If there really is a market for ideas, it’s fair to say that central planning hasn’t taken off lately. It’s not hard to see why. The murderous regimes of Stalin and Mao are not good advertisements for the brand, nor for the possible merits of socialism, for that matter. But at a time when many – especially young people – despair of effective action being taken to tackle climate change, global inequality and a widespread sense of insecurity, does central planning really deserve another look?
There’s no doubt that many potential readers have clicked off the page already, but the idea that central planning might be part of the solution rather than the problem isn’t as fancy as it sounds. How else to describe the next meeting of COP26, when many world leaders will gather in Glasgow with the explicit intention of coordinating their actions to solve collective action issues, which cannot be conceptualized let alone achieved without planning and foresight?
As unpleasant as it may sound to many, life on a finite planet means, for example, that we cannot wait until Brazil has destroyed the rainforest we all depend on to put an end to such forms of self-destructive behavior.
Granted, this is a far cry from an all-powerful individual state deciding how many toothbrushes to produce each year, but it’s still a very different vision of the future than what universities continue to teach students in economy and even in international relations, for that matter. Rather than an international system of competing economies and national states, it becomes painfully obvious that if we are to survive in a civilized manner, greater coordination of our actions is an unavoidable necessity.
To be clear, I absolutely do not expect this to actually happen. On the contrary, the so-called “realists” have all the most plausible arguments about the likely trajectory of human society. Lawlessness, disorder, social upheaval and possibly outright war are all too likely consequences of unresolved climate change, when all of climate scientists’ long-held predictions come true. In such circumstances, a little lateral thinking has the merit of being slightly therapeutic, if not nothing else.
What is perhaps surprising is that it is possible to advance – not entirely implausible – theoretical arguments on “saving the planet”, in which something like the central planet plays a role; maybe a must. As unpleasant as it may sound to many, life on a finite planet means, for example, that we cannot wait until Brazil has destroyed the rainforest we all depend on to put an end to these forms of self-destructive behavior that endanger endanger us all.
A little closer to home in Australia, “we” are anxious for the National Party to understand that our collective future is at stake before proceeding swiftly to shut down “our” coal industry, as it cannot even be part of it. the least ambitious vision of planetary planning. Part of the problem, of course, is that there is no “us” to urge even democratic governments to act. The chances of a “revolution from below” transforming countries like Russia, China or even India seem slim.
Indeed, if we cannot act effectively in Australia, it is difficult to imagine who can. After all, we are not only the driest continent in the world, but we are a democracy with the potential to act and change. Even within national borders, the need for coordinated action and real planning will be inevitable – and ideologically unpleasant for political and economic elites who are inextricably tied to the idea that the market knows best.
To be fair, certain elements of the private sector can be key elements in any possible solution to our collective woes. Bureaucrats are not always the main sources of organizational innovation, let alone the technological type, but left to its own devices and its own incentive structures, the market tends to produce more waste than treasure. The market will tackle this too, if we let it, by exporting all of our waste to areas of the world that have a comparative advantage in poverty.
This is, of course, precisely where the influence of uncoordinated market forces has taken us: a rapidly warming planet, torn apart by grotesque asymmetries of wealth, opportunity and security, drowning in its depths. own rubbish. The impact on our fellow human beings has been even more catastrophic: it is clear that human beings do not know the mass extinctions that consume the “natural world” – or not yet, at least.
To suggest that polar bears have the kind of right to life that human beings are meant to enjoy, and that this should be part of our collectively planned endeavor, would undoubtedly be too much for many readers. Let me repeat, however: if we can’t take care of ourselves, neither do I expect us to be able to do so for the depressing and rapidly growing list of endangered animals. extinction criticism.
So, yes, advocating even a watered-down form of central planning in which private enterprise has a properly circumscribed role is eccentric and unlikely to be taken seriously. But given the stakes, the timeline, and the historical track record of unbridled capitalism – it has helped us get ourselves into this mess, after all – maybe “there is no alternative”, as might have been. say Mrs. Thatcher.