Paul Cockshott, the author of Towards a New Socialism, is essentially a NazBol. Everyone seems to ignore this, and I have no idea why. He is quite open about his hatred of gay men, sex workers, immigrants, and trans women — and his policy proposals are filled with horrific implications and unworkable ideas.
This isn’t something he’s hiding. I wouldn’t call this a call-out post, because of how blatant he’s been. He has a section on his personal blog marked ‘gender’, and it is 8 essays of anti-queer bigotry — though, it should be noted, one is written by a computer (and so may not actually count as bigotry, or even an article) and another is a reprint of an article written by someone else.
In Genders or Sex Stereotypes: Part 1, he and K.A. Cortes say:
…that laws, originally meant to protect women, are in danger of becoming ineffective; if men who claim to be women are treated as legally being women this not only goes beyond the intention of the original law, but it may place women at a disadvantage4. We have strong sympathies with these objections. In this article we will be arguing that genders, in the sense of sets of people, do not exist.
Prior to the late 1960s the word Gender was used in English to refer to sets of nouns and the rules for matching pronouns and adjectives to them in various, mainly foreign, languages…
From the end of the 1960s there is a dramatic change in usage. Genders were no longer categories of words but categories of people…
…did the new use of gender designate a new invention, a scientific discovery, a cultural fashion?
If you follow that footnote (the one on “disadvantaged”) down, you’ll find this:
Examples cited are the risk to women in prison if male sex-offenders are able to be reassigned to such prisons after taking on a female persona or unfair competition in women’s sports.
This is not his only anti-trans essay — it’s actually something of a theme with him.
In Class and the LGTB lobby (I am legitimately not sure why he bothers saying “the LGTB lobby” and not ‘the gay agenda’ — they’re basically synonyms), he says:
You might initially think that economic class position had nothing to do with homosexuality, but it does not take long looking at the empirical sociological literature to come to the conclusion that this is mistaken. There is a connection, but it is that the interests of gays tend to be aligned with that of the propertied classes, rather than being independent of conflicting class interests. First, the literature on class attitudes to homosexuality shows that working class people are more likely to be hostile to it, and people from higher social classes more likely to be favourable or tolerant towards it… Second, published data shows that gay couples are, on average, significantly better off than straight ones. On both attitudinal grounds and economic grounds therefore, the gay straight polarisation axis, rather than being independent of the class polarisation axis turns out to be tilted with respect to it.
Yeah, that’s right. Our boy Paul takes Stalin’s line on gayness.
He’s also not a fan of open borders or immigration, in general, and thinks that the whole thing is a capitalist plot. He wrote not one, but two papers on this. In Trades Unionism and Migration he says:
I showed in my last post how migration increases the exploitation of the working classes by the employing class. This has become the deliberate and conscious policy of the rulers of the European Union, one shared by our own employing class. With Brexit having been voted on by the people, the business interest are desperate to do a deal which will still secure them access to cheap labour. This is why they so favour the Norway option.
[Note: linking is my own]
And, of course, he’s also not a fan of sex workers, as is clearly laid out in Socialists can Never Support Prostitution. He makes much of the ‘victories’ of socialist states in forcing sex workers to give up their craft, and talks about how much of a fan of the Nordic Model he is. Nothing particularly exceptional in his disdain for autonomy and workers — I’d expect it from any liberal. It’s here, though, that the ideology running under all his bigotry becomes most clear:
What about the claim that prostitution is work?
There is no doubt that sex involves time and effort, but is it really work?
If sex is work, was the dancing a couple did before they got off with one another also work?
If a cohabiting couple fuck, is it only her working, or are both working when they are at it?
If both work, both emerging sweating from effort, the justification for calling prostitution ‘work’ vanishes. Are we to call the clients too, sex ‘workers’?
What liberal appologists [sic] mean by work, is not the effort of making things, but being paid for doing things. So when a woman cooks a meal for her children is that work?
It is, and even most economist [sic] would not deny this, but it does not figure as work in the UK National Accounts. To liberal economics, to count as work it must exchange for money. Were mothers able to sell meals to their kids, liberal economics would then treat it as adding to national income.
Anything that brings in money counts for them as productive activity. So we have the nonsensical situation where things like gambling and brothel keeping are called industries. There is no doubt that these are all are businesses, but not all business is industry, and not all business is productive.
Take gambling, a moment’s thought is enough to see that it merely redistributes existing wealth, and produces nothing new of value. It is as foolish to talk of a gambling industry or sex industry as it would be to call pickpocketing or bank robbing industries.
In the Kollontai quote [sic] there is a commonsense obviousness, under the changed social conditions of Soviet Russia, about why prostitution is unproductive. In a society where goods were allocated on ration, a prostitute was seen to be taking the rations of others and not contributing to national wealth and general welfare. When economic relations were no longer disguised by money but seen in physical terms, this was a commonsense practical observation, and if it was obviously true in an unveiled economy, it must already have been true, behind the money veil, in the previous capitalist economy. Gilded by money, unproductive activities in a commercial economy appear productive, intercourse becomes `sex work’.
[Note: bolding my own]
His hate is nothing special — but this explicitness with which he justifies his hate is something remarkable. His hatred follows from his underlying assumption — that everyone’s labor belongs to some grand collective; call it ‘humanity’, ‘society’, ‘the nation’, ‘the workers’, or perhaps ‘the commune’. It doesn’t really matter — I choose to call it ‘the abstraction’.
From that perspective, one can see the labor theory of value as a sensible way to look at things. After all, if one is going to say that everyone belongs to this abstraction, then one can attempt to look at things from this abstraction’s point of view. The only resource of any value to the abstraction, aside from its possession of all the land beneath it, is the labor that the abstraction has available to it — labor to be spent on extracting goods, processing them, producing people, maintaining them, and forming a plan about how to go about it all in order to accomplish whatever obscure and inhuman goals that the abstraction might have for itself.
Even the strange fungibility with which the labor theory of value treats hours of labor begins to make sense. Sure, to people like you and me, an hour of a janitor’s labor is not worth the same as an hour of a doctor’s labor — one produces more value in an hour than the other does. But, to the abstraction, this is a ridiculous idea — as silly and sickening as trying to argue the relative worth of one’s foot and one’s hand. The abstraction owns every hour of everyone’s day, and it will use every such hour as best it can — the janitor, for one thing, the doctor in another, and every mere body in its proper place.
Within this alien worldview, the sex worker is absolutely a thief. They have stolen their own labor back from the abstraction. That they are providing value to others in the form of sexual services, and that those others gladly compensate them for their labors at an agreed-upon price, is entirely irrelevant. The labor was not the sex worker’s to trade, and the compensation was not the john’s to pay.
This view, of course, could easily be applied to any sort of other worker providing services — the busker on the street, the masseuse, psychologists, actors, etc., etc.. Anyone who goes against the plan of the abstraction — and, after all, the abstraction will (at least given its view on sex workers) presumably not plan to give it’s bodies too much entertainment. Not that it would be any less of an outrage a planned economy did have sex workers — it is endlessly fascinating to me that anti-sex work marxists routinely recognize this, and recoil from it, but are unable to apply that revulsion at planned and (at least semi-)coercive sex work to any sort of non-sex work.
Cockshott also has a hatred of all wanderers upon the earth, he backs it up with his bizarre worldview.
In Brexit, Immigration, and Exploitation he says:
Does competition with immigrant labour tend to reduce real wages?
To test this I have regressed the rate of exploitation in the UK against the number of people comming [sic] into the country each year. The rate of exploitation measures how many pence of profit and interest each worker generates for their employer.
…Overall the correlation between immigration and exploitation was 75%.
…Now statistical explanation does not necessarily imply causation.
…there is a theory explaining why we should expect this. It was set out in the chapter of Marx’s capital dealing with the law of capital accumulation. He described a process whereby periods of rapid capital accumulation would drive down unemployment, raise wages and reduces exploitation. This, he said, would then provoke a reaction. Slower accumulation would then increase unemployment and allow exploitation to rise. Basically [sic] the more competition workers faced from what Marx called the Reserve Army of Labour, the higher would be the rate of exploitation and vice versa.
…Exploitation and profitability depend on rapidly expanding workforces. For the left to adopt the Blairite cant that immigration does not degrade the social position of working class voters would be to cede realistic political economy to UKIP.
Anarchists, of course, have never stood for closed borders. Even the liberals, for all their other ideological errors, manage to (at least some of the time) get much closer to the obviously morally correct position… though, of course, Trump is (arguably) ultimately a liberal as well.
That’s because the position in support of open/no borders flows smoothly from considering things from the perspective of the individual, while fixed positionality flows from privileging the perspective of the abstraction. If we look at things from the perspective of individuals, there’s no obvious reason to stop anyone from roaming the earth as they please — after all, isn’t finding a better place in the world a potent tool for bettering oneself? And, if one can find that place, doesn’t that mean that one has found relationships with others by which to sustain oneself? Regardless of your views on property — capitalist, communist, based in occupancy-and-use, etc. — you can easily agree to such an easy and inoffensive sentiment.
If one sees the abstraction as important, though, one can easily think instead that individuals have no right to decide where they should go. After all, individuals belong to the abstraction — it’s not up to them where they should settle. If we go by Cockshott’s comments in regards to “national wealth and general welfare,” then we can easily say that he views wealth — and therefore his particular version of the abstraction — in national terms. If the abstraction of a nation’s workers might get a lesser portion of a nation’s wealth by allowing in someone, then that person should not be allowed in — or, at least, the national abstraction has every right to keep that person out. So says Cockshott, at least.
It’s worth taking a small side-bar just to point out that Cockshott graphed and talked about ‘rates of exploitation’ but didn’t talk about total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at all. It’s entirely possible that the total wealth goes up faster than the share afforded to workers under capitalism goes down, thus leaving open borders as both the moral and practical policy. Cockshott never even considers the possibility.
In Class and the LGTB lobby, the trend of justifying bigotry using the labor theory of value (and it’s ultimate ideological justification within the abstraction) continues. In it, he says:
How do you define class position in Marxist terms? At its most basic the distinction between exploiting and exploited classes rests on whether a person receives goods and services involving more labour than they contribute to society. This is a general definition that applies across all class societies, slave, feudal or capitalist. If you get back more than you put in in terms of labour then you, at least partially, benefit from exploitation.
This idea of exploitation, resting in labor hours, is bizarre to me. In my view, and the view of most LWMAs, and (to a lesser extent) anarchists in general, exploitation revolves around property ownership. A property owner exploits people by taking money from them without working for it — for every dollar of value you produce, your boss takes a portion because he owns the business and it’s means of production, while your landlord takes a portion because he owns your house, and the state takes yet another portion because it owns the violence of the state — and thus the ability to collect taxes from you.
Cockshott’s view of exploitation, however, seems to happen by magic. It’s not a matter of clear and immediate use of violently-enforced social constructs by which specific people take from specific others. Instead, it’s simply the act of making more than average per hour of labor that makes one an exploiter — regardless of your relationship to property, or to others. Anyone making more than average exploits no one in particular, and anyone making less is exploited by no one in particular. It’s a nonsensical view of the world.
Cockshott seems to mostly apply his logic within the realm of individual states, but I see no reason in particular to do this. The global GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity) was $17,300. This means that, on a global scale, you’re an exploiter if you make more than that. For those slow on the uptake, that would mean $8.32 an hour, assuming 40-hour work-weeks and no vacation. I guess anyone in American with a minimum wage job or two and enough hours to kind-of cobble-together a life for themselves was secretly bourgeoise all along.
Cockshott goes on to admit that his system doesn’t really even work, even to his satisfaction:
Just taking wage income into account is obviously too simple. People may have property income as well, and on the negative side they may be exploited by banks to whom they pay interest, or landlords to whom they pay rent. But simple income figures give you a first cut.
Cockshott focuses on exploitation as though it only happens at the point of production. Exploitation happens in a much wider variety of circumstances than that, and acting as if it’s a fact of income rather than of ownership leaves one having to construct theories of exploitation that lead one into ever-more overly-complicated theories, trying to make up for a fundamental and idiotic misunderstanding.
He goes on, lapsing back from economic idiocy into homophobic bigotry, saying:
There is a large body of data establishing that the gay population is disproportionately drawn from the middle and upper middle class, with, as a result, disproportionately small proportion being working class…. Given this difference in jobs and education, one would expect that there would be a significant economic disparity between the position of gay and straight families. This is indeed what we find.
…gay couples earn more than heterosexual couples who in turn earn more than lesbian ones. This is unsurprising since male earnings are pretty consistently higher than female ones, so an all male household would be expected to earn the most and an all female one the least.
…the median wage of gay men in couples was higher than that of heterosexual married men, which in turn was slightly above that of lesbian women, who in turn earned more than married heterosexual women.
…The family is also a place where work is done… child care time will vary according to whether the household has children and depend also on the number of children… From this we see that straight couples perform much more unpaid socially necessary labour time.
…You do not save for your old age by putting cans of beans and sacks of flour in a cellar to sustain you; instead you rely on freshly produced food, clothes etc, produced by the labour of the generation that follows you. If you rely on a state pension then the next generation will be taxed to support you. If you have a private pension it will be invested in government bonds to produce interest. That interest will again come from tomorrow’s tax payers. If it is invested in shares, then the pension will come from the employment of tomorrow’s workers.
The unpaid labour of raising children, labour predominantly done by mothers, is socially essential and all the current generation, whether they have children themselves or not, benefit indirectly from it. Gay activists are wont to identify their campaigns with campaigns against women’s oppression, but the economic analysis so far shows that this concept is fallacious. Not only are gay couples financially better off, they also, in the main, often opt out of the socially necessary unpaid labour that is at the root of the disadvantaged position of women/wives. The establishment and normalisation of gay marriage will tend to increase the inequality of men and women in this respect. Insofar as a portion of the male population were once covert homosexuals, who would have hidden their preferences, married women and helped to bring up children, they can now move directly into a respectable gay marriage where they are statistically very unlikely to do any unpaid child raising work. The net effect is obviously to accentuate the disparity between men and women, and shift even more of the burden of raising the next generation onto women.
…the cumulative result of the economic advantage that gay couples enjoy. It enables them to accumulate property faster than other couples, so they have more to share on the death of a partner. Gays are twice as likely to own dwellings in the highest property band as heterosexuals.
…The conclusion from the evidence so far is that the gay marriage movement is fundamentally conservative, aimed at the securing of relatively privileged property ownership and it makes the relative position of women in society slightly worse.
For the third time, we have a bigoted conclusion that follows inexorably from Cockshott’s assumptions, couched in the labor theory of value.
After all, why shouldn’t the abstraction look on the (non-reproducing) gays with disdain? Aren’t they (often enough) refusing to provide workers for its great factory of society? And, after all, doesn’t the abstraction own them, too? Aren’t they thieves, just as much as the sex workers are thieves?
One wonders why Cockshott doesn’t apply his same logic to abortion, frankly. Isn’t abortion access largely gated by income level? Doesn’t abortion access lead to greater later-life incomes for women? Doesn’t it result in women who have abortion access doing less domestic labor than women without abortion access? And isn’t the pro-life movement (on average) of lower-income than the pro-choice movement? Are we to conclude that the pro-life movement is really a capitalist-aligned plot to enable women in blue-states to better exploit women in red-states?
This is where privileging the abstraction over the individual leads: to arguing about who should give birth and raise children, rather than letting the individuals themselves decide for themselves.
In so far as I can tell, there’s no connection between Cockshott’s hatred of trans women and his belief in the abstraction. I’m a little disappointed by this, and it’s entirely possible that there’s some post on his blog which makes the connection loud and clear, but I simply don’t have the energy or stomach to go looking for it. As far as I’m concerned, Cockshott simply doesn’t like trans women, and he wants you to know about that. For some reason.
All of this, then, makes it somewhat unsurprising that Paul Cockshott’s ideas on planned economies are equally torturous and full of sickening and bizarre implications. How could they not be? After all, any idea of an economic plan –of any sort– requires an idea of overall collective wellbeing to be maximized: some sort of utility function for the collective. That is to say, it requires you to consider things from the point of view of the abstraction — not from the point of view of the individual.
In Calculation, Complexity And Planning: The Socialist Calculation Debate Once Again He starts with some of his trademark bizarre statements, such as:
…Skilled labour may be treated in the same way that Marx treats the means of production in Capital, namely as a produced input which ‘transfers’ embodied labour to its product over time. Given the labour time required to produce skills and a depreciation horizon for those skills, one may calculate an implied ‘rate of transfer’ of the labour time embodied in the skills…
Which is nonsensical. However convenient it might make one’s accounting to pretend otherwise, one does not unlearn how to make an item by making items of that type — one usually gets better at it, actually. And, of course, this marxian over-focus on a society-as-a-factory means that Cockshott completely ignores skilled services — which play a massive role in advanced economies. In his defense, though, that might be on purpose. Just as he dismissed the sex worker as a mere thief, perhaps he treats other providers of services as equally valueless. After all, what is the point of the atmosphere of a good meal in a nice restaurant, a spa day, a concert, etc? To stretch a metaphor, Cockshott seems quite able to imagine vast fields of factories producing bread 24/7, but seems completely unable to conceptualize the point of setting aside a single square foot of land for the sake of a solitary and sickly rosebush. Bread and roses, Mr. Cockshott. Bread and roses.
Cockshott also seems intent on re-inventing the concept of getting paid on commission rather than hourly:
Aside from the issue of skills which require labour for their production, we also recognize that not all workers of a given skill level accomplish the same work in an hour. In cases where it is possible to assess individual productivity with some degree of accuracy, labour of a given skill level might be graded into different productivity categories (say, above-average, average and below-average) and appropriate multipliers could be determined empirically for these grades. Workers might, for instance, be evaluated periodically (by themselves and their peers) and assigned a productivity grade. Unlike the case of skilled versus simple labour, the multipliers in this case might reasonably be used for determining differential rates of pay. Not every worker need be a stakhanovite; one might choose an easier pace of work while accepting a somewhat lower rate of pay.
This is really not the innovation that he seems to think it is. Nor does it particularly seem to conform to what Cockshott says he believes. He seems to believe that all hours of everyone’s time create equal amounts of value — and thus should be compensated as such. It seems very much as though he’s able enough to half-acknowledge that he’s wrong — to the point that he’s able to design around the non-viability of this, despite never quite admitting that that is what he is doing!
He then dives straight into attempting to defend the Langian model of socialism. I won’t bother to attack the infeasibility of such a proposal here, as other and better such articles have been written. Instead, I will be taking the Langian (or, given Cockshott’s modifications, perhaps ‘neo-Langian’) model seriously. As such, I will comment on what Cockshott’s defense of the Langian model reveals about his values and ideals.
A… objection to Lange made by the Austrians concerns the static nature of his solution…. Lange employs a static equilibrium theory… When Mises denied that economic calculation was a problem under static conditions, on the other hand, he had in mind true stasis, where “the same events in economic life are ever recurring”
To elucidate all this in more common and more modern terms, the issue with economic planning –even if we are to imagine that it worked in all other respects, which it doesn’t– is that it imagines that there is a finite list of goods (services seeming to be totally absent from Cockshott’s imagination) which it can restrict itself to providing. In other words, those in favor of central planning imagine that the only job of the planner is to determine how much of each good to provide — rather than determining what goods to provide.
The obvious way that this fallacious thinking manifests is in the realm of ever-advancing technology. After all, there are always new and substantial innovations coming to market. Sometimes, despite all of the tech bro experts loving these innovations, they are completely discarded by the general public. Sometimes, despite various such experts finding little to no use for a new good, it takes off — usually when some marginal demographic (i.e., one not likely to be represented amongst the experts) finds some use for it. Clearly, ‘experts’ cannot be trusted to determine for us what new technologies we would like to adopt — if technological progress is to be maintained in a way that we would find meaningful, we (the end-users) must maintain some level of sway over what is and what is not produced. There are already far too many experts interceding between the consumers and the producers — all the venture capitalists throwing exploitation-derived money at idiotic avenues of advancement has done the world a great deal of harm. It might even have allowed the capitalists to push technological advancement along avenues more hospitable to continued capitalism.
One might object that we could all come together and vote on which technologies should and should be produced. This, though, runs into several problems.
Firstly, it is difficult for consumers to know ahead of time what they would like — as opposed to having it presented to them, and then deciding after the demonstration whether they would like to make use of it.
Secondly, that would be a truly massive number of meetings. Can you imagine how it would go if every single VC funding round was replaced by a national referendum? That would be an impossible number of items to vote on — and, of course, both whether to invest and how much to invest would have to be decided on. Further, there would be little to no incentive for most voters to check up on the long-term consequences of their vote — who would oversee the results of the investment to catch unscrupulous supposed-scientists? And, if some person did exist, how could their calls about who was and was not wasting the voter’s money be anything but a reflection of the referees own desires and preferences? A cop just for science is still a cop, after all. The current system of VC funding at least manages to provide clear incentives to invest in innovations that are (at least perceived as likely to be) desired by a sufficiently large consumer base. Even trying to avoid these problems using representative, rather than direct, democracy solves nothing. The representative is going to be a representative of the majority, after all.
Third, the use of voting for such subjects cannot be anything but majoritarian — at least in some senses and some cases. What if the technology is considered to be a useless waste of investment by most, but an absolute necessity for others? Would such a majoritarian system be likely to invest much into cheaper HRT, or more efficient processes for making kosher food? Or would a market be likely to drive towards such things, especially if income disparities for minority groups was rectified?
As a better question, would such a system of central planning even produce HRT, kosher food, or Muslim prayer mats?
Cockshott anticipates these issues, and proposes his own solution:
A socialist economy could set up an ‘innovation budget’, whereby an agreed fraction of social labour time is devoted to just such experimentation with new processes and products. Existing enterprises or groups of people with new ideas could apply for a share of this budget. The disposition of the budget might be divided between two or more parallel agencies, so that prospective innovators have more than one chance to have their ideas funded (hence lessening the risk of ‘ossification’ of the process). As the results of such experimentation come in, successful new products could be incorporated into the regular plan, and successful technologies ‘registered’ as an element of the regular input–output structure of the economy
The issue here is that Cockshott is actually being less inventive than most advocates of central planners are, because “there are a couple of people who hold all the money, and if you can manage to convince them to give you some you can spend it on research” is exactly how the economy currently works. That’s literally just a description of how venture capital funding works! It’s also a description of how getting a research grant funded works! And we all know how well those work out. Cockshott is really great at reinventing basic, already existing aspects of modern neoliberal capitalism and then calling them socialism.
The difference here is that the enterprises have no incentive to spend all that torturous effort getting funding, and then trying to make something new with it — what, are they going to get paid more for having a more in-demand product?
Cockshott runs into more problems, as well:
If… is claiming that such decisions may be made conscientiously, with due attention to risk but without excessive conservatism, only by individuals motivated by the prospect of great personal wealth (in case of success) or personal financial ruin (in case of failure), then we flatly disagree.
We do not have space to expand here on the institutions required for the planning of major investments and structural economic change under socialism; a brief comment must suffice. We agree with Mises that this function will not be entrusted to pseudo-capitalists; it must involve a combination of expert opinion and democratic methods. We can expect that the ‘experts’ who are called upon to exercise their judgment in such matters will gain in prestige and garner the admiration of their peers if successful, and will be demoted and lose influence if unsuccessful. It is important that there should be a climate of open debate and accountability, but not that the winners should amass great fortunes and the losers be cast into penury… One further point should be stressed here: the other side of the coin of successful innovation is that the planners must have the right to close down uneconomic enterprises. While guaranteed employment is of course a basic socialist principle, there can therefore be no guarantee of permanent employment in any particular industry or trade.
Saying that you “flatly disagree” isn’t an argument. It’s a handwave. It’s an article of faith.
Cockshott’s partial solution here is that bureaucrats (people employed by the government, up for promotion and demotion, etc.) will handle the planning. Bureaucracy is not particularly great at getting things done now, and there is no particular reason to believe that some mythical revolution will magically change this.
Further, even if bureaucracy was effective, one would still not want it to be so for this purpose. Having oneself offered jobs, and having those jobs closed down, on the say-so of a bureaucrat rather than on the say-so of one’s customers is a deep indignity. Rather than having the impersonal forces of the market upon which one might decide to try one thing or another, one is given a function not necessarily of one’s choosing and ordered about — not metaphorically, by the natural circumstances of one’s horizontal interactions with others, but literally and through a vertical relationship one has with the planner who decides whether or not one has a job.
The great irony of authoritarian marxists has always been thus. They start out critiquing capitalism, a system in which everyone is a slave to their boss or a master to their employees, and in which one generally finds oneself selling of their time on this earth by the hour — and, through some strange alchemy, the system that they propose to remedy this is one in which one still very much has a manager and in which one is still very much paid by the hour. It seems non-coincidental that these same marxists seem to hate co-operatives and other forms of workplace democracy so very much. Even when they do support workplace democracy, they always want the production targets and inputs to be externally decided — i.e., they want to take all the most important decisions about production out of the workplace.
At a later point in that paper, Cockshott presents an argument as to how it is possible to determine the labor-time incorporated into an arbitrary good. I have no particular desire to know if this is actually true, so let us assume that it is. He concludes his math by commenting:
Admittedly, the above argument says nothing about the task of gathering the vast amount of data required to implement such a calculation—an issue of which Mises and Hayek make a great deal. We do not have space to address this issue here, but we have argued elsewhere… that this should also be feasible, using an economy-wide network of cheap personal computers, running spreadsheets representing the conditions of production in each enterprise, in conjunction with a national Teletext system and a system of universal product codes.
The issue with this, of course, is that “can what is where be communicated to the proper people?” was never the question in regards to the gathering of the data. The question was always along the lines of ‘how can you incentivize people to tell the truth?’, ‘how can one keep the producers from systematically over-representing inputs and under-representing outputs so as to benefit themselves?’, ‘how can one get people to reveal their desires, rather than over-represent them?’, etc.. These were all issues within the economy of the Soviet Union, and continue to be issues even within modern-day large-scale government bureaus and corporations.
Paul Cockshott appears not to actually understand what he is arguing against.
If planned supplies and consumer demands for the individual goods happen to coincide when the goods are priced in accordance with their labour values, the system is already in equilibrium. In a dynamic economy, however, this is unlikely. If supplies and demands are unequal, the ‘marketing authority’ for consumer goods is charged with adjusting prices, with the aim of achieving (approximate) short-run balance, i.e., prices of goods in short supply are raised while prices are lowered in the case of surpluses.
Cockshott’s plan appears to be –essentially– to speed up production if there is a line for a good, and slow it down if there is not. The issue with this is, of course, these people get paid by the hour. They have no incentive to accurately report how much they are producing — and they have a clear incentive to report that there is no shortage, so as to avoid having to work harder and longer hours.
Both this passage, and the previous passage, convince me that the only way that Cockshott’s imaginary economy could work would be with a system of vast surveillance, covering every single factory (for Cockshoot imagines an economy of factories, and nothing else) in his grand “socialist” state. This could be in the form of an unelected manager in every factory — and I imagine that is what Cockshott most clearly intends, rather than some vast and ever-present surveillance system. The issue with this is that the manager has no particular incentive to give accurate information, either. Perhaps one can threaten to hire or fire a manager who is doing a bad job, but a manager mostly interacts with those underneath him and it is generally hard to get information on what he is doing. This is a problem in capitalism, too, as I have covered elsewhere.
Cockshott’s vision of socialism seems to have no resemblance to my own. He wants, in the end, a place without trans women and sex workers — a place where everyone still has a boss, but has even less choice in regards to that than they do now, and where the economy is even more inefficient than it is now. He wants a world where what goods are produced, and what technologies are investigated, is decided by state-selected experts. Given that he seems to want us to exclude gay men and immigrants on his path towards his utopia, I don’t hesitate to say that he wants these experts to be mostly white, straight, cis, and likely mostly non-religious. I should suspect that these experts will choose to produce goods and investigate technologies that keep things under their control and mostly benefit people like them. If this is the sort of “socialism” that you support, then you are certainly no comrade of mine.
All of his horrible politics seem to flow quite smoothly from his idea of what I have called, here, ‘the abstraction’ — a sort of organism composed out of all of us, that owns all of us — and, flowing out of the abstraction’s perspective, the idea of any sort of objective theory of value. After all, an objective theory of value of any sort implies some sort of objective observer. This is why I oppose so strongly what others sometimes call ‘collectivism’ (though that name may not actually be accurate) — it leads inexorably here. Say what you want about Cockshott, he is at least consistent — and thus, he reveals not just why he is garbage, but why his ideas are garbage, too.