Albert Replies to Horowitz

[This essay is part of an extended debate with David Horowitz found here.]

The essay Horowitz is referring to is titled “Is Socialism Still on the Agenda?” It was written on request for the magazine New Politics and is available online here. As part of a larger argument, the essay addresses the old Soviet economic system, calling it “Socialism 1,” and noting that it ought to be off the agenda on the grounds that it is horribly authoritarian. Horowitz doesn’t bother indicating that I reject the system and ignores that my reason for doing so implies that other authoritarian economic institutions should be off the agenda as well, such as corporations and the IMF. I wonder, does he favor authoritarian approaches to economic decision-making and allocation?


My essay also notes that centrally planned socialism can be economically successful regarding matters of productivity and other material indices. Horowitz might be surprised to learn that even Western economists realize and admit this about centrally planned models. He is right that my essay argues that comparing the USSR to Brazil or comparing Cuba to Guatemala we can see the point borne out in history. And Horowitz’s choice of South Korea, of course, is another good example of the effectiveness of government influence over economic development, since during its recent growth period South Korea’s economy was largely administered from above. Horowitz’s choice also reveals, however, that he doesn’t know how to make an argument. Suppose, for example, contrary to fact, South Korea had been a Horowitizian free market capitalist economy and had accomplished way more general productivity and material development than the Soviet Union over a comparable period. This would, of course, not show that the Soviet model was a horrible failure regarding general productivity and material development, any more than Japan doing way better than the U.S. in these indices over some period, would show our economy to be a horrible failure. That one economy exceeds another does not show the latter to be a failure. On the other hand, that one economy exceeds another that is generally regarded to be successful, does imply that the former is at least comparably successful. Horowitz’s response to my claiming that Russia outperforming Brazil and Cuba outperforming Guatemala reveal that the Soviet model has material benefits alongside its social debits, neither of which claims he rebutted, was therefore utterly beside the point. Opened to free markets, by the way, South Korea has since suffered some hard times and the Soviet Union, now capitalist and competing, has become more or less a basket case.


But none of this was particularly important to the real purpose and focus of my essay — the parts that Horowitz doesn’t wish to insult his readers by addressing — which were my rejection of the Soviet and Yugoslav and any centrally planned or market socialist model for their social effects and class structures, including a brief enumeration of the damning failings of central planning and markets.


The closing paragraph of my essay may help folks understand my positive allegiances a bit better than Horowitz’s reconstructions…


“For the economy I want workers and consumers to have control over their own economic lives. I want everyone to have fair conditions that fully utilize their talents and potentials. I want incomes that accord with the efforts people expend in their labors. I want what is produced, by whom, under what conditions, and with who consuming the result–all determined in accord with enhancing human well-being and development and all decided by the people involved and affected. I want an end to hierarchies of power and wealth and to class division with most actors subordinated to an elite few. To accomplish all these ends I favor the institutions of participatory economics — worker and consumer councils, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning. If someone should demonstrate that those institutions somehow fail to accomplish necessary economic functions or have social or personal by-products that outweigh their benefits — I would simply return to the drawing board. Exploitation, alienation, poverty, disempowerment, fragmenting and debilitating labor, production for the profit of a few — much less harsh homelessness, starvation, and degradation — are not like gravity. They arise from institutional relations established by human beings. New institutions, also established by human beings, can generate other vastly superior outcomes. Defining and working to attain those new institutions ought to be our economic agenda.”


So, David, how about if we debate the above enumerated desires. You can start off by pointing out which you reject, or which you think are unattainable, much less which reveal to you my “colossal ignorance.” Is it people controlling their economic lives? Is it having incomes that accord with effort and sacrifice? Is it having human well being and development as the aim of economic activity? Is it ending subordination of the many to the few? Is it having democratic councils, balanced job complexes, or participatory planning? By all means, let’s find out who really is colossally ignorant and/or transparently opportunist, as the case may be.

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