[This essay is part of an extended debate with David Horowitz found here.]
Your response overwhelms me, literally. There’s no way I can respond to this very long letter of yours. There are not hours enough in the day for me to do this and get my work done. Which is the reason that Oscar Wilde I think said your kind of socialism will not work — people don’t have the time for and aren’t really interested in all those meetings required to work out in just detail what the market works out for them through the price system.
I apologize for confusing “coordinatorism” with participatory economics. It was late and I am working under considerable pressure. In my understanding your critique of “coordinatorism” follows a long line of critiques of the “managerial revolution” from Michels to Rizzi to Trotsky to Burnham, even to Galbraith.
Like Marx’s, your critique of the commodity fetishism of the market contains a little truth smothered in a huge error, which the failure of Soviet socialism has once and for all confirmed. The huge error is that the price system blocks knowledge when in fact it encodes it and encodes knowledge of such complexity that no human brain or computer can replace it. This is what the Soviets demonstrated. They couldn’t build a modern economy by substituting politics for the market, which is what you want to do. Von Mises predicted this in 1922 and Hayek refined his analysis in the Thirties. That’s why they’re so important. Commodity fetishism is the key to the prosperity and efficiency of the capitalist economy and to the relative peace of capitalist states. It is what makes us work together. Competition is the necessary (and I emphasize the word necessary) form that cooperation takes in an economy that is larger than that of the tribe where the goals of members are common and their communication with each other is direct (Hayek, The Fatal Conceit). I do not have the time or the interest to elaborate this for you. Your views are in a pure sense primitive; they refuse to confront what experience has so painfully confirmed. You do not understand why Soviet and Cuban socialism failed. Nor do you understand planning in the corporation if you think it takes place outside the market’s discipline. (If it does, the corporation goes bankrupt.)
The brilliance of the market is precisely that it is beyond the control of human beings. Like the rule of law, but more dependably, it is the discipline that keeps unruly individuals from veering totally out of control. You and I profoundly disagree. This is a common state between individuals. How would we or anyone work together in an enterprise in a society effectively if we did not have an external discipline to connect us and make us function? How would enterprises coordinate their activities in the absence of a neutral and merciless referee like this?
You think Bill Gates gets too much. I don’t. How do we adjudicate this? How do you put a price on what Bill Gates has done? He has created millions of jobs that didn’t exist. He has standardized a system globally. What panel is going to weigh his contributions against his faults. Who even can balance the advantages from having a standard operating system against the disadvantages of having a quasi monopoly that limits competition? You think you or any group you can assemble could sort these issues out and come up with a solution that is just? You couldn’t even begin to assemble the facts necessary to make such a judgment even if you could find judges free from biases, which you can’t. What is the social price for decisions that others regard as unfair? To come to a decision on the question of Microsoft’s monopoly alone using very limited guidelines compared to your elaborate ones, the courts have spent millions of dollars and will take years to come to any kind of conclusion. And when they do it will be difficult not impossible to assess the result — whether it improved things or made them worse. And this is just one decision that you want to open up to subjective and abstract questions of “social justice” on which it will be impossible to get any kind of general agreement.
I have enjoyed this exchange with you, but again see no point in going on. Market socialists at least have learned these basic lessons. Unfortunately, they have not learned them completely enough so they think they can find an appropriate point at which to limit the market. John Gray has provided appropriate rebuttals to this illusion.
Your attempts to distance yourself from the communist left (I prefer this term to Leninist) puzzle me. I read Z. It is pretty much down the line pro-Sandinista, pro-Fidel, and anti-America. So I think I’ve described your politics correctly. It’s only after the great work of destruction of western civilization has been completed that you are going to break ranks and go into the opposition again.
I will say this for you; you have shown a greater capacity for civility and a more genuine intellectual passion in these emails than I would have expected would be possible from an editor of Z. Would that there were more leftists like you.