1. Does “participatory economics (Parecon)” represent a model for the future?
Yes. Parecon aims to replace capitalism and 20th century socialism. Its key values are solidarity, diversity, equity, and self management. Its key institutions are workers and consumers self managing councils, a new division of labor called balanced job complexes where we all do a fair share of empowering and disempowering tasks, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work rather than for property, power, or even output, and a new mode of collective, cooperative negotiation of economic outcomes called participatory planning.
With these choices, parecon attains classlessness by eliminating not only the “property monopoly” on owning means of production that establishes a class of capitalists above workers, but also the “empowerment monopoly” on tasks that convey confidence, knowledge, access to daily decision making, social connections, etc., that establishes what I call the coordinator class above workers.
2. How can we combine parecon’s vision for a classless and self managing society with the tasks of today?
Having a vision for the economy allows one to know what it means to embody the seeds of the future in the present by making the seeds evident. We can make demands that address pain and suffering now, but that also lead toward the structures of the future like balanced job complexes, truly equitable remuneration, or self management. This affects not only how we talk about things because we discuss not just our immediate aims, but also affects our long run one aims as well, and also what we seek to win today, and how we structure ourselves so that our organizations are prepared to fight on to win the full society we seek.
3. Is it possible for participatory economics to put an end to the dehumanizing failures and injustices of today's free-market capitalism?
Insofar as the dehumanization is due to inequitable circumstances, grossly unequal wealth, constricted life options, people constantly fleecing one another, decisions made by few against many, skewed choices that preserve class hierarchies, sexist and racist violations, despoiled environment, and other related denials of human potential – the answer is yes, parecon can overcome all of that not just by saying it will do so, or by sincerely wanting to do so, but by having institutions which literally rule out such results.
At the same time that parecon’s institutions facilitate people producing for social and personal need, they also generate solidarity, ensure diversity, respect the environment, and convey self managing influence. They eliminate the basis for class division and class rule, and for any unjust apportionment of rewards or burdens.
4. How do you consider the demands of social movements such as Occupy Wall Street in the US and London, or Indignados in Spain and Greece?
I think for the most part they have not had explicit widely shared demands. Rather they have cried out for change, they have assembled for change, and in some cases, they have established important projects for change. I think that all that is very good, but I would hope that if parecon could find wide support in such constituencies, it would facilitate and propel not only shared vision, but also shared program for the present.
5. What makes IOPS different from other so called revolutionary organizations?
The International Organization for a Participatory Society, which is very young and not even standing upright yet, doesn’t elevate some single side of life above the rest, but instead takes on issues of race, gender, power, economic class, ecology, and international relations all as central and entwined. It offers clear visionary commitments regarding all these sides of life as part of its central definition. It is conceived to respect, celebrate, and benefit from internal dissent, not to split at every dispute. And, perhaps most of all, it is conceived to deliver self managing influence and power to all its components, both its chapters and its individual members, such that people have a say in decisions proportionate to the degree they will be affected by those decisions. IOPS is far from what I hope will be its full flowering, but it already has promise of being something quite new, I think.
6. Is it possible for “direct democracy” and “self management” to be achieved in a social environment of political alienation and political authoritarianism?
This is a hard and extremely important question. If you mean can we achieve full and wholly worthy self management as we will know it in a future society that is structured precisely to deliver that desirable aim – then the answer is, sadly, no. The reality of contemporary life, in two ways, interferes.
First, of course, and usually emphasized, there is the remorseless, relentless, repressive behavior of contemporary elites defending themselves and the difficulties of combatting that.
But second, and I actually think the harder of the two problems, there are our own inadequacies. There is the fact that having grown up in alienated contexts we have developed habits, insecurities, arrogances, prejudices, and one could go on, that would not exist in a truly self managing setting, and all this baggage makes participating in a fully successful and wise self managing approach very hard. In truth, as your question hints, we are not yet people prepared for and even fully able to carry off self management, now.
But the sad truth that we can’t attain a fully self managing and wise condition as yet is no reason not to do vastly better than is the current norm, thus moving toward the ultimate aim. The relevant insight, I think, is that we have to move forward understanding that there will be flaws and failings, fights and frustrations. We have to be prepared to nurture, endure, and clean up the impact of our flaws, without recriminations, as we proceed. That much is not impossible. It is essential.