Reply and counter-reply: On cybersocialism

The socialist calculation debate is amongst the foremost paradigmatic clashes in the history of economic thought. On one side are the “Austrians” Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and their followers. On the other side are “socialists” of different varieties, from orthodox Marxists to neoclassical mathematical economists who consider feasible the separation of production from distribution. The contributions in this special issue revisit some of the fundamental concerns of scholars on both sides of this debate, many of which were arguably lost in translation to the mathematical approach to economics that has become dominant in the years since Mises' original 1920 publication and its immediate responses from the socialist side.

It is less often recognized that there are grave implications for economic theory underlying the ostensible issues of contention within the calculation debate. Should economic theory seek to investigate conditions of action or equilibrium (non-action)? Are human valuations susceptible to cardinal measurement and commensurability or are they simply ordinal rankings made at moments of choice over definite quantities of particular goods? Are prices signs of equivalence between products or do exchanges necessarily involve inequalities of valuation? Is money merely a numéraire overlaid on an economy of barter ratios, or does money used in exchange have, in Mises' ([1949] 1998, 415) terminology, a “driving force of its own,” meaning it is non-neutral and subject to economic law just like other goods? Different answers to these fundamental theoretical questions will naturally result in different conclusions regarding the economic merits of socialist organization.

In this journal issue and in various other works, Drs. Dapprich and Cockshott have proposed a solution that maintains the classical socialist aim to abolish private ownership in the means of production. The three “Austrian” replies in this paper were drafted independently of each other and subject different aspects of their proposal to critical scrutiny. Modern readers may find in these replies a range of different considerations, but all share a similar baseline understanding of the science of economics in the Mengerian tradition that was represented and extended by Mises and Hayek in their lifetimes.

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