10 of 10: A Review of other Democratic Planning Models

May 3, 2022

This is the tenth and final part of ten extracts from the book Democratic Economic Planning (2021, Routledge) by Robin HahneI.

In this introduction to the appendix of the book, Hahnel compares the Participatory Economy model with five other proposals for how to do democratic economic planning, highlighting areas of agreement and disagreement. This includes a review of: Community-based economics; the Scottish model by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell; Multi-level, iterative, democratic coordination by David Laibman; Negotiated coordination by Pat Devine, and Amazon Socialism by Dan Saros.

As explained in the introduction, since the collapse of the centrally planned economies in the early 1990s the majority of those who continue to advocate for socialism support some sort of market socialism, while only a minority support some version of democratic economic planning. This appendix discusses five other approaches to democratic economic planning in the literature, highlighting areas of agreement and disagreement with the proposals elaborated in this book.

Most early socialists assumed that once freed from their capitalist employers, once productive resources belonged to all, and once there were no longer classes with antagonistic interests, ordinary people – workers and consumers — would be free to manage their own economic affairs themselves, democratically, efficiently, and fairly. Most early socialists also believed people would proceed to plan together how to put their productive resources to good use rather than leave decisions to the“laws of supply and demand,” or what many called the “anarchy” of markets, and anticipated that planning together would be a liberating experience! As readers of this book now know, we endorse this original socialist vision, including the enthusiasm that accompanied it.

However, what has become abundantly clear over the last two hundred years is that exactly how “the associated producers” should go about “planning together” is far from obvious, and to assume that it can be done in something that amounts to “one big meeting” where everyone discusses, debates, and eventually approves a comprehensive plan for the economy is hopelessly naive. We can make this vision less fantastical in any number of ways. Of course those attending the meeting would have to be delegates who represent many others. There would surely have to be a series of many meetings. The delegates would have to establish task forces with professional staffs to study different “technical” issues in detail. Key issues could be put to referenda. And we could continue to flesh out more details about how this vision of democratic economic planning shared by many early socialists might unfold.

However, as readers know by now, we believe this conception of democratic, comprehensive, economic planning as essentially one big meeting is fundamentally flawed. Such a format does not generate the necessary information for making rational economic choices – estimates of opportunity costs, social costs, and social rates of return – none of which can be accurately estimated by studies carried out by experts, but must emerge instead from carefully structured social interactions among different groups of workers and consumers. Such a format does not distribute decision making authority in proportion to the degree people are affected by different economic decisions. Such a format fails to give workers and consumers enough autonomy over what and how they produce and they consume. Such a format contains no coherent agenda for settling disagreements which will inevitably arise no matter how well intentioned and empathetic people may be, except to simply “call the vote.” In short, such a format contains no coherent agenda for how to construct a comprehensive economic plan, and in our opinion any plan which emerged from such a process would be deficient in so many ways, people would soon refuse to put up with it. All of which is why we have proposed an altogether different approach to how the dream of early socialists can be achieved through participatory annual planning, investment planning, and long- term development planning.

However, “participatory economics” is not the only alternative which has been proposed to democratic economic planning as “one big meeting.” This appendix reviews five other approaches to democratic economic planning. Section 1 discusses the vision of what has come to be called “community-based economics.” Section 2 discusses what is sometimes called the “Scottish model” proposed by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell. Section 3 discusses a proposal by David Laibman which he calls “multi-level, iterative, democratic coordination.” Section 4 discusses a proposal by Pat Devine he calls “negotiated coordination.” And section 5 discusses a proposal by Dan Saros one reviewer described as “Amazon Socialism.” We do not pretend to cover all aspects of these proposals in a single appendix. Instead we focus on key areas where these other proposals are similar or differ from what we have proposed in this book. References for readers who wish to explore these other visions and proposals at greater length can be found at the end of the appendix.

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