Why isn't the participatory economy model more popular?

Originally published at: » Why isn’t the participatory economy model more popular?

“[W]hen we wonder what to put in [place of capitalism], we are extremely perplexed”, so said the noted economist John Maynard Keynes. The British economist Alec Nove put it in even more stark terms, writing that you have either markets or central planning, “there is no third way.” And yet, this year (2021) marks the…


Nice article, thanks for sharing!

I agree with a lot of what was said, but I think one big reason is that it’s hard to easily grasp what’s being proposed. The proposal is so different from how things work today, so it just naturally takes some time to digest. I remember when I first came across the old website; I spent many days reading the main pages over and over trying to let everything sink in. Even when I thought I understood it, I later realised I had some subtle misunderstandings.

I also think that, unfortunately, a lot of people misunderstand the model. I’ve seen many comments describing Parecon as some kind of “meeting hell” where they imagine it being bogged down by endless meetings. Considering the main procedure was specifically designed to have no meetings at all, I’d say there’s been some kind of communication failure here.

Like I mentioned earlier, I think part of the problem is that it takes time to digest something of this scope. But I also think there are two things that could help:

  1. Take the model out of theory world and present it in ways where people can interact with it instead of just reading about it. The post touches on this, but presenting the model using interactive methods can help remove the potential for misunderstanding.

  2. Clearly separate the “hardcore” writings from the “layman” writings. I personally have enjoyed how the model is presented in extreme detail. However, I’ve come across a lot of economist terminology that I don’t think most people are familiar with. When I first started reading about this I remember constantly googling various phrases so I could better understand what was being proposed.

I don’t think it should be watered down, because the details are very important, but I think the hardcore language in some of the literature contributes to the barrier that has to be overcome for most folks. If there could be a clearer separation of what’s for beginners and what’s for hardcore folks I think that would help.

It’s tricky because I suspect no matter how good of a job we do with this, it’s still going to take some time to sink in due to it being a total paradigm shift in how we think about economics and daily life.


Great article! Definitely an important point that needs addressing.

I agree with the points in the article. We can expect concentrations of power, the media, economists and others to not take any interest in the model. The people responsible for advocating the PE model are the left so I think the question should primarily be addressed to them. So how do we do this?

Yes, I agree. I think the best way to address this is to do more of the basics well. In other words education. We need lots of people produce lots of various explanatory content to address understandings and confusions.

We need lots of basic level content as well as more advanced content too. Often the basic model isn’t understood well so when people make content that is more advanced basic questions come up that require answering before people understand the more advanced content. It happens quite a lot.

So, I guess what Im saying we need to first do good old fashioned good quality education work. Is there something more we need or can do right now?

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I think it would be nice to have more video content with animated visuals that help illustrate what’s going on. Kind of like the images that are on the new website, but with someone talking through everything. That might be a good start, because it seems like Youtube videos are a popular way of digesting new ideas these days! Someone else might have a better idea though.

That’s what we’er working too.

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Has anyone considered making a game using parecon as a central theme? Something that may even have competing allocation methods of capitalism versus parecon. It could even a board game.

Also in the same vein could there be weekend or even summer camps that model the organization and social structures to train future leaders.

Then maybe small group (farms/kibbutzim) collectives to showcase and train others. I would believe many would find hope and comfort in such arrangements.

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I’ve considered it and even blogged about it; it’s certainly an idea worth pursuing. One idea is to create a grand role-playing game of a participatory economy – maybe even start a company organized on participatory economic principles (balanced jobs, remuneration per effort/sacrifice).

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I think Mitchell’s question and suggested answers are really important and should be widely discussed. I would like to add one more point to Mitch’s list of suggested answers:

We, who advocate a participatory economy, need to become better at explaining the model and especially our suggested participatory planning procedure to ordinary people. The problem is that, so far, the planning procedure has understandably been explained and described predominately in economists’ terms using abstractions and based on economists’ assumptions. As a consequence, the detailed description of the participatory planning procedure runs the risk of appearing very far removed from real-life situations and circumstances and do not necessarily appear credible or convincing to non-economists.

So, for instance, when we suggest that consumers prepare, submit and adjust consumption proposals for the coming year, we need to better explain how this can be done in a credible way and how the planning procedure accounts for all consumers, including ones that are not directly represented, e.g. visiting tourists from external economies.

And we need to explain exactly how the very many different versions of a good that is priced in the planning procedure will also be assigned individual prices that reflect differences in the consumption of resources in their production.

And we need to better explain how a decentralised system with self-managed individual workplaces will organise and fund important coordination tasks such as the collective coordination and planning of things like logistics, supply chains, actual distribution of both capital, intermediate and final goods, and conflict solving.

And when we say that individual consumption and collective consumption is treated similarly and there is no difference between the production of individual goods and collective goods we need to explain what this really means in practice since the production of many public services, e.g. public transportation, are very complex and will presumably need to give consumers a more direct say in the design and execution of the services compared to individually consumed final goods such as shoes.

I think all these issues and many others are important to address and discuss to make our proposal appear credible and convincing to non-economists that are not familiar with customary abstractions and assumptions in economics but who are starting to doubt capitalism and want to believe that there is an alternative to markets.