Economic Planning

[Knopf, &3.00]

OF all the books on economic planning, this is by far the best. Mr. Cole has not the breezy readability of Stuart Chase, and his volume, running well in excess of 150,000 words, is too long for what he has to say; but he knows his economic theory, he spares no pains to gather his facts, and he faces his problems more honestly and realistically than any of his fellow planners. This ought to be the leading textbook of all intelligent socialists who are concerned, not primarily with the technique of seizing power, but with what they are going to do with the power when they get it.
Mr. Cole first gives his reasons for believing that capitalism must fail. He then moves on to consider the history of economic planning successively in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the United States, and Soviet Russia, and ends by setting forth his own conception of the principles and methods of planning, His historic and descriptive chapters hardly seem encouraging. In Nazi Germany he finds merely ‘the caricature of a planned economy’: ’The object of German “planning" is not to make the people better off, but to enable the Nazis to remain in power. ‘Italy, far more than Nazi Germany, remains a planless economy, even in the widest sense that can be given to the notion of planning.‘
In the United States, ‘agricultural output has been “planned"; but it has been “planned’ entirely for the purpose of decreasing output. ... It is surely quite fantastic to regard curtailment of production as “planning" unless it is accompanied by an effective transference of the displaced resources to more productive use.’ The NBA!‘ It’ codes were ‘perfect examples of restrictive sectional capitalist pseudo-planning, which may be effective in diminishing but cannot possibly increase the total employment of resources in production. Public Works and Civil Works? ‘The Civil Works programme was no more than an attempt to set some millions of the unemployed doing something — doing anything—in preference to giving them relief without service in return. It was the most planless, chaotic, and wasteful of all the enterprises of the New Deal.‘
The worst, rugged individualist could say no more. But Mr. Cole is not discouraged. After all, these are examples of ‘capitalist ’ planning, which means that they are not ‘planning’ at all. He turns at length to Soviet Russia, ‘ the one country in which any thoroughgoing attempt to institute a planned economy has been made.’ He presents what he thinks are its outstanding achievements; he offers excuses of various sorts for its failure to do more. But he is an honest man and does not omit to mention and deplore the severe intensification of the dictatorship, the heresy hunting, and the ruthless liquidation of the kulaks — ’by far the ugliest chapter of the record of revolutionary Russia.’ Enforced collectivization, he concedes, accompanied by the stamping out of the kulaks, was responsible for the ‘devastating slaughter of livestock which occurred during the drive of 1930-32.’
This candor is commendable. But Mr. Cole devotes less than a page to the point, whereas in the mind of the non-Communist or non-socialist it may give rise to a leading question. Was not this policy almost alone sufficient to offset all the gains or alleged gains of the Soviet régime?‘
Consider the figures, which Mr. Cole does not cite. The number of horses in Russia was reduced from 34,000,000 in 1920 to 16,000,000 in 1933; of bighorned cattle from 68,100,000 to 38,000,000; of sheep and goats from 147,200,000 to 50,600,000; of pigs from 20,900,000 to 12,200,000. In a country that was certainly not too well fed in 1929, this is appalling. There are wastes and errors in capitalism, but are they on this scale?
Mr. Cole deals at great length with the theoretical problems that economic planning by a centralized government would involve. Without the price and profit-and-loss system as a guide, for example, how would the government determine the complex and changing tastes of 130,000,000 different individuals? How would it decide how many umbrellas to make as compared with how many beds and watches? Mr. Cole struggles with such problems as candidly and manfully and intelli gently as any socialist I have ever read. I do not think he solves them, but he makes an effort that anyone is compelled to respect.
HENRY HAZLITT