A modern economy is very much interconnected. Many decisions and activities are intertwined, have widespread effects on different actors, and need coordination.
In the case of a future Participatory Economy, in addition to the annual participatory planning procedure, all the various actors in the economy, including the public service systems, neighbourhood councils, consumer federations, worker councils and their federations will all need assistance and help to efficiently coordinate decision-making, planning and implementation of many activities.
Below, I explore how important areas of coordination in a future Participatory Economy could be organised via support units which are set up and overseen by worker and consumer federation councils.
Research and Development Units
In the long-term development planning – education planning, environmental planning, infrastructure planning and international trade planning – and in the aggregate investment planning, both worker council and consumer federations play a crucial role in estimating the positive effects of investment, consumption, productivity increases, etc, and their role is to argue for more saving and investment or more consumption.
For this purpose, worker council federations oversee R&D (Research and Development) units, which research and develop new technologies in production. Product development of many final consumer goods is researched by R&D departments on the consumer side, which may also research consumer preferences and provide technical product information.
A special variant of R&D units is the units connected to Communities of Affected Parties (CAPs). These units research and categorise the effects of pollution and emissions of substances to inform members of CAPs of new data and information about harm from pollutants. R&D projects often require many and costly resources and potential positive results are uncertain and realised only in a more or less distant future.
Supporting new Start-ups
Also, industry federations make decisions about expansions and reductions in production capacity and whether they should be achieved by changes in the number of units or alternatively by changes in unit size, and they also serve as midwives for new Worker Councils that enter the industry.
They judge the credibility of new entrepreneurs and make sure that they have the requisite training and experience to fulfil their submitted proposals, and they plan and execute shutdowns and disbandment of units. Industry support units will prepare and facilitate the formation of initial sets of capital assets for start-up worker councils.
Support for decision-making
Furthermore, individual worker councils will need support from shared support units to help analyse and estimate expected future social return on proposed investments in capital assets. And during the year if an agreed annual plan needs to be adjusted due to large unforeseen changes in demand and/or supply, negotiations between industries and federations need to be facilitated by support units.
In today’s economic system many coordinating tasks are planned and performed by back-office units, often within enormous world-wide corporations and conglomerates. Many of these coordination tasks will have to be performed also in a Participatory Economy in which the main actors are decentralised and self-managed workplaces and consumer neighbourhoods, which implies that there is a strong need for some sort of support units attached to industry and consumer federations to facilitate decision making before and during the annual planning and during the year when decisions are implemented.
For instance, it can be compiling, sorting and distributing necessary (accounting and other) information, including setting up shared rules for the accounting practices of economic activities and product categorisations, monitoring and coordinating the implementation of decisions, resolving disputes between individual worker councils, standardizing certain aspects of components and other input goods so that they are compatible throughout the economy, standardizing and making available spare parts, maintenance and service of durables that requires long-term commitment and planning such as cars and motorcycles, coordinating and planning time schedules in the transport sector to make sure that flight, bus, ferry connections, etc, will run smoothly over time and over a large area.
And there may be many, many more situations for which it makes sense to collectively request and share information, resources, and costs within federations due to economies of scale. The support units may of course, if necessary, also be organised and defined geographically.
Logistics and Supply Chain Coordination
An especially important coordination task for both worker and consumer federations will presumably be the planning, preparation and coordination of logistics, supply chains and distribution of both capital, intermediate and consumer goods during a year when an agreed plan is turned into a “delivery plan” and implemented.
So, while worker and consumer councils are self-managed and decide how and what to produce and consume, they must also coordinate a lot of decisions collectively outside of the annual planning, both within and between their respective federations. There will obviously be differences between industries in this regard. Some industries will need more coordination, and some will need less, depending on product complexity, industry structure, interdependence, production processes and technology and so on.
Collective support units are workplaces that facilitate decision making, perform coordination tasks, provide resources and information that are shared and publicly available and potentially have a great impact on the economy’s efficiency and the productive capacity of industries.
They may answer to the economy as a whole, the National Federation of Worker Councils, the National Federation of Consumer Councils, individual consumer or producer federations, public service systems, or government agencies and they usually have no direct influence over final decisions besides decisions about their internal work organisation.
Collective support units are appointed and dissolved based on assessments of the social benefit that they add, and the economy may set restrictions on the time for job assignments in a support unit if long assignments will lead to undue opportunities to influence other workers or if there is a risk of concentration of power.
What separates a support unit from an ordinary worker council with regard to accounting and funding is that a support unit does not record any social benefit at the time of delivery of its services. Instead, its costs are allocated to the member councils based on an agreed allocation method, for instance based on the member councils’ recorded income.
It is given a budget, which is calculated and decided at the appropriate federation level, in return for the provision of specified shared support functions or resources that are available to all members during a certain period. Cost sharing within federations can, of course, also be done through a system of user fees or any other cost allocating model for collective services if services are used by members to a varying degree.