Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Will Participatory Economics Be Mandatory?

Leave it to NPR's Planet Money to provide the only decent coverage of the protests on Wall Street in their recent podcast.  What was particularly interesting was their interview with economist Robin Hahnel, who for forty years has been developing a system of economic harmony titled participatory economics.

My impression is that the system replaces money with bartering through democratic meetings.  Households would have to plan one year in advance the goods and services they "need", request these through local democratic meetings, and through the efforts of benevolent economists and a mathematical algorithm, some people would be "asked" to produce X amount of Y, which would then be taken and delivered to a consumer who requested it a year earlier (forgive me Hahnel, as there is no way I can do you justice in one paragraph...believe me when I say I tried).

Books could be written regarding how participatory economics fares in its ability to transmit information and provide incentives for production, but I think the theory is best confronted with one question.

My question to Hahnel: Suppose Americans did not want to adopt your system of participatory economics (and I do not believe they would). If you were able to acquire total power, would you then force Americans to adopt your system?

If the answer is yes: you become a dictator
If the answer is no: Americans would continue with its mixture of markets and legislation.

This is why Russia and China became a dictatorship, and the U.S. and western Europe became a mixed economy.  One was forced upon its people, the other voluntarily adopted.

P.S.  A great teaching activity would be for students to read about participatory economics and then critique it.

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