China Part3

Sam Pawlett rsp at
Fri Aug 4 01:41:16 MDT 2000

VII.  Development Without Destruction?

Today, when industrial power has outstripped what once seemed
inexhaustible limits, is it still reasonable to equate living standards
with, consumerism?  Today, even the World Bank-which in the name of
development has dammed up, cut down, polluted and paved over np small
portion of the planet for forty years -now concedes that 'If the
benefits from rising incomes are offset by the costs imposed on health
and the quality of life by pollution, this cannot be called
develodment." But what, then, should we mean by development?  And how do
we measure higher living standards?  Are the living standards of a
family in Bangkok raised, for example, when their cash income rises
enough so that they can purchase an automobile-when the pleasure of car
owner ship is offset by the loss of free time caused by the need to work
more hours, or even take a second job, to pay for the car and all its
attendant costs, by the longer commuting time caused by other motorists
exercising their freedom, by lung cancer, by the generalized urban
blight jammed roads, car parks, petrol stations, used-car lots, drive-in
fast-foc franchises, brown skies and howling car-alarms?  Is this a
higher standard of living?  Evidently not just bourgeois economists but
even market socialists and many Marxists think so, for few bother to
question the nature of development per se.

Obviously, the Chinese need to develop their economy in order to raise
living standards.  It is also obvious that virtually any human economic
activity must have some deleterious impact upon the environment.  Even
organic farming produces methane gas, a contributor to global warming.
Yet the impact of development upon the environment is highly variable.
So it matters a great deal which technologies the Chinese adopt to
further their development.

The Advantages of Backwardness

As we have seen, China stands at a crucial historical juncture.  It
could actually take advantage of its backwardness and underdevelopment
and avoid repeating many of the pitfalls and disasters of capitalist-led
economic development in the West, and to take advantage of the most
advanced scientific knowledge and technology currently available.

I see no reason why the Chinese cannot modernize and adopt the most
scientifically rational and environmentally benign technologies.  One
the huge advantages of 'combined and uneven development' is precisely
that late developers have the chance to skip technological stages the
industrialized countries have already gone through.  The Chinese could
for example, largely skip over the auto-industrial stage and, taking
advantage of their existing system, based on bicycles and trains, move
directly to a modernized bicycle, train, and bus system. The Chinese
could also modernize their still heavily organic argiculture and so
avoid the destruction of topsoil, the pollution, the health costs the
loss of biodiversity resulting from chemical-intensive agribusiness.
They could likewise reduce their reliance on coal and take advant of the
latest advances in solar, wind and other non-polluting ene sources.  And
they could develop their legendary tradition of conservation and
recycling instead of adopting the staggeringly wasteful system of
throw-away consumerism.  By implementing a scientifically, economically,
and ecologically rational strategy of development, China could provide a
rising standard of living, indeed, a qualitatively better stand of
living for all, while minimizing pollution.

But the problem is that they cannot do any of this if they let the free
market reorganize their economy.  What is needed to halt, or even to
slow ecological degradation is incompatible with a market organization
of economy.  The essence of the market system is, of course, precisely
its lack of planning, indeed its single-minded focus on the individual
pursuit of profit with total disregard for all other externalities.  An
ecologically sound economy requires precisely the opposite: intelligent,
comprehensive, economically, socially and environmentally rational
planning based on considerations other than profit.  Such calculations
take place on a much broader set of criteria than are considered by any
private corporation, however massive.

With the collapse of communism, carpet-bagging Western corporations have
descended on China to sell everything from Pampers to power plants.  In
the process, the Chinese are, no doubt, getting many things that they
really do need, like working telephones; but also lots of thing they do
not, like disposable plastic containers, American junk food, and an
over-abundance of private cars.  And they are buying some items, like
nuclear power plants and chemical pesticides, that by any rational
scientific assessment ought to be banned from production.  By turning
over the economy to capitalists, corporations and the free market, what
gets developed is simply what is profitable, with no concern for society
or the environment.

Peoples'Car, Ecological Disaster

Mass transportation provides a striking example of these issues. have
noted that the current system is based around the bicycle and the
train.  Now this combination is the most energy efficient as well the
least polluting method of urban mass-transportation yet developed. 6'
The rudimentary train-bicycle-bus system the communists built in the
Post-revolutionary period is technically outdated because it relies
largely on antiquated trains many of them steamtrains, trucks and buses
Of 1940's design, and heavy, forty pound bicycles.  But remarkably, in
many respects this system is more economically and environmentally sound
than those found in most advanced capitalist countries. Just look at
Taipei, an environmental disaster zone in large part because of the
introduction of automobiles and motorcycles on a mssive scale. Or at
Bangkok, once dubbed the 'Venice of Asia' but now reviled as Asia's Los
Angeles because the government paved over most of its beautiful canals
only to end up with gridlock and such appalling air pollution that some
foreign investors are now pulling out of the country.

Yet despite such examples, China, like the rest of Asia, is headed down
the road to capitalist anarchy, and its transportation system is being,
shaped accordingly.  Most notably, in accordance with the prevalent
anti-government hysteria and glorification of individualism, China's
public transport systems are being short-changed to make way for the
auto-industrial age.  The government has, to be sure, undertaken
significant upgrading of the national rail system adding new trains, new
lines, electrifying some existing lines, and double- or triple-tracking
some single-track lines. Just two years ago the government also
announced ambitous plans to spend some 200 to 300 billion yuan ($24 to
$36 billion) to build 145 kilometres of metro and light-rail network in
twenty cities by the turn of the century. (At present there are only 6o
kilometres subway in operation in the whole of China-in Beijing, Tianjin
and Shanghai.  China has no light-rail service).  Construction began in
Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou but projects for Nanjing, Tianjin, at
Qingdao, along with surface light-rail lines for Shenyang and other
cities, were halted in December 1995 due to insufficient state
funding.Only subways in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou will go ahead,
but even these will be stretched out over a decade or more and scaled
back to single lines. Instead of investing in  mass transit, the lion's
share of China's  current investment is flowing into motor vehicles and

In 1994, as part of their drive to make car production one of the
countries four pillar industries, China's leaders called for the
development of their own Volkswagen-a Chinese 'peoples' car'compact and
cheap enough for most Chinese families to own.  Up to I979, China
produced abo 6o,ooo motor vehicles per year (excluding farm machinery),
with trucks and buses accounting for over go per cent of this output.
In 1995 China produced I .4 million cars, buses and trucks, of which a
third were passenger cars.  In 1995, $3. 1 billion worth of motor
vehicles were sold in China. China's car industry proposes to invest $I
7.6 billion to expand production during the Ninth Five-Year Plan
(i996-2ooo).  By 2010 Chinese and joint venture factories aim to produce
more than six million motor vehicles per year, of which four million
will be passenger cars. That will make China
the third  largest automotive manufacturing nation, after the US and
Japan.  The Chinese estimate that if incomes continue to grow by 20 per
cent per year, by 2000 some 4 to 4.7 million Chinese families will be
able to purchase a people's car, with the number rising to 16  to 17
million by 2005, and 38 to 41 million by 2010. China is already the
world's leading producer of motorcycles (7-8 million in 1995) and plans
to double the number on the road by the turn of the century.  Parallel
with these developments, the government is also engaged in a frenzy of
road building. Even in the early I950s, paved roads were rare in China,
and trains were virtually the only form of inter-city surface transport,
and still are for the most part.  But in the last decade, the government
has built dozens of periurban ring roads and short stretches of modern
freeways-and built them mostly over some of the best remaining alluvial
land around the cities.  Yet these peter out in a rural landscape where
dirt paths and farm-to-market lanes still predominate.  Today China
still has only some 5 7 5,000 miles of paved roads, as against 34,000
miles of railways.  This is about as many miles of road as existed in
the US at the end of the nineteenth century.  But this will soon
change.  In 1994 at a cost of $ 1.1 billion, Hong Kong hero-entrepreneur
Gordon Wu of Hopewell Enterprises built China's first six-lane super
highway from Hong Kong to Guang-zhou, and he wants to build a 400 mile
stretch from Guangzhou to Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province in
central China . The government plans to build 3,000 kilometres of
expressways in 20 provinces and municipalities by the end of this
century, in addition to another 18,500 kilometres of highways. If Wu's
project is any indication, the investment needed to create a national
highway network in China will be stupendous indeed.  And this is to say
nothing of the gas stations, strip malls, repair garages, parts shops,
parking lots, used car lots, junk yards, and drive-in fast-food
franchises that will, inevitably, folloW. Can car alarms be far behind?

What is behind this shift in policy which can hardly be based on any
rational assessment of transportation needs?  In the first instance, the
push for cars came from China's new bourgeoisie-the
communists-turned-capitalists who wish to trade in their antiquated
Party-issue Red Flag limos for new Mercedes and Lexuses, and the new
private entrepreneurial class who look to flaunt their wealth and
distinguish themselves from their wage slaves. The car craze recalling
that of america in the 1950's, is the latest  product of the Communist
Party' s  deliberate promotion of individualism, entrepreneur worship,
consumerism, and lifestyle.  In some cities, Chinese school-children
reportedly memorize specifications of car brochures as American
youngsters do baseball cards. The first Ferrari was sold in China in
I994 to a Chinese who already owned two Mercedes.  Even Chairman Mao's
grandson Xiaozhi, told an interviewer that he dreamed of owning a car
someday.  The push for the automobilization of China also came from
Western car makers who, facing saturated markets at home, see China as
the largest untapped market in the world.  And it came from China's
leaders who since the Tiananmen uprising of 1989, have been pushing
consumerism to distract China's mutinous masses from political issues.
In a revealing comment on how and why economies get built the way they
do, journalist Pat Tyler  reports that China's leaders 'are eager for a
giant internal market to move to the next stage of materialism.
Sustained growth is an urgent political requirement for the leadership
whose legitimacy flows from the ability to deliver prosperity to the
masses.' Pushing the people's car, 'China's leaders overcame all
arguments about traffic, Pollution and mass transit to endorse even
greater automobile production.' Accordingly, the government plans to
encourage families to buy cars by offering bank loans and instalment

Contradiction Development

The dawn of the auto-industrial age in China is doubtless good news for
Chrysler, Mobil, Hopewell Enterprises and similar far-sighted firms.
But is it good news for China?  Right now, China has roughly one car for
every 8oo Chinese, compared with the US which has about one car for
every two Americans.  Since market advocates think the solution China's
environmental problems is ever more development, which presumably must
include stepping 'up' from bicycles to automobiles, one should ask, what
will China look like when I.2 billion Chinese approach the standard of
living of contemporary Americans and put, say, 400 to 500 million cars
on Chinese roads?

The 500 million or so motor vehicles which currently exist pump out
two-thirds of the carbon monoxide, one-half of the nitrous oxides,
two-thirds of the carbon particulate emissions from human sources
world-wide. What will happen when this number of vehicles doubles? In
China's cities, air quality has palpably worsened with the huge
increase, in motor vehicles in recent years.  In cities like Guangzhou,
Beijing and Shanghai, cars add so much pollution to the soupy haze that
'normal hangs over these cities, that vehicle emissions now account for
more than one half of all urban air pollutants.  The impact on public
health is rapidly being felt.

The government reports that in China's twenty major cities as a result
of air pollution some 3 million people have died of chronic bronchitis
in the last two years. And deaths from lung cancer which were 12 out of
each ioo,ooo in 198o, rose to 58 in I994.  And what about lndia's 9oo
million or Indonesia'S 200 million or Nigeria's 12 million?  Don't they
deserve 'people's cars' too?

Pollution is only part of the problem.  Car-based transportation
network: are also far costlier to build and operate, and waste vastly
more space that mass-transit systems.  In the US, which has less than
200 million cars or the road, almost two per cent of arable land is
taken up by auto infrastructure.  Each mile of roadway requires 25 acres
of land.  About half of all urban space in the US is devoted to
auto-centred transport.  In Los  Angeles, two-thirds is devoted to auto
use, and the average car uses up to eight parking spaces daily.77 But
China can hardly afford to waste land in so profligate a fashion.
China, which has almost exactly the same land area as the US, has four
times as many people living on it.  Since such a large proportion of
China is either desert or mountains, its population is crammed into
dense concentrations around the great river valleys.  As a result, the
country must feed more than one-fifth of the world's popula tion on less
than one-fifteenth of its farmland.

Given these constraints, is it really economically or environmental
rational to let the mindless free market guide development, to let
vehicle makers and importers produce and sell all they can, to pave over
so much of the little land China still has for arable and dwelling
space?  Ever though China has few cars compared to the US, the country
already has world-class traffic jams.  Traffic speed in cities like
Beijing has slowed to an average ten miles per hour, while on China's
few inter-city roads, grid-lock can literally last for days. And what
solution do China's forward-thinking market reformers propose to solve
this problem?  As in Los  Angeles in the past, to build ever more roads
and highways.  They have even proposed to open up clogged city streets
to cars by banning bicycles!  Guangzhou has banned bicycles from eleven
main streets during rush hours, Shanghai has banned bicycles from the
Bund, and other cities are following suit.  Currently, bicycles account
for 33 per cent of passenger load in Guangzhou, but officials aim to
reduce this to  13 per cent by  20io' as the city 'modernizes'.

Now some  Chinese and Western experts, drawing on the experience of
what happened in the US and other industrial natios, think thr shift to
private cars is a monumental mistake.  China's scientific community has
criticized the government's car fetish.  In a 1994 report scientists
stated that 'It would be inappropriate for China to encourage the  use
of family cars on a large scale in the next few years becasue of the
country's serious shortage of land, oil, and other resources and its
huge population.' It recommended instead 'a public transportation system
that is complete and radiating in all directions.' One of China's best
physicists, Professor He Zuoxiu, who has thrust himself into the
transportation debate says that 'China simply cannot sustain the
development of a car economy."' Vaclav Smil puts it bluntly: 'The
automobile cannot be extended to 1.2 billion Chinese, not even to 100 or
200 million. That is an insane route.  There is not a single Chinese
city that does not suffer from gridlock already.' Moreover, China has
already become an importer of oil as domestic production has failed to
keep up with demand.  Smil points out that '40 per cent of United States
energy consumption goes into private cars, and the United States is
importing its oil... If the Chinese try to model themselves on the
United States, Japan or South Korea, there is simply not enough crude
oil on the market for them to import and, of course, it will speed up
the arrival of the oil crisis."' Gao-cang Huan, an economist for J.P.
Morgan 1 remarked that 'If China only worries about production, without
overall transportation planning, then China is headed for big trouble."

The automobilization of China is a typical example of how the transition
to capitalism is simply replacing old problems with new ones.  The
pattern is evident today throughout the Chinese economy: glass and other
reusable containers are being displaced as Coca Cola and the rest push
'convenient' disposable plastics which more and more litter public
spaces. Organic agriculture is being steadily abandoned as chemically
intensive cultivation and husbandry takes over-even as, in the West
organic agriculture is enjoying a powerful revival. Western, especially
US and Taiwanese, junk food and junk culture is invading the country.
Procter and Gamble is pushing Pampers-typically 3,000 are used in the
first year at a cost Of $570-to China's wannabe-yuppies, whose ancestors
managed all those centuries without diaper services.  With some sixteen
million Chinese children born each year, Procter and Gamble can hardly
contain its glee.  But have Procter and Gamble's'far-sigted' executives
given much thought to where 45 billion soiled disposable diapers are
going to be dumped each year?

ix.     No Plan, No Future: Capitalist Barbarism or
Socialist Democracy

While free-market ideologues dance on the grave of communism,  China's
entrepreneurs and their multinational corporate partners, each pursuing
their own rational self-interest, each acting without a coherent plan or
any assessment of economic, social or environmental impact of those
decisions are systematically and inexorably driving China toward social
and environmental disaster.

But what is the alternative?  In an earlier era, socialists had a ready
answer.  They would have said that within the framework of capitalism
China's interrelated social, economic and environmental problems are
unresolvable.  Capitalism cannot generate full employment.  It cannot
provide more than temporary prosperity for some sectors of the working
class.  Free markets cannot control pollution.  Socialists would have
said that a rational economy is inconceivable on the basis of production
for market.  What is needed is production directly for need, not for
profit.  A rationally planned economy, socialism, is required, and to be
rational, to give due weight to all the numerous externalities, planning
must be democratic, it cannot be made by a self-interested bureaucracy.

Today, more and more scientists are calling for government and
multi-national government intervention against the rapacity and
destructiveness of the global market economy, through treaties to
control ozone emission, carbon dioxide emissions, over-fishing, and Many
other envi-ronmental problems.  In effect, this amounts to calling for a
planned rational use of global natural resources.  (This is,
incidentally, why some extreme right-wing US Congressmen rail even
against the 1987 Montreal  ozone treaty which they see, not incorrectly,
as the thin wedge of 'One World Government'.

But feew scientists address the economy or the profit system directly.
One who does is the ecologist Barry Commoner who argues that
'significant environmental improvement depends on social rather than
private governance', that decisions which  affect the entire society
cannot be left to the whim of corporations, that society itself should
have some democratic over the economy, via 'the public weighing of
alternative choices of reproduction technology' and 'by socially
mandated choice of technotogy.' What Commoner is proposing is that the
public  be able to deliberate and vote on, say, whether paper mills that
leach dioxin into the water supply, whether pharmaceutical companies can
genetically alter our food supplies, and whether oil companies can drill
in Alaskan nature refuges.  That is, to be sure a radical conception of
democracy-one that would give voters real lives for a change, and so one
to be feared by the power that be.

Given the currently fashionable repudiation of 'government
intervention', planning is derided as empirically impossible and
totalitarian even by many socialists.  Even reason and rationality are
passe concepts for some New Age postmodernists. After all, Stalin, Mao
planned their economies-and that was the problem.  But economies were
planned by and for bureaucrats themselves, free from public
accountability or control from below.  Is there any wonder such planning
did not meet the needs of society?  But why are those historical
experiences grounds for rejecting planning by democratic vote I, for
one, fail to see the connection.

The Fraud of Free Market Environmentalism

Given the failure of communist planning, pro-market economists claim
that capitalism can solve its own environmental problems if only
everything could be privatized or at least subjected to market prices
and freed from 'government regulation'.  Thus Francis Cairncross, World
Bank, and Lester Brown all advocate market  strategies and green taxes
as the solution to the global evironmental crises. The problem is, where
do these have your cake and eat it too fantasies exist?  There is no
evidence that such market incentives have  altered industrial production
in any fundamental way.

In her book Costing the Earth, Frances Cairncross assembles 'a chechlist
for companies' admonishing them 'to consider ways to reduce the erials
you use that could do environmental harm': 'Do you really so many toxic
chemicals?', 'Think about the materials in your product.If you had
responsibility for disposing of it when your customers threw it out,
could you do so? In an environmetally benign way? If not consider
changing the design and materials you use.' And so on. Cairncross is
impressed by 'the radical corporate thinking on the environment' taking
place in the headquarters of such putative 'green leaders' as Du Pont,
Monsanto, Dow, Hoechst and others.  So Du Pont, Cairncross assures us,
'has promised to cut emissions by 90 per cent by the end of the
century.' Union Carbide 'stipulates that its facilities in Africa stick
to standards consistent with America's Clean Water Act, even though
there is no such act in Africa.' Du Pont, which used to dump thousands
of tons of noxious waste chemicals from its plastics production, has now
'discovered a market for [its wastes] in the pharmaceuticals and coating
industry.' BMW'S clever engineers have designed cars that are 90 per
cent recyclable.  Even Shell Oil comes in for praise for 'making
strenuous efforts to improve [it's] environmental image'-though this
might now need some touching up.

But, how much difference does it make if BMWs are recyclable?  The real
problem is that there are too many BMWs, too many cars on the roads
today.  What the world needs is fewer cars.  But what conceivable market
incentives are going to persuade car-manufacturers to produce fewer
cars?  Recyclable cars, yes.  Electric cars, maybe.  But fewer cars?
How could such a proposal be justified to stockholders even if the
stock-holders were the workers themselves?

A Disposable World

It is good that Dow Chemical and Du Pont have stopped dumping some of
their hideous chemicals in our creeks.  But how much difference does
this make in global terms?  The problem is not so much how they produce
as what they produce.  What real difference does it make if Dow Chemical
manufactures its silicone breast implants, and manages not to foul the
local rivers in the process, when the product itself is causing untold
pain, suffering and death to thousands of women?  What real difference
does it make if H.B. Fuller shares profits with its employees and gives
endowments to universities, winning it rave reviews from the Socially
Responsible Investment community, when one of its main products is a
shoemakers' glue laced with the neurotoxin toluene that has addicted
millions of Latin American street children, causing neurological damage,
kidney and liver failure, paralysis and death?  What real difference
does it make if Du Pont uses 'clean production' techniques to produce
its Express herbicide, marketed in China, when this herbicide is classed
as a human carcinogen?

Chemicals, pesticides, plastics, disposable cameras, nuclear reactors,
cars, books-on-CD ROM, 'Mortal Kombat', junk food, MTV-whole slabs of
global industry are geared to produce unnecessary, unhealthy, dangerous,
destructive, anti-social, redundant or superfluous junk.  Much of it is
designed to fall apart or become obsolete 'to be consumed and discarded
at an ever-increasing rate so the cycle can  on endlessly'

Its not just the externalities, but teh very nature of production for
the market which is the problem. As Paul Hawken, mail order impresario
and New Age scribe, put the matter succinctly:

Despite their dedicated good work, if we examine all or any of the
businesses that deservedly earn high marks for social and environmental
responsibility, we, are faced with a sobering irony: If every company on
the planet were to adop the environmental and social practices of the
best companies-of, say, the Body Shop, Patagonia, and Ben and
Jerry's-the world would still be moving toward environmental degradation
and collapse.  In other words, if we analyze environmental effects and
create an input-output model of resources and energy, the results do not
even approximate a tolerable or sustainable future.  If a tiny fraction
of the world's most intelligent companies cannot model a sustainable
world, then that tells us that ... what we have is not a management
problem but a design problem.

Karl Marx could hardly have said it better.  The problem, as Hawken sees
it, is that 'over-consumption' is built into the logic of the market
economy, which is driven by competition and profit seeking to
overproduce. And Hawken ought to know since he's done his bit to destroy
forests of Southeast Asia flogging teak garden furniture to
over-consuming Americans.

Furthermore, pace John Roemer et al., these contradictions are not built
into any conceivable 'market socialism'.  For what difference do make if
firms are owned by the workers?  They still have to compete, have to
maximize production, still have to cut costs, still have to create new
products and sell their stuff whether anybody needs it or not, have to
advertise, still have to cut down trees to make junk mail, and have to
fill up the airwaves with commercials-so on and on it goes. The problem
is only partly about ownership.  The main problem is an unplanned,
chaotic, crisis-ridden nature of production for the market -- the
invisible hand.

But what of the alleged  impossibiliy of planning. Alec Nove was a
brilliant and witty critic of the irrationalities of Stalinist command
economies.  But in his zeal to ridicule Stalinist economics he vented
much steam concocting problems which were not really problems.  Nove
liked to ask, how can workers vote on how many ball-bearings to produce,
or what kinds?  Or on how much sulphuric acid, and by when?  And so on.
'Obviously', said Nove, the centre can never know all the myriad needs,
as well as capacities at the base, or know them in time.  So rational
planning cannot be top-down, by command.  It requires constant feed-back
from the base, information on productivity and changes in capacity.  It
requires, furthermore, unplanned spontaneous initiative at the
grass-roots to constantly correct central planners.  In short , the
centre does not know just what it is that needs doing, in disaggregated
detail, while management in its situation cannot know what it is that
society needs unless the centre informs it. So economic planning must
inevitably founder on this intractable epistemological dilemma.

Yet the problem Nove identifies is not epistemological but social and
political.  Under the Stalinist system, the lower levels knew very well
what their needs and capacities were, and they were perfectly capable of
sending this accurate information to the centre.  But in such a
bureaucratic, class-divided system it was not in anyone's interest to
convey accurate information.  On the contrary, given this structure,
everyone from Number Two on down systematically lied, and mendacity
became institutionalized as a way of life.  The Czech economist Ota Sik
has described the situation well:

The enterprises were transformed into cogs in the economic machine, to
be manipulated by men at the centre and forced to provide the highest
output at the lowest costs-without regard, naturally, for the end
effect.  So they adopted the most obvious mode of defence: they
understated their potentialities and overstated their needs ... And
there evolved a mechanism for deception on a grand scale, of not showing
one's hand, and this was the only sphere in which people's initiative
would really develop to the full.  The consequence was that the
Czechoslovak economy lost its last asset--objective information about
needs, reserves, and potentialities.

In my view, the main barrier to rational economic planning is not
really, or at least not mainly, a problem of knowledge.  The real
problem is to
devise means of voluntary active cooperation between planners, producers
and consumers. For this to work there must be a coincidence of interests
between  between these groups, which can only be based on a democratic
management of the economy.

Nove is certainly right that the centre should not have to micromanage
every detail of the economyspecifying every journey of every lorry.
That would be absurd.  But an intelligent, informed citizenry can vote
on broad priorities-whether to build nuclear power or take stronger
measures to conserve power.  Whether to make private cars or public
transit the mainstay of urban transport. Whether to fish tuna to
extinction.  Whether to cut down the last of the forest to make cedar
decks for suburbanites, disposable chip-board furniture, paper towels
and phone books.  I see no practical reason Why  ordinary citizens
cannot make such decisions.  To plan in this way does not require that
ordinary citizens have total and instant knowledge over every aspect of
an impossibly complicated economy.  They can vote on the priorities and
leave the details to technicians-that's what capitalists do.

What evidence do I have that such democratic planning could work.
Little, to be sure.  But the problem is not that democratic planning
'failed'.  The problem is it's never been tried.  The failure of
Stalinist planning does not disprove the possibility of democratic
planning.  When was the economy ever been put up for a vote in any
society?  When has there even been any balanced and considered public
discussion of an important economic issue that has not been massively
distorted by big money for special interests'?  Nevertheless, there are
important examples that I am looking at.  One place to look is at the
growing efforts by local communities to demand democratic control over
toxic polluters.  These raise serious challenges to the prerogatives of
corporate power and private property.

Save the Humans!

In an age when technologies from nuclear power to biotechnology produce
profound and unknown consequences for the entire society, is it not
more  obvious than ever that decisions about such large-scale hazardous
technologies should be made by all those affected and not just by those
who profit?  There is a powerful case for the imperative need for a
radical democratization of economic decision-making-a step in the
directic of democratic planning.

Of course, such a society would certainly make mistakes. Jobs might
well be favoured over environmental concerns by most Chinese people.

Supposse the Chinese could vote on whether they want private or light
rail as the mainstay of public transport.  Given the current deluge of
advertising and promotion of consumerism they might well vote cars.  But
would the citizens of Los Angeles have voted for cars and freeways in
the late 1940s if they had been warned that in twenty years the San
Gabriel mountains would be lost from view on all but a few days per
year, or that the average speed on the freeways would be no more than 30
mph and it would take them longer to get to work than in the I940's?
Would they have voted for cars as the main means of conveyance if they
had been warned that they and future generations would suffer from lead
poisoning, lung cancer, and many other illnesses because of car
pollution?  Most, if not all, of these consequences were predictable in
the  1940s.  But the economy was not up for a vote.

If the Chinese-and we-leave such decisions to the chaos of the market
and the bias of profit-seeking capitalists, such 'mistakes' become
systematic and inevitable.  Given the huge size of China's industrialize
economy, and its consequent impact upon the global environment,
capitalist development holds out the prospect of ever more devastating
environmental disasters, if not global catastrophe.

How would a truly democratic society do worse?  Given current trends, it
seems hard not to draw the conclusion that, very likely, there will not
be democratic socialism, anywhere-in which case eco-rationality, if not
humanity, are probably doomed.  That may be our fate.  Human societies
have collapsed before.  But it would be helpful if intellectuals who
call themselves socialists stopped pandering to the prevalent market
idolatru abandoned such oxymorons as 'market socialism, turned their
energy to criticizing the irrationality and cruelty of the free market,
and help to build the case for a radical democratization of the economy
and society-democratic socialism.

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