Wikipedia, Free the Binary Paradigm

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Aug 20, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Wikipedia, Free the Binary Paradigm

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

The internet Wikipedia has become what many consider to be the most powerful shaper of modern thought.  It does this by categorizing knowledge.  The latest issue in the world of Wikipedia is whether binary economics should be reduced to a sub-category under participatory economics.  On August 20, 2007, Rodney Shakespeare urged that the Wikipedia retain both “binary economics” and “participatory economics” as prime categories.

The paradigm of participatory economics as explained in Robert Hahnel’s book, Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation, Routledge, 2005, and cited in Wikipedia, shares the social goals of binary economics and shares its fundamental premise that political justice necessarily depends on economic justice.  These two paradigms also both share the principles of equal access by everyone to decision-making through participatory justice in the production of wealth, as well as equal benefits from production through distributive justice in its consumption, both regulated by the political system to promote harmonic justice in the sense of assuring that the normal balance between the two is maintained.

In their highest goals, both of these systems are part of a single paradigm of compassionate justice, which, at least in theory, is central to every one of the world religions.  They both reject the autistic greed of monopolistic capitalism and the solipsistic envy of economic socialism as workable bases for any kind of economic and social justice.  Nevertheless, these two differ so completely on the role of private property that they should be considered as separate paradigms. 

Participatory economics relies on social means and cultural transformation, without any real institutional changes, to counter the evils of concentrated ownership of wealth.  In contrast, binary economics pursues fundamental institutional change to broaden the ownership of wealth as a means to promote economic and social justice and thereby to make possible a culture in which every individual can pursue the higher purposes of both individual and community life.

The paradigm of binary economics includes all the tools of compassionate justice that are pursued by the formal system of participatory economics but only as additional means to accomplish the same end.  For example, self-management as a means to economic freedom is known in binary economics as justice-based management and could include workers councils, even in the form of trade unions in a 100% worker-owned enterprise, but producer’s councils would be redundant. 

The concept of producer and worker councils trying to overcome the inherent conflict of interests between owners and those dependent on them through wages might leave ultimate decision making at the national level to the political process dominated by monopoly capitalism.  In three letters written shortly before he died, Karl Marx in effect recanted his entire work of Das Kapital by warning that property ownership can never be abolished, and that the transfer of control from private to government elitists might create even more injustice with no improvement in economic efficiency.

Marx correctly saw the evils of the English common-law concept of property, which I learned at Harvard Law School consists of unlimited right to use, abuse, and destroy.  In this inhuman system of ownership there is no such thing as natural law or human rights, because where capital ownership is concentrated in politico-economic elites, as in monopoly capitalism, human beings are mere property as wage slaves of the owners.  Only in his dying days did Marx see that the only cure for the evils of the industrial age, when wealth is produced 90% or more by capital and only 10% by labor, is to broaden ownership through institutional change.  He saw only vaguely, but correctly, that this would require fundamental changes in the creation of money and credit, tax policy, corporation law, and the entire infrastructural system of governance that sustains barriers to such change.  None of this is foreseen in the paradigm of participatory economics.

The “parecon worker-run collectives” cited toward the end of the Wikipedia entry on participatory economics are all worthy efforts to overcome the injustices of the industrial and post-industrial age, but these micro efforts would be much more effective in an atmosphere of macro reform.

A major difference between the binary and participatory paradigms of thought concerns reliance on the mechanism of the free market to allocate resources in the production of wealth.  The injustices inherent in an elitist economy can be most reliably addressed not through participatory planning by those who do not own but by broadening ownership to those who currently do not own so that they will have the power, both economic and political, that is inherent in individual, private ownership of the means of production. 

The participatory economics paradigm emphasizes balance between production and consumption in ways that address the opportunity costs of “externalities,” especially eco-sensitive variables that today are considered to be exogenous to the functioning of the economy.  Equally exogenous in such systems as the cited Austrian model are the universal human rights that should determine whether a society is civilized.  These would include universally free health care and free education up the most advanced levels for those academically qualified, as well as care for those who have become marginalized in society either through or without any fault of their own.

These basic human rights are central to binary economics, which pursues them both directly through political policy and indirectly through such means as industrial and capital homesteading.  A sophisticated set of implementing proposals has been produced by The Center for Economic and Social Justice and popularized through the slogan, “Close the Wealth Gap: Own or Be Owned.”  This initiative to address a major indirect cause of global terrorism is a central plank of The American Revolutionary Party, the platform of which I helped to write as an expert in natural law, both Islamic and Christian, so that it would embrace a comprehensive set of human responsibilities and rights, including everything that is valued in participatory economics.  Capital homesteading provides equal opportunities for access to capital the way that Abraham Lincoln did to land in the original homesteading law.  The details are in the book, newly updated, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen, by Norman G. Kurland, Dawn K. Brohawn, and Michael D. Greaney, available through

For all these reasons, and more, the two systems of what one might call economic subsidiarity, namely, the binary which recognizes the importance of private ownership of wealth in both capital and labor as a universal human right, and the participatory, which does not address the distinction between the two, should remain separate in the categorization of knowledge.