Re: [OPE-L] socialism and markets

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Thu Jan 12 2006 - 22:56:53 EST

(was 'Marx and markets')

Hi Jurriaan,

There's much that I agree with  -- although the emphasis that we give
to particular  ideas are different --  and some that I don't agree with in
your recent missive.  Instead of dealing with that at length now, I'd
like to broaden out the discussion and hopefully get some others
involved in this exchange by asking a question (with a preface and
brief comments):

First, the preface:
In thinking about the role, if any, that markets should play within a
socialist society I think it is worthwhile recalling the historical
experiences with markets in societies that claimed to be or desired
to be socialist. I.e. in thinking about the role of markets in socialism,
I think we should look at those experiences to determine both the
benefits and shortcomings of 'market socialism'.  I don't believe this is a
controversial point per se, but by looking at _actual_ experiences
(in the USSR,  the NEM in Hungary, Yugoslavia, the PRC, et al), I
think we can make the discussion less abstract.

Now the question (with a prelude):

If I were to grant you that markets in some limited ways promote
choice and further claim that workers internationally _want_ choice
and that they will be most attracted to a vision of socialism which
claims that they will have _more_ choice than under capitalism,
aren't there are social mechanisms that would _better_ promote
choice by workers than markets?

Brief comments with questions:

1. Of course, neither we nor workers want a form of 'socialism'
which is some kind of totalitarian bureaucracy or military dictatorship.
But that doesn't _necessarily_ mean that we should favor some form of
market socialism, does it?

2. Markets may not, as you say, imply any particular morality of their
own beyond what you state.  But,  aren't there a lot of grounds (both
theoretically and historically) to believe that the _dynamic_ of markets
tends to erode fundamental socialist concerns such as  *solidarity*
by, for instance, leading to conflicts between partial and general interests
(as is evidenced by internalities) and increasing social inequality and
other social strains (e.g. involuntary unemployment; profit-push
inflation; regional divisions and disparities, etc.)?  In other words,
markets _even on a limited basis_ bring with them a _lot_ of  other
social consequences besides a particular form of social choice by
consumers in the marketplace, don't they?

3.  If there is a better way of enhancing choice by workers than that
offered by markets in a socialist society, what is it?  ...concretely?
... exactly?  I.e. how would such a mechanism work and how might
it be structured so as to avoid some of the problems (e.g. bureaucratic
over-centralization) that have been observed in the past?

4.  Do you believe the Cockshott-Cottrell proposals suggested in
_Towards a New Socialism_  satisfy your concerns about
enhancing choice?  If not, what is missing?

Note that I have not answered these questions.  That's because I am
genuinely interested in listening to and thinking about the answers
and concerns of others including yourself.

In solidarity, Jerry

> What are the freedoms that are created by markets?
> The basic thesis I offered was that markets don't imply any particular
> morality of their own, beyond the requirement to settle transactions.
> Suppose you don't have market mediation, then, effectively, you give more
> decision-making power to some people over other people influencing the
> allocation of resources, i.e. the allocation of resources becomes more
> directly political, and more directly influenced by power relations,
> according to some dominating morality or rules/norms. In the extreme
> centralized case, you have some kind of totalitarian bureaucracy or
> military  dictatorship prescribing and enforcing norms for how people
> should be. In a  more democratic case, you have the rule of the majority,
> but even that could
> also be oppressive in the given case... if you're in the minority.
> Suppose now that the goal of the political economy is to reduce the power
> people have over other people, or the power to oppress them (increasing
> their self-acting and self-realising ability) and increase the power of
> people to shape the physical universe in accordance with their needs, what
> role should different allocative principles play in this? What "mix" of
> institutions is desirable? You can allocate things via markets, by law, by
> custom, by vote, by experts or leaders, by individual initiative etc.

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