Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Socialism and central planning

I've written earlier about the necessity of strong democracy for socialism. Socialism being run by a self-selected Party with real state authority is no socialism: at worst it's just dressing capitalism up in socialist clothing; at best it's just a novel form of elitism. So when I talk about democratically deciding things, I mean real democracy, not just an "elected" elite. I've written on this topic earlier, so I won't elaborate further here.

One alternative to market socialism is strong central planning. We start with a lot of civil servants, a lot of computers (as many as Google has), a good internet connection. People go on the website, pick what they want to consume, and where and how much they want to work. Given this information and a lot of information about the technology of production, the civil servants crunch the numbers, tell everyone where to go to work and what they can consume. People report to work as specified, and go to the local warehouse to pick up their stuff.

We have the technology to make this work. We would have to work out a lot of implementation details, but systems engineers are pretty clever.

We have to worry about ordinary corruption, i.e. the civil servants and their friends and family rigging the system to give themselves extra stuff. But we always have to worry about ordinary corruption, so central planning in this sense is not (necessarily) worse. If the civil servants operate transparently, and they can, and if the people exercise strong democratic oversight, which they can, we could contain corruption. And, absent corruption, there are no incentives to try to game the system: there really isn't a system to game.

The pure central planning system is not, I think, the best way to operate a socialist economy, and I'll talk about some alternatives later. However, the alternatives have similar philosophical and political implications and elicits similar objections, so I can just address the implications as if we had pure central planning.

I'll deal with more detailed issues in later posts, right now I want to address some general issues.

First, I'm presuming the system is constructed by reasonably intelligent systems engineers and operated by reasonably intelligent civil servants. If the system is engineered or operated by idiots, it won't work. That's true of any system we use every day. What if the airplane were engineered or piloted by idiots? It would crash and everyone aboard would die. That's just how systems are.

As noted above, we have to have and exercise democratic control over both the construction and operation of the system: if there are idiots in the process, we fire them and get smart people.

If you have some specific objection, but a few minutes of thought would reveal a solution, the objection is not valid. For example, "How do the planners know what I want to consume, or what jobs I want to do?" Well, you tell them. Try and think of the simple stuff.

Second, socialism in general entails that privilege is usually absent, at least strongly restricted. If you're worried that your own privilege would be restricted, well, you're right, and this feature is by design.

Finally, capitalism creates a lot of illusions. Socialism strips these illusions and lays bare the reality. Again, the lack of illusions is by design. For example, under capitalism we have the illusion that we are free to not work, and free to choose our line of work. But of course if we choose not to work we will starve and die; those without privilege are just as coerced they would be if we had police enforcing the obligation to work. Again, the lack of illusion is by design.

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