Anarres 2 cooperative community

April 9, 2012

The economics of utopian socialism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ed @ 2:44 pm

Excerpt from a correspondent’s email:

The planned economy concept got a bad rap thanks to the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. I have been watching a lot of [YouTube videos] about the former East Germany lately. You just had a bunch of incompetents trying constantly to put out economic fires with constantly changing goals. You know the story. But I wonder what could be accomplished today with the super computers at our disposal?

Wouldn’t it be feasible to feed in a lot of data (about how many shoes will be needed, leather and shoelaces required, people needing work, etc.) into a computer and come up with an efficient production plan that minimizes wasted resources, duplication of effort and needless advertising costs? I always thought as the world rushes toward ever increasing scarcity of resources, some planning is going to have to occur. Not so far, capitalism is alive and kicking.
My reply:
I don’t know if supercomputers would be necessary. I imagine there would be shoe “stores” like there are now, but that that no money would change hands. People would chose the shoes they like. The shop would order more pairs of the shoes people like. The workshops that make the popular shoes would have more equipment and workers than the producers of unpopular shoes. If no one wants a particular type of shoe, craftspeople would stop making them. So the economy would still respond to demand.
Correspondent’s response:
I don’t think we’ll ever be able to do without money as a fungible medium, something that can be readily converted into anything. Who will feed the shoemakers and make the machines they use to make shoes? I guess they’ll just go to the farms and demand food for nothing? And the machine makers will get steel and lathes for free? I guess in the really old days, if you needed something, you just had to go and make it yourself from stuff freely available in nature like the Native Americans did. I don’t think we should just give up on progress and go back to the Stone Age. I doubt 7 billion going on 9 billion people could survive in a hunter gatherer economy. They would have to eat one another.

No, I think super computers would have the capacity to fine-tune demand and supply and all the inputs required to make that supply. One could also program the computers to do things more ecologically. I know every computer is only as good as its programmer, so they would have to be watched closely. I suppose a supercomputer might even make money unnecessary if there were some more efficient way to identify needs and wants with available resources. Maybe send everyone a questionnaire at the beginning of the year about their anticipated needs?

My response:
No one actually works for money. You can’t eat, wear, or shelter yourself with money. They work for the things money can buy. Money may be necessary in a society that lacks social solidarity, where it is “every man for himself”, but human societies were moneyless for tens of thousands of years. Money is a way to control people. Think about it – if you create and control the money supply, you can control people and have access to everything they produce. In most societies, only the rich had money, and the peasants worked for a share of the crops, while craftsmen created luxury goods and military equipment for the elite. Everyone was servicing the elite, at first because the elite were evil bullies, but later because they had the money. In a utopian socialist society, the farmers will feed the shoemakers and doctors. The shoemakers with make shoes for the farmers and doctors. And the doctors will take care of sick farmers and shoemakers. No need for an exchange medium. Another example. You make dinner for your family. Do you charge each of them for dinner? Do you have to pay your wife to drive you to the airport? The family is a moneyless economy, internally, but the family needs to have income to buy the things they can’t produce. It’s very efficient, because you don’t have to track which kid drank how much milk, or how much each person owes for the electricity they use. It’s an oasis of economic cooperation and solidarity in a sea of commercialism. If everyone agreed to work in exchange for access to the goods and services produced, it would work. Will some people try to cheat the system by consuming without working? Yes. It requires solidarity and honesty for it to work. It won’t work with the general public, at least not until they adopt that point of view. But it should work among like-minded people.The real problem is balancing the hard currency flow. You need to purchase certain inputs, like raw materials and machinery, with hard currency, so the community needs to sell at least an equal amount of goods and services to the outside world to cover those purchases. It might mean some people would have to take jobs outside the community, perhaps on a rotating basis, unless someone really enjoys their mainstream job.You do need some kind of social control mechanism when people behave badly. In a community, the natural thing would seem to be asking people to leave if they repeatedly violate the community’s agreements , which they agreed to when they joined, if they seem unable to change their behavior. But I’m hoping that the rules can be flexible enough so that they aren’t difficult to follow. For example, people who want to work fewer hours can, but they get a smaller share of the hard currency income for their personal expenditures. After deducting for community expenses, the income would be divided according to hours worked. If someone wants to play computer games most of the day, fine, but they have to at least put in a minimum of community work hours, and hours over that would be eligible for a share of the external income. That’s my proposal, at least. It would mean inequality, but it would be a fair kind of inequality, because the pay rate is the same for everyone, and some people voluntarily chose free time over money. Some people are into nice things, and some people are into free time to pursue their personal interests.
Another advantage of a voluntary socialist economy is that there is no unemployment – there is always work to be done, and when you reach a certain level of prosperity, you can start cutting back on working hours.

=======

Interesting story about a socialist village in Spain. I’m not a fan of the government model, but what they’ve done is very interesting:

A Job for All and No Mortgage in a Spanish Town

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/world/europe/26spain.html?pagewanted=all

A quote from the news story above: “Mr. Sánchez, a bearded 53-year-old who this month celebrated three decades as mayor of the town of 2,700, says the economic crisis proves the wisdom of his socialist vision. “They all thought that the market was God, who made everything work with his invisible hand. Before, it was a mortal sin to talk about the government having a role in the economy. Now, we see we have to put the economy at the service of man.””

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