Parecomic: The story of Michael Albert and Participatory Economics
Written by Sean Michael Wilson
Drawn by Carl Thompson
Not liking the current economy very much, a book about an alternate way for an economy to run seemed like an excellent opportunity for me. Especially since it’s a graphic novel and thus likely to be at least slightly livelier than other books about the economy.
However, while it wasn’t a terrible book, it wasn’t a particularly good one either and I was really not impressed with participatory economics as it was described.
The first two-thirds of the book were more a biography/personal history of the civil rights era. I found this portion extremely interesting, even if it wasn’t saying much about participatory economics. The people and the times were interesting enough that it was okay that I didn’t find the main character (or any of the other characters) very sympathetic.
The later third of the book did discuss participatory economics, but did so very poorly. This is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I might understand why Ayn Rand was so down on liberals and socialists. Given that this book was written in Albert’s words, defending his ideals, presumably to the best of his ability, I have to admit that maybe Rand wasn’t entirely making up her annoying “liberal” characters as I’d assumed.
Albert wants to save the working class and the poor, but he sure doesn’t respect them. He argues that white-collar workers aren’t any better than blue-collar workers but assumes that it’s obvious that white-collar work is better and more empowering than blue-collar work. He assumes that everyone will like the same things and dislike the same things and generally have the same opinions if only they really understood. Thus, in his view, business meetings can reach consensus quickly and easily, and if you don’t agree with him, then you just don’t understand the situation.
It started out interesting, but ended up mostly irritating. On the other hand, it was well-illustrated, the first part was interesting, and the book as a whole wasn’t that long. So, faint praise, but still praise.
That Lovely Horrible Stuff
By Eddie Campbell
This was in the nonfiction new-release section at my library and it seemed to be a graphic novel about currency, which I thought would be interesting. Instead it was mostly some biographical ramblings of the author about his money troubles. It did have a section about the stone money of the island Yap, which was really interesting. I wish the whole book had been like that. Instead I mostly got annoyed at Campbell for being whiny. Like Parecomic, it was interesting and well-illustrated (and really quite short), but the main character was even more off-putting.
When I was actually reading Atlas Shrugged, I knew that her philosophy was called Objectivism, and I learned from the book some of the basic tenants of it, but what I hadn’t realized until later is that Objectivism literally means that there is an objective (as opposed to subjective) viewpoint of the world. Like, there is a single correct way to view the world, and it takes a lot of work to get that view, but it exists, and if you get to that, you can accomplish anything.
So, I don’t actually agree with that very basic keystone of Objectivism, so of course, I wasn’t going to agree with anything else that hinged on it, but Rand’s liberal characters make a lot more sense with the assumption that they are existing in an objective world. Most liberals today, myself included, seem to believe in the subjective world, in that our own knowledge of the world is all based on our personal experience, which only gives us a small sliver of an understanding of the whole, but it kind of would be interesting (if annoying) to hear the liberal objectivist argument, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Somehow I hadn’t actually put it together like that, but you are very right: this is a left-wing version of Objectivism. I do wonder how thoroughly enmeshed they are, or if Participatory Economics could be un-entangled from Objectivism, and what the results would look like.
Thanks for your faint praise review, Rebecca. sorry that aspects of Parecomic were annoying to you, but I’m glad you had some chance to think about the Parecon system. It’s an ongoing debate and YOU can contribute towards it too, influencing the way the ideas develop. It’s not liberal, though, its radical left wing anarchist-socialist (which is bettter!), and a key aspect of that approach is that we can all contribute to what’s decided, its participatory.
Pity that you didn’t like Eddie’s book either – is this ‘bash a Scot’ month? (Eddie and I are both Scottish). Just joking!
Sean Michael Wilson
Hello, Sean Michael!
And wow, um, I hadn’t expected to actually have one of the authors read my reviews. I’m sorry (for multiple reasons) that I didn’t enjoy your book more. It made me realize that while I’m not happy with the current economy, I’m not willing to pay the price of ongoing participation to change it. Meetings among equals with the goal of reaching a consensus on a business plan or budget is something I avoid as much as possible. (I was unable to avoid it last Sunday, in fact, and just the memory makes me weary. We did not reach a consensus and the meeting will continue later.) I’m willing to forego some benefits in order to avoid having to deal with earning them.
And hee! I hadn’t realized you were both Scottish. I actually picked up both books at the same time when I was helping to shelve the new acquisitions at my local library. The acquisitions librarian must have been on a roll!
Anyway, kudos to you both for publishing graphic novels. I’m really pleased with what I hope is a growing trend of nonfiction graphic novels.
The international group around parecon, and for anyone interested in approving society, is this, free to join:
and my web site is here:
Thanks for the links!
Thank you Rebecca. I just returned here after a long time. I’m going to build a nice blog about my comics on wordpress
Thanks for your polite reply Rebecca.
i understand the aversion to many public meetings about deciding things. It is an issue that needs to be dealt with in a participatory system. In fact i will discuss that very issue with the IOPS folk soon.
The Parecomic book got a good review in the Library Journal, which is perhaps why your library was stocking it:
“Aspects of his personal, political, and philosophical viewpoints are well-balanced and presented skillfully through Thompson’s expressive illustrations… this is an accessible and serviceable introduction to the principles of parecon and the vision of one of its founders. Recommended for readers interested in alternative economic models and the legacy of the radical 1960s.” – The Library Journal
Yes, please do check out some more mature graphic novels – we need more intelligent adult readers! Perhaps one of my manga style books wold suit you more? They can be seen on my web site:
Congrats on the great review from the Library Journal! That is excellent!
And actually I read your take on Book of Five Rings a while back and found it really helpful. I had bogged down in attempting to read that book in just a standard format, but your graphic novel version made it a whole lot more accessible.