Economic Planning and the Tariff: An Essay on Social Philosophy

By James Gerald Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
SOME FORGOTTEN LESSONS OF HISTORY

THE old adage that history repeats itself has been seriously questioned, but there is abundant evidence that it is true at least so far as general economic planning is concerned. There have been other periods in the history of mankind when the mechanistic view of life predominated and when the attempt was made to regulate the economic and social life of the people wholly by formalistic rule and bureaucracy. These could well serve as lessons for modern conduct but they appear now to be forgotten lessons.


LESSON FROM ANCIENT CHINA

Confucius ( 551 B.C.-479 B.C.) was one of the world's first great reformers. He lived in an era in Chinese history when bureaucracy, special privilege and feudalism thrived. The Chinese emperors of this period tried to direct and control the life and work of every person in the kingdom. The people were regimented under strict supervision, and prices were controlled by the government. In order to fix prices there was an elaborate bureaucracy for studying costs, with supervisers and auditors of supervisers; and the government had an organization to buy up goods that the people could not sell, acting as a sort of bank or storehouse for unsold goods. It was, indeed, similar to our modern noteworthy wheat and cotton "stabilization corporations."

But this was not all of the organization required. In order to enforce the fixed prices there was also an intricate police and spying system. For every two shops there was a policeman to keep watch. For every five shops there was a detective and for every ten shops there was a captain. Whether or not the plan worked well, it surely required a complex organization for its planning and enforcement; and according to a commentary of a certain Liu Pan ( A.D. 19-78) the effect was merely to benefit special privilege and to result in waste.1

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1
Chen Huan-Chang, "The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School", Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, Columbia University, Vol. XLIV ( 1911), pp. 576-7.

-19-

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