Of course George Monbiot hasn’t proven that people cannot attempt socialism and planning, he’s just shown, rather neatly, why such won’t work. Yes, he’s talking about climate change but the points stand for the larger question about how to deal with the economy, how to run the world:
Public figures talk and act as if environmental change will be linear and gradual. But the Earth’s systems are highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to pressure in linear ways. When these systems interact (because the world’s atmosphere, oceans, land surface and lifeforms do not sit placidly within the boxes that make study more convenient), their reactions to change become highly unpredictable. Small perturbations can ramify wildly. Tipping points are likely to remain invisible until we have passed them. We could see changes of state so abrupt and profound that no continuity can be safely assumed.
Quite so, but if you think that climate is complicated think further to the interactions of 7 billion people – that being what the economy is. This is why Mises was right about the socialist calculation debate, why Hayek insisted that the only calculating machine we’ve got able to deal with such complexity is that economy itself. That’s also why this is the only solution we’ve got:
Now that we’ve made the mistake of trying those centralised plans, can we get on with solving that climate change problem? Stick on the carbon tax and allow market forces to chew through the problem? As Hayek would have told us to, as Stern actually did insist, as the manner we’ve splashed the cash so far tells us we should have done.
As George says, it’s all very complex, that means we cannot plan it. And if we’re not going to be able to plan the stuff then that traditional scientific socialism isn’t going to work either, is it?
But there’s more!
The oligarchic control of wealth, politics, media and public discourse explains the comprehensive institutional failure now pushing us towards disaster. Think of Donald Trump and his cabinet of multi-millionaires; the influence of the Koch brothers in funding rightwing organisations; the Murdoch empire and its massive contribution to climate science denial; or the oil and motor companies whose lobbying prevents a faster shift to new technologies.
If you think the capitalists are an oligarchy with power wait until the bureaucrats take over. In a planned economy the nomenklatura controls everything, an oligarchy far more powerful than anything free marketry allows the capitalists. And yes, they control and plan to their own interests as public choice economics proves.
In complex systems, as Monbiot says, we can plan and anyway the planners will do so for themselves, not us. So, that’s planned economies and traditional socialism killed off then. Sadly, people still haven’t noticed this about climate change, the source of the original observation.