Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From Market Socialism to Technoholodemocracy

Before we continue, let´s analyze a definition of Market Socialism, the one provided by Wikipedia, the example of non-profit collaborative effort in the Internet, as of today: 
Market socialism refers to various economic systems where the means of production are publicly owned, managed and operated for a profit in a market economy. The profit generated in a market socialist system would be used to directly remunerate employees or go toward public finance. Theoretically, the fundamental difference between a traditional socialist economy and a market socialist economy is the existence of a market for the means of production and capital goods under market socialism.
It is correct to affirm that marksoc refers to various proposed economic systems, since each author interested seems to have his own variation, but all hover around a central theme.  The Wikipedian definition centers too much in the "market" aspect of marksoc, and this is understandable, because the existence of a free market is what differentiates this system from Central Planned Socialism, the commonly known type of socialism of which we had real-life examples in the 20th Century.

However, the definition translates the "socialist" part of the equation directly into the words "the means of production are publicly owned".  This mistaken phrase derivate from the description of Capitalism as a system where the means of production are privately owned without referencing the rationale behind the right of the owners to receive profits.   As we know, profits are the reward received for a successful investment (of capital), regardless of the amount of work that the investor personally contributed (or not) to produce those profits.  Without this consideration, the opposition to Capitalism appears to be the opposition to the private character of ownership, when in fact Socialist advocates want to distribute the fruits of labor in a different manner than the typical Capitalist configuration of rents for resources; wages for workers; and  profits for investors.   In the case of  market socialism, ownership can be public (at community or State level) or private (the workers are owners), but the product or service will always be gauged in the market, and the profits will not be paid to non-working private investors.  This being said, it is common to understand private ownership as being equivalent to capitalist ownership when we include the concept of “wages” in the same discussion, but I prefer to maintain a clear set of definitions to prevent mistakes (such as conflating public with a collective, or a private cooperative with the commons).

As we saw in my last post, David Schweickart differentiates between marksoc and a specific kind of which he (and me) is partisan: “worker-self-managed” market socialism.  We will call this particular version woc-marksoc (Worker-Owned-Companies´ Market Socialism), since ownership will mostly imply that the workers manage their own work process.   

The main characteristics of this system can be resumed as follows:
  •  Each company is owned by the people working on them.  They manage the company and decide how to distribute the income of the company net of production costs, excepting wages, which are now included in the net income with the profits, since workers will receive both. 
  • Companies compete with each other in a free market of good and services.  
  • The State mediates in the cases of market failure, and helps to create new companies through the financial system, composed of banks that are cooperatives in themselves.  The State can also own companies.  

The positive (and negative) effects of this system will be throroughly analyzed in this blog, but we can already visualize the most obvious of them: an increase in competition under a woc-marksoc scheme will spur innovation and decrease unemployment; self-management will improve workers` satisfaction and self-worth;  the resultant reduction of inequality could greatly reduce violent crime, class discrimination, and even divorce (since most of it has economic roots).

Once done the conceptual jump towards a system that can supersede capitalism, there is only one way to go, and it is forward.  The Argentine-Canadian intellectual Mario Bunge takes woc-marksoc as a base for a more comprehensive system which would include not only the economic facet of social life but also the biologic, cultural and environmental aspects of society. Bunge calls this starting point “authentic socialism”, a system on which the means of production, commerce and credit are cooperatively owned, and on which there is full democracy in the workplace.  This is closer to my conception of woc-marksoc than the generally accepted convention of socialism as a classless society with collective ownership.  However, he finds this “authentic socialism” to be desirable but insufficient, since ignores the necessity of national and international-level cooperation between companies alongside regulated competition, doesn't occupy itself with the State`s inherent tasks (security, health, etc.) and it is limited to the particular economic sphere of social life.  Instead of the particular addition of economic democracy to an already existing system of political democracy, Bunge proposes an expanded kind called “technoholodemocracy”.

In his words, this technoholodemocracy is “the equality of opportunities through biologic equality (sex and race), participative democracy, cooperative ownership, self-management, technical skills and the free access to culture” (Bunge, 1998, p. 435, my translation from Spanish version).  It is a “qualified equality”, a balanced mix between equality and meritocracy (see here).  I suspect that Bunge wants to somehow eliminate the pervasive problem of inter-generational social and cultural capital, which depends on established relationships that act as a ceiling for those people that cannot participate in the right social circles.  After all, many of the richest cooperatives in a woc-marksoc system would probably be populated by those professionals that already have an edge in current capitalism, letting those below them in a better position than before but still without clear possibilities of progress related to potential individual capabilities, meaning that each person would still suffer or gain according to his previous social connections and access to culture. Technoholodemocracy also addresses a problem that I tend to disregard too quickly: even woc competition cannot ensure that environmental degradation will stop without a collective effort.  In his words: “we need a social or controlled market rather than the free market”.  He asserts that this can be achieved with a relatively small State, since full employment, cultural access and autonomous and voluntary organizations would make a large bureaucracy mostly irrelevant, letting to the State the task of coordinating the system.  It almost sounds like the wet dream of both communists and libertarians, without being any of them.

This Utopian exercise is fun and useful to determinate where we want to go in the end, but we must come back to the practical problems at hands´ distance.  We must analyze all possible issues to be presented against our woc-marksoc model and we must find ways to foster the transition to that system without any kind of magic revolution.  Given the current turbulent economic and political juncture, it is our task as intellectuals to be ready when the time comes, because it seems more than ever that elite and the masses will be looking for an answer, and we must be there with the “book” in our hands to gave everybody a chance, to put society in the safe path of Democracy and far away of any tempting authoritarian solution that could lead society into chaos.

BUNGE, Mario (1998): “Social Science under Debate: A Philosophical Perspective”, University of Toronto Press Incorporated.

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