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A commonly noted dysfunction in Soviet-style planning was the systematic withholding of accurate information by both managers and workers. Since the annual production in any year influenced the target for the following year, and a lower base target allowed for more easily achieving the subsequent bonuses, workplaces conspired to hide actual productive potentials. Friedrich Hayek, the economist-philosopher and Thatcherite hero, pointed to such perverse incentives to reinforce his argument that socialism simply had no structures adequate to generating the existing and potential information and knowledge that is indispensable to the functioning of a complex society.
In capitalism the competitive discipline to follow the rules is, for all its problems, integrated into that process of gathering, disseminating, and applying of information. Under socialism the center can, in the name of fulfilling the plan, instruct management or work councils to act according to certain directives — but what if they choose not to? Higher levels of consciousness seem an obvious answer here. In this regard, the edifying impact of participating in the defeat of capitalism is unquestionably central to the construction of the new society.
The escape from the debilitating resignation wrought by capitalism and the exhilarating discovery of new individual and collective capacities are clearly indispensable to advancing the building of socialism. But absent appropriate incentive structures and related mechanisms fully able to access accurate information, the heady moment of revolution cannot be sustained and extrapolated to consolidating a socialist society. To start, there is the generational problem. Christian Rakovsky, a participant in the Russian Revolution and later a dissident internally exiled under Stalin, keenly noted this corrosion of the revolutionary spirit.
The highest levels of socialist consciousness cannot, in themselves, answer this dilemma. It is one thing to assert that workers will make the decisions but how, for example, would workers in an appliance plant weigh whether to increase their use of aluminum as opposed to leaving that aluminum for more valuable social purposes elsewhere? Or if a group of workers wanted to exchange some income for shorter hours, how could they measure and compare the benefits to themselves versus the loss of product or services to society?
The power of capitalism, Hayek claimed, is that it brings such otherwise internalized, hidden knowledge to the surface while socialism, no matter how much it hopes to plan, cannot effectively access or develop the knowledge on which successful planning would rest. Hayek cannot be countered by arguing that capitalists themselves plan. Aside from the fact that the scale of organizing a total society in a nonmarket way is of a different order of magnitude than addressing a single, even vast, corporation, internal corporate calculations under capitalism have an advantage that centralized socialist planning would not have: they have external market prices and market-driven standards by which to measure themselves.
More fundamentally, corporate planning is based on structures that give management the flexibility and authority to allocate and employ labor. To plan in a way that is instead based on worker control involves a completely new productive force — the capacity to democratically administer and coordinate workplaces.
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This fading away of the state is, as well, rooted in how we understand the nature of states. This is more than a semantic issue. It is to concretizing this challenge that we now turn. At the heart of finding a way to manifest social property is the tension between planning and markets. But markets are also fetishized when they are rejected as an absolute and treated as having a life of their own independent of those underlying relations. The place of markets under socialism is a matter of both principle and practicality — and dealing creatively with the contradictions between the two.
Some markets will be banished under socialism, some welcomed, and some reluctantly accepted but with constraints on their centrifugal antisocial tendencies.
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Rejecting markets in favor of leaving decision-making to the central planners comes up against the fact that, as the Soviet central planner Yakov Kronrod noted in the s, economic and social life are simply too diverse, too dynamic, and too unpredictable to be completely planned from the top. No amount of planning capacity can fully anticipate the continuous changes encouraged by socialism among semi-autonomous local groups, nor — given that many of those changes occur simultaneously with repercussions upon repercussions across workplaces and communities — respond without pronounced and disruptive lags.
Such incentives bring market-like problems in a different form, one that may not even include some of the advantages of formal markets. Albert and Hahnel likewise reject markets but look to planning administered from below. Their creative and meticulous model is based on elected representatives from workplace collectives meeting with representatives from suppliers, clients, and the affected community. The community must be there because it has a stake in workplace decisions on the consumption side but also because of the impact of those decisions on roads, traffic, housing, environmental conditions, etc.
Together these interested parties develop mutually agreed upon plans and since such plans would most likely not immediately match the broader supply and demand conditions in the economy, an iterative process of repeated meetings to come closer to balance could, they argue, ultimately close the gaps.
This might work in specific cases, and perhaps become more significant over time as shortcuts are learned, computing innovations expedite the procedure, and social relations are built up. But as a general solution it is simply not viable. The context of scarcity, various interests, and no external arbiter of any kind is likely to lead to unending conflict rather than a comfortable mutual consensus. Markets will be necessary under socialism. But certain kinds of markets must be unequivocally rejected.
This is especially so for commodified labor markets. The argument runs as follows. Individual capitalists plan, capitalist states plan, and workers as consumers also plan. This original sin of capitalism is the foundation for the broader social and political degradations of the working class under capitalism. Yet the question of reallocating labor remains and, if workers are to have the right to accept or reject where to work, this implies a labor market of sorts. But this would be a labor market of a very particular, limited, and decommodified kind. Based on the need to attract workers to new sectors or regions, the central planning board would set higher wages or more favorable housing and social amenities , adjusting them as needed if the workforce falls short.
Within the wage framework set by the central plan, the sector councils could likewise raise wages to allocate workers across workplaces or into new ones. Workers could not, however, be fired nor lose work through competitive closures of workplaces and should there be a general shortage of demand relative to supply, demand could be stimulated or worktime reduced as the alternative to the creation of a reserve army to discipline workers.
Alongside commodified labor markets being out of bounds so too must capital markets be prohibited. Choices over where investment goes are choices about structuring every facet of our lives and shaping future goals and options. Economic indices can be brought into making such decisions, but the common rationale for such indices — their ability to compare alternatives based on a narrow range of monetary economic criteria — is offset by the unquantifiable complexities of assessing what is to be valued.
And though credit will exist under socialism in terms of providing credit for consumers, funds for individual or small co-op start-ups, or workplace collectives dealing with the gaps between buying and selling, financial markets based on the creation of financial commodities would have no place. On the other hand, who can imagine a socialism without a marketplace of coffee shops and bakeries, small restaurants and varieties of pubs, clothing stores, craft shops, and music stores?
If the underlying conditions of equality are established so these markets are about personal preferences not expressions of power, there is no reason to be defensive about welcoming them. It is when we turn to the commercial activities of workplace collectives that the role of markets takes on their greatest, and most controversial, significance. Outside of self-employment and co-ops with a handful of workers providing local services, workers control but do not own their workplaces.
The workplaces are social property; ownership resides in municipal, regional, or national state bodies. Workers hold no workplace-based marketable shares to sell or pass on to their families — there are no private returns to capital under socialism.
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If demand for the goods or services produced fade, the collective would be integral to conversion plans to other activities. Those working get pay for their work based on hours worked and the intensity or unpleasantness of the work. Everyone, employed or not, shares in a social wage — the universally free or near-free collective services distributed according to need e.
Employment would bring higher pay but, depending on postrevolutionary conditions and politics, the social wage plus a living income would make self-employment or work in a small co-op a practical option. In the absence of income from capital, and with the social wage carrying great weight relative to individual consumption, the effective variation in the conditions of workers will lie in a relatively narrow, egalitarian range.
On reasonable assumptions the value of the social wage — free health care, education, transit, childcare, and subsidized housing and culture — would be at least three times that of individual consumption. In this context, there will be concerns that prices reflect social costs such as environmental impacts, but beyond that there seems little cause for socialist angst over workers using their individual earnings to choose which particular goods or service they prefer.
Nor is there much reason to worry about the existence of credit. With basic necessities essentially free, housing subsidized, and adequate pensions in retirement, pressures to save or borrow would largely be limited to different time preferences over the life cycle e. As such, workplace or community credit unions, or for that matter a national savings bank may, under nationally supervised conditions and interest rates, mediate credit flows between lenders and borrowers with no threat to socialist ideals. Yet while the authoritarian market discipline imposed under capitalism will no longer exist, workplace collectives will still generally operate in a market context of buying inputs and selling their goods and services or, if the final product has no market price, of measurable output targets.
Incentives to act in socially sensitive ways such as operating efficiently consequently remain necessary. This would take the form of a portion of the surplus generated by the collective going to its members as collective goods housing, sports, culture or income for private consumption. This brings a mechanism for bringing opportunity costs into decision-making, such as how valuable an input is if used elsewhere and how valuable others consider the final product.
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This however also re-introduces the negative side of markets: the incentives involved imply competition, which means winners and losers and therefore non-egalitarian outcomes. Moreover, if those workplaces which earn a larger surplus were to choose to invest more, their competitive advantages would be reproduced.
With this comes the downgrading of other priorities: a tolerable work pace, health and safety, solidaristic cooperation, democratic participation. At the extreme, the competitiveness fostered becomes a backdoor to labor-market-like pressures on workers to conform to competitive standards. We turn, in the next section, to whether the use of markets can, via institutional innovations, be adapted to limit such negative thrusts of markets.
Though planning and worker control are the cornerstones of socialism, overly ambitious planning the Soviet case and overly autonomous workplaces the Yugoslav case have both failed as models of socialism. Nor do moderate reforms to those models, whether imagined or applied, inspire. With all-encompassing planning neither effective nor desirable, and decentralization to workplace collectives resulting in structures too economically fragmented to identify the social interest and too politically fragmented to influence the plan, the challenge is: what transformations in the state, the plan, workplaces, and the relations among them might solve this quandary?
The initial previews were visually spectacular, especially if you saw them on the so-called Avatar Day, when Fox rented out IMAX theaters around the country for a minute sneak preview I did, and it was the most efficiently run studio event I have ever been to. But we had forgotten the first rule of film punditry: Never bet against James Cameron. Titanic underwent equally dismissive pre-release hand-wringing, but once critics actually saw the film, well, we all know what happened seventeen Decembers ago. And it was the case for Avatar as well. But Cameron had been down this road before.
It didn't quite revolutionize cinema as we know it, but the hype was more or less real.
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Fox and company held their breath over opening weekend. But opening weekends are about marketing and pre-release interest, the rest of the theatrical run is generally about the movie. Like Jurassic Park in , no one quite got how visually stunning Avatar was going to look, and quite a few of them came back for seconds. I distinctly remember the excitement in the air as the opening weekend of Titanic gave way to obscenely positive word of mouth leading into the Christmas season, and I honestly felt the same kind of heat this time around.
Guess what movie still holds the record for weekends 8, 9, 10, 11, and Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time by such a margin that we may not see anything approach its global cume for a very long time, if ever. When you think about it, the s were like the worst decade ever. By the time Katrina hit, five years in, we pretty much just threw up our hands and said, "Fuck it, this sucks.
Let's all start making remember-the-'90s lists to put up on our Tumblrs. Because why should any of us deserve to be happy? But when it came to hip-hop, things were a little less bleak. Hear the haters tell it, and the rappers of the s didn't compare to the rappers of the '80s and '90s. But that's unfair. Every decade has its ebbs and flows.