Review: Parecomic – The Story of Michael Albert and Participatory Economics

Parecomic CoverParecomic is a graphic novel about something that affects us all: the system we live in–what’s wrong with it, and how we might be able change it for the better. Written by Sean Michael Wilson, and drawn by Carl Thompson, Parecomic is about Michael Albert–the visionary behind “participatory economics”–and his life’s struggle as a left-wing activist in the US.

The graphic novel is interesting in that it has two distinct parts. The first half is about Albert’s life and his experiences within the left wing of American politics. We go through his growth and evolution of his philosophy on participation as well as economics. It’s the origin story to his idea of “participatory economics.” The story begins with the beginning in the heady days of 1960s student demos and lifestyle rebellions; following the developments of the antiwar, civil rights, woman’s, and Black Panthers movements; to the establishment of alternative media like South End Press and ZNet.

The second half is the dissection of “participatory economics.” In various ways the graphic novel explains about this economic idea, how it differs from socialism, Marxism, capitalism and some examples of how it works in modern society.

But what is “participatory economics?” Proposed as an alternative to capitalism, participatory economics (parecon, for short) values equity, solidarity, diversity, and participatory self-management. In Albert’s vision, workers and consumers councils use self-managed decision-making, balanced job complexes, renumeration according to duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor; and participatory planning.

What particularly struck me about this graphic novel is it’s unwillingness to dumb down it’s subject. This is a read for those with an interest in economics, politics and participation and throughout it struck me that it’s not necessarily written for the masses. There have been other graphic novels that explain economic theory, but they have been written for folks to easily digest and understand. Here, everything is laid out in an intelligent way that challenges the reader to think through difficult concepts. This is an advance college textbook in graphic form. I found myself pausing on pages thinking through what it was saying and the concepts within. In other words, it made me think. Wilson makes what might not be easy to understand ideas digestible.

That’s helped by Thompson’s art. The style is simple but engaging, with great renditions of many real life people who are easily recognizable.

I’ll leave my judgement of the concepts for some other venue. There is some back and forth as to how participatory economics works and some of the criticism, but that’s limited. Instead I was left with a want to talk to Albert himself with my questions on how his concept works on the micro and macro scale.

Parecomic brought me back to a time in my life when I regularly thought through these ideas and concepts, a time when my brain was working over time with new ideas and connecting the dots. This graphic novel challenged me to think through new ideas as well as the world we live in. Even better it did so in a way I didn’t find boring or grating to read, much like some of the works referenced within it. Parecomic is a fine example of how far the comic medium has come. It’s no longer ruled by only heroes in tights, it’s now a tool in our greater understanding of the world and further education.

Story: Sean Michael Wilson Art: Carl Thompson
Story: 8.5 Art: 8 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy