Markets and planners

I finished reading True Stories, a book of essays by the wonderful Francis Spufford. Mostly they are definitely not about economics but there is one essay about his terrific book Red Plenty. If you haven’t read Red Plenty, do so – borrow or buy it now! It’s a wonderful read. And for an economist there is the spine-tingling excitement of having the formal equivalence of a general competitive equilibrium and a perfectly centrally-planned economy embedded in brilliant work of fiction. If you don’t believe me, read Cosma Shalizi saying the same thing at some length, in In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You.

And by the way, True Stories and pretty much any other book by Francis Spufford are well worth reading too. Great writer.

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One thought on “Markets and planners

  1. I completely agree, Francis Spufford is a great author. I was lucky enough to have Red Plenty signed by him recently.

    Cosma’s article is excellent, but he just gets to the same question that bugs me: what problem is central planning meant to solve?

    Yes, there are problems with markets.

    Gross inequality. But the solution to that requires redistribution alongside the allocation method solved by markets/planning.

    Alienation. But as Cosma says, whatever method we use to coordinate our decisions with others (markets/democracy/planning), we will always feel that other’s choices are imposed on us and are alien to us. This is as true as bad policy coming out of democracy than of capitalism.

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