STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
C4SS Mutual Exchange Symposium: Decentralization and Economic Coordination
Illustration by a friend of C4SS.

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?”

Read the full exchange here.

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 editor@c4ss.org.

The essays below the exchange list offer some other resources that we have compiled on the topic to help show the breadth and tensions of the discussion on these themes.


Lead Essays

Reply Essays


Background Readings

Articles on C4SS

Knowledge and Coordination Problems

Criticisms of Standard Market Interpretations of Economic Coordination

Non- Market Approaches to Economic Coordination

 


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 editor@c4ss.org or emmibevensee@email.arizona.edu.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory