The “Inevitability” of Planning

Hayek

There was an argument for the inevitability of planning for example technological change bringing about the existence of natural monopolies, consequently requiring government planning as to some extent the lesser evil than production by private monopolies.

Hayek breaks down this argument once more by considering social infrastructure and existing policies. He asks the question whether the development of natural monopolies is a consequence of new technology, or more simply the economic conditions in which they operate. Hayek argues that the latter is true. He uses the breakdown of the following example:

A large firm having superiority over a small firm, due to technological change may result in greater economies of scale, and an as such lower cost per unit produced and thus begins a process of underbidding and driving out small firms in order to increase market share.

Now at first glance the argument stated above is reasonable, but Hayek notes how this is not the case from a congressional report by the temporary national economic committee in that it states:

“The superior efficiency of large establishments has not been demonstrated; the advantages that are supposed to destroy competition have failed to manifest themselves in many fields. Nor do the economies of size, where they exist, invariably necessitate monopoly.”

This leads Hayek on to argue that it was the policies within countries which facilitated the growth of monopolies, which would then drive out smaller firms. He takes the creation of cartels, and syndications as a consequence of governments seeking regulation in prices and sales as the factor that led to the growth of large monopolies. This goes back to his overarching argument of travelling down one road completely or not at all, as there is greater flaw in attempting a mixture. Then going on to state that “monopoly capitalism” became acceptable even more so as countries such as the United States erected protectionist policies and pursued semi-isolation. He uses the example of Great Britain in stating that planning is not inevitable, in that yet again policy had promoted the growth of natural monopolies. He notes that the British system had been extremely competitive up until 1931 where similar to America protectionist policies arose, and economic planning was introduced and thus monopolies came about. Not of technological change, but the actual structure of the economic system.

He then delves into another segment where planning is not inevitable. Arguing against those who make the assertion that the complexity of modern industrial civilisation creates the need for central planning otherwise we cannot combat its problems effectively. They additionally state that it is increasingly difficult to obtain a coherent picture of economic process, thus things should be coordinated or else dissolve into chaos.

Hayek breaks this down by simply stating that if conditions were simple enough for one person or board to have perfect information then planning works, but as they note in their own argument there is this existing complexity where it is increasingly difficult to attain this information. Thus Hayek argues that decentralisation becomes imperative, as then there is the coordination between separate agencies to bring about “mutual adjustment”. Furthermore, he states that “nobody can consciously balance all the considerations bearing on the decisions of so many individuals.” Thus he arrives at the price system and how it operates without the need for recording every single change in information by a central body. It also allows for the greater complexity in our system which helps the growth of the industrial system and that planning ultimately stifles it.

It is here that he comes to point which is of particular interest to me, he writes about how technological change can be stifled in order to maintain the status quo. For example the industrial revolution promised to enhance the productivity of labour; however it came at the cost of employment for many people. So here arises the argument for the need of central planning to efficiently create the change over such that the short term loss does not override the short term gain. To this Hayek states that planning is not needed as either the short term loss can be accepted, or the change can be delayed up until the necessary infrastructure or policy is erected to minimise any loss.

Specialisation & the Allure of Planning

Hayek states there are many good things, which all agree are highly desirable, and possible, that are difficult to achieve within our own lifetime. This develops the allure of planning in that it seems possible to circumvent the barrier that is time, collective action leading to the achievement of these goals.

He then brings this into regards of specialists (technocrats) in that a planned society seems to offer a route to achieving their objectives. He states that this is an illusion and a misdirection of resources, in that the specialist will obviously place greater importance on his aims then others. Hayek uses a nice example to illustrate this:

“The lover of the country-side who wants above all that its traditional appearance should be preserved and that the blots already made by industry on its fair face should be removed, no less than the health enthusiast who wants all the picturesque but insanitary old cottages clear away, or the motorist who wishes the country cut up by big motor roads, the efficiency fanatic who desires the maximum of specialisation and mechanisation no less than the idealist who for the development of personality wants to preserve as many independent craftsmen as possible.”

However, they all have a wish to go about this planning and therefore they will ultimately come into conflict with each other. As such this brings about the central issue, that not everyone can be pleased. It’s attractive to those who have devoted their lives to a single task and want to see it done universally. But practically this cannot occur, also defining to some extent the authoritarian nature of central planning, only one direction can be pursued and thus not everyone will be pleased.

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10 Terms to Know For Microeconomics

Production Possibility Frontier (PPF):

A production possibility frontier represents where resources can be allocated to produce certain amounts of a good in comparison to another good. It represents the choice the market has in production between two different goods, limited by the factor that certain resources are scarce.

Unemployment:

When there is surplus of labour which does not get utilised by the market. There are two manners in which to define unemployment. The first being the classic definition which states that if the price of employment increases above equilibrium there is more labour supplied but less demand. The second definition is “cyclical unemployment” where there is not enough aggregate demand in the economy to provide jobs for everyone who wants to work.

Infrastructure:

Infrastructure is the physical structures that are required for the operation of society and enterprise; it provides the means for an economy to function.

Supply:

Supply is the total amount of a good or service available for consumption at a given price at a certain moment in time.  The basis of the law of supply which states that as the price of good or service increases, the quantity supplied also increases.

Demand:

Demand is a consumer’s desire and willingness to purchase a good or service at a given price at a certain moment in time. The basis of the law of demand which states that as the price of a good or services decreases, the quantity demanded increases.

Market Failure:

Market Failure is when there is the inefficient allocation of resources, the existence of a negative externality on either the consumption or production of a good or service, and the existence of a monopoly power.

Externality:

An effect to a third party which was not accounted for in the price of the original transaction of the good, this can be either positive or negative.

Consumer & Producer Surplus:

Consumer surplus is where a consumer was willing to pay a price above equilibrium but only had to pay the equilibrium price, and producer surplus is where a producer was willing to produce at a price below equilibrium but was able to sell their good at equilibrium price.  Represented by the graph below:

P7 - Social Surplus

Public Good:

A public good is typically provided by the government, and it is meant to be non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Meaning that anyone can have access to it, you do not directly pay for it, and one person using it does not affect your usage of it. Some examples are street lighting, beaches, benches, and air.

Indirect Tax:

An indirect tax is paid through the consumption of good or services, whereas a direct tax is on your income. Examples of indirect taxes are Value Added Tax, Sales Tax, and Excise Tax. They provide a source of government income, and are a manner in which a negative externality can be resolved.

Command Economy Vs. Free Market (Round 1)

Winter Is Coming, and The Soviet Cupboard Is Bare

http://www.businessweek.com/stories/1991-11-03/winter-is-coming-and-the-soviet-cupboard-is-bare

International Business

WINTER IS COMING, AND THE SOVIET CUPBOARD IS BARE

Tensions are running high at Moscow’s sprawling Gastronom food store near Byelorussia Railway Station. With coupons ready, two dozen people are lined up at the counter to get sugar rations they were supposed to have had three months ago. Management claims there’s no sugar–but it turns out that 20 sacks of sugar have been hidden in the back. For hours, the angry crowd refuses to leave, forcing police to clear the store when closing time comes at 8 p.m.

As winter approaches, such scenes are becoming common. The question being asked in capitals from Brussels to Washington is: How bad will it get in the former Soviet Union? Mass starvation is unlikely. But a combination of poor harvests and breakdowns in food distribution will mean pockets of serious shortages throughout the country. The repercussions are being felt on world commodity markets. Plans are afoot for the U. S. to extend $1 billion in emergency food credits and aid, prompting American grain prices to shoot up.

Across the Soviet Union, cities loom as the most vulnerable spots. Perm, an industrial town in the Urals, already witnessed major protests when sugar supplies dried up. In Moscow, frustrated tipplers ransacked a liquor outlet that had no vodka. In Alma Ata and St. Petersburg, bread is running short. Most at risk are retirees, who struggle along on pensions of 140 rubles a month and can’t afford the plentiful but expensive food in private markets.

The biggest immediate threat is a poor grain harvest, which many expect to come in at 170 million metric tons–down 22% from last year. Of that amount, about 70 million metric tons were to have been sold to state distribution agencies run by Moscow. But in the aftermath of August’s failed coup, central authority has all but evaporated, allowing state and collective farms to sell what they please. By Oct. 1, they had sold only 35.4 million metric tons to the government.

The rest is being hoarded by farmers in hopes of selling it privately later at higher prices. Since spring, for example, grain prices have jumped from 900 rubles to 2,000 rubles a ton. And with the ruble losing value by the day, farmers are using grain to barter for consumer goods, cement, or other items they need.

Yet state and collective farms do not have adequate storage facilities and may face big grain losses, as Vladimir A. Tikhonov, a Soviet agricultural expert, told an Oct. 18 conference at the Geonomics Institute of Vermont’s Middlebury College. The resulting shortages could touch off food riots by spring, he says.

RUMBLING BELLIES. In Russia, the most populous republic, food supplies are tight. Meat purchases for the first nine months of the year were down 20%, and dairy sales sank 15%. In more than 50 Russian cities, meat, butter, and vodka are being rationed.

Finding additional supplies will be difficult. Now that they’ve declared their independence, such food-producing republics as Moldavia, the Baltic states, the Ukraine, and Kazakhstan are reluctant to ship food to Russia, since they want to feed their own people first. Russian cities in the heavily industrial Urals region, for example, used to get livestock from the Baltic states. But shipments have fallen off dramatically. The republics are supposed to adhere to their commitments to sell food or pay penalties in hard currency. But, says Tikhonov, “a period has come when no agreements can be relied upon.”

Western countries, fearful of the chaos that food shortages could spawn, are gearing up with emergency plans. The U. S., Japan, the European Community, and Saudi Arabia have earmarked $10 billion in aid and credits primarily for food. But last year, when the situation was less than dire, the Soviets cried wolf: Much of the emergency food aid sent by the West ended up wasted or absorbed by the black market. The question now is figuring out how to send help when it’s really needed–and before it’s too late. Rose Brady in Moscow and Peter Galuszka in Middlebury, Vt.

Questions:

How is the basic economic problem being handled by the use of coupons? Why might this be less successful than money?

The coupons are in a way a different form of currency for the people and businesses, since the coupon is being exchanged directly for a given product. Through the use of coupons there is the elimination of opportunity cost, as a coupon only entitles you to one given product. The reason this may be less successful than money is because the value of the product may increase as there is a shortage of supply, but a coupon entitles the person to the same amount of the product as before. This encourages those with the product to hoard it and sell it on the black market for immediate monetary gains and a greater profit then would have been received if the coupons were taken.

Suggest reasons why there may be a shortage of sugar?

  • The main reason there is a shortage of sugar is because the producers are hoarding the sugar. There are two markets in existence the black market and the coupon market. The producers rather sell in the black market to increase profit rather than sell in the coupon market, therefore the creation of shortage.
  • Another possible reason is that product is being used to barter for other product, this direct trade skips the use of coupons or the black market therefore not establishing a supply.
  • The final reason for a drop in supply would be the independence of former Soviet Union states not exporting their product

Use demand and supply diagram to explain why there is a shortage of some foodstuff.

Use a demand and supply diagram to demonstrate the surge in the price of food.

Does the article demonstrate the failing of the command or free market based solutions to the basic economic problem?

To an extent the article highlights what occurs when there is an economic transition from one system to another. The main issue that the article highlights is the undermining of the command economy system with the use of the black market. In essence the black market is a free market without regulation but with similar aspects such as equilibrium and price signals. The article mentions an immediate threat with the poor grain harvest, and the resulting surge in prices; this is not entirely an issue that only a command economy would face but also a free market economy. An example of this occurring in free markets can be noticed often when there is scarcity of a resource, what a command economy attempts to do by rationing is to reduce the issue of scarcity.

What can be noted about the transitioning economy is the behaviour of the sellers of commodities. Since there is no longer the regulation forcing them to give their produce to the government they are free to do with it as they like. So immediately they go for the short-term positive personal gain, rather than thinking about the greater community. This is why the black market prospers at this time, because the profit margin for selling in the black market is much greater than the margin in the transitioning economy; this relates back to the issue of the coupons.