The Nonsense of Planning

By Paul Mattick 1939


The major part of the theories of planning hitherto devised can be appraised only as literature, since their authors have refrained from touching upon the laws by which capitalist relations are governed. Their starting point was always discontent with existing conditions. They noted, as anyone may readily do, what was ably set forth by Hoover’s Research Committee on Social Trends: that society’s capacity for producing commodities is continually increasing at a more rapid rate than the purchasing power of the population, that the ratio of employment fails to keep step with the improvement of the productive machinery, and that the means of communication between nations change more rapidly than the reorganization of international relations. In brief, the rate of growth of the social forces of production is such and the forms assumed by them are such that the social relations can not be adapted to these forms, but are breaking them down. The natural conclusion, namely, that these backward relations must be swept aside, never occurs to the theoreticians of planning and can not occur to them, since they are theoreticians of planning only within the existing social relations. So they try to turn history backward and to arrest this painful growth of the social capacities, after the manner of those lovely Japanese ladies who bandage their feet in order to keep them dainty. In both cases, the actual result is simply maiming.

To the economic planners, it is a question of diminishing the productive capacity and at the same time of increasing the purchasing power. In the course of this two-fold process a time must come when the disproportion now existing between the two wall be eliminated and the way prepared for a harmonious interplay. Whatever pains the theoreticians may take to work out their theses down to the least detail, all these pretty games will be very much wasted so far as capitalism itself is concerned. To the capitalists, the problem of planning as a quite one-sided and practical matter, namely, the conversion and adaptation of their productive apparatus and of their business to the automatically contracting relations of the market and to the changes within the economic structure -as brought about through monopolization, cartellization and trustification-in order to win for themselves as much as possible of the social profit. What actual “planning” takes place would take place even without decisive modifications-even if the various brain trusts did not exist-and precisely upon the prescribed basis of the natural market tendencies under monopolistic lassez-faire. The “planning” does not change the social mechanism, but this mechanism functions today in a manner which falls in with the theories of the planners. It expanded the productivity of society in order then, on the ground of this expansion, to contract it. This capitalistic sabotage is not determined by any plans whatsoever,-the plans merely make it known-, but by the planlessness of the existing economic system. Capitalist planned economy is therefore nothing more than “planned planlessness,” or more simply stated-nonsense. With the acceptance of the present economic system as the only one for all time there can, of course, be no insight into the fact that any planning within it can only be a fanciful one; the present economic system really permits no genuine conscious economy at all. To talk of planning from the standpoint of commodity production is just as interesting as to hear a blind man lecture on van Gogh.

One thought on “The Nonsense of Planning

  1. A blind man lecturing on van Gogh could be extremely interesting. There are more ways to experience visual perception than actually seeing. Blindness might well give someone unique insight into the nature of sight and representation.

    The nonsense of planners might be better likened to that of a blind man who denies and is trying to conceal his blindness and to do so relies entirely on the platitudes he has heard most often.

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