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Of the People, By the People Paperback – 30 Aug 2012
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About the Author
Robin Hahnel is professor emeritus of economics at American University in Washington DC. He is author of "Economic Justice and Democracy";" Green Economics"; and "Of the People, By the People: The Case for a Participatory Economy".
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I'm so disappointed. I had great hopes for Parecon, but now I can't see how it would work, or how it could be brought in. Not enough people would vote for this complex, strange system. If one other election candidate said "I'll cut taxes", he's get all the votes.
Hahnel starts off with introducing some of the key goals/values of a participatory economy: economic justice, economic democracy and sustainability - and explores more precisely what we mean by each of them. He then moves on to presenting the four key institutions of the model: self-managed worker and consumer councils, jobs balanced by empowerment and desirability, fair income based on effort/sacrifice, and a cooperative participatory planning procedure. The final part of the book explores strategies and paths we could take to get from here to a future participatory economy.
The hundreds of thousands around the world protesting against the injustices of capitalism are quite rightly asked 'what is your alternative?', and if we are to win a better world, we will need a mass movement of people united around a shared vision of what it is they are fighting for. Hahnel's book is a significant contribution towards providing a coherent and compelling answer to that question. I couldn't recommend it highly enough.
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The author makes it very clear that the principles and concepts presented are theory. As such, they are subject to ongoing scrutiny, analysis and updates based on new information, insight, and the changing needs of society.
The author makes it very clear that a participatory economy will be difficult and challenging in the early years. He is not presenting a "Utopian" vision. Rather, he is presenting a realistic, democratic economy and way of living that will result in a society based on freedom, democracy, equality and cooperation ... in contrast to the exploitative, coercive, controlling, and undemocratic nature of capitalism.
One big reason why this taboo still holds sway has been the longstanding absence of an alternative to markets, and the necessity for the forging of a viable AND humane alternative. "You can't fight something with nothing" writes Robin Hahnel in his most recent book "Of The People, By The People: The Case for a Participatory Economy." For more than 20 years, Robin Hahnel has advocated in various fora and many books the anti-corporate, anti-market, anti-command-planning (i.e., anti-communist) model of economics known as "parecon" (participatory economics). This book represents the latest effort to get the ideas behind the model to as wide an audience as possible -- what the model is, why it's needed, how it would works, why he think it can work in a viable and human manner in real life, and how the model can be implemented. The book has a lot going for it: Like all of Hahnel's books, it is very clearly written and persuasively argued. Plus, it is much shorter than Hahnel's previous works (it's only about 150 pages long) and full of many more pithy and quotable remarks sprinkled throughout the book which made it engaging to read. Many activists, or even folks who stumble upon the book in a book store or online, who might be intrigued by the cover but otherwise be turned away because of a book advocating participatory economics might be deemed too long or too technical can now find themselves spending -- dare I say it -- an enjoyable evening or two reading "Of the People, By The People".
This book represents the latest book-length presentation of the model of participatory economics, and therein lies one possible problem. Many who have read the literature on participatory economics may think that this is just another rehash of the same points. Having read the literature on parecon and having read this book, I would respond back: (1) Repeated messages that are worthy of being repeated _need_ to be repeated if they're _not_ being repeated elsewhere (and they almost certainly aren't regarding parecon, even among dissident media). (2) "Of The People, By The People" didn't _feel_ to me like a rehash, a credit no doubt to the efforts to make this book as readable as possible for as wide an audience as possible.
Chapter 18 ("From Here To There") lists five areas of work necessary for making "system change" (the five areas are economic reform movements, experiments in equitable cooperation, electoral strategy, defending attacks, more concrete proposals). I myself would propose a sixth area -- the building and use of an independent media infrastructure which serve as a connective glue among all these efforts and as a rival to the corporate media (who, I should add, are increasingly leaving the game of what could be construed as journalism or even news coverage). Media are critical because, as recent research shows, you need to reach a 10% threshold in a population in order for an idea or notion (e.g, parecon) to take hold in a wider community. If that 10% threshold is _not_ met, the idea will _never_ take wider hold. It's debatable as to whether or not 10% of activists -- never mind the general public -- have even heard of participatory economics, putting aside if they agree with it and would take action around it. In order to reach that threshold, a media infrastructure will be necessary to help break the taboo of critiquing or abolishing markets.