Praxis and Transformational Economics

Here's another one for the "economics" collection of posts that I've been working on for a while. Way back when, I started this series by thinking about Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy and by the model of economic development presented in the final two books. In short economic activity is organized around ~150 person co-operatives that people "buy into," and then work for as long as the co-op exists or until they sell their spot so that they can work on a different project/co-op.

In the series, these co-operatives arose as part of a response to the multi/trans/meta-national corporations which were the books antagonists. Corporations which had grown so big, that they resembled nations as much as they did companies in the contemporary perspective. The co-ops came around in part as a response to the metanat's, but then the corporations themselves restructured in response to an ecological/sociological catastrophe, so that they eventually started to look more like the cooperatives. The "progressive," meta-national corporation was called "Praxis," in the stories and Praxis was the organization that lead the transformation from metanational capitalism to, what followed. As part of this series, I'd very much like to think about Praxis and what kinds of lessons we can bring back from this thought, beyond the simplistic "cooperatives good, corporations bad," notion that I've been toting for months. Thus,

  • The corruption and disconnect from authentic economic exchange in that the metanats display in the Mars Books, far outclasses anything that's happening today. On the one hand, given the nature of Science Fictional criticism, this isn't such a great barrier to importing ides from the books; on the other, we must also imagine that Praxis is able to "out compete" traditional meta-nationals because of the scale of the issue. That is, the Praxis critique and solution may be valid today, but things may have to get much worse before a Praxis-like solution becomes economically viable.

  • Praxis succeeds in the story, not because it can out compete the meta-nationals at their own game, not because it's "right." I appreciate fiction (and reality,) where the winning economic solution wins on economic rather than moral terms. While I'm hardly a Market proponent, it's hard to divorce economics from exchanges, and I think the following logic fails to convince me: "we change current cultural practice to do something less efficient that may create less value, because it complies better with some specific and culturally constrained ethic."

    One part of my own thinking on this issue has revolved around looking for mechanisms that produce change and I think Praxis is particularly interesting from a mechanistic perspective.

  • Praxis presents a case of a revolutionary-scale change, with evolutionary mechanisms, which is something that I think is hard to argue for, or encourage as the change itself is really a result of everything else that's going on in the historical moment. Nevertheless, everyone in the story world is very clear that Praxis-post transformation is fundamentally not the same kind of organization that it was before. In a lot of ways it becomes its own "corporate successor state," and I think that leaves us with a pretty interesting question to close with...

How do we setup and/or encourage successor institutions to the flawed economic organizations/coroprations we have today without recapitulating their flaws?

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