Editors note: Discussion includes using choice of production technique in central planning, opportunity cost, labour cost, calculating environmental costs (such as GHG emissions), agent-based modelling, consumer modelling, simulation results, computational complexity, research to be done.
Philipp Dapprich is a political economist and philosopher working at the Free University Berlin. His PhD was entitled Rationality and Distribution in the Socialist Economy (2020), , and he is also co-author of a forthcoming (2022) book entitled Economic Planning in an Age of Environmental Crisis. Today we’ll be discussing his work on refining the model of economic planning first proposed by Cockshott and Cottrell in Towards a New Socialism (1993).
Philipp Dapprich, thank you very much for joining me.
[Philipp Dapprich] Thank you for having me again.
[ATO]Thefirst thing I’m going to say is I really recommend the viewers watch the previous interview, because they’re not standalone interviews. We covered a lot of important stuff last time about opportunity costs, the motivations for your work, and really if viewers want to understand what we’re talking about now they should watch that. So, I’m just going to say that once.
Today there are two main things that we want to talk about. The first is we want to get into the details of the simulations that you ran to investigate your new techniques of opportunity cost valuations in the Towards a New Socialism model.
The other thing is we want to talk about a fundamental question, a fundamental problem, in economic planning and central planning about choice of production technologies. Can you introduce the problem and how you approached it?
[PD] One approach to planning has long been to use so-called input-output tables. And input-output tables – they are commonly published even by western capitalist countries – show you which industries use inputs from which other industries, and which output, how much output, they produce with this.
And the problem with that is that these tables are generally very aggregated. So, you have entire industries, you might have something like Forestry and Agriculture, all bunched together into one column of the table. And it doesn’t differentiate between various different kinds of products within those industries. It won’t differentiate between different kinds of agricultural products, lumber, and so on. That’s the first problem: they’re way too aggregated. And what you’d have to do is to have a much more disaggregated table which differentiates between different kinds of products.
Editor’s note: discussion topics include how to handle differential pay in the Towards a New Socialism model (TNS), and whether TNS can fulfill aspirations for worker self-management.
[After The Oligarchy] Hello everybody, this is After the Oligarchy speaking to Dr. Paul Cockshott again. Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer working on computer design and teaching computer science at universities in Scotland. Named on 52 patents, his research covers robotics, computer parallelism, 3D TV, foundations of computability, and data compression. His books include Towards a New Socialism, How the World Works, Classical Econophysics, and Computation and Its Limits.
Today’s conversation is in association with meta: the Centre for Post-Capitalist Civilization. This is the third in a series of interviews with Dr. Cockshott about Towards a New Socialism. Watch the first and second interview if you haven’t already.
In Towards a New Socialism, published by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell in 1993, the authors present a bold vision of a democratically planned economy using computerized labour time. In this interview we’ll be discussing some more advanced questions about that model, so I recommend you read the book to really understand what we’re talking about.
Dr. Paul Cockshott thank you very much for joining me again.
[Paul Cockshott] Hi.
[AO] Let’s start off with a question about standardized pay grades. So, in Towards a New Socialism you write that ‘the planners would know for instance that a given project requiring 1000 person hours of average labour would only require, say, 800 person hours of grade a labour’ – how would the planners figure this out?
The context for people watching is that in TNS people are paid according to the number of hours that they work. But it’s the idea that there might be pay grades according to how strenuously people want to work, and there might be, say, tier A, tier B, and tier C. So, how would the planners figure out these pay grades?
[PC] It has to be done in terms of physical or realized productivity of individual people. Some people can just work faster than others. However, this is not a property of a trade or profession. It’s not that some trades or professions are higher grade than others, it’s a difference in productivity within any trade. Some people are just faster workers in a trade.
Now, for planning purposes it’s unlikely this would be relevant except in very special circumstances, where for some reason the number of people that could be employed on the project was limited and the project was of high priority and therefore within each trade that was going to be involved they might want to have the best workers working on it. If it was some project of major national importance and you couldn’t just assign more workers to it, then under those circumstances, and they’re very limited circumstances, it might be worth planners knowing these things.
But they would be exceptional really, because in most circumstances, within any work team, you’ll get some people who are more productive and some people who are less productive. And Marx says that once you get around twelve – I think he says it is – in a work team the difference is evened out and work teams above a certain size all count just as average labour. So for it to be significant you’re talking about a circumstance where you you’ve got a small number of people where they can’t add more to them and they need to be highly productive. Like astronauts going to the moon or something like that.
[AO] Is there not another dimension as well to this, in terms of motivational efficiency? There’s a discussion in the book that perhaps it might be required to pay people slightly differently depending on how hard they want to work.
Well it depends on what the method of pay or measuring work is. If you are in some branch of labour where the work can be physically measured in some way, and you can then establish a norm what the average is, then people would get paid more if they exceed the norm, paid less if they fall short of the norm. And this this was standard practice in socialist countries where they had what they called payment according to labour.
I mean I was surprised, I remember, in the late 70s, early 80s, to be visiting Bulgaria and finding that university lecturers were paid according to norms where they got a higher rate of pay according to how many pages of lecture notes they prepared and things like that. Areas which here are not graded in terms of productivity can be graded in terms of productivity, which is not the same thing as what’s done here where people are paid for seniority, prestige, etc.
It was based on actual measured outputs so if it’s reckoned that in a 40-hour week someone can, the average person can, do a certain amount, if somebody is able to do 10 percent more than that in a 40-hour week and another person 10 percent less, then provided across the work team averages out there’s no reason why the person who’s more productive can’t be credited with more and the person who’s less productive can’t be credited with less.
But since what you are trying to measure is two objective things, actual productivity and human time, you have to have a proper conservation principle of human time. You can’t start paying more than the actual number of hours that everyone worked. And since it’s a relative measure of productivity in a particular trade, in a particular branch of that trade, then it has to be something that’s decided by the people collectively in the group that are undertaking the task. that some people are doing more than their fair share and should be rewarded.
But that does depend on it being agreed collectively. And it does depend on the average adding up because you can’t have a situation where your calculation becomes detached from reality. You don’t want to have an inflation of the notional labour credit so that more labour credits are being handed out than actual hours that are working being worked.