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Govt control? Hah! It's IMPOSSIBLE to have a successful command economy

Even Moore's Law can't help the architects of statism now

It's impossible to predict all this even with modern tech

But leave all of that aside. Let's assume that we can write our function down, that we've uncovered the magic equation that, when we've solved it, will enable us to plan our economy. Excellent: so, how long is it going to take to run the program to get our solution? Too long. Too long to be useful, at least.

Communist hammer and sickle

Communism: It all ends with this. No, seriously.

It's worth thinking it through: we've those 65 million utility functions. We've also got some number of things in the economy that we've got to plan the output of. Estimates vary, but some say there are as many as one billion things available in London right now. Not one billion individual items, but a billion types of items. And then there's geography: a two inch left-hand threaded brass wood screw in London is not the same as a two inch left-hand threaded brass wood screw in Lancaster.

The end result is that we'd need at least a century to be able to run this program. And no, that's not a century of elapsed time; we need to wait for another century of Moore's Law to kick in before we have a computer able to do this.

Which is our physical impossibility of planning our economy.

If you'd like the above argument in all its glory (8,000 words – with equations!), it's here in this excellent essay by Cosma Shalizi, associate professor in the Department of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Maschinenarbeit macht Kommunismus

We could just conclude that Hayek was right, at this point. The only calculating engine we've got that can crunch through the intricacies of the economy is said economy itself. But there's a much more interesting observation we can make too, which is that we're likely to get to true communism before we can make scientific socialism work.

Karl Marx pointed out that solving the economic problem was an essential precondition for the arrival of communism. We had to have solved the problem of scarcity before it was practically possible. Those early 20th century bods thought that this more efficient form of socialism would give us a leg up to reaching communism: more fool them. Yet when people talk about the robots coming to take all our jobs, this is what they mean. Even if they're unaware of meaning it.

If the robots do all the work for us, then, except for positional goods (such as nice houses in Mayfair), there simply isn't any shortage of anything. If we want more of something then we can just get a robot to build a couple of more robots to go and produce whatever it is we want.

Given all that talk of the robots making us redundant, that means, assuming it's all true at least, we're going to have communism, or at least the possibility of it, long before we could even possibly make scientific socialism work.

This isn't the way 20th century people thought about it, which might be why the 20th century was such a ghastly place for so many. But isn't it fun to think that communism could be made possible by the productive powers of capitalism? ®

*As described in Frederick Engels' paper "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific"

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