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Parecon: Life After Capitalism Hardcover – April 17, 2003
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“Michael Albert is an important thinker who takes us beyond radical denunciations and pretentious ‘analysis’ to a thoughtful, profound meditation on what a good society can be like ...”—Howard Zinn
“Michael Albert’s work on participatory economics outlines in substantial detail a program of radical reconstruction, presenting a vision that draws from a rich tradition of thought and practice of the libertarian left and popular movements, but adding novel critical analysis and specific ideas and modes of implementation. It merits close attention, debate, and action.”—Noam Chomsky
“As the gap between rich and poor widens in the world, including in the United States, Michael Albert has offered an alternative system of participatory economics to end the dehumanizing failures and injustices of free market capitalism. It is a compelling book for our times.”—Ben H. Bagdikian
About the Author
Michael Albert helped found and establish South End Press and Z Magazine, among other institutions. A long-time activist, he now maintains Z’s internationally acclaimed web site Znet (www.zmag.org). He has written numerous books and countless articles dealing with, among other topics, economics, vision, social change, strategy, globalization, and war and peace.
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Many of Albert's core ideas are not, in themselves, new but can be traced to currents in libertarian socialist thought from as early as the late nineteenth century and systems close to parecons have managed to emerge throughout history in various contexts (though seldom have they been very long-lived for a number of reasons).
Overall, Parecon is an impressive and inspiring vision of what we could achieve if we chose to live according to a fundamentally different set of guiding values and modes of operation to those that prevail in a market system. Naturally, implementation in real life would be beset with many challenges and difficulties but having a vision of what "the good society" is brings us that much closer to achieving it.
I applaud Michael Albert's work in producing Parecon and heartily recommend it to anyone interested in questions of post-capitalist political-economy.
the argument against capitalism, market socialism and centrally planned economies is firmly established by this book.
this is a bible for anyone who wants to democratize the economy
The first argument in support of TINA is typically along the lines of "without work and punishment, what would motivate people, because they are basically selfish?" Albert's latter chapters address this philosophical yet reality-based question head-on. He uses a compelling example. If you saw a large adult grab an ice cream cone out of a child's hand, pushing the child to the ground, what would you do? Albert says that of course, most of us would be outraged and may even come to the defense of the child. If humans are so animalistic and depraved, then why aren't more people pushing and shoving? Could it be that the forces around us, versus only our "inner selves," push and shove on us to make it more difficult to be good samaratins. Despite 24 hour, "me first," "screw you, hooray for me" individualism married to ultra-social-Darwinistic capitalism, people care about others and the values of commnity. Of course the state wants to convince us that we are under constant threat and that it is the police that keeps order. Oh really? Then why do they lose control of a crowd during a riot? I guess we need one policeman per person to keep us in check. Maybe we have such a thing as inner humanity and morality, which actually lessens the need for a police state.
I've often found another TINA defense funny. People often act that if capitalism weren't around to monitor people, the motive to work would mysteriously vanish. My response is, how do (did) tribes survive? Did Native American groups just sit around and starve without the "benevolent" foreman to "motivate" them along? Do local villages in all parts of the world today lounge around, waiting to be given direction? Heavens to Betsey, how DID any of us achieve human progress and purpose before capitalism? I mean, it's all of 300 years old. Compare that to, say, Ancient Egypt, and there's no contest, right? Albert aruges that work, producing value, is an essential part of being human. It is the alienating kinds of labor that the majority of the world is involved in that's the problem. Note that the top 20% who get to experience more autonomous and creative work ususally scratch their head trying to figure out why everyone is "whining." Albert points out that this same group also gets a) paid more even though they experience less harsh labor conditions, and b) gets more of a say in important political decisions! Under our current system, the message is "one-dollar-one-vote." If you aren't college eduated, you don't deserve a living wage, etc.
Albert rightly points to examples of unemployed communities taking back factories and turning them into productive entities. The only difference is that THEY, the WORKERS are the ones doing it, not state-owned socialism or market capitalism. The activism of the unemployed (who most automatically picture as lounging around and being stubborn at the same time) is tremendous in South and Central America.
It would take some time to implement Albert's ideas, mostly because the ideology of capitalism is more entrenched than we realize. Our entire system of hierarchy, where education supposedly equals merit (typically measured and reinforced via standardized tests), comes to bear in even the most liberal of the upper 20%. "I wouldn't want to do MENIAL work. That's what I went to college for" as if menial work isn't valuable and that we simply expect certain groups to do it (after all, they deserve to do it because they aren't smart or special like us).
I recommend this book for those interested in learning something new about something old...human nature.
By contrast, Albert's style contradicts his avowed commitment to democracy and non hierarchical discourse. He writes like a member of the "coordinator" class he condemns. His writing exemplifies what Richard Lanham, in the tradition of Orwell, has called the "official style," a style laden with abstract nouns linked by prepositional phrases and passive verbs, a style designed not to communicate ideas clearly, but to overawe the reader with pseudo-scientific abstractions connoting bureaucratic mastery over reality. Moreover, unlike Hahnel, Albert largely ignores the long tradition of other authors who have speculated on the subject of life after capitalism and provides no footnotes or endnotes and only a very skimpy bibliography. He does not review other proposed systems of non-market, democratic planning and dismisses market socialism in only 1 1/2 pages as another version of class society. He thereby does little to discourage readers from fallaciously inferring that if they oppose capitalism they must favor the particular system he is proposing (notice how even the book's title, "Parecon: Life After Capitalism," encourages this fallacy). Although he does rehearse various criticisms of parecon, his summary of critics is cursory and brusque, his defense of himself long-winded and blustering. Hahnel, by contrast, carefully and respectfully articulates other perspectives before stating his own position.
In case you think I'm being too harsh, here are two examples of Albert's style (you could find similar sentences on almost every page):
"Different abilities to benefit from competitive exchange can also result from more accurate predictions about uncertain consequences or from differential knowledge of the terms of exchange (which in turn could stem from genetic differences in this particular 'talent' or differences in training or, more often, from different access to relevant information)."
As Lanham notes, in bureaucratic prose like this, you never know who is doing what to whom; agents and actions are obscured beneath heaps of abstract nouns. But that sentence was easier to digest than many. Try this one:
"Suppose in place of top-down central planning and competitive market exchange, we opt for cooperative, informed decision-making via structures that ensure actors a say in decisions in proportion as outcomes affect them and that provide access to accurate valuations as well as appropriate training and confidence to develop and communicate preferences--that is, we opt for allocation that fosters council-centered participatory self-management, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, proper valuations of collective and ecological impacts, and classlessness."
This is a defense of participatory economics written as if by a government policy wonk. For a clearer, more concise and effective defense, I'd turn to Hahnel.
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I found the writing style tedious.Read more