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Mises on Economic Calculation   Leave a comment

I’m concluding my series on Ludwig von Mises’ 1920 essay “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth”, appropriately enough, with his conclusion of the essay. I highly recommend you read it for yourself to get a fuller understanding of why socialism was a bad idea in 1920 and a bad idea nearly a century later.. Lela

 

He called for socialists to consider their position on a rational basis and realize that socialism does not  match reality. Their system has no way of determining the natural value of anything. Prices must be arbitrarily derived by bureaucrats in a socialist system, while in a capitalist system, supply and demand operate automatically to provide a “market value” price derived through exchange relations. The purchasers of a product determine the price depending on their personal choices.

Ninety-seven years after Mises wrote this essay, he’s still right and the Soviet Union and China have both proven his critiques. The Soviet Union is no more and Russia and the former Soviet bloc countries are largely market-based economies. Many of them are much more capitalistic than the United Kingdom or the United States. Meanwhile, China has taken a halfway position in state capitalism. Lenin thought of state capitalism as an intermediary step toward the paradise of socialism, but having tried social for several decades, China decided to introduce some capitalism.

Image result for image of american socialismName a socialist society that is doing well. There are a few capitalist societies that have a great admix of socialism — the United States, for example. Alaska too. The United States has suffered under a slowing economy for more than a decade now and is currently $21 trillion in debt. Alaska almost didn’t pass a budget this year. Socialism sounds good from the perspective where it hasn’t been tried yet, but inevitably it can’t operate without some market-economy features and so …. The United States has spent many decades slowly becoming more socialistic and our economy is teetering on the brink of collapse. Some observe that we appear to have been coasting on the dynamism of our past capitalism and that is now running out. Just look at the pace of inventions in the US between the end of the Civil War and now. You can see that we had a huge burst of activity and then we slowly fell away in an inverse ratio to the amount of government interference in the economy. So, what does that mean for us now? Is the solution perhaps reintroducing capitalism to the system?

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The Most Recent Socialist Doctrines and the Problem of Economic Calculation   Leave a comment

This is part of a series on Ludwig von Mises 1920 essay “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth”. I highly recommend that you read the full essay as I am just hitting the high points. Lela

 

Until socialists had some actual success in the world, they didn’t need to worry much about the problems of economic calculation without a price mechanism, so they didn’t. Really, what does it matter if your theory doesn’t work … until it becomes a reality.

In Mises’s era, socialist parties had obtained power in Russia, Hungary, Germany and Austria, which meant their theories now had to work in practice. So Marxist writers were beginning to actually look at the problems their theories walked hand-in-hand with. Mises had noted that they prefered to focus on drawing up programs for the path to socialism and not on addressing the problems of socialism itself.

Bauer leaves his readers completely ignorant of the fact that the nature of the banks is entirely changed in the process of nationalization and amalgamation into one central bank. Once the banks merge into a single bank, their essence is wholly transformed; they are then in a position to issue credit without any limitation. In this fashion the monetary system as we know it today disappears of itself. When in addition the single central bank is nationalized in a society, which is otherwise already completely socialized, market dealings disappear and all exchange transactions are abolished. At the same time the Bank ceases to be a bank, its specific functions are extinguished, for there is no longer any place for it in such a society. It may be that the name “Bank” is retained, that the Supreme Economic Council of the socialist community is called the Board of Directors of the Bank, and that they hold their meetings in a building formerly occupied by a bank. But it is no longer a bank, it fulfils none of those functions which a bank fulfils in an economic system resting on the private ownership of the means of production and the use of a general medium of exchange-money. It no longer distributes any credit, for a socialist society makes credit of necessity impossible. Bauer himself does not tell us what a bank is, but he begins his chapter on the nationalization of the banks with the sentence: “All disposable capital flows into a common pool in the banks.” As a Marxist must he not raise the question of what the banks’ activities will be after the abolition of capitalism?

Most other Marxist writers, even into the 21st century, don’t seem to realize that the bases of economic calculation are removed when you eliminate exchange and the price mechanism. That requires something be substituted in its place so as to avoid total chaos. There’s a fantasy belief that socialist institutions can easily replace those of a capitalist economy, but that has proven not to be the case. When the socialist markets in the USSR didn’t work, people turned to the black market. Mises was prescient in seeing that this would be the inevitable outcome.

Lenin’s ideas on the socialist economic system, to which he is striving to lead his people, are generally obscure.

Lenin trusted that the communes would be so efficient that they would provide a model for the rest of the country. Not too long after this, millions of people died in the Ukraine (the USSR’s bread basket) because the commune system didn’t work. In Lenin’s theories, every large agricultural and industrial concern was a member of the great commonwealth of labor. Those who are active in the commonwealth had the right of self-government. He said they exercised a profound influence on the direction of production and again on the distribution of the goods they were assigned for consumption. To Lenin, labor is the property of the whole society, and as its product belongs to society, society has a right to control product distribution.

How, we must now ask, is calculation in the economy carried on in a socialist commonwealth which is so organized? Lenin gives us a most inadequate answer by referring us back to statistics. We must bring statistics to the masses, make it popular, so that the active population will gradually learn by themselves to understand and realize how much and what kind of work must be done, how much and what kind of recreation should be taken, so that the comparison of the economy’s industrial results in the case of individual communes becomes the object of general interest and education.

Mises thought these “scanty allusions” to be a sign that Lenin didn’t understand statistics or monetary computation … that he might in fact be math deficient. You still couldn’t figure out how well the economy was doing or what a “fair” price was of any given product because there was no means of economic calculation within a socialist society.

Responsibility and Initiative in Communal Concerns   Leave a comment

This is a series based on Ludwig von Mises’ essay “Economic Calculation” I’m only hitting what I think are the highlights and suggest you look the essay up to read it in full if you’re curious. Lela

Image result for image of the failure of socialist businessesMost socialists ignore this or they believe they can remedy it by setting up pretend business structures. They still don’t own the means of production, but occasionally enterprises have flourished under their control, so they see this as proof that if society owned the means of production, there would be no issues over the lack of ownership.

Mises acknowledged that there are two different kinds of business. Most small companies are run by proprietors or small boards of directors who all have direct interest in the company. They may be corporations, but they act like small businesses. Think Hobby Lobby or Chik-fil-A.

Then there are the large scale corporations where only a fraction of the shareholders have any direct control of the firm. The firm’s control is in the hands of people who don’t own it and are sometimes at variance to the people who own stock in the company. Sometimes the management follows a course that injures the shareholders. Why? Because their agenda for the company is their own best interest rather than the shareholders.

The same holds true for banks and large financial institutions. It’s best not to trifle with the public’s interests because sooner or later, it will come back on you, the manager, and end up harming you in the long run.

Image result for image of the failure of socialist businessesBut when an industry is nationalized, this motive disappears because private individuals no longer have material interests in the enterprise they are employed by. By Mises’ era there were already decades of evidence on State and socialist endeavors. There were no internal pressure to reform or improve products and socialist enterprises had no incentive to adapt to changing conditions of demand. Companies grow moribund. Managers lose interest in doing great work, because they get paid the same whether they do pedestrian work or excellent work. It doesn’t matter, so they don’t care.

If the managers of these enterprises were interested in the yield, it was thought they would be in a position comparable to that of the manager of large-scale companies. This is a fatal error. The managers of large-scale companies are bound up with the interests of the businesses they administer in an entirely different way from what could be the case in public concerns. They are either already owners of a not inconsiderable fraction of the share capital, or hope to become so in due course. Further, they are in a position to obtain profits by stock exchange speculation in the company’s shares. They have the prospect of bequeathing their positions to, or at least securing part of their influence for, their heirs.

This ignores the obvious fact that most people are diligent, enthusiastic and hard working only when it benefits them. Socialists believe they can construct a socialist commonwealth on the basis of the Categorical Imperative alone. How lightly it is their wont to proceed in this way is best shown by Kautsky when he says, “If socialism is a social necessity, then it would be human nature and not socialism which would have to readjust itself, if ever the two clashed.”

But let’s say we live in Utopia and that people really will exert the same zeal for the collective as they do for themselves and those they love. We’re still faced with the problem that the lack of economic calculation means that individuals can’t ascertain how well they’re actually doing in their jobs.

Bureaucracies typically lack initiative. We know that. Government agencies spend a lot of money trying to remedy this by organizational changes. It almost always fails.

Socialists resist placing their ventures entirely in the hands of a single person, because they suspect he’ll permit errors that damage the community, so instead they rely on committees. But committees rarely introduce bold innovations.

One cannot transfer free disposal of the factors of production to an employee, however high his rank, and this becomes even less possible, the more strongly he is materially interested in the successful performance of his duties; for in practice the property-less manager can only be held morally responsible for losses incurred.

The property owner himself bears responsibility. He must primarily feel the loss arising from unwise business practices. This difference in the sense of ownership is a characteristic difference between market-based and socialist production.

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