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(DV) Petersen: Optimistic Progressivism







Optimistic Progressivism
Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism
by Kim Petersen
May 17, 2006

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Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism 
by Michael Albert 
(Fernwood Publishing and Zed Books, 2006) 
ISBN: 1-55266-181-4

How often is it that anyone who espouses socialism is greeted with the refrain: “That’s utopian”? It’s as if this refrain is sufficient argument in itself to waylay further discussion on achieving something that by implication should be understood to be unrealizable.

First, such a refrain is not an argument. Second, why shouldn't humans strive for a utopia? Shouldn’t humanity always seek better circumstances? What is clear is that for the mass of humanity, life on capitalist planet Earth is far from a utopia. The viability of socialism may be questionable, but the non-viability and unsuitability of the capitalist model is axiomatic.

Michael Albert, along with economist Robin Hahnel, came up with an important progressive economic model called parecon (short for participatory economics). Albert has continued to refine parecon further. In Parecon: Life After Capitalism, Albert elaborated at length on the parecon and logically dealt with skeptics’ arguments about the model. In his latest book, Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism, Albert brings optimism to the struggle for a better world and describes how that better future might look.

Albert savages capitalism as a “thug’s economy, a heartless economy, a base and vile and largely boring economy. It is the antithesis of human fulfillment and development. It mocks equity and justice. It enshrines greed. It does not serve humanity.”

Parecon is contrastingly a compassionate economy built on four core values: solidarity, diversity, equity, and self-management. The goal is to build a classless society with balanced job complexes that allow workers to develop themselves as fully as possible.

Albert examines how parecon will affect various aspects of society from polity, kinship, and community to art, journalism, and athletics. Throughout the book, Albert employs a dialectical approach, asking many probing questions and furnishing well thought-out answers.

Albert notes that, historically, community violence has not been ameliorated by assimilation. In a parecon, he argues, diversity would lead to a good community which celebrates multiculturalism. Moreover, cultural hierarchies would be replaced by equity.

Capitalist globalization, which forces open markets in developing countries to be looted by corporations from developed countries, is opposed. In its place will be a new internationalism. Albert proposes the replacement (not reform) of the Bretton Woods formulated institutions the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and later the World Trade Organization by three new agencies: an International Asset Agency, a Global Investment Assistance Agency, and a World Trade Agency. Their function would be to manage trade to reduce the wealth imbalance among countries.

Information is often equated with power. In a parecon, science and education would be available to all, thereby empowering all members of society.

Do you wonder about how such activities as art and sports would operate in a parecon? Albert explains.

Journalism is about the dissemination of information, so it is crucial. Albert holds that since there will be no power centers in a parecon to control news and information, a free flow of information will occur. The disinformation, unscrupulous omissions, and propaganda that characterize the corporate media nowadays will be a thing of the capitalist past.

What about prisons, the justice system, and crime? Albert admits that there will still be crime but that a parecon would go a long way toward reducing factors that elicit crime.

Albert rejects pessimism in his book. Writes Albert, “Someone saying there is no better social future is like a biologist reporting that we will never find a cure for cancer.” He asks, “On what grounds do they proclaim such pessimism?”

Near the end of Realizing Hope, Albert discusses Marxism and anarchism in relation to parecon. Parecon is an anarchist economy. However, given that Marxism and anarchism both share similar progressive values perhaps the differences can be reconciled to the good of all members of society. Albert states that progressives worldwide aspire to the simple freedom “to enjoy the fruits of labor and the virtues of social engagement in an environment that optimally supports and furthers such pursuits for all.” This seems like an aspiration amenable to all progressives.

Albert propounds an alternative system to capitalism whose importance must not be underestimated in the struggle for a better world. Parecon, which Albert acknowledges as a work in progress, deserves careful consideration by all who care about a better world.

Kim Petersen, Co-Editor of Dissident Voice, lives in the traditional Mi'kmaq homeland colonially designated Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org.

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