Planned capitalism

[This is a translation of the corresponding german post]

Now I have yet to write about the »New Socialism« of Cockshott/Cottrell, although the respective book (german: »Alternativen aus dem Rechner«, english: »Towards a New Socialism«) is still lying on the pile of unread books. Motive of this post is an interview with Allin Cottrell in »junge Welt« (leftwing german daily newspaper). There Cottrell argues, that the planned economy of the Soviet Union has failed due to its limited capacities of computing power. However, within the arms industry they had done well.

But they did not have computing resources, in order to extend detailed planning to the entire civil economy; they only could concentrate on a small subset of the products. [own translation of all quotes]

How do Cockshott/Cottrell view the new socialism, for which they see a chance of realization in Venezuela and Bolivia?

Basically, what we favor is a combination of three things: planning of the whole national economy, use of the working time as a calculation unit and principle of cost determination, and a democratic system, which represents direct democracy as well as statistical representation meaning choice by lot.

Total planning, economy of time sheets, and statistical democracy — at least this is fancy, but actually also hokey. Total planning — what a hell of bureaucracy will this be? Time sheet economy — a coercive principle without consideration of qualification? Statistical democracy — a kind of random rotation?

Well, being entirely biased this sounds to me like a state monopolist capitalism with total planning. I will proof that by reading the book mentioned above. What facinates me is, how free software has to serve as an example in so many and different cases. About the question of »incentives« in a planned economy:

… the question of incentives is often hyped. Take the modern open source software, the kernel of the Linux operating system for example. People from the whole world did a great job and the incentives are primarily not material. The participants enjoy the feeling of having done something, a good job, and the recognition of their group. We would like to see an extension this model to all forms of production.

Cottrell doesn’t seem to bear in his mind, that any principle of value is not valid for free software — whatever it may be (neither market nor time sheet value). The linux kernel is not a commodity. Nevertheless, it should not be missed, that most of the kernel developers are payed by companies. But the payment rather corresponds to a »guaranteed basic income«, because no sellable commodity is created. A re-introduced principle of value on what basis ever, would destroy the free software communities.

About competition:

In the field of the Linux operating system there is currently a competition between the GNOME and the KDE project concerning a user friendly desktop. This is mainly not a commercial competition, but largely a competition about technical features, useability, performance, and the loyalty of the users, which can freely download the products from the internet. Meanwhile both, GNOME and KDE, make use of common desktop standards — known as XDG –, which make it easier for users to switch between both systems and share informations between them. We bet on this kind of competition in a socialist economy.

This is well identified. But as for the »incentives« this competition does only work, because the principle of value is not applied. Btw: in july 2009 GNOME and KDE will hold their conferences together.

The value is not an arbitrary means to describe labour times as Cottrell assumes, but a societal relationship, which constitutes itself by the general exchange behind the back of the participants. Whoever arbitrarily infringes upon this relationship (like the faded state socialism) is loosing the rat-race with »free« capitalism in any case. There any computer power doesn’t help either. — No, something like »socialism« is only available beyond the principle of value and not within.

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