a few remarks

Chris Matthew Sciabarra cms10 at SPAMis2.nyu.edu
Sat Sep 4 17:17:11 MDT 1999



I am delighted that I've elicited a number of responses from my colleagues
here; just a few comments in response.  (I am a realist; I realize that I
am not going to convince people on the basis of a few posts, but this kind
of dialogue can be helpful to everyone, including -- especially -- yours
truly...)

Charles: Marxism doesn't propose your Central Planning Board that destroys
the means by which information is generated in order to make any decisions.
Marxism proposes a planning by democratic centralism that perserves the
infromation necessary to make a plan that will meet the needs and wants of
society better than capitalist price mechanisms or the market. You have not
made an argument that such a Marxist planning is impossible in principle.
You merely assert without proving it that your idea of it would destroy its
means of information. It sounds like a sort of "Heisenberg uncetainty"
principle of the economy. In trying to measure or know, the observer
impacts its object of observation, distorting the measruement.  I remember
getting to this point of the argument with Justin Schwartz.

Chris:  Ah!  Justin!  Good man!  Anyway, what Marxism proposes -- and what
has happened historically are two entirely different things.  My view is
that the utopia that Marxists want is one that destroys the price
mechanism.  I've not seen any evidence that an advanced industrial and
information economy can be run without a price mechanism.  This is not
asserting what I'm trying to prove.  The burden of proof is on those who
assert the positive:  that planning CAN work.  I simply refer to the
historical evidence that planning can't.  I realize that the 20th century
models are vastly different from what Marx proposed... but what Marx
proposes does away with ALL markets and prices.  At least the 20th century
models had  international and "black" markets that they could refer to.

Chris (quoted by Charles): Prices have an epistemic function; where there
are no prices, there is
chaos.
Charles: This is begging the question, circular. You are asserting what you
have to prove, by argument and evidence.

Chris:  Not at all; take a look at War Communism.  It is a portrait in chaos.

Charles: This is a social economy. This subjective mystery cannot be a
basis for refuting its viability because this subject must come out with
it's wants if its wants them fulfilled by his or her co-producers. This is
a free asSOCIATION of producers, not a self-absorbed bunch of Robinson Crusoes.

Chris:  Yes, a social economy indeed.  But sociality entails individuals as
surely as individuals are social beings.  You cannot do away with
individual contexts in coming up with your plan.  Unfortunately, in the
20th century, those who sought to do away with individual contexts simply
tried to do away with the individual person.  I'm surely not of the belief
that this is what you would want; I know that such barbarism is not what
Marx envisioned either.

Charles:In actual history, prices have been the result of a social
interaction termed the market or commodity exchange.  What are the
different things the prices communicate to different people ? Why does
central planning have to eliminate this communication between people ? as
to who needs and wants what and therefore how much we should make etc. ?
But the central planning has another social mechanism for decison-making.
In fact, it is more social than the actually and historically exiting price
mechanisms, which rely on private appropriation while production is social.
The social appropriation with social production removes critical
contradictions from the decisonmaking by private appropriation.
That is with the actually existing price mechanisms the decisonmaking is
concentrated privately, not socially,contra your utopiam price mechanism
scenariio above. In other words, we want to destroy the price mechanism
decision making. What the evidence of history shows us is that the things
decision makers, people , know under the price mechanism is not a knowledge
of the whole ,but of the part, the private. Actually, it is under the price
system that people cannot know the whole, but only the part, not under a
socialist planning.  I can see accounting, cost accounting. You have to
count, and keep track of things.

Chris:  I think of the market as a kind of dialogue -- in which social
knowledge emerges thru the interactions of market participants.  By
contrast, Central Planning is a monologue:  it is something dictated by a
central planning organism to the rest of the economy.  People do learn
about the whole through the price mechanism, but it is the whole -- as it
pertains to their own context of knowledge, goals, and experience.  I doubt
that we'll convince each other on our different visions here, and I don't
want to bore everybody with long dissertations by a libertarian on the
price system.  But I still believe that the burden lies on the central
planners.  The market has surely proven its ability to deliver the goods.
I'd maintain, however, that the injustices and structural inequalities that
we see are not an outgrowth of market distributions, but of state
intervention on behalf of "capitalist" interests, causing all sorts of
monopolistic rigidities and inefficiencies.

Charles:
My reading of history (_Capital_. etc) is that it is exactly the price
mechanism/market that causes chaos, shortages, wars and economic stagnation
- for the working class and masses. That's why we want to try something
new.  Are you saying the price mechanism is independent of private property
? If so, you have not said how. Price mechanism has been identical with the
market in history.
On this point , Rand, Hyek et al seem quite irreconcilable with Marx, and
this is central point.

Chris:
I think the price mechanism is connected to private property, yes.  But I
do not think -- in principle -- that it is impossible for prices to
function in a system where certain private property is owned by worker
collectives.  Private property, in my view, introduces an element of
accountability that public property eliminates.  The "tragedy of the
commons" occurs when individuals profit privately from all the resources
they drain, while not absorbing the costs of their usage.  Those costs are
borne by the "commons."  The destruction of public resources -- everything
from rivers in the United States to Lake Baikal in the Soviet Union -- is
possible precisely because the property is not privately owned.  As for
war, monopolies, economic stagnation, and class warfare -- they are not the
result of an unfettered market, but of violent state intervention into the
market.

Charles: >From the market to the Marx-it !

Chris:  I think you have a slogan, Charles!!  :)

Charles: What you say above seems very different than this. They are not
equivalent. You had said:
"The problem is that Marxists think they can run an economy as if they knew
every last detail, and as if
they can transcend all the "unintended consequences" of human action. "
Engels says nothing about transcending all the unintended consequences of
human action. Nor does Marx in your quote below.

Chris:  When Marx and Engels say that the results will be strictly intended
by the producers, they mean, by implication, that there will be NO
unintended consequences.  Jon Elster says, quite correctly in my view, that
Marx was a master of describing capitalism as a system of unintended
by-products.  For Marx, by contrast, communism enables the proletariat to
bring into existence that which it intends, rather than having the system
generate consequences that nobody intends.  We move from an "invisible
hand" to a very visible hand -- the hand of the proletariat, guiding and
controlling social production.  I don't think this is possible -- because
unintended consequences are a result of our sociality, not a result of
capitalism.

Michael states:  The Austrian idea is to postulate a perfectly
functioning market and then to insist that a top down centrally planned
economy cannot match that level of efficiency.

Chris:  Just a clarification:  the Austrians do NOT postulate perfect
competition, perfect knowledge, or perfect, equilibrated markets.  Their
vision of a free market is simply one in which there is free entry.  They
postulate disequilibrium, dynamics, competitive rivalry, and imperfect
knowledge.  On these points, they differ radically from the neoclassicists.

Doyle writes:. But I wonder how you can say
Plato's idealist concept is manifested in Marx, but your view of the
dialectics is not idealist? The way I generally see that question is that
how is your concept of a dialectic grounded in how the mind works? Just
like Chomsky having trouble finding the grammar module in the brain, I
wonder if your concept is speculation about a dialectic without embodiment.

Chris:  First, I want to thank Doyle for the kind comments with regard to
our exchanges here.  I too think that dialogue is important.  I surely did
not come on this list and expect everybody to go out and read my books and
then chat with me.  Internet and the democratic life do not allow such
elitism and I'd hate to think how boring it would be if all conversation
had to stop unless we did major research into everybody's context before
exchanging ideas.  I surely understand why some of my colleagues here may
have reacted negatively at my arrival, but if I were not interested in
dialogue, I would not have joined.

As for dialectics and its grounding in how the mind works, I can only say
that since dialectics requires keeping context and perspectival thinking,
it IS indeed grounded in how the mind works.  The mind can never understand
something as a whole qua whole.  It must abstract and piece together,
comprehensively, by successive shifts in perspective.  That is the origin
of dialectical thinking -- and I think it is squarely in sync with the
existential reality of human consciousness.

As for market planning... yes, much global planning goes on, but this takes
place within a larger market that is constituted by thousands of
decentralized markets, in which prices are functioning.  The monopolists
lust for a certain degree of control, yes.  But insofar as they begin to
eliminate market prices in the competitive system, they too become
insulated from the important signals that they need to meet relative
scarcities.  The price rigidities in a monopoly-dominated market cause
immense inefficiencies too.  As for black markets... they will always
emerge any time prohibitions on production are erected, or barriers to
entry are built.

Doyle: Dialectics is fundamentally a human activity. Because we can talk
back and
forth. But also because our brains allow that to happen. Other animals no
doubt perform much the same kind of thinking in various ways, but cannot
perform the language exchange which permits a dialectic. However,
dialectics is not just an activity external to human beings. I raise that
to keep you on your toes. We are in the totality. We aren't external to
the totality.

Chris:  Yes, I agree wholeheartedly and fundamentally.  And it is because
we are always a part of the totality we seek to change, we can never stop
the world and redesign it de novo as if from some external vantage point,
like Archimedes.  My view is that this is the kind of change planners
envision.  They think they can stop the world and redesign it, on the basis
of equilibrium models and statics, when the world continues to function in
spite of their plans.

Doyle: I will have fun pinning you down to what you really mean. My little
pidgeon!

Chris:  Now that is one of the most endearing things any Marxist has ever
called me... :)

Doyle:  Rationality as you use it is a good example. Historically Rationality
demands the exclusion of feelings from rational thought. However if one
looks at the totality of human beings it is clear that one cannot cut the
pathway between the frontal lobe and the thalmus or technically remove
feelings from rationality. In that way if one does that sort of surgery
which Francis Farmer got one version of, one can no longer act in ones best
interest. They test this by getting someone who has had that sort of damage
to play cards. The person can no longer figure out what is in their best
interests in a card game. How is your rationality not like the
Enlightenment brand?

Chris:  I agree with your point; rationality is never exclusively
instrumental.  It should be applied to ends as well as means.  Finding an
efficient way to make a better Auschwitz is not rational in my view,
because Auschwitz as a goal is not rational -- it does not serve the
standard of human life.  I think that the Enlightenment did wonders in
destroying the mystics, but it also created a model of "pure reason" that
embodied the mind-body dichotomy.  To this extent, the "rationalist" view
of reason was a failure.
So I agree that "fundamentally the Enlightenment Rationality puts thinking
outside the real
world."

Doyle:  I hope you can get your work done!

Chris:  I'll try!  Thanks...
Cheers,
Chris


=====================================
Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar
NYU Department of Politics
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