FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Clash of Ideas

Limits of Economic Planning

Courtesy Reuters

IN recent years, the battle between the planners and the anti-planners has become fairly engaged. In the decade before the recent war, the planners tended -- in Britain at least -- to hold the field of popular theoretical writing and of polemical literature. But since the appearance during the war of Professor Hayek's book, "The Road to Serfdom," a vigorous counterattack has been launched and a number of recent British books on economics have taken the anti-planning side. The debate is being conducted on the whole in terms of forceful dogmatism, and this is not surprising when one remembers how easy it is to be dogmatic about the theoretical basis of a case.

In theory, the planners can claim that they are in the full stream of human progress. What has created the tremendous physical advances of the last century if not man's increasing scientific control over his environment? The masterpieces of modern engineering have all started with the blueprint. Is it not reasonable to argue that the same methods -- of plans and blueprints and "social engineering" -- will not have equally happy results when society itself is their raw material? To apply planning to human government is simply to rescue one more vital sector -- perhaps the most vital sector -- of men's lives from the tyranny of the irrational.

The reply of the anti-planner is equally cogent. "Men are not sticks and stones and metals," he protests. "Among men you cannot find -- and ought not to induce -- the same uniformity of reaction which you find in material things. Nor can you ever be as certain of the purpose to which men ought to be devoted. The best use of a given amount of iron and steel may be to make a bridge, but who can say what is the best use to which a given number of men can be put? Is it not significant that the best examples of planning are to be found either

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