Democracy and Economic Planning: The Political Economy of a Self-Governing Society

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Pat Devine, Democracy and Economic Planning: The Political Economy of a Self-Governing Society Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010; 320pp, £20 ISBN: 978-0745634791

Originally published in 1 988 a few years before the crisis in Stalinism, Pat Devines model of a planned economy has been republished with a new preface during the crisis in neo-liberalism. He comprehensively discusses capitalist planning, central planning and market socialism before sketching his own economic vision.

Obviously inspired by Marx, Devine s system is at odds with Marx's comments on social planning - it retains money and so the wages-system (if not wage-labour) with 'an incomes policy to render effective the planned allocation of resources according to socially agreed priorities' (p.199). Despite his critique of market socialism, it retains markets, with Devine squaring that particular circle by invoking 'the crucial difference between market exchange and market forces' (p.22). The latter is when changes in 'the pattern of investment' and 'the structure of productive capacity' are driven by 'individual self-interest, not consciously coordinated by them in advance' (p.23). Instead, 'negotiated coordination bodies' would determine major investment decisions rather than individual production units. These 'would not be autarchic, atomistic competitors, although they would compete' (p.208) with 'the purchase and sale of commodities' (p.236) as workplaces offer their output for sale at cost-based prices' (p.24l).

Thus a workplace is 'completely autonomous with respect to its day-to-day operation and the use it made of its existing productive capacity', with its 'internal organisation' based on 'self-management', while investment would be 'agreed with its negotiated coordination body' (p.226). Yet it is not easy, in practice, to determine what is and is not major new investment, and at what level negotiation should take place. So while he urges decentralisation, his desire for 'social ownership as a necessary condition for social control and the abolition of exploitation and the anarchy of production' (p.8) may work against it.

His well founded desire to be inclusive also has perverse consequences. As well as existing (representative) governmental bodies there would be a 'chamber of interests' (with representatives from unions, consumers, campaigning groups, etc.) as well as planning commissions and negotiation bodies at every level. At the base, a production unit's governing body would reflect its workers, trade unions, community groups, consumer groups, planning commissions and negotiated coordination bodies (p.226). Looking at all the layers and bodies in this model, it is hard not to wonder whether, with all the meetings and negotiation, anyone would have time to do any work or, for that matter, reach a decision! …