Yesterday, Wednesday, we sent a mailing about the paperback edition of
parecon. At that time, the book was 1,871,970th on the Amazon sales
list. That is not so good, though it is interesting that they have that
many titles. 
At the sending of this message, however, on Thursday, the paperback
Parecon is at 783 on Amazon. That's much better! 

We can't yet say don't be the last one on your street or in your
workplace or on your campus to read about parecon -- but, maybe we can
get there, with your help!
I mentioned in yesterday's letter that there had been reviews submitted
various places in the U.S., though not published, and a number of people
promptly asked for the content and history of those reviews. 

We have posted all the reviews, comments, etc. that we have ourselves
seen, including many responses, on the Parecon book page
(http://www.zmag.org/ParEcon/pelac.htm). It turns out there are many
many more comments about parecon that can be found via Google. Indeed, I
was flabbergasted to discover, also yesterday, that a Google search for
"parecon" returns 20,000 pages. In any event, here are two of the
reviews of the book Parecon: Life After Capitalism, both of them
submitted to but rejected by The Progressive, The Nation, and ITT, as
well as some more local venues in the U.S.
If these reviews cause you to want find out more about the Parecon, here
are relevant links to more information or to get the book yourself. I
hope you will!
    The Parecon book page includes comments, reviews,
    excerpts, some interviews and debates, 
    and also links to purchase the book:
    The Amazon Link for purchasing is at:
    I know, the link is absurd. You can also just go to Amazon and 
    search parecon, and then click for the paperback edition. 
    The AK Press Link is at:
    The Verso link is at:
    A guide to local independent bookstores is at:

And here are the two reviews...
Review of Parecon
By Chris Spannos
"Life After Capitalism", the phrase catapults the imagination into
visions of what a good society might look like. It's also the title of
Michael Albert's latest book in which he outlines a vision for a
'participatory economy'. As Noam Chomsky says, Michael Albert's work
"merits close attention, debate and action". Albert's book proposes
radical transformation, and has far reaching implications. From
anti-corporate globalization activist's rejection of vast disparities in
wealth and power, to the World Social Forum movement's demand that
"Another world is possible!", Parecon is an important contribution to
the broad efforts working to change the world. Whether an economist,
activist, or someone simply interested in these issues, Albert's clearly
written style, depth of information, well organized format, and easy to
understand logic will appeal to a wide audience.
Michael Albert is a longtime activist, speaker, and writer. He is
coeditor and cofounder of Z Magazine, ZNet, and South End Press, all
world renowned contributions to diverse Left literature, thought and
activism. He has written numerous articles and books, many with Robin
Hahnel, professor of political economy at American University in
Washington DC, with whom Albert forged the participatory economic
Drawing a thumbnail sketch, parecon generates a feasible and desirable
economic plan that distributes the burdens and benefits of social labor
fairly. Participants have decision making input in proportion to the
degree they are affected, human and natural resources are used
efficiently, providing a variety of outcomes, and human potential, which
might otherwise lay dormant, is universally explored.
"Parecon: Life After Capitalism" is born out of numerous efforts. As
Albert indicates, it "emerges from many engagements over the years and
reflects lessons from actual experience with work life, teaching,
organizing, public speaking, dealing with questions in online forums on
ZNet, and of course trying to work through the model in new ways as new
insights, questions, and explorations arise."
His previous writings on economics have challenged, head on, the
foundations of economic theory, it's weaknesses, and spelled out
possible ways forward. Of all his writings, two works in particular
deserve attention here. In 1991 Albert, with Hahnel, published two
complimentary texts simultaneously, "Looking Forward: Participatory
Economics for the Twenty First Century" (South End Press), a
comprehensive and detailed outline of their ideas, and second, "The
Political Economy of Participatory Economics" (Princeton University
Press), a technical application, of the same ideas, aimed at economists.

Published in the wake following the collapse of the Soviet Block, these
two books directly challenged determinist declarations of "the triumph
of capitalism", and assertions that we had reached "the end of history".
They cast off the Thatcherite ideology claiming that "there is no
alternative" (TINA), and instead of expressing defeat or consent these
two books pushed for a vision of a participatory economy. As Albert
says, "Parecon: Life After Capitalism" "is my best effort to motivate,
describe, elaborate, and defend the vision."
Parecon is an economic vision which, as Michael is always quick to point
out, is only one piece of the puzzle. He hopes others will contribute to
the vision by elaborating complimentary community, culture, kinship,
political, and ecological visions. Though it is a vision of the future,
parecon is in the tradition of libertarian Left and popular social
movements, of past and present. In his introduction Albert clearly sees
a connection between the Paris Commune, Anarchists in the Spanish Civil
War, and the Australian "Green Bans" of the past. He also points to the
similarity of contemporary experimentation with participatory budgeting
in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Kerala, India. Interested readers should
also note that there are a number of self conscious experiments using
parecon principles within the workplace in Winnipeg, Boston, and New
York. These are only a handful of examples with many more similar
instances in co-ops, collectives, and worker owned enterprises, around
the world. The difference, as Albert notes, is that participatory
economics "provides a new economic logic including new institutions with
new guiding norms and implications...What parecon can contribute to this
heritage and to today's activism will be revealed, one way or another,
in the coming years".
The book is peppered with quotes, aphorisms and proverbs. From
economists such as Adam Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes and Robinson, to
philosophers and dissidents Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Bertrand
Russell. You'll even find insightful descriptions of the "absurdity of
consumption under capitalism" by science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin.
The book begins developing the parecon vision by determining what an
economy is, identifying desirable values, and then evaluating diverse
economic systems. This will be an important first step for anyone who is
dissatisfied with already existing economic options and seeking
alternatives. However, it is suggested that readers read the entire book
to get a full picture of how parecon's defining institutions, features,
and procedures interact, so as to get a full understanding of the whole
Albert defines an economy as a set of institutions concerned with
production, allocation, and consumption. More specifically, he details
divisions of labor, remuneration, and decision making. He explores the
key features, and dynamics of an economy, such as public or private
property, markets, central, or horizontal planning, class structure, and
class interactions. From these, Albert identifies five different types
of economies -- capitalism, market socialism, centrally planned
communism, bio-regionalism, and his model of a participatory economy. He
studies each of these systems, and by using the values of equity,
self-management, diversity, solidarity, and efficiency as guiding
criteria, explores their "impact on human outcomes and prospects, and
whether we like the impacts or not."
The resulting evaluation is a thorough condemnation of capitalism,
central planning, market socialism and bio-regionalism. It's also the
initial outline of parecon, of social rather than private ownership,
nested worker and consumer council's and balanced job complexes rather
than corporate hierarchy, remuneration for effort and sacrifice rather
than for property, power, or output, participatory planning rather than
markets or central planning, and self-management rather than class rule.
The "balanced job complex" is a fundamental, and original, feature of
parecon. It is a redefinition of our concept of work. Basically, jobs
would be reorganized so that everyone has an equal set of both
empowering and un-empowering tasks. Jobs are balanced within each work
place and across work places. Balancing jobs within work places is done
"to prevent the organization and assignment of tasks from preparing some
workers better than others to participate in decision-making at the
workplace", or what would be the result of our standard work place
corporate division of labor. Balancing work across work places is
equally necessary so that "disempowering and menial work places" are not
ruled by empowering ones. The outcome of the participatory balanced job
complex is "that every individual..is...involved in both conception and
execution tasks, with comparable empowerment and quality of life
circumstances for all."
Another key element is remunerative justice, or pay for effort and
sacrifice. This method of pay insures that unequal outcomes are not
produced and reproduced, due to ownership of the means of production,
bargaining power, output, genetic endowment, talent, skill, better
tools, more productive coworkers, environment, inheritance, or luck.
Albert argues that these methods of remuneration are inequitable, and
"reward people for what does not deserve reward..." Of all these factors
people control only their effort. So, effort and sacrifice is the
remunerative norm in parecon, tempered by need as "appropriate in cases
of illness, catastrophe, incapacity", etc.
Participants are organized into federations of workers and consumers
councils who negotiate allocation through "decentralized participatory
planning". Workers and consumers make proposals about what they want to
produce and consume, how much they want, the inputs needed, and the
social costs and benefits of their choices. "Iteration Facilitation
Boards" (IFB) generate "indicative prices", using both quantitative and
qualitative information, which is used by workers and consumers to
update their proposals for further rounds of iterations. The IFB
whittles proposals down to a workable plan within five to seven
iterative rounds.
No doubt this model will go against the deeply held belief that "there
is no third way". One of the most influential proponents of such a
belief is the late British economist Alec Nove. Nove, in his book "The
Economics of Feasible Socialism", argues that for allocating goods and
services throughout society, we can only have two choices, markets or
central planning. These are two systems which Albert clearly rejects
and, after reviewing Nove's argument, continues to lay the ground work
demonstrating the feasibility of a participatory economy.
Albert challenges Nove's assertion, "His only evidence is to pile up
indications of what no one doubts in the first place: ...that allocation
is complex and important. Nove's presentation argues only from
necessity. It must be that there is no third way because it must be that
there is no third way...With this mindset...we would never have advanced
beyond the institutions of the Pharaoh's egypt." Moreover, in response
to those who think that attaining a better economy is a waste of time,
should be reserved to histories garbage bin, is a pipe dream, or that
such efforts detract from other useful pursuits, Albert responds that a
person could desire a new economic system but "feel that regrettably
there is no combination of institutions that could possibly bring about
better outcomes. Any effort to improve economic solidarity, equity,
justice, self-management, etc., would (a) fall short of our intentions,
and/or (b) cause so much loss of output and/or of other desired
outcomes...that the gains it did attain...would be far outweighed by
countervailing losses...This is the real logic of Alec Nove's position
and also of ...Thatcher's famous assertion that 'there is no
alternative'". He adds that anyone in their right mind should never
utter any such phrases gleefully, and compellingly compares such
determinations to declarations of TINA about slavery, child labour,
overwhelming illiteracy, short life spans, vast disparities in wealth,
power, dictatorship, etc. After reading this, one wonders why we haven't
implemented parecon, or some other better system, yet and what's
stopping us from doing so.
After a further detailed outline of allocation, Albert turns to
descriptions of "Daily Life in a Participatory Economy". The purpose is
to provide a variety of hypothetical scenarios detailing more specific
instances, and providing texture for imagining what life might be like
living within a parecon. The fictional "Northstart Press", is a direct
spin on the name of the real book publishing enterprise, "South End
Press", which he helped create, "I start with publishing because my own
experience of helping found and define South End Press was impacted by
and in turn enriched my understanding of participatory economic work
place relations." He then describes Northstart's balanced job complexes,
workers councils, work weeks, decision making, innovations and
participatory planning, all while making condemning contrasts to
capitalist publishing houses.
On a somewhat larger scale, the imaginary "John Henry Steel Plant"
provides examples of participatory planning and how certain types of
disagreements may likely arise, how workers adjust work loads, and the
societal costs and consequences, of what the plant produces and uses. In
order to demonstrate how parecon is flexible to various work places,
Albert explores the daily decision making process involved in the
intricate, and detailed, operations of an airport, the "Jesse Owens
Airport". Both individual, and collective consumption are explored in
the hypothetical "Emma Goldman community" co-housing unit, and the
participatory "Martin Luther King County". The books final chapters --
thirteen in all -- examine possible flaws in parecon while
simultaneously demonstrating Albert's profound understanding of his
critics, which again challenges the reader to take a stand on the issue
of economic vision, alternatives to capitalism, and parecon in
This is an exhaustive argument for a participatory economy and deserves
wide spread attention. The paperback edition is due to hit book stores
across North America in May, online in April. The first print run of the
cloth edition sold out of stock before the books could even be be
shipped. Since then Korean and Italian translations have been published
with Spanish, Greek, Swedish, Japanese, and numerous other editions all
in progress. There are about twenty or so translations in the works. 
Chris Spannos sits on the Board of Directors for Vancouver Co-op Radio,
CFRO. He produces radio with the Redeye collective.


Parecon: Life After Capitalism
Review By Mitchell Szczepanczyk
I once saw a protest sign which read: "Communism is dead. Is capitalism
next?" Perhaps so. After all, there are hints that the patient is
seriously ill or in the intensive care unit: Seattle, Genoa, Enron,
Argentina. If the answer to that protest sign is "yes and soon" then The
Question remains, how might we best organize our economic affairs in an
equitable manner in a world of more than six billion people?
Parecon: Life After Capitalism by Michael Albert offers an answer: a
system of PARticipatory ECONomics whose intent is an improvement in
human relations and global sustainability by means of a number of
integrated institutions. The author of Parecon, Michael Albert, is an
author and system operator of Z Magazine's huge website ZNet. Parecon, a
hybrid of manifesto and instruction book, represents Albert's latest
attempt to articulate, synthesize, and defend the ideas behind
participatory economics.
To his credit, Albert doesn't make any presumptions about his audience.
His writing takes nothing for granted, and Parecon can be read by
everyone from political neophytes to hardened activists. Even before he
explains the basics behind what a system of participatory economics is,
Albert starts by addressing some fundamental questions about economics:
What is an economy? What values are, or should be, important in judging
economies? What are some examples of past and present economies and how
well do they measure by the values we accord?
With his answers to these questions and with the values he thinks are
important, Albert assembles a "scorecard" and weighs the merits of
various economies according to those values. Here he consistently tips
over sacred economic cows across the political spectrum. He irks
right-wingers by complaining that markets, among other problems, ignore
important externalities and mandate commercialization of everything.
He'll probably irk a few leftists with his potshots against central
planning (degenerates to dictatorships), bioregionalism (too vague), and
various historical examples of socialism (they use some amalgam of
central planning and markets).
Albert details parecon's proposed institutions in the book, which
includes (1) employment through a balance of empowering and
disempowering tasks, termed "balanced job complexes", (2) decision
making by means of council democracy of producers and consumers, (3)
compensation based on one's effort and sacrifice, and (4) allocation
through a mutually-agreed-upon plan arrived at by a series of
negotiations, termed "participatory planning". This last component
("parti-plan"?) is the most difficult parecon institution to understand
and articulate, but Parecon presents what may be the best articulation
of the idea to date.
Albert then devotes the last third of the book to addressing the most
realistic criticisms and critical questions against parecon. Is there no
privacy in parecon? Is it indeed participatory or just another mishmosh
of markets and central planning? Can't parecon be allowed to have some
limited markets? How well does parecon fit with other social
institutions? Is parecon an attainable or realistic goal?
Even though these big bad wolves huff and puff and try to blow his
parecon house down, Albert shows that his brick house holds up. It's in
this final third of the book when it becomes clear that, even though
there are no wide-scale parecon examples to point to, the ideas that
power Parecon have been around the block. Indeed, Parecon culminates
twelve years of writing and thought about parecon since the model was
first described in the 1991 book "Looking Forward" (co-written with
economist Robin Hahnel). Since Looking Forward, Albert has rearticulated
the parecon vision, either alone or with Hahnel, in a handful of books
he has written since then.
It would be a shame if Albert continues his near-monopoly on
articulating participatory economics. Parecon sets a noteworthy example
in articulating a vision for other people to explore, particularly since
no one has to date successfully poked a theoretical hole in the workings
of participatory economics. Perhaps more importantly Albert implicitly
encourages people to forge a vision (be it parecon or something else),
experiment with it, and see how well it meshes with other visions and
with reality, and give something worth fighting for.
Albert can be technical when the need calls for it, but he isn't afraid
to shy away from a tunnel vision towards economics even though the book
is devoted to theoretical economics. Curiously enough, he writes without
a pretense of winning you over or trying to convert you into a
pareconista. This might be the book's greatest success: Albert lets the
nitty-gritty details and the strength of the model speak for itself, and
in so doing may have gone farther in winning converts than any
high-minded platitudes. Will the damn thing actually work? As Albert
himself says, "The only proof is to succeed."
Reading Parecon, I was curiously reminded of Milton Friedman's
pro-market manifesto Capitalism and Freedom, even though the two books
are politically light-years apart and Parecon is much easier to read.
Friedman's book fanned the flames of the global scourge of neoliberalism
(i.e., let markets run rampant and let the rich run the world). Parecon
may fan the flames of a global anti-neoliberal backlash--indeed, Parecon
is already slated for publication in at least 18 languages with more on
the way. As the global economy continues to unravel and people grow
hungrier for genuine alternatives, Parecon might be mandatory reading
for the coming decades and beyond.

    The Parecon book page includes comments, reviews,
    excerpts, and some interviews and debates, is at:
    The Amazon Link for purchasing is at:
    I know, the link is absurd. You can also just go to Amazon and 
    search parecon, and then click for the paperback edition. 
    The AK Press Link for purchasing is at:
    The Verso link for purchasing is at:
    A guide to local independent bookstores is at:


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