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Cybersyn and Allende’s Semi-Automated Luxury Socialism (scottlocklin.wordpress.com)
94 points by jashkenas 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments

Cybersyn is great. It highlights the problem of applying cybernetics (systems theory) into a system with many unknowns. Economics as a whole is not a controlled environment like factory where systems theory can be successfully.

More modern approach with more success is mechanism design (reverse game theory). Design games that yield results even when you know very little about the players.

The Nobel Prize: What is mechanism design and why does it matter for policy-making? https://voxeu.org/article/nobel-prize-what-mechanism-design-...

>Mechanism design theory is a major breakthrough in the modern economic analysis of institutions and markets. It revolutionalised the way economists think about optimal institutions and regulation when governments don't “know it all.” It has had a major impact on current policy-making and will continue to do so in the future.

SAGE also didn’t have any goofy fake control panels with a place to put your liquor

No, but the Weapons Director Console incorporated an ashtray and cigarette lighter on the left side.

I would hope the Weapons Director Console would have had a fake liquor panel with a dual custody lock as a final provision for the doomsday scenario.

You can get a PDF copy of Ashby's book "Introduction to Cybernetics" from this site: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/ASHBBOOK.html I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in the subject.

DNS doesn't seem to resolve. Wayback to the rescue.


The author is missing the point pretty hard AFAICT.

> In fact, factory managers ended up routing around the central command center and teletype process by calling up other factory managers and working out potential supply issues.

That's by design. The idea was to run the whole economy like what we'd call agile now. Horizontal communication was a huge part in contrast to the Soviet socialist experiments and the central control was more about figuring out cross unit issues sort of like a Scrum of Scrums.

It was exactly that embracing of horizontal communication in a socialist economy that had the CIA scared. Their own communications talked about not being able to tolerate a "successful socialist experiment".

I always thought ERP is basically applied “cybernetics”

Also a big problem with a system like this, in the 20th century socialist states, is that the input data would have been complete bullshit. That was one of the issues the soviet gosplan ran up against during the final days. Everyone was lying about their production numbers so the data was useless, whether in a fancy computer system or not.

As I've observed, ERP systems also require factories talking to one another on the phone, to work out production plans and schedules. I worked for a company that supplied parts to customers with ERP systems, and their systems generated boom-bust cycles. We took care of them by making our own estimate of how much each customer needed per month, and keeping a bit of inventory cushion.

That's certainly true of the Soviet case (the fear instilled by the Stalin years left everyone lying constantly just to avoid the bullet), but Chile was very different. The whole project was to build a genuinely inclusive and worker-led democracy. And they got pretty far with it too, considering they were under economic blockade. We don't get to find out how the story would have ended because the Yanks decided to do a fascist coup and kill everyone.

Well, not everyone. Some people were allowed to live so that an unprecedented era of prosperity unmatched by any other country in Latin America could be ushered in.

The "Miracle of Chile" is pretty greatly overstated. Their GDP per capita didn't beat Latin american average until 1990, they've never beat unemplyment rates for Latin America as a whole, etc. They were also subject to much greater recessions relatively when recessions happened across Latin America.

IMO so much of the positives can be attributed to the CIA stopping their policy of "make their economy scream".

So prosperous that raising the price of public transit by a few dollars has led to widespread protests.

Are we comparing it to Canada or something? Then you're right, it's not that close. Or are we comparing it to the lands of triumphant Salvador Allendes, like Venezuela? No successful coup took place there, and I hear the transit is downright free in Caracas these days.

unprecedented prosperity for like, 20 people. The millions of other people definitely haven't enjoyed anything but immense poverty and misery since the Pinochet coup the implementation of the neoliberal wet dream.

I'm gonna take a wild guess and say you haven't traveled around Latin America much and have never been to Chile, and seen the dramatic difference?

What's the dramatic difference? It's like USA, worst quality of life, inequality and a bunch of idiots whom for decades stole from workers and avoided taxes, and try to sell that "model" to the rest of the world.

Yes, it's so good that Chileans come to the universities in my country, Argentina, and many work here. And we're happy to help them, because Neoliberalism took their opportunities and their future.

... In which most people didn’t reap benefits, as the current protests show.

Almost two months of protests. Now protests in Colombia. Protests in Bolivia against the regime that USA and Israel put there.

Israel is deeply invested in Bolivia?

It appears that way from the outside, bit it's hard to say for sure.

Morales cut ties in response to Israeli actions in Gaza, cutting Israel off from Bolivia's lithium deposits. And now one of the first things the new government has done is reestablish ties, even before getting a lot of their interim government together.

>Mind you the Chilean government was being starved of dollars at the time as a form of colonial pressure, just as the Venezuelan government is now in 2019. The results were hilarious.

Yes, a coup, a dictatorship and tens of thousands tortured and executed, haha.

The whole TFA screams of facile dismissal and cheap comic shots (people smoked on airplanes at the times and well into the 80s even in the US, so there is nothing to strike as funny about having ashtrays on the chairs in everybody that wasn't born yesterday and only remembers a world after the smoking ban/decline).

Yes, it was just a fancy control room inspired by sci-fi and wanting to look futuristic, no, they didn't think they were running the Enterprise.

And their failures were more largely attributed to foreign influence, blatant sabotage and sponsored subversion, and diplomatic pressure, than their economics approach or the design of the room. They might have failed economically too, but not for being communist. They were just more socialist than it was acceptable / allowed for a Banana Republic in Latin America at the time (or now). Similar measures in sovereign countries in Europe wouldn't bat an eye...

I felt bad when I read that too. I think foreigners don't know about Latin America, they where all indoctrinated to hate "socialist" or "populist" Latin America states. All propaganda, they never think why people put them there first. Just look what happened in Bolivia.

If you want a fun read that you won't know quite what to make of, I highly recommend Chronicles of Wizard Prang by Stafford Beer - little bit hard to find a PDF from a non-spammy site, but they are out there!

A sad trod through a common delusion of grandeur I see on the internet these days. If the Chilean control room was really ripped off of Star Trek, that's a little absurd and hilarious but moreover sad.

On the flip side, I'm not sure how much I agree with its premise and conclusion. Sure, it's easy to mock technocommunism historically if you ignore the elephant in the room that is China. While not in the same category as old Soviet and LatAm attempts, all of the quaintly endearing anachronism fades away. What is to be made of China with respect to such a perspective?

Have you seen NSA Chief Keith Alexander's "Information Dominance Center" in Fort Belvoir, Virginia that was designed to look like the 'Starship Enterprise' spacecraft from Star Trek?


Wow, I missed this. How cringe-inducing!

China basically promised the people who are now in their 40s and 50s benefits that they will not get. This also happened in former Soviet countries.

China has destroyed some of their environment, trading off building up industry for pollution. This also happened in former Soviet countries.

>China basically promised the people who are now in their 40s and 50s benefits that they will not get.

So just like the west with stagnant wages and pension systems in free fall, while healthcare, education, housing, student debt, etc rises?

You mean like lifting more than 300 millions people out of dire poverty? Chinese in their 40s and 50s rabidly defend their government, because it delivered. I bemoan lack of democracy, Xinjiang repression, pollution and all the rest; but the fact is that the past 30 years have been a success of unseen proportions for China.

And the ones in their 60s remember half their family dying from the famine when they were children, especially the villagers who moved out.

When you live in a country where any negative expression will get you killed, arrested, etc. You quickly only hear the positive voices.

After the Cultural Revolution and after the Four Pests Campaign, there wasn't any other direction to go than up, for those who were still alive, that is.

The Chinese were made poor by the Communist party and only rescued by moving away from the doctrine to something else.

Are China's out-sized promises or environmental destruction more egregious than the same problems in the US or UK?

The air pollution currently in China is pretty bad, but air pollution goes away pretty quickly after you turn off the coal plants, and oversized promises to pensioners seems like a pretty easy obligation to amend when you have total control over the state.

Where’s the money gonna come from? We’re talking eventually hundreds of millions of retirees. That’s never happened in human history before.

If making good on pension promises was easy, the CCP would have done it by now.

That China experienced a revanchist revolution in the 1980s and moved to an authoritarian Capitalist model?

While I know we’re treading into “No True Scotsman” territory here, I don’t think it’s controversial (not the least among historians) to say from the Deng era on, the Chinese communist project was supplanted and replaced with a State Capitalist mode.

How is that Revanchism? Tibet was kind of conquered 30 yeara ago and the claim over Tibet was a preexisting condition. They already were reclaiming all historical territory.

While state capitalism is definitely a thing distinct different from free-market capitalism, I do get the sense that the two have some stylistically similar technoutopian overtures, and those overtures carry a lot more impact now when they come from a now top state-capitalist machine.

Yeah, I guess the same sort of delusion as of the neoliberals imagining to run society as a corporation (which is the other Blade Runner like variant of Cyber, the Cyberpunk.)

But I don’t think they really believe their bullshit, I’m sure they’re 100% aware TINA is just rhetorical crap used to push their divestiture of the commons

>What's fun about this piece is that it puts into perspective how absurd, unworkable, and thoroughly ripped off of Star Trek the Chilean control room was, which is thoroughly entertaining.

Pretty presumptuous, considering how it was never really put into practice before Allende was murdered and Pinochet's brutal regime was installed by the CIA.

Reminds me of a quote:

“The boys of Capital, they also chortle in their martinis about the death of socialism. The word has been banned from polite conversation. And they hope that no one will notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century – without exception – has either been crushed, overthrown, or invaded, or corrupted, perverted, subverted, or destabilized, or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one socialist government or movement – from the Russian Revolution to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, from Communist China to the FMLN in Salvador – not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home. It’s as if the Wright brothers’ first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly:

Man shall never fly.” – William Blum

You're of course correct about the brutal coup and how genuinely dark it is a splotch on history (one of many during the time, to be sure). I may have spoken a little clumsily there, but I think that's what makes this black humor. The sad truth is that neither regime really had a fighting chance against the CIA geopolitical regime.

Easter egg inside that metaphor:

One day some Spanish anarchists built a functioning helicopter. Upon seeing it fly, the Wright brothers immediately teamed up with the auto industry and shot up everyone in the testing facility. Then the Wright brothers intoned:

Not invented here.

That was found crossed out in one of William Blum's manuscripts with these words written in red ink: "too inside baseball."

Oh William Blum, still pining for Catalonia...

I mention it on HN because it's a lot like that time the bearded guy and the clean shaven guy convinced their camps that their descriptions of the scientific method were different enough to warrant distinct sets of conferences. But at least in that case the result was only monumentally boring and not deadly.

The quote conveniently omits the fact that socialist regimes, and movements never were like a hippie commune trying to just "rise on its own merits". They were at least as much as aggressive trying to subvert their capitalist adversaries. And in this war (both overt, and covert) socialist side often had advantages stemming from centralization, mobilization, and relative closeness of its leader states, i.e. one couldn't protest Soviet foreign military operations the way it was possible in the US, UK, or Germany, or France, and spying/sabotaging was harder to do in USSR, then in any opposing country. In the end, ability to innovate, and provide people with food, and comforts decided the outcome. And it tells us something.

Allende's Chile wasn't USSR. It was a democratic government. And USA HELPED too kill that democracy that was the promise of Latin America...

>Allende's Chile wasn't USSR

I didn't state it was.

My answer is for popular conspiracy theory about CIA as the main reason for socialism's failures.

Nevertheless, "promise of Latin American" is a little bit too rosy description for the gov't which ended with hyperinflation through printing money.

It's not a conspiracy theory when it happened over forty times.

You give the CIA too much credit.

Much of the armed forces and the civilian populace hated Allende and his policies. Pinochet was an opportunist who jumped on the bandwagon when it was already in motion. The CIA had it easy. In South Vietnam, under more adverse conditions, the CIA failed miserably.

>Much of the armed forces and the civilian populace hated Allende and his policies.

No, actually, he was quite popular[1]:

>Between 1970 and 1973, the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity)—the coalition of parties backing Allende—actually increased its vote, a growing popularity which in itself casts some doubt on the widely spread tales of economic disaster wrought by the government. In the last significant election, a fierce electoral battle for Congress in March 1973, the Unidad Popular increased its share of the vote to 44 percent. The rest of the vote was split among the several other parties, which at that time functioned freely and openly in the Chilean tradition. The 800,000 who greeted the President on September 4 constituted nearly one-tenth of the national population, the largest political rally ever held in Chile.

It was the upper classes that hated him, the people who had been getting fat off the people for the past several decades and stood the most to lose from his presidency.

[1]: https://www.thenation.com/article/true-verdict-allende/

Nixon was extremely concerned about Chile, had constant updates from, and made it a high level goal of his presidency to overthrow Allende. The trashman strike was for sure CIA organized for instance.

And it's a lot easier for your propaganda to take when your troops aren't committing massacres in the country like in Vietnam.


We've banned this account.

>Propaganda? Latin America is based on caste. If your "revolution" is based on stealing from the Spanish-blooded landowners to feed Amerindian losers who breed like rabbits, you will get opposition.

Pretty clear what your views are.

> If your "revolution" is based on stealing from the Spanish-blooded landowners to feed Amerindian losers who breed like rabbits, you will get opposition.

this is some real mask-off shit.

For real. Keep this kind of stuff in mind when watching what's going on in Chile and Bolivia today. Or anytime someone from Miami says that every Cuban they know hates Castro (or now Diez-Canel) and we should help get rid of him.

They try, but REVOLUTION is though and lives!

(Disclaimer: I am an enthusiast of discussions around planned economy and wish we talked more about it instead of dismissing it as failed communism)

China tried centrally planned economy. It resulted in tens of millions of death in the great famines of the 50s and 60s.

Planned economy where a strong state and a market economy coexist, on the other hand, is a model that had success in many places. Not only China, but post-war France or South Korea had state plans but also economic freedoms.

My opinion is that there was absolutely no way in the 70s and probably just the glimpse of a chance nowadays to have the processing power and the amount of information to manage all the details of a national economy.

The emergent markets take care of all the information that can't be in the supercomputer of the central planning: that Bob's potatoes are tastier than Alice's. That Charles is more serious in his plumbing work than Yoshiko. You absolutely need an emergent system at that level.

It is true, however, that on a national scale emergent systems can have bad behaviors. It all hinges on individual, local decisions. A policy can't really emerge. That's where you have a state to step in.

South Korea, for instance, decided that it needed a steel industry, because it wanted to make warships. Market forces thought it made no sense to make steelworks so the government forced it.

France decided to go nuclear on public funds because it anticipated the Algerian oil would become harder to get for geological and political reasons, but the market thought oil was cheap enough!

And China is interesting today. I wish we looked further than its (obvious) authoritarianism and were able to look critically at its economic system. It is an oddity as it proposes a solution to blend communism and capitalism.

In capitalism, the idea is that you can get dividends from your investments in a company and that you can buy and sell shares. That's 100% possible in China. In communism, the idea is that the means of production belong to the people. And, in China, the end owner of most big companies and of the biggest holding structures in the country is the state. Now to call it successful communist you have to believe that the Chinese government is representative of the will of the people, which I do not. But I also think that the system they implemented would world equally well if China was a democracy.

Really, we need to consider the Chinese economic system separately from its political system. Use capitalism for the local day-to-day individual decisions and state-planned economy for the long-term global strategies. The invisible hand won't handle an energy transition or plan for a 20 year overhaul of the electric grid.

The problem with communism is not so much the lack of processing power as the lack of feedback, even if the computer knew that Bob's potatoes are better, under communism it would not be able to give any extra reward to Bob for that.

It's funny in a way, that a modern person believes that through technology we can very well reach consciousness with computers, go to Mars, design our genes, achieve immortality, colonize the universe, find the "god's particle", and so on, but successfully modelling an economy is impossible...

It's not impossible (I would like to believe) but it involves self-referential models: In order to work, economic models must include models of the models (both yours and other peoples'.)

This means that cybernetics (the study of "circular loops in causation") is the minimum formalism for economics.

I don't see that these self-referential models are so exclusive to modeling economics. Many machine actors naturally develop to have models of the other actors. An AI which plays Go probably has some limited model of its competitor (or a "typical" competitor) in the sense that it can predict "if I make <this> move, my competitor is likely to counter with one of <these> moves".

Consciousness was referenced above. One thing commonly associated with consciousness, at least in humans, is a theory of mind. We model the actors all around us on the assumption that they each have their own mind, and that by modeling their mind we can predict their actions and intentions given enough situational context.

Mind you, theory of mind might not be a prerequisite for consciousness and maybe it's even possible to have theory of mind without consciousness, but the point is that machines acting in environments that are affected by other actors are going to develop models for those actors naturally as they're pushed to become more proficient in their role. Keep pushing them to become more proficient at anything involving multiple actors and it's plausible that the machine's model for a given actor will itself contain predictions for that actor's models of the other actors -- i.e. self-referential models. That Go AI could probably predict the opponent's action multiple turns down the road, which includes predicting its own response to each move, for example.

I think the more significant difference between modeling a Go opponent and modeling an economy is not self-referential models, but probably just the number and depth of connections. In the progression of training machines to play games, we've gotten good at single-player games like Mario, then two-player games like Chess or Go, and now some work is going into multiplayer games like Starcraft. Each of these represents a slightly "larger" closed environment.

Contrast this to a frictionless economy, where each actor's actions have sweeping effects across the globe. Usually tiny effects, but they reach far through the interconnections. Unlike these games, the approach of starting by modeling a small, closed economy and then scaling that up to larger economies isn't nearly as feasible. There really aren't any "independent" economies today to study. The best you could do is point to a mostly-isolated state like North Korea, but even that's a huge thing to model on its own and the data for doing that isn't accessible. I think the bigger issue with modeling economies isn't the self-referential models -- those are relevant in other areas that machines are already becoming proficient at -- but the scale and the fact that any on-ramp to help deal with that scale incrementally is not obvious.

(FWIW, cybernetics attempts to model large complex systems.)

> I don't see that these self-referential models are so exclusive to modeling economics.

Each of the OP's examples are non-adversarial.

> reach consciousness with computers, go to Mars, design our genes, achieve immortality, colonize the universe, find the "god's particle",

There's no opponent (according to modern scientific rational materialism) in any of those endeavors.

If you were to develop a working model of economics it would behoove your opponents to alter their behavior in ways that invalidated your model.

I don't think it is so far fetched. The economy is the product of human interactions, and I think understanding a single human being is more challenging than everything you listed, except maybe consciousness (but perhaps artificial consciousness will be achieved partly by accident).

That is because we have been modeling economies throughly and are aware of the implications along with the mathematics like the Traveling Salesman problem.

We can and do model the economy regularly. Financial corporations don't hire all of those highly paid analysts for laughs.

For small economies it's absolutely possible. But as economies scale, the computational power necessary increases exponentially.

Good thing that computing power also scales exponentially with time then.

The problem is not the modelling itself, but collecting the data required for the model and deciding what to do. To get accurate data you'd need surveillance cameras everywhere and to decide what to do you either need to ignore everyone's opinion, or implement a system of voting that will look very similar to money.

We can model an economy, but not at perfect precision.

Building a model always involves decisions about what approximations you make, what entities you consider, and so forth. There’s a lot of flexibility when you build your model.

As a result, the recommendations of the model tend to match the biases of the people making the model; and if they don’t, they’ll keep trying til they do. Left wing economists wind up building models that recommend left wing policies, while right-wing economists build models that recommend right-wing policies, and we are none the wiser.

I don't think that's the precise way people feel. Socialism/etc HAS "failed", and capitalism HAS "succeeded", for certain definitions of failed and succeeded. What people assume is that socialism today would fail (and I agree). But if presented with new facts, e.g. here is a robot that can produce food, gather solar power, and manufacture goods for you, and there is one per household, suddenly the literal definition of socialism can become much more pallatable.

I get the point in principle that technology can make new social systems possible, and it seems plausible.

But I don't get what the example you give has to do with making socialism (worker control of corporations) more workable. The major problems of socialism have always seemed to be 2:

1 - how to transition from current society to a socialist one without violent revolution, which usually ends in dictatorships, instead of the radical democracy of socialism.

2 - how to maintain a socialist project in a capitalist world usually focused on destroying it, often with military power.

I don't see how a wonder robot would help with either of these problems. Or, I'm wondering what do you mean by socialism and what problems do you perceive that version of socialism to have that could be fixed by a UBI robot?

Well, modern capitalism is socialism (the US for example or EU are hardly "free markets", there are all sorts of protections, interventions, tarrifs - hardly a Trump novelty -, things like copyright (another artificial government given restriction on trade and manufacturing, central monetary policy, huge armies and postcolonial negotiations to secure favorable deals, mass surveillance, and so on.

And modern socialism (whether what the US calls as such in the nordic countries or France, or what they have in China) is also a whole lotta of capitalism, so there's that too.

Many believe those protections you describe is the cause of inequality.

For example,when only 300k/yr physicians can give you access to medicine, it's not capitalism.

It's still not palatable, because when you get your food and charge your phone you still need to decide what to do with your free time and how to convince others to help you. Capitalism is essentially a system of voting on what is important. When food becomes abundant enough to not cost much, everyone will get it independently of the system, same as everyone gets free email now. But capitalism will still be needed to decide what else is important to do. Of course capitalism is not perfect and lots of people still choose to waste their vote on pointless activities like watching sports or reality shows instead of science and space travel, but because unlike socialism the vote is transferable they end up transferring at least part of their vote to useful things.

> here is a robot that can produce food, gather solar power, and manufacture goods for you, and there is one per household, suddenly the literal definition of socialism can become much more pallatable

That's not socialism; the robots are not collectively owned. Each household owns its own.

The literal definition of socialism is an impossibility, power always gets concentrated among the few.

"This time will be different" crowd hadn't been compelling. Human nature hadn't changed.

Socialism is essentially only an extension of democracy to the economic system. Since democracy seems to work relatively decently (warts and all) for most prosperous societies, I don't see why human nature is a good argument for saying it's impossible.

To the extent that we can agree that democracy works better than autocratic systems, it may be due in part to basing decisions on more input from more people. If we consider a line from consolidated, low-information (CL) decisions to distributed, high-information (DH) decisions, dictatorships' decisions mostly would fall to the CL end, and democracies would be DH-ward of them. Free interactions between individuals in a market, however, are even more DH-ward, and arguing for grocery stores or other price-driven systems to be converted to democratic systems seems like a step backward.

Socialism and the free market (at least the free market of goods, capital markets are a different discussion) are perfectly compatible.

The democracy I'm talking about is inside corporations. Corporations in capitalism are extremely autocratic entities, while in socialism they would be democratically organized. Worker-owned enterprises would still compete on the free market.

Capitalism is also an extension of democracy, the difference is that with capitalism you get to choose how to vote, by giving part of your vote to someone who have created a better product, and get someone elses vote by doing something useful. With socialism you get the same amount of votes whether you do something useful or not, and can spend that vote on the only type of product whether you like it or not.

This is actually rather similar to the form of democracy we have in our governing system, where you get to choose between two bundles of policies you do not like, and i'd say we need to make our governing democracy more similar to our economic democracy instead!

>Capitalism is also an extension of democracy

An extension where the more money you have, the more influence you get.

Unless it's 1 person, 1 vote, it's not democracy.

> Unless it's 1 person, 1 vote, it's not democracy

Let's say every person has one vote And there are thousands and thousands of elections going on every day. Most of the people are not interested in most of elections, so they ignore elections because it is not possible to follow everything. Which means we end up with 1 person 0 votes most of the time. Now to improve the situation we can agree to collaborate i'll vote the way you want for the issue you care and you'll help me in return. Money is simply a way to make this kind of collaboration easier. Saying that any kind of cooperation should be banned doesn't help anyone, and leads to a stalemate in the case when there are many issues to vote on. In fact if our governments were real democracies where votes could decide real policies instead of picking someone who is going to lie for the next 4 years, we would have a system very similar to money to help us to deal with the large amount of issues to vote on.

Buying is an extremely indirect form of voting. What socialism means is that workers inside a corporation would democratically decide how to run that corporation, instead of being handed down directions from an absolute ruler (the CEO/Board of directors).

That's only the first half of what socialism means, the second half is that if they make poor choices, and their corporation goes bankrupt, the other corporation has to employ them and give the same amount of voting power, as to the old workers who had made better choices, and kept their corporation working.

The first half is pretty much uncontroversial, and would work under capitalism too. The problematic part is the second half which resets the board, giving the same voting power to qualified and unqualified worker, and removing the incentive to work well.

To my understanding, the only obligation would be that, IF you "employed" someone, they should have the same voting power as everyone else, since they should always be empowered to have some say on their own work. But I don't know of any socialist principle that would force any particular company to "employ"/associate with any particular person.

Interesting, i have never seen this definition of socialism where it is simply about the way companies are governed and companies themselves are free to compete with each other. I expected a system that would try to equalise everyone in the whole country instead of simply everyone working for a given company, so it would need some way to redistribute goods instead of simply giving equal voting rights to all employees.

Would the system you describe be the same as capitalism, with the exception that workers are prohibited from selling their voting rights to anyone else?

The oldest idea of socialism is 'worker control of the means of production', which sounds a bit antiquated, but refers exactly to this: that the people doing the work should get to decide what work is being done.

There is one major difference from capitalism though, that would have broad repercussions: workers do not get paid a wage, they directly get the profits of the company (not in equal amounts, but by some democratically voted scheme specific to each company). This would lead to vastly more equality in society. It world probably also have a huge impact on international economic relations.

There are many forms of socialism, but what in describing is one of the oldest, and it is the one preferred by Noam Chomsky, the most influential leftist thinker in the world.

That brings to mind literal antiquity with Roman soldiers beinf required to supply their own gear. It was decentralizing in power but to call it equality is a bit misleading given it effectively created a caste barrier to be a soldier by an added constraint of "fit enough to fight AND afford the kit". The alternative was government supplied gear.

Of course the downside of the alternative was that it allowed for a centralizing of power in generals. Proto-generalismo problems ensue.

Which I believe highlights the irony of "equality" and "accessibility" being in opposition. Effectively the fetishized "means of production tied to labor" means by implication everyone is required to own all of their capital for production. Otherwise they cannot start. There are more barriers to entry and the lowest are even more disenfranchised. That is before the organizational logistical problems of supply chains and industrialization let alone what comes after it. It brings to mind the old form letter joke about "your proposed solution for spam won't work".

I don't oppose trying to find a better system, and laud attempts but that doesn't seem workable.

The factory/IT office still has to exist for the work to be doable. However, that doesn't mean that each worker would bring their own laptop or tools, anymore than companies require that today.

In the kind of socialist society I describe, you would win a livelihood by either finding a co-op which values your skills, or by trying to start your own co-op, probably by borrowing money together with others from some institution similar to a bank. Everyone participating in the co-op you helped start would probably take on not just the profits, but also some amount of liability for the loan.

Now, this change alone would greatly reduce the concentration of wealth, and so, hopefully, may free enough money to avoid the need for everyone to find a place to work or die of starvation. Still, even if that doesn't directly happen, the same mechanisms that apply today would still apply - a state-funded safety net, anti-discrimination laws, state programs encouraging employment of unemployed workers, education programs etc. I don't see why the bar to finding a place to work would be any higher if companies were owned by their workers instead of being owned by capitalists.

Which types of contracts between people would we have to ban to achieve this version of socialism? If someone was allowed to form a company by himself, and sell his work to another company, or to forgo his vote in exchange for a fixed pay, we'd be back to the current state.

That's a good question, and I'm sure socialist theorists have some better thought-out answers than I have.

Thinking about this logically though, the only kind of contract that it might help to ban would be selling your labor for money, similarly to how we don't allow you to sell your person (indenturement/slavery) or sexual favors (prostitution) today. This would probably include such contracts between companies as well, encouraging actual exchange of goods and services instead of direct outsourcing.

Still, even these types of contracts wouldn't have to be necessarily banned, it may be enough in principle to encourage Worker-owned enterprises, and protect them from hostile actions against them by other corporations. Of course, how we would get from where we are today to the state where most corporations are owned by their workers is the most difficult question, and capitalists will not go down without at least a political fight.

The startup i worked on was very similar to what you describe, most of us had comparable amount of shares, and we were happy to forgo our salary for multiple months when things were not going well because we knew that the result depended on the work we were doing, but there were also people who were happy to sell their work for money, and not bet the compensation they get on the work of the rest of the team. I don't think our non-technical workers would have been happy to bet the salary they were getting on the slim chance that the rest of the team would succeed eventually.

> similarly to how we don't allow you to sell your person (indenturement/slavery)

I rather like how libertarianism deals with this kind of contracts, it allows to sign any contract, but doesn't allow the buyer to apply aggressive force, to enforce the contract when seller changes his mind, that way the contract naturally changes from slavery to employment agreement.

> protect them from hostile actions against them by other corporations

Are there any hostile actions from which only some people deserve to be protected?

> capitalists will not go down without at least a political fight

i am not a capitalist, but i will side with them because knowing history of my country i can see that everything good i have is in large part thanks to them, and it's better to work with them to bring everyone up, instead of trying to bring them down.

Regarding the start-up story, that is only one kind of enterprise, one with high risk and a long period of preparation before any chance of creating a product,and they're obviously not for everyone. But not all new enterprises are start-ups - if I were to open a shop, for example, I would expect to start turning a profit from day one (disregarding the loan I need to acquire the physical location and merchandise, of course), so the workers in the shop co-op would immediately have a clear revenue stream.

> that way the contract naturally changes from slavery to employment agreement.

Pure Libertarianism is at least as much an idealistic system as socialism is. I don't think these kinds of clever tricks and relying entirely on markets can produce the desired outcomes, at least not as efficiently as regulations can. Examples in history of the standards many businesses held even for things such as food and medicine before explicit regulations and inspections were mandated would seem to agree with me.

>Are there any hostile actions from which only some people deserve to be protected?

No, and I wasn't suggesting there should be. Worker-owned co-ops would not even have the power to attack capitalist corporations, but the reverse would definitely happen. Big corporations try to destroy any competition they have by default, and they would certainly focus their efforts against a competitor controlled by a lower class.

> and it's better to work with them to bring everyone up, instead of trying to bring them down.

Capitalism by definition seeks to bring investors up, and no more than that. Any raising of the rest of the population is entirely accidental, and sometimes explicitly discouraged (for example, no capitalists would like to see growing prosperity among Chinese factory workers, since it would directly eat into their profits).

Do note that European/US-style capitalism is definitely preferrable to USSR or Chinese style planned, centralized state capitalism, and even that is in turn preferrable to serfdom or slavery-based economies.


Whether or not there's a Nobel prize in economics has been litigated to death on HN and no doubt the rest of the internet. It's always repetitive and therefore off topic for HN. Let's not go there anymore.

Also, please keep ideological flamebait like "whoever circle jerks neoliberal ideas the best" far away from this site, regardless of which ideologies you support or abhor.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21675764.

No, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is referred to by reputable news organizations as a Nobel prize. The prize is determined by the same committee that decides the other prizes, and is awarded in the same ceremony. The only difference is who pays for it: the Swedish central bank donated to the Nobel foundation to cover the awards.


That book appears (based on the publicly available abstract) to argue that the Central Bank of Sweden funded the Nobel Prize because of ulterior motives. I don't have the knowledge necessary to take a stance on that claim. However, my comment merely argued that the implementation of the Nobel Prize in Economics is such that the prize is awarded in the exact same way as all the other Nobel Prizes; in other words, it's no less reputable than the originals. The book (again, only based on the abstract) doesn't rebut that.

Arguing that the Nobel Prize award process is fundamentally flawed and biased in favor of the mainstream might be valid (I don't have the knowledge to know the answer), but it's not what the comment I replied to was doing.

>> my comment merely argued that the implementation of the Nobel Prize in Economics is such that the prize is awarded in the exact same way as all the other Nobel Prizes; in other words, it's no less reputable than the originals.

Naw, IMO the reputability of a prize owes to whole lot more than just shared selection principles. I was just linking to some work in which others question the reputation of the prize as well.

Care to provide anything beyond "naw" to support your claim that the same people deciding doesn't means decisions are equally reputable?

There isn't one committee; each prize has it's own committee. The economics one is pretty much entirely staffed out of one branch of economics as a propaganda mechanism.

Isn't the economics committee selected by the Nobel foundation?

Practically they're selected by existing economics committee members.

That would make me incorrect, if true. Source?


> The Committee members are elected for a period of three years from among the members of the Academy. In assessing the qualifications of the candidates, the Committee is assisted by specially appointed expert advisers

ie. the committee makes election decisions for themselves, while delegating a bit to advisers that they appoint.

In most of the other fields, this is what you want. A physics group shouldn't have to agree with the literature members wrt who is on the physics committee. This breaks down for economics though because the whole prize was originally envisioned as a propaganda campaign for a specific branch of economics, so the process means it stays that way.

Thanks! Will have to read those sources.

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