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Friday, November 30, 2012


We have now reached a point where it becomes necessary clearly to separate several different aspects of the programmes which we have so far lumped together as socialistic. For the earlier part of the period in which the belief in central planning grew it is historically justified to identify, without much qualification, the idea of socialism and that of planning. And in so far as the main economic problems are concerned, this is still the case to-day. Yet it must be admitted that in many other respects modern socialists and other modern planners are fully entitled to disclaim any responsibility for each other’s programmes. What we must distinguish here are the ends aimed at and the means which have been proposed or are in fact necessary for the purpose. The ambiguities which exist in this connection arise out of the fact that the means necessary to achieve the ends of socialism in the narrower sense may be used for other ends, and that the problems with which we are concerned arise out of the means and not the ends.
The common end of all socialism in the narrower sense, of “proletarian” socialism, is the improvement of the position of the propertyless classes of society by a redistribution of income derived from property. This implies collective ownership of the material means of production and collectivist direction and control of their use. The same collectivist methods may, however, be applied in the service of quite different ends. An aristocratic dictatorship, for example, may use the same methods to further the interest of some racial or other élite or in the service of some other decidedly antiequalitarian purpose. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the method of collectivist ownership and control which is essential for any of these attempts to dissociate the distribution of income from the private ownership of the means of production, admits of application in different degrees. For the present it will be convenient to use the term socialism to describe the traditional socialist ends and to use the term planning to describe the method, although later we shall use socialism in the wider sense. In the narrower sense of the term it can be said, then, that it is possible to have much planning with little socialism or little planning and much socialism. The method of planning in any case can certainly be used for purposes which have nothing to do with the ethical aims of socialism. Whether it is equally possible to dissociate socialism completely from planning—and the criticism directed against the method have led to attempts in this direction—is a question which we shall have to investigate later.
That it is possible, not only in theory but also in practice, to separate the problem of the method from that of the end is very fortunate for the purposes of scientific discussion. On the validity of the ultimate ends science has nothing to say. They may be accepted or rejected, but they cannot be proved or disproved. All that we can rationally argue about is whether and to what extent given measures will lead to the desired results. If, however, the method in question were only proposed as a means for one particular end it might prove difficult, in practice, to keep the argument about the technical question and the judgments of value quite apart. But since the same problem of means arises in connection with altogether different ethical ideals, one may hope that it will be possible to keep value judgments altogether out of the discussion.
The common condition necessary for the achievement of a distribution of income which is independent of individual ownership of resources—the common proximate end of socialism and other anti-capitalistic movements—is that the authority which decides on the principles of this distribution should also have control over the resources. Now whatever the substance of these principles of distribution, these ideas about the just or otherwise desirable division of income, they must be similar in one purely formal but highly important respect : they must be stated in the form of a scale of importance of a number of competing individual ends. It is this formal aspect, this fact that one central authority has to solve the economic problem of distributing a limited amount of resources between a practically infinite number of competing purposes, that constitutes the problem of socialism as a method. And the fundamental question is whether it is possible under the complex conditions of a large modern society for such a central authority to carry out the implications of any such scale of values with a reasonable degree of accuracy, with a degree of success equalling or approaching the results of competitive capitalism, not whether any particular set of values of this sort is in any way superior to another. It is the methods common to socialism in the narrower sense and all the other modern movements for a planned society, not the particular ends of socialism with which we are here concerned.

Collectivist Economic Planning

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