Editors note: Discussion includes using choice of production technique in central planning, opportunity cost, labour cost, calculating environmental costs (such as GHG emissions), agent-based modelling, consumer modelling, simulation results, computational complexity, research to be done.
Philipp Dapprich is a political economist and philosopher working at the Free University Berlin. His PhD was entitled Rationality and Distribution in the Socialist Economy (2020), , and he is also co-author of a forthcoming (2022) book entitled Economic Planning in an Age of Environmental Crisis. Today we’ll be discussing his work on refining the model of economic planning first proposed by Cockshott and Cottrell in Towards a New Socialism (1993).
Philipp Dapprich, thank you very much for joining me.
[Philipp Dapprich] Thank you for having me again.
[ATO]Thefirst thing I’m going to say is I really recommend the viewers watch the previous interview, because they’re not standalone interviews. We covered a lot of important stuff last time about opportunity costs, the motivations for your work, and really if viewers want to understand what we’re talking about now they should watch that. So, I’m just going to say that once.
Today there are two main things that we want to talk about. The first is we want to get into the details of the simulations that you ran to investigate your new techniques of opportunity cost valuations in the Towards a New Socialism model.
The other thing is we want to talk about a fundamental question, a fundamental problem, in economic planning and central planning about choice of production technologies. Can you introduce the problem and how you approached it?
[PD] One approach to planning has long been to use so-called input-output tables. And input-output tables – they are commonly published even by western capitalist countries – show you which industries use inputs from which other industries, and which output, how much output, they produce with this.
And the problem with that is that these tables are generally very aggregated. So, you have entire industries, you might have something like Forestry and Agriculture, all bunched together into one column of the table. And it doesn’t differentiate between various different kinds of products within those industries. It won’t differentiate between different kinds of agricultural products, lumber, and so on. That’s the first problem: they’re way too aggregated. And what you’d have to do is to have a much more disaggregated table which differentiates between different kinds of products.
Editor’s Note: In this interview, Dr. Philipp Dapprich talks to After the Oligarchy about his work on refining the model of economic planning first proposed by Cockshott and Cottrell in Towards a New Socialism (1993). Discussion includes opportunity cost, labour cost, calculating opportunity cost in central planning, calculating environmental costs (such as GHG emissions), calculating opportunity cost of capital goods.
Philipp Dapprich is a political economist and philosopher working at the Free University Berlin. His PhD was entitled Rationality and Distribution in the Socialist Economy (2020), and today we’ll be discussing his work on refining the model of economic planning first proposed by Cockshott and Cottrell in Towards a New Socialism (1993).
Philipp Dapprich, thank you very much for joining me.
[Philipp Dapprich] Thank you very much for this conversation.
[ATO]Before we begin with the questions, I was talking to Paul Cockshott yesterday and he mentioned that actually you, Paul Cockshott, and Allin Cottrell, have finished a book, a new book, on economic planning called Economic Planning in an Age of Environmental Crisis. And that’s just with the publishers now, and it’s going to come out sometime this year . So, do you want to say few words about that?
[PD]Yeah. So, what we’re trying to do in in this book is two things.
First of all, we want to demonstrate that you need some kind of economic planning in order to tackle the huge task of transforming the economy away from fossil fuels. Paul Cockshott actually did a calculation, for the book, of the investment that would be necessary in the UK, as an example country, to completely transform the energy system. And the amount of investment that is needed actually exceeds the annual total private investment in the UK. So, if that’s correct then there’s no way that private investment alone will be able to tackle this, and you need the state to step in and take a significant role in this.
The second thing that we’re doing is showing how economic planning techniques can be applied precisely to this problem of transforming an economy towards a completely different energy source. So, one of the things that we’ve looked at is how you can do long-term plans that gradually transform the economy or the basis of the economy. And the other thing, which is something that I worked on in my PhD thesis as well, is to look at how we can consider environmental constraints in planning and also in valuation of goods.
[ATO]Just one more thing on that. It’s a book primarily about long-term planning and about applying that to the environment, or will there be material about relating a long-term plan to, say, a yearly plan?
[PD]The techniques we describe are, of course, generally applicable for long-term planning and they could be applied to any kind of long-term objective that you might have. But what we’re arguing in the book is that this would be particularly relevant when you’re trying to drastically change the way that the economy is structured, and especially the way the production of electricity and energy is done.
[ATO]Well, it sounds like it’ll be very interesting, and I’ll make sure to get a copy when that is released.
But our conversation today is about something else. It’s about your work on introducing opportunity cost valuations into the Towards a New Socialism model. But before we get into what new techniques and methods you introduced, I’d like to situate that in the history of this problem, and also talk a bit about Towards A New Socialism. So, to give the background to viewers, can you frame the issue of economic calculation so viewers can understand why the issue of opportunity cost is important? And we can go on from there.
[PD]Generally speaking in a socialist economy, a similar problem applies as in any other economy, which is how to apportion resources, labour, the means of production, towards various uses. How much labour are we going to use to produce food versus energy, versus other things? And you want to do that in a way that is in some sense efficient.
And there are techniques to do that. There are optimal planning techniques that that can be used to do that, but what they can’t necessarily tell you is which kinds of products are needed. Do we need more food, do we need more laptops, do we need more smartphones? They can’t really tell you that.
Editor’s note: discussion topics include what worker self-management is, the division of labour, how to overcome rule by the professional-managerial class, whether the Towards a New Socialism model (TNS) can fulfil aspirations for worker self-management, innovation and product development, the managerial structure of a project in TNS, hiring and firing in TNS, employment, and strategic planning.
Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer, Marxist economist, and author of several books, but today I’m interviewing him as co-originator with Allin Cottrell of the post-capitalist model first presented in the book Towards a New Socialism published in 1993.
This is the fourth in a series of interviews with Dr. Cockshott about Towards a New Socialism, make sure to watch the other interviews. Today we’ll be discussing some more advanced questions about Towards a New Socialism, so I recommend you read the book to understand what we’re talking about. It’s still in print and there’s free PDF available online which I’ll put in the description.
So, Paul Cockshott thank you very much for joining me again.
[Paul Cockshott] Hi.
[ATO] Today we’re going to talk about worker self-management. We’re going to talk about the relation between the centre and the periphery, or projects, in central planning and in socialism in general.
And how this started was – for viewers, to give context – is that I put a quote to Paul Cockshott from a book that was published by Robin Hahnel, who is co-originator of Participatory Economics and wrote a book called Democratic Economic Planning recently. And I read a quote which was making some criticisms of central planning on the basis that it was incompatible with worker self-management. And then we talked about that briefly, but we didn’t get a chance to go into it fully so that’s what we’re going to do now. So, since then I’ve had an interview with Robin Hahnel about this topic and Dr. Cockshott has seen that as well.
I made the same kind of preamble when talking to Robin Hahnel, just for viewers, that I’m just going to ask you to approach this with an attitude of curiosity and problem solving. That this isn’t about clinging to whatever political identities which we’ve decided that we have and trying to win a debate or score points. It’s about trying to create a better world, and in doing that to honestly look at these problems. I know that that’s how Robin Hahnel approaches this, I know that is how Paul Cockshott approaches this, and I’m just asking you, the audience, to approach it like that as well.
So, before I ask you specific questions are there any initial remarks you’d like to make in response to that interview that I did with Robin Hahnel?
[PC] I think it’ll all come up in the questions you ask.
[ATO] Okay I’d like to begin with a framing question, a general question, which is what in your view is worker self-management? Why is it important? And how is it achieved, how can it be achieved in a society?
[PC] Well it’s fundamentally a question of overcoming the division between mental and manual labour, between those who tell people what to do and those who actually do it. And that is an old basis of class hierarchy going back to the early stages of class society. And in a modern society it takes the form of less educated people being told what to do by more educated people generally. Or in some cases there may be no difference in educational level but people have a managerial authority which enables them to say what’s going to be done.
And this has the disadvantage that the ideas and initiative of people who don’t have the mark of authority and which could improve the operation of systems, whether it’s healthcare systems or industrial production systems, and their knowledge is disregarded or down-valued compared to the knowledge of those who are put in authority.
Overcoming this requires the sorts of struggles that were partially worked out during the cultural revolution in China. They didn’t end up with forms of organization that were stable to deal with that. But the issues that were being raised were relevant, and these will certainly still be a big issue in any society where you’re having radical socialist change. The issue of how do you get people who are initially educated members of the upper middle class, the professional managerial class, who have certain skills which are necessary for society but they have their own class interest. They have their interest in maintaining a higher social status, and a higher income and authority over other people. So, it’s the issue of how do you get people who are both read an expert and how do you ensure that those who may not initially ideologically support socialism will still work for the common good.
Now to the extent over time where there’s a radical improvement in educational levels and equalization of educational opportunity, that kind of issue may become less important to some extent. But given that in a market economy those with qualifications tend systematically to have a higher income and towards the upper end of that there are people who aren’t actually exploited, they’re either receiving something roughly equivalent to the labour they put in, or actually receiving part of the labour that others put in. This means that what is in the West the professional managerial class, there’s an interest in becoming a professional managerial class in a socialist economy. And they will push for the increase in their power and their authority. So, it’s basically a question of class interest. Class interest mediated through educational privilege.
[ATO] Okay let’s go into this further by moving into the next question. This is about specifically now Towards a New Socialism. In Towards a New Socialism, there’s a comprehensive plan for the production of the entire economy. And this plan is set by a planning bureau, which is overseen politically by a randomly selected body from the general population. And production is accomplished by projects, which we might think of as enterprises but they’re not exactly the same. And the projects implement the plan. So, what decisions do workers in a project have control over? And what decisions do workers in a project not have control over?
[PC] Well, let’s take an example where these social relations to an extent already exist, in terms of the production not being enterprise-based in like in the British National Health Service. In that case a hospital is equivalent to a project. Now, over time from the 1980s onwards running of hospitals was increasingly professionalized and handed over to a professional managerial elite, who are distinct from the medical staff and ancillary workers who actually provide the care.
And there was a scandal recently. You’re in Ireland, you may not have seen it. There was a scandal associated with Shrewsbury Maternity Hospital, where there was a very large number of excess neonatal deaths – or babies delivered with brain damage and other injuries. Now, in pursuing what caused that, the inquiry found that it was a managerial policy to set a target to reduce the number of caesarean sections. This was not something that was arrived at by the obstetricians or the midwives, it was a target set by professional managers. By having it set by professional managers they were overriding the clinical judgment of the medical professionals and the result was clearly proven to be deleterious for the mothers and the babies.
If the management of hospitals was made up, or policy was set, by a committee drawn from the different sections of the medical and ancillary staff that worked there, that kind of policy would not have been arrived at. Now, exactly how the supervisory board would be formed, there’s room for discussion on that. Whether it be elected, chosen by a lot, by quotas, or what. Had it been based on the people who actually were delivering the care, the policies would have been different. And these are policies related to how to treat the patients. What practices should be pursued.
Editor’s note: discussion topics include defining worker self-management, the scope for worker self-management in central planning (and Towards a New Socialism in particular), and the scope for worker self-management in Participatory Economics.
It’s an advanced discussion of the model proposed in that book so I recommend you familiarize yourself with participatory economics to understand what we’re talking about. You can do that by visiting participatoryeconomy.org. You can also read Of the People, By the People for a concise introduction to parecon.
The discussion will also continue on the forum of participatoryeconomy.org.
Robin Hahnel thank you very much for joining me.
[Robin Hahnel] Great to be with you.
[ATO] So you said actually that there was another book which will be published by AK Press in a few months called A Participatory Economy. Did you write that or was that written by somebody else?
[RH] No, I wrote that. What I realized was that Democratic Economic Planning, that book, can be a real challenge. Parts of that book would be a real challenge for people who do not have extensive background in economics, who haven’t studied economics, who didn’t major in economics, who aren’t professional economists. And yet obviously there are more people interested in post-capitalist economic models who are not economists than who are economists. So, the second book. And it’s published by an appropriate publisher. AK Press is a press that basically is for that audience, for libertarian minded people interested in post-capitalist visions.
So that second book is an attempt to present essentially the same ideas but not require the reader to have any extensive economic background. There are no proofs of theorems in that book, so that that’s the difference. And that that’s coming out, I think, sometime in June (2022). Both books are my attempt to get everybody up to date with what we now, after all these decades, have managed to come up with. So, they’re the most recent version of everything we have to say in response to all sorts of criticisms and questions people have raised over the years. But one book is more appropriate for one audience and the other for a different audience.
[ATO] Well Democratic Economic Planning, for what it is – as I said last time – is outstanding for people who really want something rigorous and detailed. And I will certainly read A Participatory Economy when that comes out in summer of 2022. I’m sure that it’ll be a good read as well.
So, let us begin with the questions. Our discussion today has a central theme. Last time we talked about housing and we talked about consumption, so this time I would like to talk about production units broadly, worker councils and so forth. And the first question is about worker self-management.
I have been having some discussions with Dr. Paul Cockshott about Towards a New Socialism and the model that he and Alan Cottrell put forward in that book and subsequently. And I quoted from Democratic Economic Planning a passage that you wrote about that model, and central planning more generally, which critiqued it on the basis of it inhibiting worker self-management. And so Paul Cockshott had a response, and I’d like to just put that to you and we can have a discussion.
And just before we proceed I just saw some [YouTube] comments when Paul Cockshott reposted that video on his own YouTube channel. Maybe some people seemed to misunderstand. When we’re having this discussion it’s really about two people who respect each other, who actually agree far more than they disagree, and are just having a civil, constructive, discussion about some disagreements about post-capitalist models. Some people seemed to think that it was some kind of polemic struggle. So, I just want to put that out there before beginning, so that people understand this in the right light.
So, the quote, to repeat it from page 314 of Democratic Economic Planning, was ‘as a consumer and voter, every person has as much say over what any particular group of workers produces and what inputs they will be allocated to produce it as those workers have themselves … [and thus workers] do not get to exercise meaningful self-management. [Hence] we believe it would predictably lead to the kind of worker apathy that plagued centrally planned economies in the 20th century’. I put this to Paul Cockshott, we discussed it briefly, we’re going to discuss it again subsequently. And Cockshott responded by questioning the assertion that there was worker apathy, and asked ‘what is the measuring bar that he’s using?’, and ‘where is the evidence?’. So what do you mean by apathy, by worker apathy? What is your measuring bar? And what is the evidence of work apathy in the centrally planned, socialist, states in the 20th century? And, lastly, similarly, if we can talk about what is worker self-management in concrete terms, what does it mean to possess or enact workplace self-management? It’s a big topic.
[RH] It is a big topic. First of all, I completely endorse when we have discussions about things like this they can either become sort of sectarian screaming matches and point scoring or they can be conducted more along the lines serious inquiry and probing. And this is a problem that has plagued the left from time immemorial: that too often our discussions about serious problems where people have somewhat different ideas about what the solutions are descend into scoring points and name-calling. And I always think that doesn’t serve any of us well, and I appreciate that Paul approaches these things in a better way, and I seek to do that as well. And there certainly are many, many, points of agreement between myself and Paul, and people who support his post-capitalist vision and people who support the post-capitalist vision known as participatory economics.
But there is I think a very serious difference of opinion and it’s been there for a very, very, long time. And, in some ways, the position that I endorse has long been the one associated with people who one way or another think of themselves as libertarian socialists, and who feel like that the essence of the socialist vision is one where workers finally get to manage themselves rather than be bossed around by other people. And I do sincerely believe that the essential pitfall, the essential mistake, that the Soviet Union made, and the Soviet model of socialism made … Now, I’m not talking about the political sphere, and we can really leave that aside, whether a single party state governed by a communist party whose internal rules are the ones called democratic centralism, whether that is profoundly anti-democratic and a poor way to organize political life. We can leave that aside for the moment, and we can just talk about the economic model, the economic system itself.
But I think that the economic system that the Soviet Union adopted was one where the real Achilles’ heel was it did not provide workers with the opportunity to manage their own productive activity themselves. And my sincere my most basic disagreement with Professor Cockshott, and his collaborator Alan Cottrell, is that – I think they would wish that in socialism we had full-blown and vibrant worker self-management – I think they don’t realize that the model they’ve proposed for decision-making would not provide that. And I was rather surprised, I mean I had not heard this from him but his response which was ‘well, Professor Hahnel where do you think there’s evidence that there was worker apathy in the Soviet economies?’. No, I haven’t done an exhaustive study but I do believe that there is ample evidence that over time what workers in the Soviet economies came to understand was that what went on in their workplace was they had basically no particular influence over that. They were just people who showed up and did what they were told, and what they were told to do was something that had been calculated through a planning procedure, and that planning procedure had provided them no more ability to influence what they produced and how they produced it than anybody else in the economy. Even if the entire planning procedure was incredibly democratic.
Editor’s note: discussion topics include how to handle differential pay in the Towards a New Socialism model (TNS), and whether TNS can fulfill aspirations for worker self-management.
[After The Oligarchy] Hello everybody, this is After the Oligarchy speaking to Dr. Paul Cockshott again. Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer working on computer design and teaching computer science at universities in Scotland. Named on 52 patents, his research covers robotics, computer parallelism, 3D TV, foundations of computability, and data compression. His books include Towards a New Socialism, How the World Works, Classical Econophysics, and Computation and Its Limits.
Today’s conversation is in association with meta: the Centre for Post-Capitalist Civilization. This is the third in a series of interviews with Dr. Cockshott about Towards a New Socialism. Watch the first and second interview if you haven’t already.
In Towards a New Socialism, published by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell in 1993, the authors present a bold vision of a democratically planned economy using computerized labour time. In this interview we’ll be discussing some more advanced questions about that model, so I recommend you read the book to really understand what we’re talking about.
Dr. Paul Cockshott thank you very much for joining me again.
[Paul Cockshott] Hi.
[AO] Let’s start off with a question about standardized pay grades. So, in Towards a New Socialism you write that ‘the planners would know for instance that a given project requiring 1000 person hours of average labour would only require, say, 800 person hours of grade a labour’ – how would the planners figure this out?
The context for people watching is that in TNS people are paid according to the number of hours that they work. But it’s the idea that there might be pay grades according to how strenuously people want to work, and there might be, say, tier A, tier B, and tier C. So, how would the planners figure out these pay grades?
[PC] It has to be done in terms of physical or realized productivity of individual people. Some people can just work faster than others. However, this is not a property of a trade or profession. It’s not that some trades or professions are higher grade than others, it’s a difference in productivity within any trade. Some people are just faster workers in a trade.
Now, for planning purposes it’s unlikely this would be relevant except in very special circumstances, where for some reason the number of people that could be employed on the project was limited and the project was of high priority and therefore within each trade that was going to be involved they might want to have the best workers working on it. If it was some project of major national importance and you couldn’t just assign more workers to it, then under those circumstances, and they’re very limited circumstances, it might be worth planners knowing these things.
But they would be exceptional really, because in most circumstances, within any work team, you’ll get some people who are more productive and some people who are less productive. And Marx says that once you get around twelve – I think he says it is – in a work team the difference is evened out and work teams above a certain size all count just as average labour. So for it to be significant you’re talking about a circumstance where you you’ve got a small number of people where they can’t add more to them and they need to be highly productive. Like astronauts going to the moon or something like that.
[AO] Is there not another dimension as well to this, in terms of motivational efficiency? There’s a discussion in the book that perhaps it might be required to pay people slightly differently depending on how hard they want to work.
Well it depends on what the method of pay or measuring work is. If you are in some branch of labour where the work can be physically measured in some way, and you can then establish a norm what the average is, then people would get paid more if they exceed the norm, paid less if they fall short of the norm. And this this was standard practice in socialist countries where they had what they called payment according to labour.
I mean I was surprised, I remember, in the late 70s, early 80s, to be visiting Bulgaria and finding that university lecturers were paid according to norms where they got a higher rate of pay according to how many pages of lecture notes they prepared and things like that. Areas which here are not graded in terms of productivity can be graded in terms of productivity, which is not the same thing as what’s done here where people are paid for seniority, prestige, etc.
It was based on actual measured outputs so if it’s reckoned that in a 40-hour week someone can, the average person can, do a certain amount, if somebody is able to do 10 percent more than that in a 40-hour week and another person 10 percent less, then provided across the work team averages out there’s no reason why the person who’s more productive can’t be credited with more and the person who’s less productive can’t be credited with less.
But since what you are trying to measure is two objective things, actual productivity and human time, you have to have a proper conservation principle of human time. You can’t start paying more than the actual number of hours that everyone worked. And since it’s a relative measure of productivity in a particular trade, in a particular branch of that trade, then it has to be something that’s decided by the people collectively in the group that are undertaking the task. that some people are doing more than their fair share and should be rewarded.
But that does depend on it being agreed collectively. And it does depend on the average adding up because you can’t have a situation where your calculation becomes detached from reality. You don’t want to have an inflation of the notional labour credit so that more labour credits are being handed out than actual hours that are working being worked.
Editor’s note: discussion topics include the relevance (or non-relevance) of 3-D printing, the internet of things, recommender systems, neural networks, and quantum computing, to socialism and the Towards a New Socialism model (TNS) in particular, handling second-hand goods in TNS, the number of commodities in a modern, advanced, capitalist economy, basic research and labour time in TNS.
After the Oligarchy: Hi everybody this is After the Oligarchy speaking to Dr. Paul Cockshott again. I’m going to read out his bio from his book How the World Works which is a very good book on historical materialism: Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer working on computer design and teaching computer science at universities in Scotland. Named on 52 patents his research covers robotics computer parallelism, 3D TV, foundations of computability, and data compression. His books include Towards a New Socialism Classical Econophysics and Computation and its Limits. And of course How the World Works.
This is the second in a series of interviews with Dr. Cockshott about Towards a New Socialism written by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell, published in 1993. If you haven’t watched that first interview yet check it out. In Towards a New Socialism the authors present a bold vision of a democratically planned economy using computerized labour time. In this interview we’ll be discussing some more advanced questions about that model, so I recommend that you read the book to really understand what we’re talking about.
You can also watch some excellent videos on Dr. Cockshott’s YouTube channel, link to that and hiswebsite in the description below. Dr. Paul Cockshott, thanks for joining me again.
Paul Cockshott: Hi.
AO: I just want to, actually, say something that I found out in the meantime about this book How the World Works, that you don’t actually make any money from it because you chose to lower the price to make it more accessible.
AO: I just thought that that’s very impressive and interesting. But actually on that note I should also mention that you do have a Patreon, so if people want to support your work, given that, for example, you’re not making money from How the World Works, they can go to your Patreon and become a subscriber.
And last time we didn’t have a copy so here’s Towards a New Socialism, it’s still in print but you can actually get a free PDF version which I’ll put in the description as well.
So with all of that out of the way I’d like to begin with a set of questions about the relevance of various technologies to Towards a New Socialism.
1 – We’ll begin first with micro-production. What is the relevance of micro-production, e.g. 3D printing, to Towards a New Socialism?
I know that nowadays a lot is made of this. There is also small-scale silicon wafer manufacture, for example, I’m just wondering do you think there’s any particular relevance that this has to Towards a New Socialism?
PC: It’s mainly useful for making prototypes. I can’t see it being used for the bulk of goods which people make use of in their home or make use of in industry. But making prototypes, possibly artwork, stuff like that, yes. I mean, the only instance where I think 3D printing techniques are likely to be useful, maybe, is possibly in the construction industry.
You have to think of what is the nature of these 3D printing techniques at a deep level. Go back to when the printing press was invented. Why was that so much of an improvement in productivity? It’s because it transferred information onto the product in parallel. The whole printing head of Gutenberg’s press came down and formed all the letters at once, and that was the essential feature of printing which made it far better than handwriting. In fact, all the letters were done in parallel and that was a general feature of printing presses, that they did things in parallel.
Now there’s a set of technologies which have had a big impact on the world, and the technologies which have been particularly effective and have had huge improvements in productivity have been ones which harness parallelism. The printing press was the first of those.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, two other techniques came about that were significant. One of them, obviously, was the parallelization of spinning in a spinning mill where there’d be hundreds of spindles looked after by each worker instead of one spindle per worker.
The other less obvious to people, perhaps, was the mass production of cast iron goods. If you go to Edinburgh or Dublin you will see railings around buildings which are cast iron railings. You’ll see balconies on buildings which will have cast iron railings. This was an invention of the late 18th century which enabled complex iron objects to be made in a single action by pouring molten iron. The single action was brought about by the fact you had a mould and the mould transferred information onto the product to all points on the product at once. So, it had a big impact also in domestic production, for instance, cast iron stoves and things like that, far higher productivity than a smith using a hammer to carefully beat something out.
Editor’s note: discussion topics include the motivation for economic planning versus market socialism, self-employment in the Towards A New Socialism model (TNS), intellectual property in TNS, independence of media in TNS, efficiency in TNS, labour credits and privacy in TNS, the weaknesses of TNS, how not to implement TNS in a socialist transition, and a hypothetical TNS research programme.
[After the Oligarchy] I’m talking to Paul Cockshott today. I’m just going to read his bio from a book How the World Works which I’m reading at the moment (which is very good): Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer working on computer design and teaching computer science at universities in Scotland. Named on 52 patents, his research covers robotics, computer parallelism, 3D TV, foundations of computability, and data compression. His books include Towards a New Socialism, Classical Econophysics, and Computation and its Limits.
Today we’re going to be talking about the book Towards a New Socialism written by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell, published in 1993. There the authors present a bold vision of a democratically planned economy using computerized labour time. In this interview we’ll be discussing some more advanced questions about that model so I recommend that you read the book to really understand what we’re talking about.
[Paul Cockshott] Just seeing if I had a copy of the book but I don’t seem to have one. I can’t wave one around here …
[AO] I have one actually … do I? Yeah I have one here so it’s all right. Look there it is!
Dr. Paul Cockshott thank you very much for joining me.
1 – So we’ll begin with the first question, a more general one. Some advocates of market socialism say that ‘central planning is a solution looking for a problem’. How would you answer in response to an advocate of the most sophisticated and radical kinds of market socialism? A critic might say something like ‘well, yes, there can be direct state provision of all necessities and control key sectors, but once working-class incomes are substantially increased due to worker self-management of firms, suppression of rentiers, plus state regulation of the market, a Job Guarantee, and so forth, there’s no need to have a society which uses central computerized planning and labour time. How would you respond to that?
[PC] Well my feeling is that whilst a Yugoslav-type system would be a considerable advance for most people, the Yugoslav economy – which is the historical example we’ve got of such a model – had a series of contradictions which developed over time. One of them was that because it is a market system the market does not regulate total demand for labour to be equal to the number of people wanting to work and there was an unemployment problem in Yugoslavia because of that. There was never an unemployment problem in the Soviet Union, for example. And the solution to it during the 1960s and 70s was emigration to Germany so it can’t be said to have really solved the problem of providing full employment for everyone.
Now the second point is that over time you also got the build-up of increasing regional disparities. These regional disparities became so intense that the conflicts associated with them eventually led to the breakup of the state. And the problem is that market economies tend to lead to uneven development – geographically uneven development – and the state can survive if it’s a strong centralized state that holds the country together and is not threatened but it certainly proved to be a critical failure in the Yugoslav example.
More generally if you say there’s going to be a job guarantee what does that job guarantee mean? How is the job guarantee going to be met? Is it going to be met by the state expanding employment in state industries? In which case you have the progressive replacement of a cooperative sector with a state sector.
The next issue is how does such a market socialist system adapt to externally imposed imperatives? Now, historically, the externally imposed imperatives have been to industrialize as rapidly as possible, for example, but at the moment the externally imposed imperatives are to transform the whole economy within a very short time from one based on fossil fuels to one based on non-fossil fuels. Now that is an in-kind constraint. It’s a physical constraint. It’s not a constraint that is readily addressed by market means. Any attempt to address it by market means is an indirect dressing up of state planning via market incentives. The state plans to do something and has rather inefficiently to try to create a set of market incentives which realize the plan.
Now we know that for the last couple of decades, states have formally been agreeing to reduce carbon output. And following the neoliberal doctrine that everything has got to be done by market incentives, attempts have been made to do this by market incentives. And in general the performance has not been good