Why We Need Planned Economies

The Ninth Wave sailing, Shanghai, by Cai Guo-Qiang 蔡国强

The big argument against planned economies is that they don’t work, but that’s not true. The evidence is that they had shitty consumer products, but that ignores the value of public goods. Let’s look at this argument and the evidence in turn, then let’s look at the verdict that the Earth itself has pronounced.

If my examples from the NBA, New York rappers, and COVID-19 don’t convince you that Capitalism is a planetary con, then just take the planet’s temperature, or hell, take the temperature of millions of people dying of plague right now. Either we plan our way into this, or we’re planning to fail. This isn’t theoretical anymore.

The Argument: Planned Economies Don’t Work

A 2011 paper by Cereseto and Waitzkin “compared capitalist and socialist countries in measures of the physical quality of life (PQL), taking into account the level of economic development.” The results: “In 28 of 30 comparisons between countries at similar levels of economic development, socialist countries showed more favorable PQL outcomes.”

Economic Development, Political-Economic System, and the Physical Quality of Life, Shirley Cereseto and Howard Waitzkin

To some degree this is obvious. Socialist countries invest in more social outcomes (public goods) while Capitalist countries invest in more capitalist ones (private goods). You get what you pay for.

To a tragic degree, however, this isn’t obvious, because public goods are boring and invisible whereas consumption is literally conspicuous. If a health system or public housing is working nobody notices, but if an expensive drug or baller house is created, everyone does. And so Capitalism looks like it works better, even though it sucks.