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Martin Hergouth - On the Deficiency of the Technical Approach to Plan/Market Question


To ask, whether there new technologies could offer informational capacity to make central planning decisions superior to market, is to articulate the problem as a technical problem of effectivity, as a question optimisation of distribution of necessary labour; this already presumes a certain conception of individual in his relation to social totality. I will argue, that this sort of critique of the market makes mistake of believing the common-sense justification of the market; the market as a effective structure of reconciliation where the economy – or society – comes together in the single point of transparency. This - walrasian - conception of market can likely in fact be shown to be inferior to central planning, however, it also in a certain sense misses the point.

Against this, I will claim, it is necessary to reconsider Friedrich Hayek’s attempt to circumvent the Socialist calculation debate in article “Use of knowledge” by relying on the notion of of tacit or dispersed knowledge, that is, the idea, that market institution mediate local knowledge, that cannot be mediated through some central instance. The import of this Hayek’s maneuvre should not be underestimated. He doesn’t so much defeat the idea of socialist calculation on its own ground but changes the terrain of the debate so that it makes the argument irrefutable - it doesn’t accept the criteria the opposing side would offer as proof of its superiority, since it (unlike classical walrasian justification of the market) denounces the very idea of a centralised moment of economy’s self-transparence.

What will be of interest here for us is not whether Hayek was wrong or right – this is undecidable for above reasons – but, i will argue, that his argument more sincerely expresses the objective logic of market organization. That is, it gives account of the forces that actually support and sustain it, account of where the appeal of market comes from; hence it has to be considered since it gives better account of what are we up against. Namely, it is neccessary to consider, that plan vs. market isn’t simply a technical question in the sense, that better communications technologies and faster computers alone could tip the scales in favour of the former. For example for average worker, the plan-mediated determination of labour time and conditions would appear no less alienated than market mediated one. What is here being ignored is the politico-ethical dimension of individual’s situation, that is, the way he conceives of himself and his labour in relation to social totality. And here it must be considered, that the market with the quasi-independence it offers to the subjects is not necessarily in disadvantage compared to required submission to social whole in planned economy. After all, it hardly seems, that more effective organisation is what we need today, when the ensuring of sufficient socially necessary labour time seems rather to be the problem; the fact that market doesn’t fit together into organic unity is in this perspective its advantage

I will therefore argue, that the main problem of idea of the plan is that, even if it offers a certain utopian vision of social organisation, it addresses few problems and tensions that structure contemporary capitalism, and hence serves as poor guide for the course of action of a leftist political subject.


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