A PREFACE TO ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY by Robert A. Dahl

A PREFACE TO ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Tocqueville worried that the equality fostered by democracy would ultimately pose a threat to liberty. Yale political scientist Dahl (A Preface to Democratic Theory) says that Tocqueville's fear was misplaced: it's equality that's in trouble, and the only way to save it and democracy is to extend the principles of political democracy to the business enterprise. Dahl's style is not scintillating--he combines analytical reasoning with empirical data--but the fact that this argument is coming from an eminent establishment academic is noteworthy per se. After positing that a democratic process should meet certain criteria--equal votes, effective participation, ""enlightened understanding,"" control over what is (or isn't) subject to collective decision-making, inclusion of all adults--Dahl faces the hurdle of showing that a business enterprise is as suitable as government for such a process. On the tough issue--can an enterprise's decisions be construed as binding upon its members?--Dahl argues that, in practice, it's as least as difficult for a worker to reject a business's decisions as it is for a citizen to reject a government's. (A citizen can move to a different locality and still be a citizen, but a worker who gets fired or quits does not have automatic entree to another enterprise.) On that basis, all members of the collectivity should have a voice in those decisions. Dahl then fleshes out his vision of economic democracy, adhering to principles of justice and efficiency as well as democratic procedures, and winds up with a benign image of collectively-owned enterprises operating in a market setting with some government control to ensure fairness. The enterprises themselves would be able to reduce internal pay inequalilty--the managerial personnel would not be members of the collective, but hired hands (for whom enterprises would compete)--and that, together with greater equality in decision-making, would strenghten political equality in the nation as a whole. Dahl also sees built-in incentives for the creation of investment capital within the firms that could lead to improved national economic performance. Much of this remains abstract--but it's the argument that counts, and that's worth taking seriously.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0520058771
Publisher: Univ. of California Press