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October 21, 2007


Nicholas DeGroot

Scott presents four conditions of central planning failure: first, the abstraction and simplification of the environment and society; second, a stubborn and unwavering reliance on narrowly defined science, as decreed by elite intelligentsia, to achieve numerical progress; third, all this backed by the lethal authority of the state; and lastly, the object of these conditions apply to an incapacitated unresisting public.

Through examples such as the “Walsterben,” “dekulakization,” “compulsory villageization,” and the “biological arms race” Scott demonstrates that the consequences of the failure of high modernism carry a heavy price. In order to achieve more efficient taxation, surplus management, central control, regularization of profits, and export production, governments have been willing to sacrifice a lot. Scott attributes the longevity of some such planning fiascos to be a result of adaptable citizens, rather than success of the planning. Instead, the legacy of poorly achieved central planning will be a sum loss of diversity, ecological damage, impoverisation, political oppression and brutal violence.

Scott suggests that there is a way out of the central planning trap. Indeed, his labeling of this period, centered in the twentieth century, as high modernism is an allusion to the idea that we are now in a post-modern age. At the time of publishing, in 1998, with the explosion in the computer and technology industries as a crown achievement since the end of the cold war, the world seems to have learned its lessons. Scott suggests that the best chance to avoid the pitfalls associated with any necessary government intervention is to take the deeply agnostic approach of Political Economy. The system is complex, inscrutable, non-conforming and limited by social democratic forces. The government and organizations in general should be “multi functional, plastic, diverse, and adaptable” (353). The efforts of planners should be aimed at enhancing the lives of free thinking people by facilitating the sharing and utilization of their own accumulated local expertise.

It seems like Bush didn’t quite understand the message behind Scott’s book when he went into Iraq. So much for our post modern days….

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