Mutual Exchange is the Center for a Stateless Society’s effort to achieve mutual understanding through dialogue.
In this fecund moment of global political collapse and upheaval, amidst pandemics and police repression, there are also seeds of a better world being planted. It is in this spirit that we open this Summer Mutual Exchange on Decentralization and Economic Coordination as an offering to these visions and practices. Most critically, we ask “How can we create a radically free and equitable society that provides for the needs of all sentient beings?“.
To engage with the nitty gritty of this question requires dialogue about the nature of economic coordination in lieu of authoritarian centralism. From this question a great plethora of answers and tendencies have emerged such as proponents of participatory economics (Parecon), p2p advocates, anarcho-communists and other social anarchists, libertarians, left-libertarians, mutualists, social ecologists, geo-libertarians, and much more. From a shared desire for this utopian society, it is worth opening up this discussion in ways that will overcome inadequate exploration in the past thanks to the academic focus on inter state-capitalist imperialist rivalries.
It has been sufficiently established that even in lieu of capitalist economic blockades and internal counter-Bolshevik revolts (both fascist and radical), authoritarian central planning is both untenable and undesirable. The style of massively centralized economic planning utilized in the Soviet Union faced inordinate and inherent problems of complexity, coordination, and political repression. Debate around these issues has often occurred in the context of “knowledge” and “coordination problems” and usually took place between Austrian capitalists, Langean market socialists, state-socialists, and neoclassical economists since the original Austrian critiques.
However, during and since this period a wide range of anti-authoritarian and much more decentralized tendencies have also been propagating their own critiques of Soviet and capitalist economics. These theories accompany movements that are putting them into practice, drawing from long-standing horizontalist traditions. For those that never believed in the totally centralized vision of a command economy, different questions arise. Some of these are:
- How much can a society economically plan?
- What is required in order to plan anything?
- How much decentralization is needed?
- Can a decentralized and horizontal society exist without mediums of exchange?
- If so, what limits on scale and complexity does that create?
- If mediums of exchange are necessary, what risks are inherent to their utilization?
- Are there mathematical and computational limits to what can be planned?
- Will advancements in technology help us circumvent the limits facing Soviet or even more decentralized planners?
In order to constrain the scope of the exchange, participants were encouraged to limit these discussions to shared areas of interest. Some of these general themes are:
- How does your proposal ensure that there is not formal or informal runaway power accumulation resulting in various forms of domination (both social and economic)?
- How does your proposal concretely eliminate or utilize rivalrous conditions to facilitate economic coordination?
- How do you ensure that preferences and supply availability are accurately reflected in production?
Through this symposium we hope to help chart a more nuanced path forward and expose the tensions inherent in these difficult topics in service to the radically free and nurturing society which we are all trying to cultivate.
New articles will be posted every Monday and Thursday. After the lead essays, there will be an opportunity for responses to be written. If you have questions or would like to submit a late response or essay please contact email@example.com.
Beneath essays list are some other resources we have compiled on the topic to help show the breadth and tensions of the discussion on these themes.
- Decentralized Economic Coordination: Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, Kevin Carson
- Mathematical Optimization and the Economic Calculation Problem, Rai Ling
- Social Anarchism and Parallel Computation, Emmi Bevensee
- The Problem of Scale in Anarchism and the Case for Cybernetic Communism, Aurora Apolito
Articles on C4SS
- “Economic Calculation,” “Strong Property Rights,” and Other Lies Koch-Funded Libertarian Commentators Told Me, Kevin Carson
- Anarchist Themes in the Work of Elinor Ostrom, Kevin Carson
- The Last Person in the Room Must Close the Door: Hayek in the Age of Computing, Jocheved Matt
- The History of an Idea: Or How an Argument Against the Workability of Authoritarian Socialism became an Argument against Authoritarian Capitalism, Roderick T. Long
- The Knowledge Problem of Privilege, Nathan Goodman
- Anarchist Ends, Market Means, Emmi Bevensee
- Review: The People’s Republic of Walmart, Frank Miroslav
- The Economic Bandwidth Problem, Frank Miroslav
- Revealed Preference: A Parable, William Gillis
- The Organic Emergence of Property from Reputation, William Gillis
Knowledge and Coordination Problems
- The Use of Knowledge in Society, FA Hayek
- In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You!, Cosma Shalizi, Crooked Timber
- Computability and Economic Planning, Ionela Bălţătescu, Petre Prisecaru, Kybernetes
- Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory, Desktop Regulatory State, Studies In a Mutualist Political Economy, and this article on how corporations are centrally planned economies.
- Rivalry and Central Planning, National Economic Planning: What is Left? Lavoie
- Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, Mises
- Marxism and Workers Self-Management, Producer Cooperatives and Labor Managed Systems, (links are to snippets not full books), Prytchiko
- Expanding the Anarchist Range, Prytchiko
Criticisms of Standard Market Interpretations of Economic Coordination
- The Mirage of An Economics of Knowledge, Mirowski
- The Centrally Planned Economy, Hayek, and the Red Spot of Jupiter
- More Flim-Flam from the Austrians about Cantor, Cockshott
- Socialist Calculation: The Computer Engineering Problem, Cockshott
- Calculation, Complexity, and Planning: The Socialist Calculation Debate Once Again, Cottrell and Cockshott
- Langean Market Socialism Wiki
- “An Anarchist Case Against Markets” thread on r/DebateAnarchism
- The Economic Calculation Controversy: Unraveling of a myth, Cox
- The Computer and the Market, Lange
- Anarchist Review of Democracy and Economic Planning by Pat Devine
- Universal Capitalism or Regional Planning, Polanyi
- What economic agents do: How cognition and interaction lead to emergence and complexity by Robert Axtell
Non- Market Approaches to Economic Coordination
- Parecon or Libertarian-Communism, Libcom and Project for a Participatory Society
- Participatory Planning Through Negotiated Coordination, Pat Devine
- Parecon Introductory Resources
- Participatory Planning in Parecon
- Social Ecology and Parecon Debates, Peter Staudenmaier
- Wiki on Decentralized Planning
- The Accumulation of Freedom: Writings on Anarchist Economics (particularly section 4 and 6)
- Anarchism and Worker’s Self Management in Revolutionary Spain (full pdf not found), Frank Mintz
- Worker-Self Management in Revolutionary Spain, Dolgoff
- The Anarchist Collectives
- Angel Economics: Non-monetary coordination, anonymous
- VIAAC Wiki, Ryan Salisbury, Pieter DeBeer
- OpenHumanity, ixnaum
- On the Invisible Hand of Communism, Mark Hoskins
- Provision and Production without Markets: A Primer on Priority Theory of Value, Ryan Salisbury
- Mutual Aid Emergency Response Network
Mutual Exchange is C4SS’s goal in two senses: We favor a society rooted in peaceful, voluntary cooperation, and we seek to foster understanding through ongoing dialogue. Mutual Exchange will provide opportunities for conversation about issues that matter to C4SS’s audience.
Online symposiums will include essays by a diverse range of writers presenting and debating their views on a variety of interrelated and overlapping topics, tied together by the overarching monthly theme. C4SS is extremely interested in feedback from our readers. Suggestions and comments are enthusiastically encouraged. If you’re interested in proposing topics and/or authors for our program to pursue, or if you’re interested in participating yourself, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.