Towards a New Economics …in Yoga?

This is something which has been brewing in my mind for quite a while now. I frequent quite a number of yoga-related sites and blogs and over and over again, I regularly read blog posts about yoga instructors, aspiring yoga instructors and the like bemoan the fact that as much as they adore the work that they do and the kinds of positive changes they witness in people’s lives due to the yoga, there just simply isn’t much money in it (unless you decide to go the route of a yoga celebutard) and keeping body, mind and soul intact is quite often a struggle.

Many aspiring yoga instuctors dream of a lifestyle which looks like this....

Many aspiring yoga instructors dream of a lifestyle which looks like this….

...but often have to pay their dues in settings like this.

…but often have to pay their dues in settings like this.

The options are usually limited and not very encouraging. Either become an aforementioned rock-star yoga asshole and climb that corporate-based model, or join the thousands of yoga instructors who have flooded the market in recent years and barely get by as a freelance worker, operating out of a variety of studios along with hitting the pavement to look for private clients or volunteer at community centers.

Corporate yoga!

Corporate yoga!

Either way, the fluctuations of your income will largely be dictated by the demands of the market place. If for instance yoga’s popularity declines because something else takes over, we can expect to see many unemployed yoga instructors hitting the internet to look around for something else, en masse.

I work in the managerial and financial side of health services. It is “health” on the curative side of things, unlike yoga which would (normally) fall under the preventative side of the definition of “health”. Increasingly, health services of BOTH varieties has become privatized and is largely following the private model of administration, financial compensation and management.

Like ABBA once sang, Money, Money ,Money"

Like ABBA once sang, Money, Money ,Money”

Of course within yoga, just because of how wide and diverse the community itself is, there are many co-op, pay-as-you-go, sliding scale and other initiatives following alternative economic models. None of it is very wide-scale unfortunately, a shame in my opinion, given the brain-power, creativity and general forwardness of the of the people normally involved in the community.

Setting aside exceptions to the rule and speaking in generalities, my biggest economic critique of most yoga studios, instructors, schools and the industry as a whole is that they just simply follow the business-as-usual model—-> i.e capitalism which usually works along the lines of “You control the economic resources, but I have the man power, so I work for you, you pay me, I go home”. It’s a reactive stance, not a pro-active one.  My own anarchist and leftist bias and sympathies should be pretty clear to anyone who reads my blog regularly so it should come as no surprise when I say, I think that model sucks royally.

Keep on droning, you evil workers you!

Keep on droning, you evil workers you!

I will not go into the evils and ills of capitalism. Any simple Google search can yield you numerous articles on that point. Instead I’d like to focus on a little-known economic model which I think the yoga industry, as a whole, is strategically placed to benefit from. It’s called Participatory Economics or Parecon for short. Before I go into Parecon, let me explain why I think the yoga industry is in a unique place at this time.

Progressive family doing yga together.

Progressive family doing yoga together.

Yoga is booming and is part of an annual $7 billion+ plus global wellness industry. Aside from it’s health and relaxation benefits, its therapeutic qualities are also becoming clearer over time. Demand for yoga is skyrocketing the world over. Setting aside any spiritual argument for the moment, as any basic micro economic class might have taught you back in college, economics is all about demand and supply. Where those two lines intersect on the graph is usually where price per quantity will be determined. If something is in short-supply but demand is high, then chances are prices will be very high. If supply has flooded the market and demand is low, no one wants it, then prices will be very low. The demand for yoga is there and growing. Progressive yoga schools, instructors and studios are therefore in a unique and powerful position to determine supply. Furthermore yoga is diverse enough to experiment with Parecon. The community is still large enough for experiments to go ahead and yet still small and alternative enough vis a vis the general population that it can do so and not ruffle the feathers of the  corporate-state system which, alternative economics if practiced widely and globally, ultimately would undermine (I can dream, can’t I?).

If the Demand curve shifts to the right or left and Supply stays the same, the (P)rice  at that (Q)uantity will change. Same thing happens if the Supply  curve shifts and Demand stays the same. If both Demand and Supply , change, new prices and quantities are determined.

If the Demand curve shifts to the right or left and Supply stays the same, the (P)rice at that (Q)uantity will change. Same thing happens if the Supply curve shifts
and Demand stays the same. If both Demand and Supply , change, new prices and quantities are determined.

Developed by M.I.T alumni Michael Albert, Parecon is an alternative economic system which ideally should be used in conjunction with parallel systems in politics, culture and kinship. “It is marked by equity, solidarity, diversity, workers’ self-management and efficiency. (Efficiency here means accomplishing goals without wasting valued assets.)”

Michael Albert  at right with Professor Noam Chomsky to his left

Michael Albert at right with Professor Noam Chomsky to his left

According to Wiki:
It proposes to attain these ends mainly through the following principles and institutions:
1) Workers’ and consumers’ councils utilizing self-managerial methods for making decisions
2) Balanced job complexes
3) Remuneration according to effort and sacrifice
4) Participatory planning

If you mosey on over to Micheal’s Parecon page over at Znet, there are many examples and discussions of HOW this is done. (If you are more theoretically or academically inclined, there are criticisms posted there as well.)
Let’s illustrate Parecon in action in a yoga-based context with a practical example. I’m going to use Micheal Albert’s own summary of Parecon but slightly modify it by overlaying it with yoga-based examples. (I apologize in advance, but the following language isn’t particularly sexy or exciting and you’re going to be asked to think through things just a little since it is a long read. No worries in skipping this article)

30 different yoga instructors, all all ages, ethnicities, orientations, styles and backgrounds have decide to get together and form a yoga co-op collective studio and have agreed to use a Parecon model to organize themselves. They have found an old firehouse and pooled their resources and have worked together to renovate it and create it into a space for sharing, instructing and learning.They vote together when someone would like to join the collective and individual members are free to leave at anytime.

The Yoga Collective's logo, from Stratford, Ontario

The Yoga Collective’s logo, from Stratford, Ontario

Like Michael Albert, all 30 instructors believe that “parecon, describes core institutions for an economy to generate solidarity, equity, self management, and an ecologically sound and classless economy. It recognizes that what seek needs to be worthy and viable.”

1) The group have decision making influence in proportion as they are affected by the decision in question. It’s not just one person one vote, majority rules, three quarters rule, consensus, or one person dictates. Each of these approaches makes sense in some situations, but not in others. Self management by each individual instructor is the ultimate aim, including having different approaches for different situations. There is no one-size-fits-all-model to decision-making processes.


A self-managing council makes decisions and rules for tallying preferences that reflect with some accuracy their wishes. Issues affecting only one instructor, that instructor decides, albeit in context of broader guidelines, things like the length of their workday, how many classes they will offer, vacation time or definition of job responsibilities (will they only work with kids, paraplegics or seniors?) are decided more widely. Issues affecting overwhelmingly the whole team, the team decides, again, typically following broader guidelines, for example, opening hours of the studio, prices to charge, maintenance, cleaning and upkeep duties, which styles to offer, maximum number of students during peak hours, covering each other’s classes during time off etc.

Sometimes the best way to get self-management for all involved is to seek consensus. Other times one instructor-one vote majority rule is best, and still other times, other methods make sense. For real self-management, those involved must not only have easy input but also fostering a culture and atmosphere which allows engaging in relevant discussions, and setting agendas. If participation is formally inclusive, but people lack means to do what formal rules permit – that is not self management.

The second feature Parecon offers is the idea that financial compensation should not be for power, that you get what you can take. Nor should remuneration be for property, that you get in proportion to what the property that you are welcomed to own adds to output. Nor should it be for your personal output, that you get in proportion to what you yourself produce, with various tools, by your own labors.

Instead, Parecon urges that your share of financial compensation should in part reflect your special needs so that those who cannot work get average income, by right and all who have medical needs have those addressed, again by right. And beyond that, remuneration should reflect how long you work, how hard you work, and the onerousness of the conditions under which you work, at socially useful labor.

Pareconish equity therefore means you get more income, entitling you to a larger share of social product, for working harder, longer, or under worse conditions, as long as you are producing socially valued output.

If we look at any economic actor, the benefits and costs they face should be like those that others face, because we are all people and all entitled to comparable conditions of life. This doesn’t mean, we should all get the same income even if we do different work. Rather, think of the implications of our labor and of our share of social product for our “conditions of life” and seek that the sum of benefits minus associated debits equalize from person to person. That is pareconish equity.

Imagine two instructors, Sabrina and Joey, who both teach Ashtanga classes, for 30 hours a week, at advanced levels, under the same conditions, and so have the same income. Now, suppose Sabrina wants more income to go on a retreat in Nicaragua. Parecon says, that shouldn’t be forbidden. It is perfectly predictable and reasonable that people should have differences in their tastes for consumption goods and services. But, says Parecon, it wouldn’t be fair if it was done by fiat. What would make it fair is if Sabrina wanting more compensation to afford the trip arranges to work longer (maybe 40 hours a week), or harder (with under-aged behaviorally-challenged criminal offenders), or happens to work under worse conditions (not at the comfortable studio but at a local detention center with limited facilities).

Sabrina wants to go here!

Sabrina wants to go here!

Vice versa, suppose, instead, Joey doesn’t care too much about consumption goods and services, but wants more free time to meditate on his chakras. Parecon says, again, that that shouldn’t be forbidden, but neither is it fair if it is done by fiat. What would make it fair is if Joey can arrange to work less hours (maybe 25 hours a week) or easier (with 5 year old kids) or happens to work in easier conditions (at a 5-star local spa-like daycare with trophy wives), and then, in accord, takes a smaller share.

Joey wants to teach here.

Joey wants to teach here.

In each case, the overall impact of work and consumption taken together on “conditions of life” for Sabrina and Joey remains equal. This is Pareconish ethics. One may or may not like it. Similarly, one may or may not like Parecon erasing the idea of people getting income for property, for power, for having better tools, for happening to produce something of higher value, for having been lucky enough to be genetically endowed with particularly productive attributes like their flexibility or strength.

2) The second underpinning of Pareconish equitable remuneration has to do with the idea that a vision has to be able to work with real people in real settings. Most people think the issue now at stake will be incentives, but Parecon’s view of incentives is nearly upside down from most people’s intuitions. And there is another issue, having to do with information and people’s judgments.

The usual carrot and stick model doesn't work in Parecon.

The usual carrot and stick model doesn’t work in Parecon, even if it is vegan.

Regarding incentives, the usual formulation goes something like this: Consider the physiotherapist who has to go to college, medical school, become a resident, and only then be a practicing physiotherapist earning full therapist pay. The pay needs to be very high or he or she won’t follow the path. Take away high incentives for being a therapist, people won’t do it. And now you can fill in for therapist: doctor, lawyer, accountant, professor, high level designer, scientist, and so on. Thus, lacking high incentives for these jobs, we will die for want of essential social services.

Of course, presented that way, this is not true. To test the claim, think of telling a student leaving high school and hoping to be a therapist that a big change in society has made it the case that therapists’ salaries, instead of being, $150,000 a year, are now going to be $70,000 a year. Will the student then forget the idea of going to college, medical school, being a resident, and then being a physiotherapist – because she would rather go directly into waitressing at a diner tomorrow, for the next forty five years, even if we suppose waitressing pays $90,000 a year? Try asking some students. Not one will switch. Incentives are needed when one is being asked to do something more onerous, or time consuming, or intense – but you don’t need more incentives to get less duration, less intensity and less onerousness.

People do many things, very often for the sense of accomplishment it gives them or for the help it provides other people, including volunteering, playing, studying things of personal interest, helping folks, etc. These activities compete for people’s personal time, and also do not exhaust all the things that need doing. Some time, even in a worthy economy, has to go to work that isn’t as intrinsically rewarding as playing, or studying, or just resting, or being with family, and that is time that is unavailable for more pleasant and fulfilling pursuits. Some time also has to go to onerous work that is unpleasant and unfulfilled (like housework and cleaning), itself, even when we understand and are motivated by the benefits it bestows (keeping germs and illnesses like bubonic plague away). So, in the choice we make between how to spend our time, incentives make a difference.

From Seriously keep your kitchen clean. Rot attracts roaches, vermin and other unpleasantries.

Seriously, housework has it’s benefits. Rot attracts roaches, vermin and other unpleasantries.

Someone might reply to the above, “no, we don’t need to correlate income and work. We just need people to understand the importance of each and what is the responsible and moral choice to make, and they will act on that understanding.” Suppose, the same person says, “Parecon has great incentives which will yield a great allotment of people’s energies and of the social output that is just, fair, and rewarding for all. Even if that’s true, I believe we can get that same allotment without bribing folks with payment for labor. So why shouldn’t we?”

A first answer is that thinking of income rights as bribery for our time and effort is a bit odd – unless we are talking about income as it is in capitalist economies – but set that aside. In fact, if we break the link between work and income and have people work as they choose, however much, and at whatever they want – and have people consume as they choose – however much and whatever they want – and we don’t require a connection between the two decisions, we won’t get as good an allotment as with Parecon’s approach. People will typically choose to work too little for the social good to be optimally met, and people will choose to take too much for the system to even work because the available output will fall well short of available demands for income.

This first answer is accurate, not because people are either greedy, lazy, or irresponsible, but because people have no way to know what is responsible and moral and should not and will not ignorantly police themselves into working too much or having too little income.

Good people in a good economy should in fact prefer to work less hours, less intensely, and less onerously for a given income. And the same people should want to receive more income, for a given number of work hours, intensity, and onerousness. And indicating that they want less work and more income is critically important, actually, to the economy innovating to make it happen, to the extent it is possible and desirable taking into account social and ecological implications.

Pugs certainly understand the use of their time.

Pugs certainly understand the use of their time.

No one can know, abstractly, what is a “fair” amount to offer to work, or what is a “fair” amount to ask to consume. What is “fair” depends hugely on available tools, resources, knowledge, needs, desires, and so on. It is not an automatic, but has to become clear from a discussion, of what people, as consumers, want as income, and what the same people, as workers, want as their work conditions and duration. By disconnecting these two aspects of economy, we lose the means to know what is responsible and people are then left to curb their own appetites and desires, rather than express them. It probably shouldn’t need saying, but for completeness, people being able to work at anything they want is also hugely problematic. I would like to play professional hockey – but it has no social value – it should not be compensated.

The flip side of the above “incentive issue,” that has already largely changed into an information issue, the second answer to the concern raised earlier that we can get results without connecting work and income, is that without indications not just of people wanting yoga – where yoga is some product, or some leisure, or some types of work, or clean air, and so on – but of how much they want yoga relative to their other preferences, there is no way for producers to know how much yoga is appropriate to produce, or where to invest.

Self managing councils and equitable remuneration are very often pretty closely adopted in real circumstances by at least some real workplaces. Instructors co-ops that have no owner, don’t reward property, power, or output, and do have a council for decisions, are an obvious and frequent example. So are Occupied factories say like in Venezuela. In such examples, the owner either leaves or is ejected or didn’t exist from the get-go. Salaries are equalized but then typically vary for duration. Councils function democratically and often, even with teams deciding their own circumstances and using different tallying methods for different situations.

A problem often arises, however, when workplaces adopt these two Pareconish structures. In co-ops and occupied workplaces, often, over time, initial enthusiasm starts to fade. Most instructors s find themselves eventually skipping council meetings. Few people end up being the decision makers. Income differences widen. Alienation follows. And finally, instructorss often blame themselves. “This is who we are,” or “they think “or “It must be in our genes to have growing disparities of income, power, and circumstance” or “There really is no alternative.”

3) In such depressing situation, the third feature Parecon offers is called balanced job complexes, wherein all jobs are “balanced” so they each have roughly the same overall empowerment effect.

All jobs include various tasks. In corporate divisions of labor, about 80% of the workforce does jobs whose component tasks are usually disempowering. These jobs tend to fragment workers from one another, separate workers from decisions and from information about decisions, involve workers in rote and repetitive activity, and cause workers skills, confidence, knowledge of workplace relations, and familiarity with making choices, to steadily decline. In contrast, about 20% of the workforce does jobs whose tasks typically enhance ties to others, increase social skills, acclimate decision contexts, enlarge confidence and knowledge of workplace relations, and, in general, better empower people to participate in and impact decisions.

Parecon’s claim is that the corporate division of labor creates a class division between those who monopolize empowering work and those who are left with overwhelmingly disempowering work. Their position in the economy conveys advantages, up to and including even ruling class status, to what I like to call the coordinator class, in coordinatorism.

When adopted in occupied factories like those in Venezuela now, or in co-ops all over the world, the corporate division of labor leads to 20% of the workplace not only setting agendas and choosing actions, but eventually reimposing inequitable incomes, finally leading to ruling class status for themselves.

This means that in addition to self-managing councils and equitable remuneration, one needs a new division of labor if one is to have real self-management and real classlessness. This is why Parecon advocates balanced job complexes to be sure all are equipped to participate effectively, making self-management real.

4) The fourth feature Parecon offers has to do with the mechanisms which arrive at workplace and consumer inputs and outputs and their rates of exchange throughout the economy. History offers three main choices for allocation:
a) markets
b) central planning
c) voluntary self-regulation.

Markets impose anti-social motivations and unequal compensation norms as well as huge power differences and ecological irresponsibility. They violate self-management, and even create a “coordinator class” above workers.

Central planning (i.e communism) creates that same class division, and even more obviously violates self-management. It also tends to violate ecological responsibility and accumulates excess wealth for the planners (and whole coordinator class) while forcing obedience and domination, characteristics which often have an insidious way of spreading to other sides of life.

We are NOT talking about communism here...

We are NOT talking about communism here…

Voluntary self-regulation is a great idea – but in most formulations avoids important underlying issues. To have instructors self-regulate in accord with worthy values and real possibilities you need a way for people to determine what is responsible regarding both work and consumption, and a context which allows people’s well-being depend on and enhance the well-being of others, as well as a process that allows and self-managing input to each. Parecon’s allocation system is built on the idea of viable, collective self-regulation.

Good allocation should permit and facilitate wise and informed collective self-regulation to arrive at economic inputs and outputs that meet needs and develop potentials while also fostering solidarity, enhancing equity, and enacting self-management, all this in light of accurate awareness of the true social and ecological costs and benefits of all choices we address.

This is a big list of virtues, but it is what Parecon claims to achieve. The fourth defining feature of Parecon is called participatory planning. Instructors councils present proposals and by continually refining them interactively cooperatively negotiate, self-regulate inputs and outputs which are consistent with the decided upon methods remuneration and balanced job complexes, and in ways implementing collective self management. There is no top and bottom. There is no center. It is not a competitive rat race. There is no yogilebrity culture. Solidarity is literally produced, not anti-socialness which is the worst expression of hyper-individuality. But it doesn’t assume a population of omniscient and morally saintly people. Instead, simple structures enable, facilitate, and make such results serve the aim of everyone.

There are many things to address about Parecon’s institutions, even without mistakenly trying to turn them into an unknowable, impossible, and inappropriate blueprint. Arguably the most important matter is why would an anti-capitalist project, movement, or organization be better off if its members were Pareconist, regarding goals, then if they were simply anti-capitalist but didn’t have any shared conception of defining institutions to replace capitalism?

Capitalism in action.Bikram Chowdhury driving his Cadillac. (This is yoga?)

Capitalism in action.
Bikram Choudhury driving his Cadillac. (This is yoga?)

Categories: Politico, This is why the planet is screwed up, Uncategorized, Yoga | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Towards a New Economics …in Yoga?

  1. amphibi1yogini

    PROUT, developed here in the United States by Dr. Ravi Batra, is probably a more palatable alternative economic model, fairly similar to Parecon; and possibly ideally suited to burgeoning alternative preventive health care models. Of course, our current politicos can’t stand the concept.

    I’d certainly admired PROUT when I’d been young–and PROUT by its very nature, does not valorize the young just for their being young and/or young and energetic. But it’s an old-soul-appealing model …

    • Thanks amphibi1yogini! I’ll definitely look up PROUT. I think the more types of discussions we have about the building blocks of underlying structures which props up things like “health” ,”compensation” “work”, the more mental doors open up everywhere. I belong to the school of thought that you just never know who could be reading and which lightbulb might go off and has the “A-ha!” moment.

  2. Pingback: Free or Almost Free Yoga | VHN: Connecting With Health Experts In Healthy Vancouver.

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