Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Last Thoughts on ParEcon

I suspect ParEcon will go down in history as an interesting annecdote, like the attempt to apply Social Credit in Alberta, although even less successful.

Many of its elements are laudable, even practical. Workplace and consumer democracy are easily doable on some levels, and the notion of balanced job complexes is at the very least worth trying. But as the scheme grows more complicated, the Rube Goldberg nature of ParEcon becomes apparent. The most obvious is the method of controlling the market by committee, even though supply and demand will still determine prices.

However, the side of ParEcon I find most distasteful is the way every purchase must go through a consumption committee. Albert has attempted to build in some safeguards, saying that people can buy anything they have the consumption credits for, buying it anonymously if they don't want their neighbours to know. They say this solution to the "sexy lingerie problem" will allow for normal purchasing.

But it implies that all your money is not yours. Even if they must give it to you, your money, your wages, reside in the hands of a committee. It's as if you had to go to your bank every time you needed groceries and hand them your shopping list to have it approved. It also seems to disallow impulse purchases. Fine for a car, not so great if you decide you want an ice cream cone on a hot day. I can only assume that this would slow down production and distribution of goods, with many items piled up in warehouses awaiting shipping.

Worse, how does the IFB handle prices for goods which have a highly uncertain quantity and are then highly perishable? Fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh fish from limited runs both vary tremendously in quantity and quality, and if a central board needs to mediate between all the possible buyers and sellers to determine a price, how much rots on the vine or spoils in the hold of a ship?

It also took me about five minutes of serious thought to figure out how to cheat the system, at least to the extent of buying drugs, guns or explosives. (See above, re: anonymous purchases.)

All in all, ParEcon is fascinating, but flawed. If Albert repairs and revises it in the future, I'll be interested in his work, but for now I'd rather not live in his world.

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