Book Review: Paul Cockshott
Red Plenty;A Road Not Taken – Cybernetic Socialism in the USSR
Blog Ref http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Transfinancial_Economics
* The turnover tax was, I think, calculated on the basis of total turnover not just wages, as such it was similar to the fixed percent markup Marx posited for prices of production. Given that due to subsidies, wages underestimated the real value of labour power, this sort of markup would mean that the deviation of prices from labor value would actually have been bigger than under capitalism. To have furthered Khrushchev’s avowed aim of communism, Kantrovich would have had to propose egalitarian pay rates and a shift in state finance from turnover taxes to income taxes, before prices could be rationalised. Spufford gives greatest emphasis to the policies of those around Kantorovich and Nemchinov, who were advocating price reforms as part of a programme to allow optimal operation of the economy. Kantorovich argued that these prices - objectively determined valuations - arose out of the objective technical structure of the economy. If actual prices corresponded to objectively determined values, then the signals that these prices provided would guide individual factories to produce in accordance to what the plan needed. There is of course a strong similarity between this argument and that put forward by Western economists about the role of prices in guiding resource allocation in a market economy. It is probably no accident then that Kantorovich was the only Soviet economist to get a Nobel Prize for economics. But there was a fatal paradox in this whole notion, one that Spufford brought out in a meeting between Kosygin and a leading reformer: how were these optimal prices to be calculated? The maths was well understood, but the technical problems of handling that much data with 1960s computers were vast. And if Gosplan could concentrate the information and could have done the computations, then the indicative prices would have been unneccessary - the whole process of calculation could have been done in-natura with the Objective Valuations only having a fleeting existence as coefficients within the matrices of the planning computers. So the programme of Kantorovich ended up requiring the same level of computing resources as that of his rival cyberneticist Victor Gluschov who apparently advocated the complete abolition of money - something superficially closer to Krushchev's vision of communism. In this context it is worth reading InterNyet: why the Soviet Union did not build a nationwide computer network by Slava Gerovitch. It would have been interesting had Gluschov appeared as a character in the book, rather than just as someone who is refered to indirectly. In the afterword it becomes clear why Gluschov remains such a shadowy figure to Spufford. Spufford reveals that he relied entirely on English language sources. What he knew of Gluschov came from Gerovitch’s brief account. All in all, let me say again, this is a book that should be read by anyone with a serious interest in economic alternatives.
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