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Reproductive Labor in a Participataory Socialist Society



This article proposes concrete ways to organize and reward reproductive labor in a participatory socialist, feminist society. Feminist literature has convincingly documented myriad ways in which the costs and benefits of reproductive activity have been distributed unequally between men and women historically. In hopes of stimulating discussion about solutions, we offer concrete proposals to overcome gender biases in a future society with a participatory, socialist economy. JEL classifications: O17, J46, B5
By Peter Bohmer, Savvina Chowdhury, and Robin Hahnel
This article proposes concrete ways to organize and reward “reproductive labor” in
a participatory socialist society. Feminist literature has convincingly documented
myriad ways in which the costs and benefits of reproductive activity have been
distributed unequally between men and women historically. In hopes of stimulating
discussion about solutions, we offer concrete proposals to overcome gender biases
in a future society with a participatory, socialist economy.
In the broadest sense all human activity involves material inputs and outputs, and
all human activity also “reproduces” (or transforms) those who participate in the
activity. So any dividing line between “economic” activity and “reproductive”
activity is necessarily arbitrary. Nonetheless, the major purpose of some activity is
the transformation of material inputs into different material outputs, while the main
purpose of other activity is to nurture, care for, educate, or socialize -- i.e. to
“reproduce” a population of human mortals. Feminist literature highlights the
unequal distribution of costs and benefits of reproductive activity, and points out
that this is another crucial, though overlooked aspect of inequality.
argue that not only does capitalism penalize and discourage care-giving, it
undermines values that promote care-giving such as empathy, solidarity, and a
culture that encourages us to consider collective well-being as well as our own. By
penalizing care-giving, capitalism has been gradually eroding social cohesion, as
well as the health and overall wellbeing of our communities. And by excusing men
from most caregiving it has encouraged them to be less empathetic than they might
be. This essay proposes concrete ways to organize and reward what is often called
“reproductive labor” in a post-capitalist society.
See Barker and Feiner 20004, Blau, Ferber, and Winkler 2006, Donath 2000, Ehrenreich and
Hochschild 2002, Ferber and Nelson 2009, Folbre 1994a, 1994b, 1995, 2001, Hochschild 2012,
Power 2004, Ronsen and Kitterod 2015, and Yoon 2014.
In order to make concrete proposals about how to organize and reward
reproductive labor it is necessary to say something about how the economic,
education, and healthcare systems function. However, in this article our focus is on
reproductive labor in a socialist economy. Consequently, we need to specify in
some detail how the socialist economy functions. In contrast, we discuss only
features of the education and healthcare systems which have implications for how
reproductive activity is carried out elsewhere.
The theoretical model of an alternative to capitalism called a participatory
economy has been proposed, compared to other post-capitalist visions, criticized,
and defended for over twenty-five years. Moreover, unlike many “visions” of
alternatives to capitalism, proponents of a participatory economy have gone to
great lengths to explain concretely how all the different kinds of decisions which
must be made in any economy be made in a “participatory economy.” For purposes
of this article it is convenient to assume that the economy is organized along the
lines of this model of socialism.
For those unfamiliar with the model, section 1 explains how a “participatory
economy functions with regard to “normal” economic activity. In section 2 we
distinguish between different kinds of reproductive labor. In section 3 we describe
relevant assumptions about how the education and healthcare systems function. In
section 4 we identify important issues regarding whether reproductive labor is
carried out publicly, through the institutions and procedures that comprise the
participatory economy and the education and the healthcare systems, or privately,
inside households. In section 5 we discuss reproductive labor when it takes place in
worker councils in the participatory economy. In section 6 we discuss reproductive
labor when it is carried out “privately” in households.
1. A Participatory Economy in Brief
Some reproductive labor will take place “publicly” in the “formal” participatory
economy, so we begin with a brief explanation of how such an economy functions.
The major goals of a participatory economy are economic democracy, defined as
This article is also a long overdue response to requests from feminists to know how those who
advocate for “participatory economics” propose to treat reproductive labor.
The model of a participatory economy was the joint creation of Michael Albert and Robin
Hahnel, and has been elaborated and defended in great detail against various criticisms in several
books and numerous journal articles published over the past quarter century. The most recent and
accessible presentation is Hahnel 2012. Other presentations are Albert and Hahnel 1991, 1992a,
1992b, 2002, and Hahnel 2005, 2014, 2015, 2017.
decision making power in proportion to the degree one is affected, and economic
justice, defined as compensation commensurate with sacrifice and need -- to be
achieved while providing a wide diversity of goods and services to choose from,
fostering human solidarity, protecting the natural environment, and using scarce
productive resources efficiency. The major institutions proposed to achieve these
goals are: (1) social ownership of the productive commons; (2) self-governing
democratic councils of workers and consumers where each member has one vote;
(3) jobs balanced for empowerment and desirability; (4) compensation according
to effort or sacrifice as determined by co-workers; and (5) a participatory planning
procedure in which councils and federations of workers and consumers propose
and revise their own interrelated activities without central planners or markets,
under rules designed to generate a comprehensive production plan that is feasible,
efficient, equitable, and environmentally sustainable.
Social Ownership: In a participatory economy what we call the productive
commons is socially owned. The productive commons includes the “natural
commons” -- land, water, native flora and fauna, oil and mineral deposits, top soil,
“sinks” that store and decompose wastes, genetic diversity, a stable climate, and
various eco-systems. It includes the “produced commons” -- all the machines,
tools, equipment, and buildings we use to produce things. And in a participatory
economy the productive commons also includes all of the useful technical know-
how, talents and skills people have that allow us to deploy all this natural and
produced wherewithal to productive ends. In sum, a participatory economy treats
everything we need to produce our way of lifewhether it be part of an expanded
understanding of our natural environment, part of an increasingly complex array of
useful manufactured artifacts, or part of the information and knowledge embodied
in us, individually or collectivelyas belonging to all of us, i.e., as part of “the
modern, productive commons.”
Democratic councils: The two most important institutions in a participatory
economy are worker councils and neighborhood “consumption” councils. Both
kinds of councils are governed by democratic rule where every member has one
vote. The goal is for workers to be in control of their work lives, as explained
further below, and for households living in neighborhoods to be in control of their
consumption activities as well. Neighborhood consumption councils decide on
what local public goods the neighborhood will have available, and send
representatives to federations of neighborhood councils where larger-scale public
goods are decided on. Neighborhood councils include all of the “households”
living in a geographic neighborhood. These can be “traditional” households, with
two heterosexual parents who are legally married and their biological children. But
they can also be “non-traditional” households of all kinds single parent
households, multi-generation households, households of gay couples, lesbian
couples, bisexual couples, transgender couples, households where adults are
married, or not, households with children, or not, and households whose underage
members are biologically related to one another and/or any adults, or not. They can
also be “communes” of individuals who simply want to be in a household together.
With the exception of households comprised entirely of minors like Peter Pan’s
Lost Boys every conceivable kind of household will be welcomed and treated
equally by their neighborhood consumption council.
Compensation: We propose that each self-governing worker council come up with
its own procedures for assigning what we call “effort ratings” to one another,
which then become the basis for their members’ consumption rights. This would
probably require an effort-rating committee, but its composition and procedures
would be left to each council to determine, and we fully expect different worker
councils to come up with different ways to go about this.
However, less than half of Americans have fulltime jobs. On what basis will those
not working as members of worker councils have consumption rights, or income?
We assume that rules for who qualifies for living allowances, stipends, or benefits,
and how large allowances and benefits will be, will all be decided through a
democratic political process. In particular we assume:
There will be allowances for those who worked but have now reached
retirement age. What the retirement age is, and whether the size of
retirement benefits is the same for all, or depends to some extent on years
worked and/or average effort rating is one question to be decided
democratically when the time comes.
There will be allowances for the disabled. Rules for eligibility and size of
disability payments to prevent anyone from being penalized due to disability
will be decided through a democratic political process when the time comes.
Of great relevance to present purposes, a participatory society assumes
responsibility for the welfare of all children. This does not mean that
parent/guardians do not also have responsibilities, or that parent/guardians
do not have certain decision making rights vis a vis children, as explained
below. But it does mean that the financial wellbeing of children, the infant,
childcare, and educational opportunities open to children, and the healthcare
available to children will not be dictated by who the child’s
parents/guardians happen to be. The size of allowances for children, whether
this varies by age, and whether there are living stipends for young adults
older than eighteen who continue their formal education beyond the
minimum number of years mandated, must all be determined by a
democratic political process when the time comes.
There will also presumably be living allowances for those who society
believes should be working, but who nevertheless decide not to work.
Whether a participatory society guarantees a “basic income” so that
nobody’s total income falls below a certain level, and the size of any basic
income will also be decided through a democratic political process when the
time comes.
An individual’s effort ratings and/or allowances are expected to cover the
social costs of his or her private consumption, as well as his or her share of
the social cost of all public goods available to him or her. However, there are
no “user fees” for public goods, and all education and healthcare services are
free of charge as explained below.
Balanced jobs: To ensure that formally equal rights to participate in decision
making in one’s workplace translate into truly equal opportunities to participate,
we propose that, in addition to one-member-one vote in worker councils, jobs
within workplaces be balanced for empowerment. We argue that as long as some
workers sweep floors all day, every day, while others attend meetings of various
kinds all day, every day, formally equal rights to participate at worker council
meetings will not translate into truly equal opportunities to influence firm
decisions. We recommend a “job balancing committee” and discuss how it might
function, but leave the particulars up to individual worker councils, expecting wide
variations in how they would try to combine tasks in job descriptions so that
everyone’s work experience contains some empowering tasks, and pleasant and
unpleasant tasks are shared by all.
Participatory planning: Who gets to use specific parts of the productive commons
is decided during the participatory planning procedure which assigns user rights to
worker councils (WCs) which demonstrate that they can use scarce productive
resources efficiently. Instead of carrying out a plan calculated by a central
authority, we propose that worker and consumer councils and federations
participate in an iterative planning procedure to allocate user rights over the
productive commons among them.
Why jobs should also be balanced with regards to “caring” tasks, and how to accomplish this is
addressed in section 5.
Each worker and neighborhood consumer council, and each federation of
neighborhood consumer councils participates by submitting a proposal for what
that council or federation wants to do, i.e., councils and federations make what we
call “self-activity proposals.” A consumption proposal is a list of goods the
members of a neighborhood consumption council or federation want to consume,
accompanied by the average effort rating their working members received plus the
average allowance for non-working members. A production proposal is a list of
goods or services the worker council wants to produce as “outputs,” coupled with a
list of natural and labor services, intermediate goods, and capital goods they want
to use as “inputs.”
The planning procedure begins when an “iteration facilitation board” (IFB)
announces (1) current estimates of the opportunity costs of using each kind of
“capital,” natural, produced, and human,
(2) current estimates of the social cost of
producing every produced good and the social benefit the good provides, and (3)
current estimates of the damage caused by every pollutant. Based on these
estimates all councils and federations submit an initial “self-activity” proposal. The
IFB then calculates the excess supply or demand for every good and service, raises
its estimate of the opportunity or social cost for anything in excess demand, and
lowers its estimate for anything in excess supply. All councils and federations then
revise and resubmit new “self-activity” proposals in light of these more accurate
estimates of opportunity and social costs until a feasible plan is reached, i.e., until
there is no longer excess demand for any natural resource, any kind of physical
capital, any category of labor, any intermediate or final good or service, or any
Each council and federation must revise and resubmit its own proposal until it
meets with approval from the other councils. Consumption proposals are evaluated
by multiplying the quantity of every good or service requested by the estimated
social cost of producing a unit of the good or service, to be compared with the
average effort rating plus allowances of the members of the consumption council
requesting the goods and services. Production proposals are evaluated by
comparing the estimated social benefits of outputs to the estimated social cost of
inputs. In any round of the planning procedure the social benefits of a production
proposal are calculated simply by multiplying quantities of proposed outputs by
Note: While worker councils are charged for the labor services of their members according to
their social opportunity costs, which is necessary to make sure labor is applied where it is most
useful, the compensation workers receive is based on their sacrifice and effort as determined by
their coworkers as explained above.
current estimates of their social benefits and summing. The social costs of a
production proposal are calculated by multiplying inputs requested and pollutants
that would be emitted by their opportunity and social costs, and summing. If the
social benefits exceed the social costs, that is, if the social benefit to cost ratio,
(SB/SC) of a production proposal is greater than one, this implies that everyone
else in the economy is made better off by allowing the worker council to do what
they have proposed. On the other hand, if the social benefit-to-cost ratio is less
than one this implies that the rest of society would be worse off if the workers went
ahead and did what they had proposed.
Because estimates of opportunity and social costs are available to all, it is easy for
anyone to know whether or not a production proposal is “socially responsible,” i.e.
has a SB/SC ≥ 1. And it is easy for anyone to know whether or not a consumption
proposal is “socially responsible,” i.e. whether its social cost is warranted by the
effort ratings and allowances of those making it. Most importantly this means there
is no need for a central planner to be the final arbiter, approving or disapproving
proposals. Councils can simply vote “yea” or “nay” on proposals of other councils
without time consuming evaluations or contentious meetings, except in occasional
cases where someone claims “the numbers” fail to accurately account for all costs
or benefits.
There are important technical issues we have addressed elsewhere.
For example
we have proved that under less restrictive assumptions about technologies and
preferences than those necessary to prove that the general equilibrium of a private
enterprise, market economy will achieve a Pareto optimal (efficient) outcome, the
participatory planning procedure outlined above will eventually reach a feasible
plan that is also a Pareto optimum. Most importantly, participatory planning
accommodates externalities and public goods far more efficiently, and generates
reasonably accurate estimates of damages from pollution, whereas market
economies do not, whether they be “capitalist” (private enterprise), or “socialist”
(public enterprise) market systems. But what it boils down to is this: When worker
councils make proposals, they are asking permission to use particular parts of the
productive commons which belongs to everyone. In effect, their proposals say: “If the
rest of you, with whom we are engaged in a cooperative division of labor, agree to
allow us to use these resources, which belong to all of us because they are part of the
productive commons, then we promise to deliver the following goods and services as
outputs for others to use.” When consumer councils make proposals, they are asking
For a rigorous treatment of technical issues see chapter 5 in Albert and Hahnel 1991, Albert and
Hahnel 1992a and 1992b, and Hahnel 2017.
permission to consume goods and services whose production entails social costs. In
effect, their proposals say: “We believe the effort ratings our members received from
co-workers plus living allowances to which we are entitled indicate that we have
earned the right to consume goods and services whose production entails an
equivalent level of social costs.”
The planning procedure is designed to make clear when a worker council production
proposal is inefficient and when a consumption council proposal is unfair, and allows
other worker and consumer councils to deny approval to proposals when they seem
to be inefficient or unfair, i.e. when they are socially irresponsible. But initial self-
activity proposals, and all revisions of proposals, are entirely up to each worker and
consumer council itself. In other words, if a production or consumption proposal is
not approved, the council that made the proposal, and nobody else, can revise that
proposal for resubmission in the next round of the planning procedure. This aspect of
the participatory planning procedure distinguishes it from all other planning models,
which we believe to be crucial if workers and consumers are to enjoy a proper degree
of autonomy and meaningful self-management. In brief, that is how a participatory
economy works.
2. Reproductive Labor
There are at least three different categories of reproductive labor we need to
Caring labor: Physical and emotional labor most obviously provided to infants, the
ill, and the elderly, but also to everyone throughout their lives. Caring labor might
be provided inside households or outside households in worker councils in the
participatory economy or in the public education or healthcare system.
Domestic labor or housework: Cooking, cleaning, washing, straightening, lawn
care, home maintenance, shopping etc. Domestic labor might be provided by
members of the household or by non-members who work in a worker council in
the participatory economy.
Socialization labor: Broadly speaking this is the “educational” work of preparing
the next generation to take its place in society. Socialization labor might take place
outside households -- either in the public education system or as training in the
participatory economy -- or inside households.
Feminist literature teaches us all the ways -- some blatant and others more subtle --
in which the organization, performance, and compensation for those providing
caring labor, domestic labor, and socialization labor, both inside and outside
households, has historically been (a) gender biased, (b) racial biased, (c) unfair,
and (d) inefficient. In short, feminist literature can be read as an “object lesson” of
outcomes we should be at pains to avoid in a participatory society. And although
this paper focuses on men and women, and reproductive labor, we realize there are
more than two genders and this needs to be further incorporated into the analysis.
Bearing these lessons in mind, where will all this reproductive labor be done in a
participatory society? To what extent will the choice of whether it is done
“publicly” or “privately” within households be left up to individuals? Who will
decide how it is to be done? Who will actually do it? And how will those who do it
be compensated? In the remainder of this article we propose concrete answers to
these questions in the hope of stimulating discussion.
3. Education and Healthcare
This is not an essay about “rethinking schools,or designing a desirable healthcare
system. Instead this section deals only with those aspects of education and
healthcare in a participatory society necessary to understand how reproductive
activity which takes place in the participatory economy and in households will
We assume there will be a robust public education system. We assume this will
include not only mandatory K-12 education for all children between the ages of
five and eighteen,
but also public infant-care and pre-K programs for any
parent/guardian who wishes to use them, public associate, bachelors, masters,
doctorate, and professional degree programs which anyone is free to apply to, and
a variety of educational programs for adults to pursue “lifetime learning.” We also
assume all education, whether mandatory or optional, will be free of charge, as
will all educational materials and food consumed during the school day for
students at least through high school. Finally, we assume the question of living
stipends for students pursuing non-mandatory higher education after the age of 18
has been decided along with decisions about living allowances of all kinds through
a democratic political process as explained above.
It is important to remember that because income is based on effort, sacrifice, and
need in a participatory economy there is no reason to expect that lifetime earnings
will be correlated with how much education, or what kind of education one
receives. For that reason admission to all educational programs, mandatory or
During his 2016 campaign for the presidency Bernie Sanders pointed out that for a society as
economically advanced as the United States it is time to extend free public education beyond
high school, with a desirable mixture of “industrial” and “liberal” arts options.
otherwise, can be based strictly on merit without risk that this might create
inequitable income differentials. So admissions committees for all educational
programs will be free to select from applicants according to their best estimate of
which applicants will be most likely to excel in the program, with no need to worry
that applying this criteria will create economic injustices later in life.
While admissions committees need not fear that merit based selection will create
economic injustice in a participatory economy, they will need to take appropriate
measures to prevent unfair and inefficient racial and gender biases from adversely
affecting the admission process. Affirmative action is warranted for two reasons:
(1) Even if nobody any longer discriminates, affirmative action is necessary to
correct for the effects of massive historical discrimination which are long lasting.
(2) It is unrealistic to assume that discrimination will not persist if not prevented.
While “raw” educational talents along various dimensions will vary among people,
often greatly, there is no variation in average genetic educational talents of any
kind among different races, ethnic groups, or genders. Therefore, disproportionate
representation among races, ethnic groups, and genders in different educational
programs should be treated as prima facie evidence of some form of
discrimination, whether personal or institutional, and warrant appropriate legal and
affirmative action in response as discussed below.
Similarly, we assume there will be a robust public healthcare system where
medicine, medical treatment, hospital stays, and professional nursing care are
provided to anyone who needs them free of charge. Whether patients receive
healthcare services at public hospitals, neighborhood clinics, or healthcare is
sometimes provided in patients’ homes will be entirely up to patients and
healthcare providers working in the public healthcare system to sort out. But it is
When we say “excel” in the program we mean take best advantage of the program not only to
achieve proficiency in an area of study, and not only to enhance one’s personal abilities to enjoy
life deeply, but also to become a socially productive member of society. In the early years of the
Cuban revolution when the country was too poor to afford everyone as much education as they
wanted, the prevailing ethos was that the fortunate few who became medical doctors or engineers
had a special obligation to serve society. So, for example, graduates of Cuban medical schools
were expected to spend years practicing medicine in rural clinics where needs were greatest. In
the United States graduates of our military academies where none pays for tuition, room, or
board, are obliged to serve at least four years in the military after graduation. And many law
schools forgive student debt for graduates who practice public interest law. In short, there is a
compelling moral logic to attaching social service obligations for those who receive more
education than others, especially when their extra education is provided at society’s expense.
public healthcare wherever it is delivered, and there is never any charge for any
part of healthcare.
To be clear: We assume all this whether education is provided as a national public
good, as it is for example in France and Cuba, or as a local public good, as it is in
the US. In a national system average class sizes and curricula are the same no
matter where one lives. In a local system class sizes may vary from one locale to
another because different locales make different choices about how much to
prioritize education compared to private goods and other local public goods. In
theory the same holds true for healthcare. A participatory society might decide that
healthcare is a national public good, in which case things like doctor-patient ratios
and treatments available would not vary depending on where one lived. Or,
alternatively, healthcare may be a local public good, in which case the quantity and
nature of healthcare services available might depend on where one lived. Even if
education or healthcare were treated as a local public good it is advisable to set
minimal standards which apply everywhere.
In any case, what we have stipulated
in this section are our assumptions about the terms on which education and
healthcare are available everywhere, whether or not the systems are national or
4. The Public vs. Private Choice
Just because our goals are the same with regard to reproductive activity and
economic activity we want decision making procedures to be self-managed, the
distribution of the burdens and benefits to be fair, and outcomes to be high quality
and economize on the use of scarce productive resources does not mean that we
should always organize and carry them out in the same way. In particular the
choice of how much of an activity should be carried out in the “public sphere”
where formal institutions and procedures are well elaborated, or in the “private
sphere” where they are less so, may well be different for reproductive and
economic activity. Of course no economic or reproductive activity is truly
“private” if we mean by that completely unguided by social institutions and
unaffected by social norms. However, it is not inaccurate to think of reproductive
activity that takes place within households as being more private” than
reproductive activity that takes place in the “public” economy, education system,
or healthcare system. The question this essay attempts to answer is how
Even in the United States where differences in per pupil expenditures in different school
districts can be considerable, state governments and the US Department of Education set
minimal standards which must be met everywhere.
reproductive activity should be organized in a context where the public economy is
a participatory economy and there are robust public education and healthcare
systems as described above.
It is our belief that: (1) some reproductive activity can best be carried out as
reproductive labor under the “public” participatory economic institutions described
above; (2) some should be carried out in the kind of “public” education and
healthcare systems outlined above, and (3) some should be carried out within
households, i.e. in ways that are often thought of as “private.” Moreover, it is our
belief that with few exceptions, individuals should be allowed to choose whether to
use “public” or “private” options, and that when free to do so, people will often
make different choices in this regard. Which means deciding how to treat people
fairly who make different “public” vs. “private” choices regarding reproductive
activity is an important issue to be considered.
5. Reproductive Labor in the Participatory Economy
While all public education and healthcare will be provided free of charge as
explained, there may be some reproductive services supplied by worker councils
and demanded by households as part of their consumption requests during the
participatory planning process. For example, a worker council might provide
garden and lawn care to households who wish to hire others to do this and pay for
them out of the household’s effort ratings and allowances. Another worker council
might provide cleaning services households would pay for. In short, in a
participatory economy people are free to form worker councils that do domestic
labor of different kinds, which households consume and pay for, just like they
consume and pay for food, clothing, or any other consumption good or service.
While a great deal of socialization labor is provided by the public education
system, some parts of which are mandatory, households may choose to supplement
public education for any of their members in the form of extra tutoring, music
lessons, art classes, sports training, etc. Neighborhood consumption councils and
federations of consumption councils may also choose to provide additional
educational and recreational programs beyond those available in the public
education system in the form of youth orchestras, sports leagues, etc. as public
goods. Whenever these supplemental educational services are provided by worker
councils they are paid for out of household effort ratings and allowances, which
includes children allowances, and if they are provided as local public goods there
are no user fees.
However, reproductive activity often takes place jointly with economic activity,
and there is every reason to believe that absent structured intervention,
reproductive labor which takes place along with economic activity in worker
councils in the participatory economy would continue to suffer from a “gender
bias” with two adverse consequences: (1) Because women perform more than their
share of caring and socialization labor in the public economy, they tend to be
compensated less than they should be. (2) Because men perform less than their
share of caring and socialization labor in the public economy they are under
exposed to the “human development effects” of caring labor which tend to
sensitize people toward the wellbeing of others and develop a caring culture of
solidarity. How do we propose to avoid these predictable outcomes?
Sometimes the problem is gender bias within a workplace. To correct for this we
propose two concrete policies. The first is to empower women’s caucuses in
worker councils and federations to challenge all aspects of gender bias in their
workplace. If a women’s caucus believes the job balancing committee has
combined tasks into jobs in a gender biased way, if a women’s caucus believes
there was gender bias in assignment to different jobs in the workplace, if a
women’s caucus believes gender bias has affected workplace effort ratings, or any
other aspect of life in the workplace; we propose to empower the women’s caucus
to not only raise their criticism and trigger a motion to reconsider, but more
importantly, to issue a temporary “stay” order against the offending practice until a
full review of the policy is completed. Moreover, if a majority of WC members
vote to retain the policy which its women’s caucus deems offensive, and thereby
overrule the “stay,” we propose that the women’s caucus have the right to appeal
that decision, first to the women’s caucus of an appropriate regional or industry
federation of worker councils, and ultimately should the federation women’s
We do not envision worker councils in the participatory economy providing caring labor to
households for the following reason. As will be explained in section 6, children have a right to
infant/childcare free of charge in public daycare and pre-K classes which are part of the
education system. And if adults provide this care at home instead, they are treated and
compensated as off-site, ex-officio workers in the education system. Similarly, elders have a
right to eldercare free of charge in public eldercare facilities run by the healthcare system. And if
adults provide this care at home instead, they are treated and compensated as off-site, ex-officio
workers in the healthcare system. So even if childcare or eldercare is delivered in-home it is
never provided by worker councils which are part of the economic system. In-home care labor is
performed by workers affiliated, even if loosely, with either the education or healthcare system.
caucus agree, to the appropriate regional or industry federation of worker councils
itself. Formally this procedure amounts to kicking a decision upstairs if the
women’s caucus and full membership continue to disagree as the issue climbs up
the federation ladder. But we feel there is reason to hope that active use of this
process can provide the kind of “soul searching” debate and reconsideration
needed to overcome gender biases which date back millennia, while remaining true
to the principle of democratic rule.
The second proposal is to balance jobs within worker councils for caring labor as
well as for empowerment and desirability. Incorporating caring tasks into all jobs
in a workplace, so that men will necessarily perform their share can help combat
the vestiges of patriarchal norms and foster new “other-oriented” notions of
masculinity. Historically, reproductive labor has been feminized linked with
femininity as biological determinists argue that women are inherently suited for
these jobs and men are not. Balancing jobs for caring labor can not only help teach
men that they too can be caring, empathetic, and solicitous of the well-being of
others, but also chip away at toxic notions of masculinity that justify selfishness,
violence, and misogyny.
However, none of this does anything to address a different form of historic gender
bias in the economy occupational and industry gender segregation. Will most
nurses continue to be women, and most carpenters continue to be men? Will most
members of worker councils providing house cleaning services continue to be
women, and most members of worker councils providing home repair and lawn
maintenance services continue to be men? We have proposed that people be free to
apply to whatever educational and training programs they wish. And we have
proposed that people be free to apply for membership in whatever worker council
they want. However, we do not recommend doing nothing if those who apply to be
carpenter apprentices are disproportionately male, those who apply for admission
to nursing schools are disproportionately female, applicants to worker councils
providing house cleaning services are disproportionately female, and applicants to
worker councils providing lawn care services are disproportionately male. Instead,
we recommend procedures to combat reproducing historical patterns of bias for
which there is no biological justification whatsoever.
Consider an occupation that is majority male. If the proportion of females admitted
to an educational or training program for this occupation is lower than the
proportion of qualified females who applied, and if this difference is statistically
significant, we have prima facie evidence of discrimination in the admission
process. Or, consider a worker council that is majority male. If the proportion of
females hired as new members is lower than the proportion of qualified female
applicants who applied, and if this difference is statistically significant, we have
prima facie evidence of discrimination in the hiring process. Presumably an active
women’s movement in a participatory society, including women’s caucuses in the
educational or economic institution, will investigate such cases, insist on internal
reform, and failing that, file anti-discrimination cases through the criminal justice
system seeking both remedy and compensation for victims. One of the great
victories of the US women’s movement in the 1970s was passage of landmark anti-
discrimination legislation. A participatory society should embrace anti-
discrimination legislation with serious penalties for violators, which active gender
caucuses can help enforce aggressively.
But feminist research has conclusively demonstrated that discrimination in
admissions and hiring which can be prevented by anti-discrimination legislation
which targets under selection of women from applicant pools -- is not the only way
that historic patterns of gender bias are perpetuated. All too often applicant pools
for educational programs for different occupations and enterprises in different
industries display a gender bias for which there is no biological explanation.
Fortunately there is a remedy for this which does not violate the principle that
everyone should be free to apply to whatever educational programs they wish, and
apply to work wherever they want. Where evidence of historic bias is strong we
recommend that a participatory society establish gender quotas for educational
programs and hiring. To be clear, what this means is sometimes requiring that the
fraction of females admitted or hired be higher than the fraction of female
applicants. We believe a participatory society should avail itself of such measures,
popularly known as affirmative action programs, to overcome historic gender
It is impossible to predict to what extent gender biases will still plagued a society
when its citizens decide to replace capitalism with something like the participatory
economic system discussed here. However, given how resilient gender
discrimination has proven to be, it would be unrealistic to assume that any society
adopting a participatory economy would be immune to gender discrimination --
which is why we propose these and other measures designed to combat gender
Although not the focus of this article, we also recommend caucuses of people of color, LGBT,
and disabled people, both in worker councils and in neighborhood councils.
6. Reproductive Activity in the Household
With the exception of mandatory education for children between the ages of five
and eighteen, we believe people should be free to choose how much reproductive
activity to do themselves, “privately” in households, as opposed to having it done
by others in the public economic, healthcare, or education system. How should
reproductive activity performed by household members be monitored and
In-home domestic labor: It may not be possible for men to carry half of all fetuses
through nine months of pregnancy, nor deliver half of all newborns during labor.
But it is certainly possible for men to share the burdens of housework equally with
women. The problem is how to get men to do it!
As discussed above, when monitored by active women’s caucuses armed with the
power to issue “stays,” job balancing committees in worker councils can do a great
deal to eliminate gender bias in traditional job structures in the public economy by
combining tasks in new ways so that every job contains tasks previously performed
almost exclusively by women, thereby guaranteeing that in the workplace men will
also have to do what has traditionally been “women’s work.” In other words, just
as committees that combine tasks into jobs can balance jobs for empowerment (to
promote economic democracy) and desirability (for economic justice), they can
also balance jobs for caring labor as well -- the rationale being that failure to do so
would permit historic gender biases which are both unfair and inefficient to persist.
Similarly, anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action programs, backed by
powerful women’s caucuses provide effective ways to challenge gender bias in
hiring, firing, assignment, and evaluation in a participatory economy. But there are
no caucuses within households to empower women, nor do laws and affirmative
action programs apply to households. This implies that organized social pressure
must be even more intense if men are to be induced to do their share of housework.
Where can organized social pressure come from?
We have already discussed how women’s caucuses in worker councils and
federations with the power to issue “stays” can break down gender stereotypes.
There is also a place for women’s caucuses in neighborhood consumption councils
to provide moral support for women who would otherwise be isolated in their
struggles to convince male partners to do their fair share of housework. Women’s
caucuses in neighborhood councils can also organize cooking and cleaning classes
for men in the neighborhood who fail to participate in these tasks partly for lack of
necessary skills rather than lack of desire to change. An important reason for
women's caucuses in neighborhood councils is to make sure that consumption
furthers gender equality when decisions about private versus public goods, and
what kinds of pubic goods are made.
Women’s caucuses in neighborhood councils can also sometimes confront men
who are particularly wayward although it is important to understand that this can
be extremely tricky. But we do not believe it would be wise to empower women’s
caucuses in neighborhood councils to issue stays or dictate behavior within
households. Which means that combating gender bias within households must be
done through social pressure and moral suasion.
However, there is a danger to be
avoided we should learn from current campaigns which “preach” political
correctness. Many organizations today suspend normal work once a year so
members can attend consciousness raising sessions around race or gender issues --
which are often led by “professional” facilitators -- all with the best of intentions.
But while it is true that racist and sexist norms at work and within organizations
need to be acknowledged and challenged, when sessions become formulaic and
preachy they can become counterproductive, and participation can become
hypocritical when lip-service wins praise while honesty draws rebuke. There is no
magic answer to this dilemma which plagues all exercises in moral suasion.
Nonetheless, we should realize that when done badly exercises in moral suasion
can increase cynicism rather than reduce prejudice. We raise this issue here
because confronting sexism in “private” households must, of necessity, rely more
heavily on moral suasion, whereas more powerful formal institutions can be
brought to bear on sexism in the public economic, education, and healthcare
systems. The key is to learn from available evidence about what kind of campaigns
of moral suasion are most likely to be effective.
For similar reasons women's caucuses would also be necessary in the education and health
care systems.
There is good reason to be skeptical about how effective moral suasion sometimes proves to
be. A discouraging example was how little re-writing the Cuban constitution to include passages
stipulating that men bear an equal responsibility with women for house-work and childcare,
accompanied by a major educational campaign carried out by the Cuban Federation of Women,
affected the attitudes and behavior of Cuban men. However, we believe empowering
neighborhood women’s caucuses or government bodies to intervene and countermand decisions
household members make in this regard would be an unjustifiable infringement on personal
choice, and run the risk of provoking a counterproductive backlash.
See Kalinoski et. al. 2013, and Bezrukova et. al. 2012. While supportive of the purposes of
diversity training, these large sample studies remark on the lack of evidence that diversity
training has any significant effect on “affective based” outcomes.
In-home caring labor: Children have child allowances to cover their expenses. But
children also have what we might think of as an additional in-kind income:
Children have a right to childcare and education free of charge. Similarly, elders
have retirement or disability allowances to cover their expenses. But in addition
elders have an in-kind income: Elders have a right to eldercare free of charge. Both
children and elder allowances are set in light of the fact that they must cover room,
board and other expenses, but do not have to cover the cost of providing free
childcare or eldercare, just as they do not have to cover medical care since that is
provided free of charge to everyone.
However, we believe parent/guardians should be free to provide infant care and
pre-K education themselves, in the home, if they so wish, rather than send their
children to infant/childcare facilities which are part of the education system. And
we believe the choice of whether eldercare is provided in assisted living centers
run by the healthcare system, or by personnel from the healthcare system who
come to the home where the elder lives, or by members of an elder’s household,
should be up to elders and members of their households.
Whenever childcare or eldercare is provided in-home by a household member,
rather than by the education or healthcare system, the provider is foregoing income
he or she would have earned working in a worker council, and therefore
compensation is in order. And whenever care is provided in-home by a household
member, the cost of providing the care in the education system which the child
has a right to -- or the healthcare system which the elder has a right to -- is
defrayed. We propose that when caring labor is provided in-home by household
members they be treated as “ex-officio” employees of the education or healthcare
system working “offsite” so to speak.
But even if household members providing in-home care are treated as “ex-officio”
workers in the education or healthcare system, in-home provision of childcare and
eldercare creates a problem: There are no co-workers onsite to monitor and
evaluate what they do. As explained above, compensation in the participatory
economy is determined by a committee of co-workers who provide effort ratings
for all members. We assume that somewhat different, but similar procedures will
be established in the education and healthcare systems. Moreover, the participatory
economy, and presumably the education and healthcare systems as well, will have
built in features that guarantee the quality of the goods produced and services
performed. Unfortunately, no such features are available to determine how much to
compensate household members who provide in-home childcare or eldercare. Nor
are there institutional mechanisms to monitor service quality.
We see no alternative but to establish a standard payment for household members
who provide in-home childcare and elder care. And we see no better alternative to
the kind of monitoring for minimal quality provided by social service departments
The alternative of empowering a committee of stay-at-home adults within
each neighborhood council to monitor for quality, and provide effort ratings for
stay-at-home childcare and eldercare providers seems to us to be an undesirable
infringement on privacy without providing the kind of professionalism which
successful intervention requires.
This is not to say that stay-at-home childcare and eldercare providers may not
benefit from self-help groups in their neighborhood councils. But we do not think
it wise to empower such groups to monitor one another for quality of care
provided, or to provide one another with effort ratings. Instead we recommend
standard income credits for stay-at-home care providers be determined by the
education and healthcare systems. This includes standard rates which may vary
according to the number of pre-K children or elders being cared for, and which
might take into account that as the number being cared for increases this does not
generally mean that the efforts and sacrifices of the provider increase
proportionately. Up to some point there may be economies of scale, or, as the title
of a once popular book said, “cheaper by the dozen.”
In sum: Society fulfills its responsibilities to the new generation when the public
education system provides infant and child care for all children, free of charge, just
as it provides all children free primary and secondary education. But children’s
guardians can choose instead to provide care themselves in the home for children
from zero to five years old if they wish for which they receive compensation
from the education system as “off-site educators” according to established rules.
Society fulfills its responsibilities to those who are disabled or retired when the
public healthcare system provides eldercare in its own facilities for all who qualify
free of charge. But elders can choose to remain at home if they prefer, and receive
care from household members who receive compensation from the healthcare
This should not be read as a “vote of confidence” in how social service agencies often function
today. All too often social service programs are underfunded, poorly staffed, overly bureaucratic,
inefficient, and inhumane. What we are arguing is that monitoring in-home provision of infant
care, childcare, and eldercare by household members for quality is best done by departments in
the education and healthcare systems which are adequately funded and staffed, and where both
caretakers and those cared for have considerable input into designing procedures. In other words,
we see no better alternative to a high quality social service agency to carry out this task. Treating
household members who provide childcare and eldercare as ex-officio workers in the education
or healthcare system working off-site seems to be the best option.
system as “off-site caregivers” according to established rules. Children reside in
households, so all of their allowance is added to whatever effort ratings or
allowances a household has. And if an elder remains in a household all of their
allowance becomes part of household income as well. If instead an elder resides in
an eldercare facility, the part of his or her allowance intended to cover room and
board is credited as payment to the facility.
In-home socialization labor: According to an African proverb which Hillary
Clinton popularized in her title to a 1996 book, “It takes a village to raise a child.
The point of the proverb is that the socialization of the next generation is done in
many settings, at many times, by many people. A popular old saying, “chickens are
raised but children are reared,” makes a similar point -- namely that socialization
labor for humans is a complicated process, requiring skill, mental energy, and
ingenuity. In any case, “socialization” of succeeding generations is undeniably one
of the most important activities any society engages in. Much more socialization
labor is now done in school systems than was the case until two hundred years ago,
and as explained we are assuming that a participatory society will have a robust
public education system. Nonetheless, a great deal of “rearing” of children of all
ages does, and should, take place inside households. Who should do it? How
should they be compensated?
Any time a parent stays home to “rear” a child between the ages of 5 and 18 is time
he or she cannot be working in a worker council earning an effort rating.
Moreover, taking child rearing seriously means acknowledging the immense value
to society of socialization labor. It means abandoning the stereotype of adults lying
on a couch watching soap operas (or playing video games) and eating bonbons (or
swilling beers) whenever an adult stays home once children are in school full time.
All of which points toward compensation for an adult providing socialization labor
in-home. On the other hand, even though it benefits society greatly, unlike the case
when infant and pre-K care/education is provided at home, in-home socialization
labor does not relieve the educational system of the cost of educating children ages
5-18 who participate in mandatory education regardless.
One solution is to simply account for in-home socialization labor in children’s
allowances. Just as children’s allowances should be sufficient to cover their food,
clothing, toys, living space, etc., allowances should be sufficient to cover their in-
home socialization as well. And just as food, clothing, toys, and living space needs
might vary for children of different ages, so the costs of socialization labor might
vary by age. In effect this proposal reverses the second shift penalty feminists
criticize today when women who work in the labor market come home to work a
second shift providing in-home socialization for children which goes unpaid.
Through children’s allowances the household budget would include payment for
someone working the second shift even if no adult stays home to work it.
Of course this does nothing to combat gender bias regarding who stays home to
provide socialization labor -- men or women. It should be illegal for worker
councils to offer more attractive parental leave options for their female members
than their male members. And if other policies discussed above are successful at
eliminating the gender pay gap, the foregone household income from a stay-at-
home mom would be no less on average than for a stay-at-home dad. Nonetheless,
because caucuses and committees are unavailable in households, moral pressure
must be organized to combat the vestiges of gender bias regarding in-home
socialization labor which will no doubt remain, with all of the problems that
exercises in moral suasion present.
Overcoming gender bias regarding who takes parental leave in a participatory
society would continue to be important for two reasons. First and foremost, there is
no biological reason which renders men less able to perform socialization labor,
which means that any observed gender bias implies that socialization is being done
inefficiency. Second, while absences from work in worker councils should not
affect a person’s expected income since compensation in a participatory economy
is based on effort and sacrifice, it might continue to adversely affect whether
someone is likely to be hired, or awarded jobs within a worker council that he or
she applies for. So while we would expect no “mommy track” pay penalty for stay-
at-home parents in a participatory economy, there may still be an adverse effect on
women’s access to jobs they prefer if they continue to perform more in-home
socialization than men.
We fully understand that it will be those who replace our current dysfunctional
system with a new one who will decide concretely how to organize both economic
and reproductive activity. Moreover, their decisions will be based on a great deal
more knowledge and experience than we have at present. So why bother trying to
elaborate specific proposals now for how reproductive activity can be better
organized, carried out, and rewarded?
There are two problems with limiting ourselves to further elaborating a feminist
critique of patriarchal capitalism. The first is that we need to convince people there
is a better alternative which is perfectly feasible. And you can’t do that if you
don’t formulate concrete proposals. In short, you can’t beat something with
nothing. The second is that until there are concrete proposals on the table it is
impossible to evaluate the pros and cons of different options.
We do not offer the proposals in this article because we are trying to dictate what
others do when opportunities arise. Nor do we offer them because we believe they
are immune from criticism, nor because we believe alternative options are not
worthy of consideration. We have proposed solutions which may strike some as
excessively concrete and specific in order to stimulate discussion, so those who
create a participatory, socialist, and feminist society will have solutions to choose
from that have been thoroughly vetted.
If “the feminized ghetto of care work” is to be torn down, and if society as a whole
is to learn to value caring for the young, the elderly, and the vulnerable, men will
have to change more diapers, make more meals, feed more children, and
accompany more grandparents to doctor’s appointments. Similarly, able-bodied
individuals will need to participate in jobs which include tasks like caring for
people with disabilities, veterans with PTSD, children with autism, and elders with
dementia. Time spent in these forms of care-work help promote empathy for those
who are vulnerable in society, which is part of becoming the kinds of human
beings we should all want to become. The work we do, day-in and day-out, can
have a transformative effect on who we become over the years, which is why
ensuring that men perform their share of reproductive labor can help cultivate their
ability to be other-oriented and empathic, and help build stronger communities of
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In a socialist mode of production, human activity is no longer constrained by the capitalist need to maximize surplus labor, and correspondingly minimize necessary labor. The guiding principle for its organization can therefore be the development and realization of human potential. Some idea of what this could consist of can be derived from observations of the struggle by both wage laborers and household laborers for such goals within the capitalist mode of production, a struggle that is distinct from that necessary to resist the capitalist appropriation of surplus labor. In so doing, it directs attention to the large proportion of the human activity of the working class within capitalist societies that takes the form of household labor, relative to wage labor, and thus its potential significance for the restructuring of human activity in a socialist mode of production.
With the advent of digitalization, the more techno-optimist among critics of capitalism have articulated new calls for post-work and post-scarcity economics made possible by new advances in information and communication technology. Quite recently, some of this debate shifted for calls for digital-democratic planning to replace market-based allocation. This article will trace the lineages of this shift and present these new calls for digitally enabled and democratic planning. I will then argue that much of the discussion focuses on capitalism’s laws of economic motion, while rendering less visible capitalism’s social, political, and ecological ‘conditions of possibility’. To remedy this shortcoming I will ask how these fit into the recent debate and suggest avenues to extend the discussion of democratic planning in that way. Concretely, I will discuss features of a postcapitalist mode of reproduction that abolishes capital’s subordination of non-waged and waged care work. The following part will focus on both planning’s need to calculate ecological externalities and consequently determine sustainable and egalitarian paths for social and technological development on a world scale. The last section will elaborate on the ‘democratic’ in ‘democratic planning’ in terms of planning’s decision-making, multi-scalar politics, and politics of cultural recognition.
This paper consists of a brief presentation of modes of production in class societies, highlighting the significance of household production in these. This is followed by a new approach to the conceptualization of the (non-class) communist mode of production and the place of household production in such a society.
Using a feminist political economy approach, contributors document the impact of current socio-economic policies on states, markets, households, and communities. Relying on impressive empirical research, they argue that women bear the costs of and responsibility for care-giving and show that the theoretical framework provided by feminist analyses of social reproduction not only corrects the gender-blindness of most economic theories but suggests an alternative that places care-giving at its centre. In this illuminating study, they challenge feminist scholars to re-engage with materialism and political economy to engage with feminism.
InEconomic Justice and Democracy, Robin Hahnel puts aside most economic theories from the left and the right (from central planning to unbridled corporate enterprise) as undemocratic, and instead outlines a plan for restructuring the relationship between markets and governments according to effects, rather than contributions. This idea is simple, provocative, and turns most arguments on their heads: those most affected by a decision get to make it. It's uncomplicated, unquestionably American in its freedom-reinforcement, and essentially what anti-globalization protestors are asking for. Companies would be more accountable to their consumers, polluters to nearby homeowners, would-be factory closers to factory town inhabitants. Sometimes what's good for General Motors is bad for America, which is why we have regulations in the first place. Though participatory economics, as Robert Heilbronner termed has been discussed more outside America than in it, Hahnel has followed discussions elsewhere and also presents many of the arguments for and against this system and ways to put it in place.