LTV, Working class (fwd)

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Tue Nov 1 22:29:21 MST 1994

> 	OK, Justin, I'll bite, since you seem to be defending market socialism
> against all comers.  What are your critiques of the Albert and Hahnel council
> socialist model?
> 	Sincerely Ann Ferguson
> 	aferguso at

Hi, Ann. Glad to see you're on the list. I'm also glad you've mentioned
A&H, since they're the best the pro-planning side has got, as I've said in
several posts. Here's a couple of highly compressed objections, four to be

First, the model, so folks will have it to hand:

The problem is to choose a set that will give you the desired consumption,
work-leisure mix, and work organization.

With two people, you negotiate a balance, given your different preferences
for worktime, work organization, and consumption: investigate the
consequences of different packages (plans), agree on one that acceptable
to both of you. You don't need a market or a central authority. Think of
it as being a feminist household.

With 250 million people, though, you try to get this effect in the
following way:

a. Use interactive computer nets for people to register their preferences,
which they revise in view of information about others.

b. A neighborhood council must ratify each request; each participant can
try, anonymously, to persuade the council to accept her proposal.

c. The neighborhood proposal is aggregated, and goes to the ward, city,
state, regional, and national levels, at each of which the ratification
and revision process is repeated.

d. To match supply and demand, a national planning board produces five
feasible plans which are submitted for acceptability to each unit all the
way down, revised AGAIN to get agreement, and one is finally chosen by a
majority vote.


1. Consider making a consumption list (similar problems arise with issues
of work time and work organization): this requires keeping a detailed
tally of past consumption, which is a lot of work and time in its own
right. You'd have to enter each "purchase" or item used and keep track of

Projections based on the past year may be misleading. Say you marry or
have a baby, or develop a new passion for acquiring old jazz and blues
'78s, or quit your job and start a new career in a different line of work
which requires different equipment (say you become a carpenter, as my
ex-executive sister did), or any of a lot of other things which might
change your consumption patterns.

On the aggregate level, entering and collating vast amounts of data
creates information processing problems. I have to not only keep track of
everything I use during the year, I have to enter it, or projections based
on it, into the computer, and everyone else in my neighborhood likewise,
and we have to sort this stuff in ways that are compatible with the way
everyone else does it and still reflective of what we want.

The repeated iterations are time consuming: since agreement is impossible
on the first round, we have to stay glued to our screens, giving ourselves
carpal tunnel syndrome as we hammer out acceptable compromises.

The result is that there will be a tendency to settle for less in order to
spend less time planning, discussing, and arguing for our preferences, and
those who have a taste for spending their time that way will, quite
unfairly, be more likely to get what they want.

In addition there will be a tendency to lock ourselves into long term
plans to avoid the process, which will tie you to the past in suboptimal
ways. Would you want to engage in this process EVERY YEAR?

2. The AH plan denies privacy and polices consumption in undesirable
ways. Why should I have to defend my preferences and tastes to all in this
manner? Some of them are nobody's damn business but my own. If, say, I
consume inflatable plastic sex dolls or books of Marxist theory or
dangerous drugs like tobacco, I may not wish to post this fact for all to
know or care to defend it in my neighborhood, AH say that this process
will be anonymous, but on the neighborhood level that's a joke. They give
in Boston and DC, where anonymity is possible. In a Columbus or Ann Arbor
neighborhood, it's not.

3. With regard to the assessment of the final plans, you can't consider a
fully disaggregated plan, much less five of them, for 250 million people.
But with an aggregated plan--one which says, devote 30% of our GNP to
food--we won't know what we are voting for. What I may have wanted is
something what ensures my access to Chinese groceries. But that is just
the sort of thing that can't be considered in the final version. I note
that this loss of information also gives the plan administrators great
discretion, i.e., power, and undermines decentralization and democracy.

4. AH require enforced participation. It is plausible that each should
have a right to participate in making decisions that affect one if one
wishes to, but AH require participation. You can't opt out, or you get
nothing. This is different from having to go shopping. That doesn't
require the extensive record-keeping, defense of preferences, and debate
that AH do.

I will finally remark--maybe I should list this as (5), that I doubt
whether AH have in fact avoided markets instead of transposing them to
computers. After all, the whole process is supposed to equilibriate supply
and demand, which is what markets do, in response to people's sense of
their costs, i.e., in effect price signals. Now AH claim that their system
takes into account real costs, avoids externalities, etc. Still, why isn't
this just an ideal market modeled on computers? This objection is still
just an inkling.

OK, there's something to chew on. I will say that I do respect AH: they've
done their homework and faced the problems, unlike McNally and better than
Mandel. But what they advocate sounds like an undemocratic,
time-consuming, intrusive, inefficient disaster to me.

--Justin Schwartz


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