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Sun Jul 15, 2012, 01:41 PM

Economic Planning and Computers.

Central planning is one of the things that people criticize the most about socialism. I'm sure we've all heard the claims that it is inefficient. Ignoring the fact that this claim is actually rather debatable, I thought it might be interesting to discuss the role of modern computers in a planned economy. After all, when the Soviets tried it they were relying on humans to figure all out without any help. However, modern computing power is beyond anything anyone could of have thought of even in the 80s. Do you all think modern computers would make central planning easier? Has anyone read anything on this topic?

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Arrow 20 replies Author Time Post
Reply Economic Planning and Computers. (Original post)
white_wolf Jul 2012 OP
physioex Jul 2012 #1
limpyhobbler Jul 2012 #4
limpyhobbler Jul 2012 #2
physioex Jul 2012 #3
limpyhobbler Jul 2012 #5
joshcryer Jul 2012 #18
limpyhobbler Jul 2012 #19
socialist_n_TN Jul 2012 #6
dfgrbac Jul 2012 #7
Starry Messenger Jul 2012 #8
white_wolf Jul 2012 #9
Starry Messenger Jul 2012 #10
BOG PERSON Jul 2012 #11
Starry Messenger Jul 2012 #12
PETRUS Jul 2012 #13
Starry Messenger Jul 2012 #14
PETRUS Jul 2012 #15
joshcryer Jul 2012 #17
joshcryer Jul 2012 #16
jwirr Aug 2012 #20

Response to white_wolf (Original post)

Sun Jul 15, 2012, 01:49 PM

1. I was kind of hoping we would go the other way....

From growing our produce locally and producing energy in our community with technologies like wind and solar. I think many geopolitical conflicts would not happen if we did not have a centralized system of production with distributed consumption. Did you have something more specific?

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Response to physioex (Reply #1)

Sun Jul 15, 2012, 03:10 PM

4. good idea for produce and energy production.

I guess there will also be many things that it is not practical to produce locally.

Like pencils, pens, notebook paper, envelopes, guitars, electric cables, calculators, light bulbs, trombones, cars, bicycles, anything made of of metal I guess, cans of tuna, fruits from far away like mangos, etc. You see what I'm getting at. Local is great for some things, but some other things don't fit as well.

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Response to white_wolf (Original post)

Sun Jul 15, 2012, 02:48 PM

2. Computer networks make planning easier for large operations.

Our current capitalist production and distribution systems sure use a lot of computers.

Like Walmart for example. I don't think anybody could imagine running a supply-chain operation on the scale of a Walmart without computer networks, in this day and age. They use computer networks to track their inventory and get goods from the dock to central distribution centers and then to the stores where people can buy the stuff. That takes alot of planning and they need computer networks to be able to do it as efficiently as they do.

That is capitalist central planning. But all the productivity and efficiency gains from technology are absorbed into the corporate profits, workers are laid off, and wages are kept as low as possible. Computerized central planning already exists, it just needs to be under democratic control or worker control so everybody can benefit from it, instead of just a few millionaires and billionaires.

Maybe. Just some ideas.

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Response to limpyhobbler (Reply #2)

Sun Jul 15, 2012, 03:06 PM

3. I don't think this will ever work....

Why do we have our fruits and vegetables shipped across continents and our country? Why do we have our electricity generated by a corporation? There could be some serious transformations in our society if the money we spent on food went to someone who lives just a few blocks from your house. Could the electricity we consume not come from some cooperative where the money gets invested back into the community?

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Response to physioex (Reply #3)

Sun Jul 15, 2012, 03:12 PM

5. Check what I wrote in reply #4.

We must have been typing at the same time

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Response to limpyhobbler (Reply #2)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 06:03 AM

18. How would you envision individual workers controlling a centrally planned system?

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Response to joshcryer (Reply #18)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 06:09 PM

19. Not individuals alone, but organized & working through democratic governments,labor unions,co-ops.

The US Postal Service is a good example of a centrally planned system under democratic control. Approximately speaking. We elect representatives and they determine the fate and governance of the postal service. The USPS has been under attack lately but that's because we have a right-wing government. But the principle of accountability and democracy is there. Further, the postal workers have a voice in the workings of the operation, since they are organized in a union. I don't know of anyone who suggests each locality should run its own postal service. Some people might suggest privitizing, but most people would not want that.

I think The National Health Service in the UK is an example of a centrally planned system for distributing health related goods and services. By most accounts I've heard it works pretty good. The people of the UK control it in a democratic way via their elected government. It is under democratic control. Approximately.

There are really two different questions.
1) Local planning vs. centralized planning
2) Government planning vs. for-profit corporate planning vs. non-government co-operative model.

We don't have to choose necessarily. For each of these we can ask what is the correct balance between the different models. Which goods and services are best distributed via a for-profit system, which are best handled by government, and which best handled by co-ops. Or some mixture of the above.

Similarly, what is the correct balance between local planning vs. centralized planning.

The topic was computers for planning so I was just pointing out that our economic system is already thoroughly computerized. In many ways it is also pretty centralized, as owing to the monopoly tendency of capitalism. For example only, Walmart corporate bureaucrats in Bentonville Ark. decide what kind of bread and meat and corn-syrup gets sold across the nation. They also set the price. They don't completely control everything. But their decisions exert enormous influence over the lives of the American people. Especially the people who work for that company. And not only in the US. The decisions of the corporate bureaucrats about where to purchase goods also have a huge impact on the lives of people in the communities where the production in located. Like in China or whatever. I'm just using Walmart as an easy example.

Multinational corporations (Like Walmart for example) make these big society-impacting planning decisions. And yet the people have no say over the decisions and the corporations are mostly unaccountable. That's not fair because people should have a say over decisions roughly in proportion to how much they are affected by those decisions. On top of that a lot of money gets siphoned off the top to support the lifestyles of the 1%, such as the Walton family, just as an example. Wasteful and unfair.

And so while not supporting a centrally planned system for everything, I recognize that much of our economy is already controlled by multinational corporations and planning decisions are made centrally by corporate bureaucrats and top ranking corporate people. Further, some things, although clearly not everything, really do call for a centralized system.

-------------

How to bring it under democratic control or workers' control?

Walmart workers (for example) should be allowed to form labor unions so they can begin to exert some worker control over the decisions of the corporation. Also people who work in Chinese factories should be able to organize labor unions so they can exert some influence there. Governments should support workers organizing unions and should oppose anti-union efforts.

Government should regulate corporations more according to what people want, instead of what benefits corporate profits. For example if there is a poll where 72% of people in a region want gas drilling to stop until it is proven safe, but the drilling continues, that's not as democratic as it should be.

People should establish alternative systems of production and distribution whenever as possible, using co-operative models, or just even supporting locally owned small businesses. Everybody loves a locally grown apple instead of one from another continent. Energy co-ops and food co-ops hopefully will grow. Employee owned factories and other workplaces. Maybe an employee-managed big box warehouse for general goods?? Why not.

Governments can also establish "public option" choices for goods and services, such as we almost had with health care.

And finally for some public goods the government can just operate it directly. Such as with the postal service or the NHS, the power grid, cops, highways, schools, etc. Maybe some banking.

Clearly government itself could be more democratic, such as by finding a way to limit the influence of wealth over government, maybe such as by House Joint Resolution 100 ?

These are the ways of bringing our economy under democratic control, possibly, I don't know really. Mostly I'm just restating stuff I've read online that "seemed cool".


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Response to white_wolf (Original post)

Sun Jul 15, 2012, 06:18 PM

6. I don't see why not........

Computers run and organize a lot of industrial society already. As Limpy said downthread. it just needs to be under worker control.

I think you'd also need SOME sort of centralized planning (at least for a while) to handle neccessities during the changeover from capitalist production to socialist production and distribution. The cities will probably be the center of any revolutionary impulses in the advanced capitalist states and you would want your supporters fed and clothed while things are consolidated.

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Response to socialist_n_TN (Reply #6)

Mon Jul 16, 2012, 04:12 PM

7. You are right about worker control; that is key!

 

Corporate dictatorships are what is causing all the problems we have in the world today - at least most of the big problems.

I have written about this, and how it can save capitalism in this article.

Frankly, and this is not the first time I have said this, the type of economic system a country has is far less relevant than who controls that system. The people or citizens of a country must hold the ultimate power of government. The people must not allow an elite minority to take power over them. When this happens, those elite make laws to control the people so they can retain their power. Once they gain that power, it is easy to retain it as we have seen through history. Concentrated power is a recipe for trouble!

And when corporations get too large, they practically become nations within themselves with the CEO as the dictator using the current definition. Socialism is not the dirty word many try to make it. If the people made the big decisions, it would work for the common good, which is really what socialism is all about. Having the people make the big decisions is another way of saying "democracy"!

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Response to white_wolf (Original post)

Mon Jul 16, 2012, 06:53 PM

8. I've never read anything on this topic.

But I work in a field that is more or less "centrally planned"--our public school system.

We have computers. Some things are more efficient, but other things are horrible with them. I think computers can be like that old cliche', when all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like a nail. Issues should be evaluated on the basis of what they truly need and it just shouldn't be assumed that anything can be fixed if you just throw more computers at it.

(Note: I'm not a technophobe. I lurve the internet and have a smartphone and do social media to the extent that I can, considering that I'm aging out of the demographic most of these things are aimed at.)

I think the best thing that computers are for in a centrally planned system are better ordering and inventory control via scanning bar-code systems. I think they would be good for conferences and communication too, but it would be necessary to get all regions up to an excellent standard with uniform quality.

edit to add: I think the idea that a centrally planned economy was inefficient under socialism isn't really true anyway. I don't have numbers at my fingers, but I doubt that many of the troubles any of them encountered was from central planning.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #8)

Mon Jul 16, 2012, 08:51 PM

9. As per your edit:

I didn't bring this up in the OP, because I thought it might detract from the topic at hand, but since you mentioned I don't have a problem with discussing it. I agree with you. I think the Soviet Union had a number of problems, but it was efficient. It turned a semi-feudal state into a superpower in about 30 years. The main problems it faced were famine, which were a problem even under the Tsars and consumer goods. The big problem with consumer goods was that they spent far too much money on their military (doesn't that sound familar?)

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Response to white_wolf (Reply #9)

Tue Jul 17, 2012, 11:49 AM

10. It's just an itch I had to scratch. :)

I find that decentralization actually makes things in education harder to deal with, even with computers. I'm thinking of the process we've had to go through to order tables for the new art rooms. It took all year, and now we even have to start over again. We have internet, email and online stores at our disposal, but yet this is taking longer than it would have back when we had district ordering and on-site carpenters working for the school. The district warehouses were cut in budget losses.

There's some idea that decentralization somehow creates efficiency, but I'm not sure what the basis of that philosophy is.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #10)

Tue Jul 17, 2012, 05:34 PM

11. isnt neoliberalism super-enthusiastic about decentralization?

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Response to BOG PERSON (Reply #11)

Tue Jul 17, 2012, 06:18 PM

12. It is, since it desires privatization.

I think most capitalist philosophies are though, except fascism. Hayek raves that centralization would lead to a society that is like that of ants.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #12)

Tue Jul 17, 2012, 07:35 PM

13. My take.

I don't know that I could offer a concise opinion on central planning.

I could, however, sum up my thoughts on Hayek without using too many words.

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Response to PETRUS (Reply #13)

Tue Jul 17, 2012, 08:31 PM

14. He's a dick.

How was that?

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #14)

Tue Jul 17, 2012, 09:59 PM

15. I'll accept that.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #8)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 06:02 AM

17. Not to go too off topic here, but nursing informatics has changed way nursing is done...

...and done so for the better (fewer mixups, better workflow, faster turnaround, etc). I don't know if "teaching informatics" could be a thing here, but I just wanted to give an example of technology bettering a system.

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Response to white_wolf (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 05:56 AM

16. Project Cybersyn

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Cybersyn

My view: Economics are themselves a farce which create artificial scarcity and therefore any system that purports to handle economics is merely the man behind the curtain making the scarcity happen to begin with.

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Response to white_wolf (Original post)

Thu Aug 2, 2012, 04:47 PM

20. I have not read on this issue but I doubt that there is a household anywhere that does not employ it

in their own homes. I know that I have always been forced to plan for anything that I wanted to achieve.

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