|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Saturday, June 16, 2012
A lively discussion of Francis Spufford's novel Red Plenty (about which I've enthused before) on the academic blog Crooked Timber has just about wrapped. Participants have looked at the book from many angles. One of the most intriguing contributions was by Cosma Shalizi, on the mathematical feasibility of the linear programming advocated by the book's central character as a solution to the problem of central planning. (Shalizi responds to responses here.)
My take, amended from one of my own comments:
In the 1970s I thought that central planning combined with democratic control along the lines argued for by (e.g.) Ernest Mandel was possible and desirable. Towards the end of the decade I stumbled upon the economic calculation argument, as briefly stated by David Ramsay Steele in a readable pamphlet. I didn’t understand it fully but I kept worrying at the problem it posed. In the 1980s I read Geoffrey Hodgson’s The Democratic Economy, and Alec Nove’s The Economics of Feasible Socialism, which made some socialist sense of the same argument.
Recently I’ve been interested in the more radical market socialism proposed by David Schweickart. The only serious socialist arguments against market socialism are those of Paul Cockshott et al for a democratic, cybernetically planned economy – which I don’t have the mathematics to follow in detail, but which I keep dragging to the attention of anyone who does.
Meanwhile, in my own neck of the woods, the Scottish Socialist Party offers a 12-point plan for a ‘Scottish socialist republic’, one of whose 12 points is:
‘Supermarket prices will be frozen.’
Sometimes I wonder why I bother.