Courtesy Reuters

WHAT NEXT IN SOVIET PLANNING?

Academician Victor Glushkov, the head of the Soviet program of research in cybernetics, estimated recently that, failing a radical reform in planning methods, the planning bureaucracy would grow 36-fold by 1980, requiring the services of the entire Soviet population. Such warnings are not exactly novel. Some forty years ago, the dying Lenin wrote: "Vital work we do is sinking in a dead sea of paperwork. We get sucked in by a foul bureaucratic swamp." In 1933, Leon Trotsky saw acute symptoms of the same disease. "Bureaucracy acts at random," he wrote, "it rejects objective criteria, it does not recognize laws other than the law of its own will, it substitutes commands for plans and pressure for calculation."[i]

Trotsky's indictment reads surprisingly like Premier Khrushchev's recent attacks upon Gosplan and its methods. The disease he recognized has now reached an acute stage and may seriously impede further growth of the Soviet economy. Until recently, analysis of these important processes was difficult because of the lack of information. In particular, little was known about the way in which economic decisions are actually made at the top and at the enterprise level. Interesting disclosures made recently about these previously forbidden matters have not yet received the attention they deserve.

II

A centrally planned economy is usually looked upon as a more or less efficient machine for the production and distribution of goods. A cybernetician would view it somewhat differently: as a machine which, more or less efficiently, generates, processes and distributes information. The two functions are intimately related. Channels of information and flows of commodities are, in fact, interrelated parts of a highly complex network. To produce a carload of, say, ball bearings, it takes not only so much steel, machinery, manpower and time; it also takes an information input in the form of data concerning the availability of resources and the demand for the product. These data are gathered, processed and forwarded to the decision-makers who issue orders to producers and receive reports which

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