Capital, Calculation, and Coordination
Originally published in Emerald Publishing
Ludwig Lachmann’s Capital and Its Structure ( 1978) is a classic in the literature in Austrian economics. It is mainly discussed in relation to the Austrian contributions to the macroeconomics debates of that time – from Hayek’s dispute with Keynes to the capital controversies of Cambridge UK and Cambridge US. Among Lachmann’s many ideas developed in that work, critical is his idea that the capital structure of an economy consists of heterogeneous capital goods that have multiple specific uses. This fact of the world makes the intertemporal coordination of economic plans a complex phenomenon and not a simple phenomenon. In the standard macroeconomic account, the coordination failure results from a distortion to the interest rate which miscommunicates to economic actors the underlying savings and consumption pattern in the economy at that time. This results in a boom/bust cycle, as the malinvestments in production projects are revealed in time and must go through a costly correction. But this discussion is simply an illustration of a much broader set of problems of relative prices as guides to productive activity in an economy and the problem of economic calculation. Our chapter explores the capital theoretic side of the socialist calculation debate and highlights the importance that an understanding of the capital-using economy consisting of production plans made up of heterogeneous goods with multiple specific uses is to the argument about the calculation problem being the lynchpin argument against the feasibility of socialist economic planning.