Michael Albert: US writer, activist and economist, co-founder of ZMag and t ZNet, author of "Realizing Hope. Life Beyond Capitalism" and "Parecon" ("Participatory Economics")
Twenty years ago Michael Albert already developed an alternative economic system. It offers not only an alternative to capitalism but also to a centrally planned socialism and a so called bio-regionalism, the idea that regions should function autonomous from each other. Albert calls the economic alternative “participatory economics”. Instead of pushing inequality and competition the economy should be designed to further solidarity and mutual help. To achieve this aim four institutional commitments are necessary, says Albert: Workers and consumers self-managing councils, equitable enumeration for the ratio of intensity and onerousness of socially valued labor, balanced job complexes and participatory planning. The overarching goal must be classlessness. Participatory economics not only want to get rid of markets and the 2-percent-owner-class as driving forces behind the economy but also the 20-percent-coordinator-class of engineers, lawyers or managers who monopolize all the empowering tasks in society. These tasks should be spread over the whole population.
Even before the financial and economic crisis in 2008 capitalism has been in crisis. “The difference between this crisis and the always-crisis is that this crisis is affecting the powerful and the rich also, which is why it is talked about and publicly discussed, why there has to be an agenda to deal with it. Before this mess, right, there were still, I don´t know, 10 million people a year dying of preventable death around the world, probably more than a hundred million dying of preventable disease and of starvation and so on”, says Albert. The suffering of many people also in leading industrial societies like the US where many live under the poverty line is not a result of the financial crash although it has tightened the situation for working people. At the same time the governments react to the crisis by bringing the elites back to their old positions who are sometimes better off than before. An alternative solution for the crisis would be an economy with real justice and fairness. Hence, protests and movements should focus on alternatives and accordingly formulate their demands.
Building up an economic alternative creates necessarily a set of problems, says Albert. That could be seen in Argentina. Hundreds of firms were taken over by workers in the wake of the economic downturn in 2001. Albert talks about encounters with a number of workers in Argentina who took over bankrupt firms abandoned by their owners and the coordinator class. While workers managed to get the plants back to work the take overs did not end up with a real alternative. In only a few years hierarchies and alienations showed up again, workers complain. But the reason for this development has nothing to do with human nature, says Albert. The problem was instead: The firms kept to the old division of labor and markets. A new class of coordinators took over and created again hierarchies while markets increased inequalities. These old institution have to be dismantled, too, and replaced by alternatives. Participatory endeavors should also be connected and focused on a shared goal to make them sustainable in creating an economy for the future.