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The Political Economy of Participatory Economics [Hardcover]

Michael Albert , Robin Hahnel

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Book Description

6 May 1991

With the near bankruptcy of centrally planned economies now apparent and with capitalism seemingly incapable of generating egalitarian outcomes in the first world and economic development in the third world, alternative approaches to managing economic affairs are an urgent necessity. Until now, however, descriptions of alternatives have been unconvincing. Here Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel support the libertarian socialist tradition by presenting a rigorous, well-defined model of how producers and consumers could democratically plan their interconnected activities.

After explaining why hierarchical production, inegalitarian consumption, central planning, and market allocations are incompatible with "classlessness," the authors present an alternative model of democratic workers' and consumers' councils operating in a decentralized, social planning procedure. They show how egalitarian consumption and job complexes in which all engage in conceptual as well as executionary labor can be efficient. They demonstrate the ability of their planning procedure to yield equitable and efficient outcomes even in the context of externalities and public goods and its power to stimulate rather than subvert participatory impulses. Also included is a discussion of information management and how simulation experiments can substantiate the feasibility of their model.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (6 May 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691042748
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691042749
  • Product Dimensions: 24.8 x 16.5 x 1.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,364,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
We seek an economy that distributes the duties and benefits of social labor fairly; that involves members in decision making in proportion to the degree they are affected by outcomes; that develops human potentials for creativity, cooperation, and empathy; and that utilizes human and natural resources efficiently in the world we really inhabit-an ecological world filled with complicated mixtures of public and private efforts. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A key text defining an alternative to capitalism. 6 July 2002
By disidente - Published on Amazon.com
Is there an alternative to the exploitation,
boss domination, environmental havoc, dog-eat-dog
competition and other
ills of capitalism? "Well Soviet central
planning was tried and that failed," you say?
Hahnel and Albert argue that there is a third
alternative -- Participatory Economics or
ParEcon. (The other reviewer's description of
ParEcon is an inaccurate caricature.)
This book provides a concise introduction to
an economic model that is neither Soviet-style
central-planning nor based on the market. The
critique of both markets and central planning is
written clearly. At the same time, this book
contains formal proofs of the economic adequacy
of their model, and is therefore, in parts,
more technical than most of Albert and Hahnel's other
little books like "Moving Forward."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Parecon for economists 28 Nov 2007
By M. A. Krul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The short tract "The Political Economy of Participatory Economics" seems mostly to have been intended as a 'formal' statement and modelling of Parecon for the academic economist public. The first half of the work restates the case for Parecon in a summary, sort of academic way - for more on this, see Parecon: Life After Capitalism. Then, in response to a challenge by Allen Buchanan that nobody has been able to model an alternative to capitalist market economies yet, Albert & Hahnel create a modelling formula of the principles of Parecon, which they dub the "FMPE" (Formal Modelling of a Participatory Economy). This is highly superfluous on its own, given that it just mathematizes what they have already accessibly described in words, but it is a reflection of the sad state economics as a discipline is in that Albert & Hahnel have no choice but to do this if they want to get through to people in that field. Most important and useful here is the way Albert & Hahnel integrate their endogenous preferences theory, developed in their book Quiet Revolution in Welfare Economics, which will be of interest to heterodox economists.

Along the way, they also address some concerns about the feasibility of their plans, though not any of the more serious objections: their moral hatred of hierarchy leading them to dismiss central planning for no real reason, the degree of bureaucracy involved in their council system which seems to easily surpass that of central planning systems, and the way in which their ideas for consumers' councils greatly seems to exaggerate people's capacity to understand and formulate their own preferences. Then there's the issue that such councils would have to be quite intrusive, as nothing could be bought or sold without councils knowing about it, so that all know about the private life of all in at least that respect. Albert & Hahnel go extremely far in their egalitarianism as well, even proposing to pay more to less competent people who undertake more effort in sports, not just at the top level, but all the way down. But at the same time, they don't seem to have realized that their council system still greatly favors people who are more talented at formulating their preferences and demands over people who are shy, lack self-knowledge, are uncertain about their life-goals, etc.

None of the above objections need defeat the proposal, but I do think Parecon needs an extra round of tinkering or two, with more ideas from more traditional socialist models put in instead of the rather overly egalitarian and optimistic proposal as it stands now. And it's telling that even an absolutely convinced socialist like me would accuse them of those things, precisely the faults socialism in general is often accused of by right-wing philistines; therefore, I may be wrong and underestimating people (as well as Albert & Hahnel), but it's also possible that Parecon as it is now is too much of a good thing.

In any case this booklet is probably not the first one one would want to buy to understand Parecon and the arguments about it, since this is really mostly aimed at economists. The book "Parecon" itself (link above) as well as Moving Forward: Program for a Participatory Economy might be a better buy for that.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Better World is Possible!: Alternative to both Capitalism and to Centrally-Planned Communism 5 July 2009
By a reader - Published on Amazon.com
In my early years as an anti-capitalist, I experienced despair because of the negative outcomes in centrally planned "communist" countries. I knew capitalism was causing tons of suffering all over the world, but it seemed that nations which utilized central-planning style "communism" also caused tons of suffering. Was a better world impossible?

Then a friend told me about Parecon (abbreviation of participatory economics) and my life changed.

Finally, here is a viable alternative economic system! And it is described in explicit detail. It's not just a bunch of empty rhetoric about how we should have an economy based on equity, classlessness, non-hierarchy, participatory democracy, self-management, etc. It is a specific and detailed map of how such an economy can operate.

Unlike capitalism, parecon is equitable and non-exploitative. Unlike centrally-planned communism, parecon is democratically planned and non-hierarchal. (And as the reviewer "disidente" already mentioned, the reviewer "Gary" who gave this book one star is describing Parecon incorrectly.)

Parecon has many supporters amongst anarchists and libertarian-communists, because it is a vision for an economic system which embodies many of the ideals of anarchism and libertarian-communism - values such as those mentioned earlier: equity, classlessness, non-hierarchy, participatory democracy, and self-management. However, the Parecon is not officially affiliated with any particular political orientation. Even if you don't know what anarchism or libertarian-communism means you can still understand and appreciate Parecon on its own terms.

Parecon also has a political vision to accompany it, parpolity (abbreviation of participatory polity), conceived of by political science professor Stephen R. Shalom. And then there is also parsoc (abbreviation of participatory society) which is a vision for a fully participatory society, addressing issues of economics, politics, "race" and culture, gender and kinship, etc. (See: Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century)

This particular book, "The Political Economy of Participatory Economics", is written for those who have studied economics and have a good understand of economic jargon and mathematics. If this is not you, I highly recommend reading Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century, which explains Parecon thoroughly but in a way that the average person can understand.
8 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I will, I won't, decide my indecision. 9 Feb 2002
By Gary - Published on Amazon.com
I buy a product because I find it useful and if someone makes something better then I spend my money on that instead. There's a simplicity to that system I can understand. Instead, these guys say classlessness is more important, so dump the market and have a committee of self managing workers decide on the product's worth and then mediate and refine their desires in the light of feedback by other committees taking into account issues of classlessness, race and environmental impact. Pay will be decided on the basis of who has made the most effort and sacrifice in making the product. As far as books are concerned, the committee of self participatory workers will decide the worth of the book and whether or not it is worth making the neccessary sacrifice to make the book and then presumably send it to the printers so they can have a meeting as to whether they wish to participate in printing the book and send back their imput as to their desires and the commitee will have another participatory self managing meeting to take this into account and come to a mutually beneficial agreement on whether or not to proceed. This simpler system falls apart over one unanswerable question. What the hell are we going to do about Oliver Stone?
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