The Guardian • Issue #2089

OP-ED

We need economic planning now

Economic planning? Seriously? In 2024?

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2089
comic

Why mention planning now? In mainstream media it’s a non-issue. Nowadays the word “planning,” if it gets used, brings mostly negative connotations. Planning leads to ‘rigidity.’ We don’t need planning, we need ‘flexibility.’

But it’s not completely nuts to speak of it. In a sense we’ve already had some degree of economic planning. Right here in Australia, certain things have been built using plans; railway lines, towns, cities. In fact, some degree of planning is essential for our collective existence. Not all of it’s good, not all of it very forward-thinking. If you’ve seen the ABC satire Utopia you’ll know what I mean.

Since the partial collapse of twentieth-century socialism and the financialisation of the globe in the 1990s, the dogma that forward-thinking economic planning only leads to economic stagnation, that it didn’t work and it’ll never work, that it was rigid and inflexible took root. It’s not true. Economic planning did often work. When done well, and done scientifically, planning worked better than monopoly capitalism. It brought real benefits.

Not only is economic planning a good idea, we need socialist economic planning now before it’s too late. We need high-quality economic plans to save us from our current predicament.

What we have now is too much chaos and not enough order, no direction and no big-picture thinking.

If we’re to tackle climate change, for instance, we need plans, gigantic plans, both government planning and cooperation between governments. To get high-speed rail we’ll need planning. To build enough houses we’ll need planning. It’s foolish to think private capital will do all this work by itself.

Economic planning is not just an option, for the future. I argue it will be a necessity, but nobody talks about it, even on the left.

What level of economic planning do we have in Australia currently? Almost none. We’ve got plenty of ‘policies’ but no plans. Take housing. The CFMEU construction union reports that we’ll soon be short of a million houses (see their End the Housing Crisis campaign). Everyone agrees we’ve got a major problem with housing, but the way development works is chaotic. Developers buy up land from corrupt local councils with no commitment to people. They then commission the building of whole estates with heat-absorbing black roofs, squashed together to squeeze as much money out of the land as possible, taking mega profits. Then once this is all done, if it gets done, Westfield moves in, and voilà! That’s development! Only there’s no buses or trains and no transport, no community square, no town street, and no trees. Just a Maccas. Whoops!

Is this the best we can do?

Economic planning means oversight of the whole process: how an economy can be truly built by and for workers, for people and for communities, for the next generation of families, for the youth, for the future, for the environment, and for a healthy and harmonious society.

We’re so far off from it we’ve forgotten that another way of doing things is possible.

Economic planning is creativity. It’s about overcoming capitalism in stages. It’s about exploring the socialist path, putting workers first by making work meaningful, by making work part of a larger plan. Economic planning even goes beyond nationalisation; we can create pioneering state-owned enterprises in areas Australia needs, like green energy, high-speed rail, electric vehicles, public housing construction. We can lay the groundwork for reducing our reliance upon unpredictable markets. We can abolish bad markets, regulate volatile markets, and create new ones in areas that benefit people. We have better scientific, administrative and technical abilities than ever before. We can do it more efficiently than ever before. We can use the market as a measuring rod for demand without letting the anarchy of capitalism run riot. We can encourage domestic circulation and production. We can ensure housing is constructed in an orderly manner with amenities, provisions, transport, spaces for cultural nourishment. We can plan ahead and plan well.

The only problem is that we have a government sold to the bourgeois class and commanded by the bourgeois class. Labor governments have given up on long-term planning, and we’re paying the price. Under a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie there can be no planning for the future. Their interest is simply short-term profit. The anarchy of capitalist development suits them well.

For long-term planning we need socialism. Modern communists advocate a visible hand of the people grasping the levers of the state, a visible hand that commands the so-called “invisible hand” of the market. Modern communists have learned a lot both by reflecting on our past and learning from the successes of China and other socialist countries. Socialism takes time, it develops in stages, but you can’t have it unless you’re on the path. People-centred, long-term planning is the only way out of this mess and it’s something the best Communist and Workers’ Parties of the world know a lot about.

If you agree that our system is broken, that its flaws have been exposed, then you’ll agree also that we can’t just run away and hope for the best. We have to analyse our problems, confront the failures of our system. We have to seek truth from facts. The facts tell us that having no plan makes no sense.

Let’s ask our governments a very simple question: what’s your plan?

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