New Models, Same Problems?

Thoughts on Michael Albert, Robin Hahnel and Erik Wright

Practical Utopia (2017) by Michael Albert manifests the dreams of a just alternative economic model, with great care and remarkable plausibility. Throughout his writing, Albert argues against homogeneity, demanding economic justice, income distribution, sustainability and international success (2017:51-57) instead. With the current capitalist framework, these goals are all attainable, but only for a select few. Albert envisions a system where labor is a mix of benefit and burden (51), remuneration is a fundamental right for those that do not work, and adjusted for those that do work, based on intensity and duration (52). Through participatory economics, otherwise known as parecon, self-managing institutions foster solidarity and diversity in pursuit of a classless society.

    Albert’s hope for balanced job labor and consumer councils is shared by Robin Hahnel (2016) in Alternatives to Capitalism. An advocate for substituting the markets with “participatory planning” (Hahnel 2016:4), Hahnel understands that this long-running goal is only achievable with the support of a majority of the democratic populous. Like Albert, Hahnel trusts that implementing egalitarian economic distribution will dismantle material inequality based on power, luck, talents, and contributions; he refers to this as “humane economy” (10). But it’s Hahnel’s implementation of “balanced jobs” and “household consumption” that separates him from his market socialist colleague, Erik Wright.

Hahnel and Wright agree on a plethora of general parecon ideals: income reflecting effort, democratic engagement by those directly affected by policy, and ousting capitalism. But their strategic differences showcase the uncertainty involved in manifesting an alternative economy. Rather than eliminating the markets entirely, Wright is unconvinced that a sole parecon model will be sufficient nor accurately reflect the needs of local and transnational communities. With a transitional strategy in mind, Wright proposes a mix of participatory planning, state regulation and tamed markets that returns control to the people (Wright 2016:11). Should we adjust what we have, or start from scratch with an entirely new system? Today’s healthcare debate mirrors this same question, with establishment Democrats aiming to improve the ACA, while their more progressive colleagues fight for a new Single Payer insurance policy. Granted, this is a conversation within the capitalist structure; Wright’s approach is reminiscent of reformism, while Hahnel’s distrust of the market fuels his forceful overthrow. Magnifying the holes in Hahnle’s parecon-run reality, Wright questions how we’ll enforce balancing jobs, measuring consumption and expecting economic efficiency without markets. Even going as far as comparing the worker’s councils and adjustments procedures outlined by Hahnel, as markets in their own right. But Hahnel’s convictions remain supportive of the individual worker’s councils that would foster community dialogue and national debate. It’s this inter-personal dialogue within the appointed councils that will empower the community to fairly address pay, consumption and other needs. But how do we know that implementation of the parecon model, won’t fall prey to the same opportunistic and greedy ventures of human nature ?

Leave a Reply