One of the analogies Michael Albert uses in thinking of a new economic such as Parecon, is the “desert island” scenario. What happens when the surviving passengers from a ship reach dry land. People with various capabilities and skills – The doctor, the mathematician, the millionaire, the boss of the corporation, the carpenter, the warehouse man, the waitress…. Does the millionaire, after swimming to shore, reach for the nearest hammock and say, “I don’t need to work, I am a millionaire”? Does the doctor join him and say, “there is no one sick yet, I need not work”? Does the waitress run around serving everyone while the carpenter builds the shelter?
Probably not, at that stage in time the value hierarchy would reverse. For – what good is a millionaire on a desert island? Whereas a carpenter could produce, maybe even life saving possibilities, by the use of his or her skills, in designing and constructing a shelter. So, should the carpenter head for the hammock and say. If you pay me well I may build a house for you? No of course not. They all would have to dig in and decide on the allocation of work to be done by each, if they are to survive. New skills would need to be learned and decisions made by each of the group, could be crucial for their survival.
There is nothing stopping people from creating their own institutions, their own conventions in how they work, their own value systems. To actually state this obvious fact is to remind oneself of how far society has been locked into the ridged structure that forms the present status quo. Yes, it is true that there have been reforms made attempting to balance the inequality of the capitalist system. Seemingly new freedoms in how we work, new initiatives, new flexibility appeared. But examined closely, most of these reforms can be seen to be still safely locked into the cycle of capitalist principals, and are more than likely to be a hindrance to progressive economics because of the time and effort expended in trying to make them work.
If one takes nothing else away from the examination of the idea of participatory economics, it is how incredibly bad the system of capitalism has got. We are feeding a smaller and smaller elite of people with more and more of our wealth. As those at the top get more bloated on the wealth of the land, those below them are getting hungry and angry. But we can’t fight this system by the systems own rules. We would never win. What we need is a system, or the tools to change a system that will encompass as Albert would say,”values that we hold dear”. Capitalism has nowhere to go apart from devouring us – then itself. We can’t afford to wait and watch that happen.