Horizontalism and Idealism in Socialist Imagination: An Appraisal of the Participatory Economy

David Laibman

The model of the “Participatory Economy,” developed by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel over the last 30 years, has attracted attention as a serious answer to “TINA” — “There Is No Alternative” (to capitalism) — and as a conception of socialism that claims superiority over proposals for central planning, “market socialism,” and “negotiated coordination.” The 2012 publication of Hahnel’s Of the People, By the People: The Case for a Participatory Economy provides an opportunity to examine this conception critically and systematically. Despite its many insights and contributions, the Albert–Hahnel model suffers from two crucial problems: its commitment to an abstractly speculative approach to the design of social institutions, and a limiting fear of authority and hierarchy that has clear roots in classical anarchist thinking. This latter feature results in a model with an uncanny resemblance to Walrasian competitive market equilibrium — despite its progenitors’ programmatic denial of this connection.

Science and Society
Publication/Event Date: 
April, 2014