Earlier Planning and The Utopias

Earlier Planning and The Utopias, Economics Of Planning

Although economic planning, in the modern sense, waited until the second, decade of the twentieth century to make its appear­ance as a fixture of economic organization, ideas on the subject were propounded and actual experiments took place in previous centuries. Plato in his Republic presented the blueprint of an ideal state in which planning extended far beyond economic mat­ters. Plato believed first of all that a society was possible in which the good life of the individual could be expressed. He then described how the application of the principles of reason to social organization would produce the good society. Society would be directed by the wise men (philosophers) of the community, who of all men were best able to determine the goals for which society should strive. Each person would be given employment accord­ing to his abilities. Children, produced by those especially quali­fied, would be trained by the community. Property ownership and the amount of goods consumed by any individual would be determined in accordance with that individual's needs. The char­acter of Plato's society may be quite impractical, but he unques­tionably believed in the necessity of planning in order to achieve the most desirable form of human living.

The centuries from Plato to the present have not lacked pro­posals for Utopian communities planned and regulated so as to' increase human well-being. There was Sir Thomas More, who in 1516 wrote Utopia. More was Lord Chancellor of England, but he was extremely critical of the inequalities in wealth and the political autocracy which was characteristic of the England of his time. Consequently his Utopia portrays a society in which property was held in common, everyone had a voice in the government, work was assigned according to ability, education was free to all, and the most able were freed from other work in order to pursue specialized study.

A century later Francis Bacon set forth his ideas of a planned society in a book entitled The New Atlantis. He laid down certain very definite plans for his community: "First I will set forth unto you the end of our foundation. Secondly, the preparations and instruments we have for our works; Thirdly, the several employ­ments and functions whereto our fellows are assigned. And fourthly, the ordinances and rites which we observe." No clearer statement of the characteristics of economic planning could be given even today. But in addition Bacon's catalogue of resources, his disposition of skills, and finally the emphasis upon invention further emphasize the planned nature of his ideal community.
One and all, these men and the later men who wrote about ideal societies expressed the belief that economic and social well-being cannot be achieved without conscious plan or purpose. Many of the authors were protesting against the poverty and op­pression that accompanied the industrial revolution, consequently it was natural for them to advocate principles of economics which they discovered to be absent or neglected in current eco­nomic doctrine. They subordinated private property to social use, emphasized the need for state control and direction, lifted the scientist and scholar to superior positions in the social hier­archy, made education free to all, and promised to each man employment in line with his capacity. The policy of drift and the superficial optimism that some beneficent principle was guiding society toward more desirable goals found no place in their writing.

In addition to sponsoring ideas for Utopian societies, a con­siderable number of these writers tried to turn their dreams into reality by founding communities organized on the Utopian prin­ciples they formulated. We have already discussed the efforts of Robert Owen (at New Harmony) in this respect, but there were others; Etienne Gabet in France and America (at Icaria); John Humphrey Noyes in America (at Oneida); Fourier and Brisbane (at Brook Farm), to mention a few. That most of these experi­ments ended in dismal failure after a very short life is not so much evidence of the impossibility of planning as it is testimony to the difficulty of creating an oasis of collectivism amidst the plains of individualism. As the negative results of too much individualism have become apparent on a large scale, societies have more or less grudgingly accepted the principle of planned economy as the only adjustment to modern economic difficulties.

Planning appears in many different phases of modern economy, and is operated in the interests of a number of different social groups. For example, in the United States the protective tariff has for decades been an instrument of planning, used primarily to foster the growth of large-scale industry. The regulation of monopolies—to turn to another problem—has been a modified form of planning which has sought to encourage and maintain competition between business units in the interests of the con­sumer. Labor legislation has attempted to bring about security in the life of the wage-earner. Pure food and drug legislation has been designed to protect the consumer against fraudulent and dangerous articles. Along more positive lines the government has sought to restrict the use of natural resources by conservation programs, and it has tried to offer economic services that private enterprise could not perform because profitable returns were not forthcoming. This catalogue of government activity in America is but a general appraisal of the economic endeavors carried on by the government of the United States; there are, of course, scores of others. Nevertheless, except for the extraordinary pro­gram for the War, economic planning in the United States is less far-reaching than the planning in the Soviet Union under the various Five Year Plans or in the early days of Fascism in Italy and Germany, when regimentation permitted strict regulation. The type of planning in a democracy necessarily commences with general standards, principles, or rules which serve to set the out­side limits within which private initiative must operate and be­yond which public welfare is likely to be impaired.