“You Anarchists support central planning!”

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.

18 thoughts on ““You Anarchists support central planning!”

  1. Ilan September 12, 2010 at 10:44

    20 short glimpses/stories of the year 2100 – 50 years afrter the revolution discribe the main aspects of such society.

  2. Joe Soap September 13, 2010 at 21:58

    “No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
    – George Orwell, Animal Farm, Ch. 10

    Who invented and is responsible for communism the world over?

    Who invented and is responsible for usury the world over?

    • Francois Tremblay September 14, 2010 at 03:13

      Well, communism is mainly the product of Karl Marx. As for usury, that goes too far down history to really give a precise answer, but Henry VIII in England is counted as one of the kings who permitted the flourishing of usury. The Romans also banned, then reallowed, usury.

  3. Rloy September 17, 2010 at 18:38

    Interesting post and blog…I’m currently flirting with anarchism.

    I suppose my main question about the philosophy would be: is it really “government” per se that’s evil, or is it the centralized, hierarchical state structures (with presidents, commissars, etc running the show) we’ve seen from the beginning of time?

    Mostly, I wonder who would be handling the fender benders, the child custody disputes, the Charley Mansons. Other than that I consider myself close to an anarchist.

  4. Rloy September 18, 2010 at 04:48

    Thanks for responding, Francois. I’ll try to clarify my stance by posting a quote from my blog:

    “I don’t think high positions of government power (presidents, prime ministers, commissars, you name it) should even exist. Nearly every president we’ve ever had has been a murderous scoundrel and tool of the rich. We may need a legislative body and justice system, but something more directly democratic should certainly supplant the archaic, hierarchical government structure prevalent in most of the world.”

    Would you consider me an anarchist? Or is an anarchist completely oppose to having laws or rules of any kind? I hope you’ll agree that murderers, at the very least, need to be isolated from the rest of society.

  5. Francois Tremblay September 18, 2010 at 04:58

    “Would you consider me an anarchist?”

    Depends on the kind of direct democracy you’re talking about. Since your quote is pretty explicitly anti-hierarchy, I’m assuming you mean some sort of federalist (in the Anarchist sense) decentralized egalitarian system. In that sense, direct democracy certainly is Anarchist, although not all Anarchists support direct democracy.

    “Or is an anarchist completely oppose to having laws or rules of any kind?”

    “I hope you’ll agree that murderers, at the very least, need to be isolated from the rest of society.”

    Yes, but I don’t think they have “surrendered their rights.” They must be treated as equals.

    Of course people who threaten society must not remain free in society, simply because they threaten everyone else’s freedom, and if we are committed to total freedom we have to be serious about eliminating its barriers. One of those barriers is crime. The issue of what causes crime has a lot to do with hierarchies in general.

    But that being set aside, the issue of murder is clear. No one’s gonna disagree that murder is wrong and that an act of murder is a problem that needs to be solved. We just think the current solution is not worth shit, and that murders by the State (soldiers, cops, the FDA, economic crimes, gun control: take your pick) are never condemned by the system it sustains.

  6. Rloy September 18, 2010 at 05:01

    “Why would fender benders and child custody disputes be such an overwhelming problem that free people couldn’t deal with them?”

    Human beings can be very flawed and unreasonable. Shouldn’t there be something in place to moderate disputes between those who refuse get along?

    As much as cops suck, don’t we need them to occasionally pull lunatic drivers off the road?

    I’m with you on the anti-capitalist stuff, just skeptical of getting rid of govt entirely. It may partly be a semantic dispute, over what counts as government.

  7. Francois Tremblay September 18, 2010 at 05:04

    “Human beings can be very flawed and unreasonable. Shouldn’t there be something in place to moderate disputes between those who refuse get along?”

    That’s a trivial question, since every society in history has had such mechanisms. You literally can’t have a society without it, simply because it’s so obvious and people can’t get along without it. So necessarily any Anarchist society would have dispute resolution mechanisms in it.

    “As much as cops suck, don’t we need them to occasionally pull lunatic drivers off the road?”

    Why do they have to be cops? I mean, how do you define that? If you mean some unaccountable body of people who enforce a set of rules not chosen by the people they enforce them on, then definitely no.

    “I’m with you on the anti-capitalist stuff, just skeptical of getting rid of govt entirely. It may partly be a semantic dispute, over what counts as government.”

    Well, the standard technical definition is that a government is a monopoly of force over a given territory. Actually, that’s the definition of the State, of which the government is the concrete instanciation, but “government” is close enough for our purposes.

  8. Rloy September 18, 2010 at 05:09

    “In that sense, direct democracy certainly is Anarchist, although not all Anarchists support direct democracy.”

    Ahh, I see. So would you consider a directly democratic “government” to be a state? I guess that’s what I’m getting at.

  9. Francois Tremblay September 18, 2010 at 05:11

    Logically speaking, all governments are instanciations of a State, unless your question was meant in a different way.

  10. Rloy September 18, 2010 at 05:16

    The ‘monopoly of force’ definition is partly what’s confusing. We seem to agree that there have to be laws against murder and presumably other crimes. But aren’t all legal codes necessarily monopolies?

  11. Francois Tremblay September 18, 2010 at 05:20

    Well, no. Unless you mean law in the statist sense, why should a legal code be a monopoly? To make an analogy, two people can use different rulesets (i.e. play different games) on the same board. Or to use a real life analogy, the Law Merchant co-existed with the Common Law.

  12. Rloy September 18, 2010 at 05:24

    So let’s say I go out and burn down someone’s house. What happens under anarchism? I’m just trying to get an idea.

  13. Francois Tremblay September 18, 2010 at 05:29

    Predicting people’s behaviour is a dicey proposition even within a society with institutions that we do know about. So I am not going to tell you “what happens,” because that’s impossible in any case. However, I can tell you the principles that are at work.

    Obviously burning someone’s house down is an attack against that person’s life and freedom, so the perpetrator must be held responsible for it. They should be treated fairly but they should have to restitute what they have taken away from society. One should endeavor to find out why he burned down the person’s house, and try to ensure that that sort of thing does not happen again.

  14. […] uses “structurelessness” in order to hide the fact that it is a planned economy centered around the corporate person and its decisions, all the while issuing propaganda against […]

  15. […] Clayton is implying that capitalist economics are similar to Marxism in that both are based on central planning, in which case I would agree, but I’m sure that’s not what he […]

  16. […] This is complicated by the subjectivity of the very concept of “intelligent economic decisions.” The term “intelligence” is highly controversial, and Watner does not even acknowledge this. But if intelligence incorporates anything like the skillful application of knowledge to problems, then free markets, which are unguided, are by definition unintelligent and fail Watner’s criterion. For “intelligent economic decisions,” we must look to better planned systems. […]

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