Richard Wolff rwolff at minerva.cis.yale.edu
Tue Jan 10 08:16:48 MST 1995

	Replying to Mann regarding markets versus plan: I believe that
this is first and foremost an ideologically framed issue, a way of
discussing the difference between conventional notions of "socialism" and
conventional notions of "capitalism." And as such, it is apologetic much
more than analytical.
	There is no such thing as "markets" in the abstract. There is a vast
array of different arrangements prescribing (1) which social entities can
and cannot engage in trade, (2) what resources and products may and may
not be traded, (3) how such trade may be carried out - by what mechanisms
and mediations, and (4) how any gains/losses from exchange will be
distributed and to whom. Nor is that a complete list of types of
differences among "markets." A parallel complexity attends "planning"
in terms of what is planned, how planning is accomplished, who does it,
how its results are social distributed and evaluated, etc.

	In contrast to all this, abstract "comparisons" of "market versus
plan" have overwhelmingly been of the sort aimed at demonstrating the
inate superiority of one versus the other. Thus they classically tout the
virtues of whichever one they prefer - usually by choosing and
"analyzing" one virtuous example of it - and draw suitably devastating
comparisons with an appropriately chosen exemplar (caricature) of the one
they do not prefer. The whole enterprise is then laced together
analytically by elegant gestures toward that phantom that is the last
resort of most such comparisons: efficiency!

	To measure the efficiency of any institution (e.g., a market or a
planning apparatus) or indeed of any economic act or event whatsoever,
you would have to (1) know all of its economic ramifications, all of the
direct and indirect economic costs and benefits as its effects ramify
throughout the economic community in which it exists/occurs and beyond,
and (2) be able to measure each and every associated cost
 and benefit to arrive at the "net" result enabling a judgement about the
"efficiency" of such an institution or such an event. Even more daunting
than this infeasible enterprise would be a comaprison of two institutions
of events since that opuld require 2 infeasible projects of knowledge and
	"Efficiency" is a mirage, an ideological smokescreen to hide the
polemic pleading for or against something preferred for altogether
different, but less socially sanctioned, reasons. The notion of deciding
between markets and planning on the basis of efficiency is absurd. That
it occurs so regularly for over a century suggests that there are indeed
important matters at stake, but to find and analyze them, we need first
to recognize that they have been displ;aced onto the "efficiency" phantasm
for polemical reasons that are fast losing their credulity.

R. Wolff


More information about the Marxism mailing list