hard earned so they can see the talented do their thing (“Give the finger to the rock n roll singer who’s dancing upon your pay check, The sales climb high through the garbage pale sky like a giant dildo crushing the sun”…Beck…couldn’t resist) with things like,

“Imagine an actual rational consumer and producer and the allocation system required to pull that off.”


“Imagine job complexes in workplaces being balanced for empowerment to avoid hierarchical divisions of labour that we know create class division and pay inequity…discuss.”


You know, things normal pre-theoretical folk can feel confident about engaging with.

  • “Our movements are trying to create a politics that challenges all the certainties of traditional leftist politics, not by replacing them with new ones, but by dissolving any notion that we have answers, plans or strategies that are watertight or universal. . . . We are trying to build a politics . . . that acts in the moment, not to create something in the future but to build in the present, it’s the politics of the here and now.“ (John Jordan in, A Postcapitalist Politics,
    J. K. Gibson-Graham)

I think the most important real world problem the model can address is educational.

In America, it seems like most people are lost and hopeless when it comes to politics and economics. The spectrum of debate seems limited between corporate control and government control. I don’t think either approach is appealing to most people, but it seems like the only choices we have so people argue about which one is more palatable.

I think there’s a desperate need for some kind of left libertarian movement in America. I suspect it would attract people across the political spectrum. The problem is that most people don’t know much about this school of thought or have a vision for where it could go. I think this model addresses both of those points.

However, it does feel like there’s a line somewhere where this stuff starts to become too academic and detached from reality. I think the main focus of our work should be educating people about the basic model and then bringing people together to experiment with things like the participatory planning procedure. When we do those two things well enough I think things will naturally evolve from there.

In terms of how to actually implement a system like this, I agree with the post above that cooperative enterprises are an important part of the transition. But again, most people don’t know much about how those work either!

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It’s a good question.

Off the top of my head, I think the best way to approach this is to elaborate paths of transition to a participatory economy (PE).

A PE has a handful of key elements: (1) social ownership, (2) comprehensive participatory planning, (3) community/worker councils & federations, (4) balanced jobs, (5) pay ~according to effort/sacrifice.

Those elements can be broken out in turn. For example, there are different kinds of social ownership. Increased social ownership of land & housing would greatly help in places like Ireland with a chronic housing crisis.

Comprehensive planning in PE has two main types: (i) annual planning, and (ii) other, more long term planning. For example, it’s obvious how a 100 year environmental plan would help us.

Worker co-ops are already a popular solution on the left. Community councils would help stimulate active citizenship and government responsiveness.

Pay by ~sacrifices/efforts today means increasing wages for lower earners, and ‘euthanasia’ of the rentiers (to quote Keynes). Policies to suppress monopolists, landlords, bankers.

Balancing jobs today means unions pushing to reduce rote work and de-skilling. It also means full employment policy so that everyone actually has a job. It means public education & training at all ages. And in co-ops it means agitating for more thoroughly balanced jobs.

If you think of PE as just annual planning, then it’s not clear how to apply it today. But total annual planning is the final stage of a mature participatory economy. Framed in terms of a transition from today to a mature PE, we can see that there are incremental changes to be made across all key dimensions of a PE.

I think a key theoretical question to answer is how to introduce annual planning. Does it happen all at once, from zero? Or is it introduced in parts? If the latter, how?

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I think much of the issues surrounding Parecon getting “out there” resides within the thinking of a project like the Next System Project and someone like Gar Alperovitz. His thinking is pragmatic, transitional, short termish, and pluralist. But for me, while the Next System Project, which represents his way of thinking, represents a real major attempt, if not the best so far, to unify or bring together different visionary ideas, there is an intellectual buffer…not a practical or pragmatic one…the holds Parecon in particular out. It’s not really part of the working program. It’s an intellectual buffer. This essay goes back to 2014, but it’s symptomatic if the thinking that leaves Parecon out on its own in the wilderness and it’s advocates working isolated from most of what is actually going on. Basically it’s ignored.


What’s the meaning of BJC?

BJC means Balanced Job Complex, the proposed work arrangement in a participatory economy. You can read more about it here:

Would it not be easier to first start a coop training individuals in multiple vocations. For example farming, construction, education, and general leadership. These people then start other coops and interact in a federated fashion? In a way it would be similar to the history of Zionist Kibbutzim in Palestine. Meet the essential needs first (e.g., food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare, etc.). Then organize into light manufacturing and services. The organization is run on PE principles with practical experience gained by those involved. I know that once begun, many people would be drawn in by a more humane and sustainable work life design. It would then beget more coops and expand outward.