2159. Can we actually make structural changes?

 

The Guardian among many others  published this op-ed signed by (Pistor, Cagé, Tcherneva, Piketty, Galbraith, Zucman and many others). The op-ed has been signed by more than 3,000 researchers as an urgent call to action that the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis include a need to rewrite the rules of our economic system in order to create a more democratic and sustainable society.

 The basic idea is that society is in trouble and needs changes. A few are mentioned in broad outline, but no discussion of the politics and conflicts that need to be engaged to actually make anything happen.  Since economics focuses on the formal and has pushed most politics anthropology history and more out of its consideration economics seems to not know how to engage in actual social change by discussing things that need to change and how to effect that change.  I quote the copy published in the Guardian.

How to avoid this unacceptable situation? By involving employees in decisions relating to their lives and futures in the workplace – by democratising firms. By decommodifying work – by collectively guaranteeing useful employment to all. As we face the monstrous risk of pandemic and environmental collapse, making these strategic changes would allow us to ensure the dignity of all citizens while marshalling the collective strength and effort we need to preserve our life together on this planet.”

The guardian writes “They are the core constituency of the firm, but are, nonetheless, mostly excluded from participating in the government of their workplaces – a right monopolised by capital investors.”

“ Let us fool ourselves no longer: left to their own devices, most capital investors will not care for the dignity of labour investors, nor will they lead the fight against environmental catastrophe. Another option is available. Democratise firms; decommodify work; stop treating human beings as resources so that we can focus together on sustaining life on this planet.”

OK, democratize. What does it mean? Do  we have any examples of democratizing existing bureaucracies? Who would resist? How to handle the resulting conflicts?

 Worker owned forms  (I used to consult for the US Cooperative bank) are very conservative and equilibrium seeking and then holding on to it). We would need a discussion of how democracy deals with policy, conflict, innovation.

Whatever the state within economics (and increasingly in other social sciences,  also opting for formal analysis and dropping the narrative side of their research efforts) we are in a mess but seem to have little capacity for any structural proposals, such as changes in the law,  of the institutions of  governance – the nation state, “representative democracy”,  and the way to achieve such proposed changes, if any would be proposed. . Roberto Unger at Havard law has an interesting new book, The Knowledge Economy which faces the question of the need for structural change ) but without much resolution. The rogressives do not have an agenda of change. Green new deal is stuck with growth an fullemplouyment bt no plan on how to get there,

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In a friend’ company, a leading mid sized biotech firm,  the division between essential and non essential includes the CEO and the head of research in the non-essential category. The essentials have to come to work but the non-essentials can work from home.The company is reconsidering with great seriousness if it needs those who are considered non-essential.The essential includes the lab workers, the manufacturing people and the maintenance people. This kind of questioning seems widespread.And then there are computers and algorithms waiting to take on higher level jobs…..

 

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