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Why We Don't Support Parecon

R. Burke

The basic problem we have with parecon as advocated by Michael Albert is that we think he proposes blueprints for society without attempting to provide anything empirical to back up his claims. Whenever a criticism is raised, Albert’s response is to assert the beauty and elegance of his model, or to claim he has already considered this or that objection, so why are we being so critical? Of course, since the model is not functioning in the actual world, there is no evidence to falsify it, and Albert can always double down on its elegance in his ideal mindscape. What he does not give us is any evidence that his model can and will function in actuality, nor does he seem to recognize the need to provide any. This is strange coming from one who would no doubt in other contexts caution us against accepting things on faith alone, and who claims to speak scientifically.

After all doesn't evidence, repeatable experiments and/or observations, testable predictions, replication and confirmation count for anything? Can an un-falsifiable idea be scientific? Granted that what may not be testable today may be testable in another century or two, so we are not closed-minded on this count. The other side of the coin however, is that such an idea remains unproven or not proven. It might be true, but right now we can’t know that with any degree of confidence. Keep in mind that the 20th century gave people some historical reasons for distrusting attempts to replace capitalism: are we doing our cause any good by espousing ideas that we cannot provide evidence for?

The problem is, quite frankly, that Michael Albert provides us with less evidence than even the cheesiest of cheesy UFO paperbacks attempts to provide us with-evidence-to back up his claims. He simply plays a game of positing an idea it is not currently possible to test, which cannot be falsified, and then steps back to watch his critics attempt to falsify what is un-falsifiable! Since of course they cannot do so he can simply reiterate his claims to the elegance of the model, and critics are made to look silly for tilting at windmills. This of course is why claims that cannot be falsified are often greeted suspiciously in the sciences.

Nor can we rest content with the rebuttal that 'we don't understand.' A proposal 'understood' by only Michael Albert and his acolytes is one that does not recommend itself to a mass, popular movement. This is not because the people aren't intelligent enough to 'understand,' but rather because we respect their intelligence far too much to recommend as the goal of a social movement a model whose authors can't back up what they make claims for.

Let supporters of parecon provide us as much evidence as provided by left economists such as Alec Nove in The Economics of Feasible Socialism, or Pat Devine in Democracy and Economic Planning, and we will change our minds. Those economists at least tried to examine real-world situations and make proposals based upon their researches. Perhaps their efforts fall short of Albert’s preconceived ideas of what ‘ought’ to be, but unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. Until then there is only one thing we need to ask about parecon and that is-“how do we falsify this?”

No more abstract arguments or songs to the elegance of the model- back up your claims! Unfortunately this is not likely to happen. Instead it can be predicted that any response from Albert on this matter, no matter how verbose or argumentative, can be boiled down to this statement: “Evidence? We don’t got to show you no stinking evidence!”