[OPE-L:2741] Re: socialism and planning

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Mon, 29 Jul 1996 01:36:53 -0700 (PDT)

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>The marginalist critique of centralized planning focused on the efficiency
>of markets in the coordination of the economy. Hayek's criticism, as well
>as "market socialist" responses by Lange et al, however, missed the point,
>IMHO. The question of socialist organization and decision-making is not a
>mathematical question related to whether it is possible to develop a
>model which can optimally allocate resources to meet social needs. That
>technocratic approach misses the fundamental social questions: *who* is
>making the social decisions and in *whose interests*?

Both these are valid arguments. To play the devil's advocate, a right
wing economist might argue that yes in a socialist economy decisions would
be taken by and in the interest of the majority, but that if it was
incapable of co-ordinating economic activity workers would end up worse
off than if decisions were taken by and in the interests of shareholders.

>As for innovation, the marginalist assumption has always been that this
>could only result (efficiently) in the presence of scarcity by the actions
>of atomized individuals pursuing self-interest and by being rewarded
>accordingly for their initiative. Under socialism, the criteria for
>innovation becomes quite distinct from the capitalist criteria associated
>with capitalist practice. The questions here are fundamentally: what
>*kind* of innovation? ... for *what* social purpose? ... and by *WHOM*
>(the "party", the "planners", the state, or FREELY ASSOCIATED WORKERS)?

I think that one of the most important points here is Marx's critique of
capitalist criteria for the use of machinery.
He argued that machines are only used if they are cheaper than the
wages they reproduce, under capitalism, whereas the rational approach
would be that they should be used wherever they saved labour. That is to
say when the labour content of the machine was lower than the labour
it displaced. The implication is that were this approach taken, the
rate of labour saving innovation would be higher.

>> 3) Are there any credible alternatives to centralized planning schemes as
>> substitutes for commodity allocation methods? How would they reproduce
>> themselves socially?
>I can't help but believe that there was a reason why Marx was leery of
>developing any "blueprints" for socialism (as the "utopian socialists"
>had). While we have the historical experience of the former USSR as well
>as other "socialist" nations to evaluate, we have to accept that there are
>certain questions which will only be answered by future workers in the new

For Marxist economists to take that position today is a complete cop out
and just will not do. We have to be able to respond to the neo-liberal
critique of socialism if there is to be any possibility of a movement to
overthrow capitalism. People are not going to struggle to overthrow it if
they are convinced that there is no alternative. What was a sensible caution
in the 1870s is moral cowardice 125 years later.
Paul Cockshott