Because of projection, stereotypes, manichean thinking, and so on, what people believe about their ideology and its opponents is very often, at best, a twisted version of the truth, and often the diametrical opposite of the truth. This is a phenomenon that never ceases to fascinate me. It applies even to what seems like mere technical issues.
The concept of central planning is one of those. Capitalists will often accuse Anarchists of being proponents of central planning. They will claim that capitalism is individualistic and based on individual decisions, while Anarchism is based on collectivism and merely reproduces the hierarchical structures of the State. Indeed, it is a common belief, even amongst Anarchists, that capitalism is the opposite of a planned economy.
Now look at capitalism as we see it today. What is a corporation if not an entity where all production and exchange is centrally planned? A strong parallel can be established between the way a corporation works and the Marxist blueprint. In both cases, there are knowledge and coordination problems due to the existence of gigantic bureaucracies, there is internal absence of price signals, there are show elections for corrupt officials, all basic policies are set from the top, there is a deep and complex hierarchy, officials are ideologically trained instead of being competent in any particular area, workers are promoted on the basis of personal decisions taken on the basis of very limited knowledge, there is wholecloth creation of culture, there is a cultivation of dishonesty (through the stock market in one case, through the bureaucracy in the other), and so on and so forth.
And the State is equally a mechanism of central planning, which meshes with the corporation’s central planning. Once again, the same parallel can be drawn: a group of corrupt officials selected by show elections, basic policies all set from the top, a deep and complex hierarchy, wholecloth creation of culture. Like in a corporation, there are various sub-entities, and although in the case of the State they represent more local interests instead of various separate functions (like marketing, HR, public relations, etc), there is still a hierarchical structure between them and the top (“corporate”/federal government).
In one of his entries, Roman Pearah quotes from Herbert A. Simon, who describes capitalism in this way:
A mythical visitor from Mars, not having been apprised of the centrality of markets and contracts… approaches the Earth from space, equipped with a telescope that reveals social structures. The firms reveal themselves, say, as solid green areas with faint interior contours marking out divisions and departments. Market transactions show as red lines connecting firms, forming a network in the spaces between them. Within firms (and perhaps even between them) the approaching visitor also sees pale blue lines, the lines of authority connecting bosses with various levels of workers. As our visitor looked more carefully at the scene beneath, it might see one of the green masses divide, as a firm divested itself of one of its divisions. Or it might see one green object gobble up another. At this distance, the departing golden parachutes would probably not be visible.
…[T]he greater part of the space below it would be within green areas, for almost all of the inhabitants would be employees, hence inside the firm boundaries. Organizations would be the dominant feature of the landscape. A message sent back home, describing the scene, would speak of “large green areas connected by red lines.” It would not likely speak of “a network of red lines connecting green spots.”
…When our visitor came to know the green masses were organizations and the red lines connecting them were market transactions, it might be surprised to hear the structure called a market economy. “Wouldn’t ‘organizational economy’ be the more appropriate term?” it might ask.
The one area of economics under capitalism which is not centralized is consumption, but even in consumption there is tremendous influence from these centralized agencies: they set the prices and the taxes that apply to them, they dictate what is produced and at what quantity, they do their best to tell you what to buy (and with neuromarketing, will soon be able to outright manipulate your brain to get you to buy), they set policies on what you are allowed to buy, and, through the wage system, they control who gets purchasing power.
There are, therefore, very few aspects of life in a capital-democratic system which are not regulated or strongly influenced by central planning. More than in Marxism, surely, but far less than the “rampant free market individualism” it’s being sold as. It is a false bill of goods, a fraud. One may argue that, unlike Marxism, capital-democracy does not have an all-encompassing “top level,” but worldwide, unaccountable, opaque organizations like the World Bank and the IMF increasingly assume that role.
Another objection from “ancaps” is that economics is different from politics, therefore we need central planning in economics but not in politics. That’s like saying that apples are different than oranges, therefore we need a tsar of oranges. There is simply no relation between the fact that both are different and the need for control. Political decisions are no less complex and require no less information or intelligence than economic decisions.
Libertarian socialism, by comparison, involves much less central planning. In fact, Anarchism has no centralized authorities, no superiors or rulers, by definition, since such authorities would form a hierarchy with the rest of society. In an Anarchist society, decision-making must be distributed equally as much as this is possible, and the effects of that decision-making must be localized as much as possible; the more global central planning an Anarchist society contains, the less it is consonant with Anarchist principles.
The basic Anarchist position is that businesses, and society as a whole, should be structured in small democratic or consensus groups assembled together in federations. This system maintains equality, localization of decision-making, and is very scalable. In these federations, there is no need for central planning, since the federations are staffed and financed by their members, and binds them on a purely voluntary basis. There is always the danger of a bureaucracy forming, as for any other expansive structure, but Anarchists have conceived of safeguards against such tendencies.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with “planning.” Emotional associations aside, it seems better to have a “planned economy” than an “unplanned economy,” which may or may not run in accordance with our values. In fact, all economies are “planned” to a certain extent; the issue is not whether planning is present, but how centralized that planning is. The Anarchist is not opposed to all forms of power on principle, but rather opposed to disparities in power.