Is personal freedom sacrificed?

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Participatory economics is designed to allow people to control their own economic lives in a context of equitable cooperation with others. Freedom of choice of consumption, employment, career, and residence, as well as personal privacy are fully guaranteed in a participatory economy.

People in a participatory economy are free to consume whatever goods and services they wish, and consumer preferences determine what will be produced. Of course an individual’s overall consumption is constrained in a participatory economy, by her effort or sacrifice, just as an individual’s overall consumption is constrained in a market economy, by her income. People in a participatory economy are also free to choose more consumption and less leisure, or vice versa, by working more or fewer hours, and are free to distribute their effort and consumption over their lives as they wish.

Some people worry that neighbours’ opinions will prove intrusive but neighbours can only offer suggestions. They are not permitted to reject consumption requests on grounds of content — only if social cost exceeds effort. And if anyone does not wish to hear her neighbours’ opinions, she can submit an anonymous consumption request to a consumption council composed of anonymous members who are not her neighbours.

People in a participatory economy are free to apply to work wherever they want, free to bid on any job at their work place they want, free to organise a new enterprise to produce whatever they want, by any means they want, in cooperation with whomever else they want. Of course, workers councils are also free to hire whomever they want from those who apply; fellow qualified workers are also free to bid on any job they want; and new workers councils must be certified by their industry federation as “competent” to deliver what they promise in the planning procedure.

Students are free to apply to any educational institution and degree program they want, and if accepted, pay no tuition and receive a living stipend appropriate to their age and needs. Workers are free to bid on any training program offered outside or inside their workplace all of which are free of charge.

People are free to live wherever they choose. Neighbourhoods will probably be more important to people in a participatory economy because the neighbourhood consumption council is an important institution where preferences regarding individual and collective consumption are expressed and debated.

In a participatory economy only people affected by decisions have influence over those decisions, and only to the degree they are affected. Those who enjoy disproportionate power in market systems are used to being “free” from the opinions and influence of others, and will object to a system that would no longer permit them to be so. Socialists of all varieties once believed that I should not be free to employ you because my freedom of enterprise, or property right, robs you of a more fundamental human right to manage your own labouring capacities. Most socialists and some liberals once believed I should not be free to bequeath substantial inheritance to my children because that robs the children of less wealthy parents of their more fundamental right to an equal economic opportunity in life. We can thus formulate a general principle: Restrictions on the right of some individuals are justified when they are necessary to protect more fundamental rights of others, and since such restrictions do not reduce, but increase individual freedom, they are fully consistent with libertarian values.

In sum, people in a participatory economy are free to do what they want. But this does not mean they are free to exploit others. That is why the freedom to pursue education and employment according to one’s preferences is protected in a participatory economy, but the freedom to exploit morally arbitrary advantages in human capital by consuming more than others who made equal sacrifices is not. Advocates of participatory economics think everyone should have opportunity to participate in making economic decisions in proportion to the degree they are affected by those decisions. We think self-management, in this sense, is a fundamental right of people who engage in economic cooperation with others. So when people are free to do what they want, this does not mean they should be free to infringe on the self-management rights of others.

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