I’ve just finished reading David Schweickart’s book “After Capitalism”, in which he describes his alternative to capitalism, called Economic Democracy. I wasn’t particularly expecting to like this book after reading the debate between him and Michael Albert on the subject of participatory economics (parecon, which I wrote about recently), in which I don’t think he acquitted himself well. It was better than I thought.
Economic Democracy (ED) is a form of market socialism, and so is automatically subject to the problems that markets introduce. There were a couple of other concerns I had. Bear in mind that this is only based on one reading of “After Capitalism”, which is a less rigorous book than his earlier “Against Capitalism” (which I haven’t read).
- ED still allows for a great deal of inequality. Schweickart talks about, for example, ranges for income between $20,000 and $200,000. This still spans the range poor to rich, even if it’s not very poor to very rich. Pragmatically speaking though, the question for me is: does the relative difficulty in achieving ED compared to a more egalitarian revolutionary idea justify this inequality? ED would require a revolutionary change in society, so would it be that much easier to achieve than, say, parecon, for it to be worth considering given the outcome is still quite unequal?
- Schweickart – although he is a Marxist – doesn’t appear to take class into account. A socially stratified society is not impossible in ED and the level above suggests it is likely. To be fair, to make this criticism of ED rigorous, you would need to demonstrate afresh that class based stratification would occur in ED, because the mechanisms by which it would occur would be somewhat different to those in a capitalist society. Once you have class, is a stable egalitarian society possible? I would argue not. Along these lines, see also my comments on a very different book, Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”.
- Schweickart suggests a scenario in which the transition to ED might be made in the USA if an economic crisis happened. Given that a socialist revolution is unlikely to occur in the USA any time soon, it might be worthwhile to consider how it could come about in poorer countries where there were strong (capitalist) outside influences.
- Finally, although he outlines a possible transition from economic crisis to ED assuming that there was a will to implement ED, he doesn’t talk about how you could build a political movement and party that would do so.
The last two criticisms above apply to almost all socialist or anarchist schemes for a better world, but the first two I think are serious and specific to ED.
That all said, I do think this book is well worth a read. Economic Democracy would be undoubtedly be a better system than capitalism, and it’s possible that it would be easier to achieve than more radical schemes like parecon. My fear is that it isn’t radical enough – if we fought for it and achieved it, it might not be a lasting solution and may well share many of capitalism’s problems.