Towards a New Socialism (2/4) - Paul Cockshott [ΕΛΛ ΥΠΟΤΙΤΛΟΙ]

Towards a New Socialism (2/4) - Paul Cockshott [ΕΛΛ ΥΠΟΤΙΤΛΟΙ]

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After the Oligarchy: Hi everybody this  is After the Oligarchy speaking to Dr.   Paul Cockshott again. I’m going  to read out his bio from his book   How the World Works which is a very  good book on historical materialism:   Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer working  on computer design and teaching computer science   at universities in Scotland. Named on 52 patents  his research covers robotics computer parallelism,   3D TV, foundations of computability, and data  compression. His books include Towards a New   Socialism Classical Econophysics and Computation  and its Limits. And of course How the World Works.  This is the second in a series of interviews  with Dr. Cockshott about Towards a New Socialism  

written by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell,  published in 1993. If you haven't watched that   first interview yet check it out. In Towards a New  Socialism the authors present a bold vision of a   democratically planned economy using computerized  labour time. In this interview we'll be discussing   some more advanced questions about that model,  so I recommend that you read the book to   really understand what we're talking about. You can also watch some excellent videos on Dr.   Cockshott's YouTube channel, link to that  and his website in the description below.  

Dr. Paul Cockshott, thanks for joining me again. Paul Cockshott: Hi.  AO: I just want to, actually, say something that  I found out in the meantime about this book How   the World Works, that you don't actually  make any money from it because you chose   to lower the price to make it more accessible. PC: Yes.  AO: I just thought that that's very impressive  and interesting. But actually on that note I   should also mention that you do have a Patreon, so  if people want to support your work, given that,   for example, you're not making money  from How the World Works, they can   go to your Patreon and become a subscriber. And last time we didn't have a copy so here's  

Towards a New Socialism, it's still in print  but you can actually get a free PDF version   which I’ll put in the description as well. So with all of that out of the way   I’d like to begin with a set of  questions about the relevance of   various technologies to Towards a New Socialism. 1 - We'll begin first with micro-production. What   is the relevance of micro-production, e.g.  3D printing, to Towards a New Socialism?  I know that nowadays a lot is made of this. There  is also small-scale silicon wafer manufacture,  

for example, I’m just wondering do you  think there's any particular relevance   that this has to Towards a New Socialism? PC: It's mainly useful for making prototypes.   I can't see it being used for the bulk of goods  which people make use of in their home or make   use of in industry. But making prototypes,  possibly artwork, stuff like that, yes.   I mean, the only instance where I think 3D  printing techniques are likely to be useful,   maybe, is possibly in the construction industry. You have to think of what is the nature of these   3D printing techniques at a deep level. Go  back to when the printing press was invented.   Why was that so much of an improvement in  productivity? It's because it transferred   information onto the product in parallel.  The whole printing head of Gutenberg’s press   came down and formed all the letters at once,  and that was the essential feature of printing   which made it far better than handwriting. In  fact, all the letters were done in parallel  

and that was a general feature of printing  presses, that they did things in parallel.  Now there's a set of technologies which  have had a big impact on the world,   and the technologies which have been  particularly effective and have had huge   improvements in productivity have been  ones which harness parallelism. The   printing press was the first of those. In the late 18th and early 19th century,   two other techniques came about that were  significant. One of them, obviously, was   the parallelization of spinning in a spinning mill  where there'd be hundreds of spindles looked after   by each worker instead of one spindle per worker. The other less obvious to people, perhaps, was   the mass production of cast iron goods. If  you go to Edinburgh or Dublin you will see  

railings around buildings which are cast iron  railings. You'll see balconies on buildings   which will have cast iron railings. This was an  invention of the late 18th century which enabled   complex iron objects to be made in a single  action by pouring molten iron. The single action   was brought about by the fact you had a mould  and the mould transferred information onto the   product to all points on the product at once. So,  it had a big impact also in domestic production,   for instance, cast iron stoves and things like  that, far higher productivity than a smith   using a hammer to carefully beat something out. So those were two key inventions that  

sped up productivity in the industrial  revolution and they all depend on parallelism.  If you look at the 20th century, what was the key  invention that enabled mass production of cars? It   was the use of large presses which would enable  the forming of an entire chassis or the entire   upper body of a car with a single  impression of the die that greatly improved   the parallelism and increased productivity. Then you look at the semiconductor industry.   Why did the semiconductor industry have such a  high productivity compared to the prior computer   industry? If you look at how computers were being  made in the 1960s, they were wired up using a   technique called wire wrapping. If you looked  at the back of a computer board in the 1960s   and 1970s, there were masses of pins and masses  of wires and engineers in the factory had to   wire the computer up one wire at a time. They were  given schedules, connect this point to that point,   this point to that point. And they had a wire wrap  gun, and you put it on, you pulled the trigger,  

and it wrapped the wire round. You went to the  next one, pull the trigger, wrap the wire round.  With the invention of the integrated circuit  the entire wiring was achieved by printing.   All of the wiring was done via a single  photolithographic process. It was done   in parallel rather than serial, hence the huge  improvement in productivity. That's the essential  

basis of the improvement of productivity. When you look at what's called 3D printing now,   it's not printing in the old sense. It's  more 3D scribing. There is a write head   which is like a pen, which goes back and  forth, back and forth, back and forth.   It's not a parallel process and as such its not  one which achieves a high degree of productivity.  AO: Just one more thing on that. Often people  talk about 3D printing, say, people on the left,  

and outside the left actually, insofar  as its effects on social relations   rather than necessarily on productivity. Do you  think that it has any relevance in that regard?  PC: Okay, what effect will it have in social  relations? You've got to think of why were the   spinners, the spinstresses of England in  the 18th century, why were they displaced   by industrial looms? They were displaced because  they couldn't compete spinning one thread at the   time with a mill spilling spinning 100 threads  at a time. Now there's no way that people at home   with a machine that squirts out a thread of ink  which slowly hardens will be able to compete with   an industrial process that stamps an entire object  out, or carries out injection moulding of an   object. Not just of one object, but in a factory  producing injection moulded plastic a whole   bunch of them in parallel are injection moulded  and knocked off. You can't compete with that.  AO: 2 - Let's go on to some other technologies.  The next question is what is the relevance of the   internet of things to Towards a New Socialism? PC: Mainly, I think, that it makes the detailed   tracking of products and the detailed monitoring  of individual production machines easier. That's  

what the industrialists in Germany are interested  in, for ‘industry 5G’ as they call it, because it   enables the individual machines to be monitored. To the extent that large-scale dextrous robots   are in use and that these are locally programmable  then that is a factor. But this is not necessarily   qualitatively affected by the internet of things. My view is that this is heavily oversold from the  

point of view of its industrial productivity and  what is significant about advances in the internet   and communications technology in general is the  person-to-person communication that it enables.  AO: 3 - The next question is what is  the relevance of recommender systems   technology to Towards a New Socialism? And just before you answer, if our audience   doesn’t know what a recommender system is, that's  what you encounter on Amazon or Netflix where it   says ‘people who buy this, also buy this’, ‘if you  like this film, why don't you watch this film’.  You have books like People's Republic  of Walmart, which is very good but,   it talks a lot about technology like this.  And the idea is, in relation to planning,  

that such systems can often know consumer  patterns better than the consumers themselves. And   I’m asking this in the sense of do recommended  systems have any serious role in facilitating   planning economic planning on a large scale? PC: I’m not sure, because why are recommender   systems of interest to private business? It's  because each private business wants to sell as   much as possible to each consumer, and if they  can derive information about what that consumer   has bought in the past they can present ads which  will increase the prospect of a sale. But that's   not necessarily going to be something that's  of interest in a socialist society. You're not   trying to maximize consumer demand. You're trying  to maximize the satisfaction of people's wants,   not to stimulate wants. From the standpoint of knowing  

what to produce in aggregate, what one individual  is likely to want is not particularly relevant.   What is relevant is what is the aggregate demand  for t-shirts, what's the aggregate demand for   size 8 boots, what's the aggregate demand for  work boots as opposed to mountain boots? Those   are the things you have to balance. And whether  a person who likes yellow work boots is going to   go for red or brown mountain boots is not  really relevant provided the total number   of them is right. And that total number can  be obtained from what people are actually   purchasing. You don't need to break it down  into what one individual is likely to want  

because it all comes out in the wash of averaging AO: 4 - The next question, I think,   continues on from that but there might be more  substance here. What is the relevance of neural   networks to Towards a New Socialism? For example, I saw something today   that some research team has used a deep  learning system which has figured out how to   fold a protein given a sequence of amino  acids. And just it popped into my head,   using that as a kind of metaphor, could we use  a similar kind of system to work out what the   shape of an economy is from a list of inputs and  outputs? Commodities and so forth. The shape there   also including information about where things  would go, what regions, what kind of people would   get what. Answer in any way you want. PC: At a certain level, yes,  

they are very similar. And that's because  modern neural network systems are essentially   linear algebra, or tensor algebra, systems with  certain levels of filtering which put signals   through sigmoid curves, etc. Now a lot of other  things turn out to also be very similar to that.   It turns out that the analysis that Google has  to do to link up meanings of phrases in order   to get relevant documents is again a branch of  linear algebra. And well before this back in the   1950s and 60s it was shown how to treat economies  in terms of that same type of linear algebra. So   yes, neural networks and thinking what  the shape of an economy would be are   both problems in high dimensional linear algebra. I’ll raise another thing that neural networks do.   They're working with a high dimensional  feature space and they try and learn techniques   whereby they can map this onto lower  dimensional manifolds, and within this   lower dimensional manifold you can do various  types of clustering and grouping of things. 

It's possible that when you're thinking  of economies you can also map things onto   lower dimensional manifolds. Most of  the standard treatment of planning is …   well I’m oversimplifying. The full mathematical  treatment of planning is in the native space, say,   of all the products. And it's expressed  as a linear algebra problem same as the  

way Marxists deal with the transformation problem  or compute the labour values and things like that.   However, in practice people work with reduced  dimensionality systems that are provided by   input-output tables, which aggregate similar  things together. Now that is an ad hoc aggregation   done by national statistical offices. It's  possible that if you had the raw data of  

every kind of product, and every kind of product  code, you could apply dimension reduction systems   which were more sophisticated than the ad hoc ones  that are done by national statistical offices.  National statistical offices, for example, will  allocate maybe a four- or five-digit code to a   type of product, and it's like a Dewey decimal  system coding. The first two digits tell you   the first hundred categories into which products  are divided, the next digit divides them into a   thousand categories, etc, and what is done is that  you just drop some of the digits in order to get   a simpler model. But that's not necessarily the  best way to do it. The kind of dimension reduction   that Google do on words is more sophisticated than  that, in that it learns patterns of the words and   does a dimension reduction onto a subspace which  represents the meanings. Now just looking at   it as an abstract maths problem, that kind  of technique may turn out to be practical   in economic applications but it would be  a research program to see whether it was   applicable or not. You can't tell beforehand but  it's not implausible that it might be useful.  AO: Can I just ask you a follow up on that?  Firstly, just to make this a little bit more   concrete for viewers who wouldn't have a  very high level of mathematical training,   what you're talking about is input-output  tables that are typically used,   they might use categories such as agriculture,  textiles, things like that, or it might be   more finely graded. What you're saying is that if  a suitably advanced neural network, deep learning,  

whatever you want to call it, algorithm was  able to look at all of the economic data,   that that algorithm might actually come up with  different categories to use in order to have this   more aggregate picture of the economy. PC: Yes  AO: Now, that's an explanation for people,  but my question is what is the practical   significance do you think, for planning,  of having better categories? What do better   categories actually mean in that instance? PC: Well when you're defining categories   as being better, they're defined as better with  respect to some goal or metric. In Google’s case   they want they the subspace they project the  words onto to be the commonplace meanings of   the words and associated meanings.  The question then is what might be   the goals of planners in wanting to do this. I mean what seems to me the obvious one   would be to convert the representation into  a representation that was intelligible to   the public, for the public to democratically  decide on the broad outlines of the economy,   the major strategic developments of  the economy. So categorize products   according to the questions which were coming up  about how you want to restructure the economy and   society. But you can't say that beforehand unless  you know what the questions are. These change from  

time to time. I mean, at the moment it looks as  if things to do with carbon emission reduction   would be a major factor. But we know that  in times of war, factors are making weapons,   providing basic foodstuffs, etc, so the categories  that are relevant depend on the circumstances.  What you're suggesting is, I mean it's  not something I’ve thought of before,   but it's the sort of thing which would be a  good project for an advanced student to start   looking at actual input-output data  of the more disaggregated types   that the US Bureau of Economic Affairs.  for example, publishes. And to see whether  

aggregation techniques that have been shown to  work linguistically would work well to deliver   new categories to categorize the branches  of production in the US, for example.  AO: I understand what you're saying  there about how it'll be useful to have   a way of categorizing production in society  in a way that the population at large,   without any kind of specialized training, would  be able to actually meaningfully engage with the   process. So it wouldn't just be a technocratic  process with the planning bureau formally not   being in charge, but informally they would be. In terms of those aggregate categories, how do   they actually affect the planning process itself?  Say if you had very bad aggregate categories,   how would that actually manifest in real terms  in the economy? What negative effect would   that have? If we could put it that way. PC: These are very abstract questions!   I suspect the first guess at this  is if your categories were bad the   degree of adjustment you might have to make to  some industries might appear to be too big than   if they were well designed categories. AO: If I understand you correctly,   it's like saying if we make a change in this  part of the system, having good categories   would say this input will produce such kind  of effect in that other part of the system.  

And if your categories are effective you'll be  modelling that in a way that's quite accurate.   But if you're not doing that properly, you'll  say if we produce this much of something here   it'll produce XYZ amount there. Actually  it does twice as much, and then the plan is   actually not matching up with reality. PC: Yes. I’m trying to think of   what it means properly in maths and I can't  off the top of my head work out what it is.  AO: Well, we can probably come  back to that some other time   because I think it's an interesting topic. 5 - There's one last technological question,   it's about quantum computing. A bit of background  for people: a lot of people have heard about  

Moore’s Law. That's effectively computing power  becoming exponentially better on a constant basis.   That has been slowing down or possibly coming  to a halt. Now we have quantum computing.  So does this have any relevance to economic  calculation? And if you wouldn't mind,   could you just briefly explain to people what  quantum computing is? If they want to know   about it in more detail they can look it up. PC: There are different aspects to this. Let's  

take the way you introduced it in terms of  Moore’s Law. If you keep scaling things down   it's clear that at some point you'll  reach the scale where you have   gates which only switch a few  electrons at a time. If you   get to that point, the reliability goes down  just because of shot noise etc. So that's one   thing which will tend to limit Moore’s Law. As  you push it to lower and lower feature sizes, the  

quantum noise due to the quantization of  charge into individual electron charges will   become more significant. Now, it's been shown  you can use what are called Coulomb blockade   transistors, and switch transistors with single  electrons. So it's not impossible. But noise   effects are still likely to be significant unless  you cool the things a lot, so that's a factor.  Another factor is that as you scale things down  you hit a thermodynamic limit. There's a certain   amount of energy which is lost every time you  trip a gate, i.e. switch it from one state to  

another. The energy in terms of electrons is the  number of electrons times the voltage you operate   the equipment at, so you can say ‘okay, there's  a certain number of electron volts involved   in this’. But you can also approach it from the  standpoint of pure thermodynamics and look at the   measure of information in terms of entropy and  how much, in principle, thermodynamic energy   must be released when you switch one bit. And the problem is that the gates which we   operate with in conventional computers are things  like two-input AND gates. They take in two bits  

and output one bit and therefore,  crudely, it's not exactly this,   crudely they destroy one bit of information.  You put in two bits of information you get   one bit of information out. And because of the  relationship between information and entropy, you   can show that this must release energy equal to  log_2_(⁡kT) units of energy, joules per bit lost.  

That’s called Landauer energy after the physicist  Rolf Landauer who worked it out in the 60s.  If you shrink things down, just the Landauer  energy that a chip with enough components on it   is going to be dissipating means that it's hotter  than you can actually remove the heat. Effectively   the rate you can remove heat from a semiconductor  chip is set by: suppose you create a lot of very   small parallel channels and fed pressurized water  through it and allowed the water to boil to steam   as you cooled it down. That's about the maximum  cooling you could achieve on a chip by turning   water into steam. And this is of the order of  maybe 10 kilowatts per square centimetre. If you  

go above that you just you can't remove the heat.  I’m going back to calculations I used to give my   students in the 1990s, you can show that above a  certain speed and a certain degree of shrinking   of Moore’s law just the Landauer energy will be  such that you won't be able to cool the devices.  These are classical computers. They're  classical in the sense that they are the  

way we've been building computers all along.  And they work with non-reversible logic,   because the logic loses information as it goes  on. Now, in principle, at the most abstract level,   when Feynman was introducing the idea  of quantum logic gates, what's the most   fundamental feature of them is that they are  reversible gates. That any quantum logic gate  

has as many outputs as it has got inputs. So  in principle there's no loss of information.   And quantum systems have to operate under what are  termed unitary operators. They basically all take   the form of a rotation in a higher dimensional  complex space, but it's a rotation in which the   total amplitude summed over all directions doesn't  change. And in principle that means that quantum   computing doesn't dissipate energy. In principle, but this is a very  

abstract principle and we're so far away from  actually having reliable systems that this   aspect of not using up energy - which is what was  originally said to be one of the advantages of   it - is not practically why people are pursuing  it. Practically, people are pursuing it because   for a certain subset of problems, and  it's quite a small subset of problems,   so far quantum computation greatly reduces the  computational load of performing a calculation.  Feynman, when he originally proposed it,  proposed it from the standpoint of simulating   quantum physics problems. He wanted a universal  quantum simulator which could be used to simulate  

a quantum physics problem. And the problem  with simulating a quantum physics problem   is that the number of components in the matrix  that you're pursuing grows exponentially   according to the number of independent particles  - let's say particles, roughly - and that becomes   prohibitively costly to compute on the  computer. Whereas if you could actually put   a set of quantum elements of some sort into the  right superposition of states, you could just   allow it to evolve and statistically sample  what the outputs are to get a realistic model of   the other quantum system that you're looking at. Well that was the original application of it.   Subsequently a certain limited number of  mathematical problems have been shown to   also be amenable to this. But it has to be said,  the number of problems that have been shown to be   amenable to solution more efficiently on  quantum machines is still quite limited.  

And it's not like inventing an ordinary algorithm,  it requires a very much higher level of skill and   specialism to invent a new quantum algorithm. AO: As this relates to economic planning,   could we imagine that this would have any  applicability? Not now, but in the future   when there are many more qubits. Or do you think  that even if quantum computers were a thousand   times more powerful that this wouldn't matter? PC: The thing is that the economic planning   problems are relatively tractable  anyway with classical computers,   so it's not clear to me what the point of  attempting to use quantum computers for it would   be. These aren’t exponentially hard problems. AO: One last thing on this. Let's say if a society   was already at an advanced stage of communism  and had implemented Towards a New Socialism. And  

maybe - I mean this is really far in the future,  abstract stuff, but just out of interest - wanted   to move more deeply in that direction. And,  say, wanted to use more in-kind planning,   which would be more computationally expensive than  computing things in terms of labour time, could   it then be something that we would think about? PC: What I’m saying is that even in-kind planning   is relatively tractable. The iteration procedures  to converge at an answer for in-kind planning are   not of very high complexity order. AO: And in-kind planning not using   labour time as a universal measure? PC: Yes. They're not of very high   complexity order. They are pretty straightforward  linear algebra. They involve, in principle,  

doing matrix inverses. But there are shortcut ways  of doing matrix reciprocals which enable you to   get good performance. If you use a modern parallel  programming language like Julia, they're built in   they come for free, and they give you decent  performance. They're the sort of things that   people working with super computers are used  to using already. Compared to the problems   that are routinely being solved on GPUs and  on super computers it's not a big issue. 

AO: I thought one thing that was actually  quite amusing was the update that you put on   the website where people could find Towards  a New Socialism for free as PDF. That   the representative high performance computer  was 108 times - that's 100 million times - more   powerful than the example that you gave in the  book. Which I think is pretty funny, because   I don't think anybody could say that economies  have become 100 million times more complex.  PC: No, no. AO: 6 - We're going to go in a   different direction now after that technological  discussion, and talk about second-hand goods.  

How would second-hand goods be passed on? There are goods of sufficiently low value   which one could imagine people just dropping  into free shops, or leaving at the side of   the road (as they do in Berlin). However, some  goods are too expensive for that to make sense,   for example, furniture, vehicles, musical  instruments, sailing equipment, jewellery.   I might buy a car for five thousand euro,  let's say, and five years later sell it for   3500 euro. What would an individual or  commune do in Towards a New Socialism? 

And just to explain this to people. The idea is  that labour tokens are not transferable between   people. I go into a state shop, I buy a car, and  then those labour tokens are eliminated. I can't   then sell the car to somebody  and they transfer tokens to me.   So how would second-hand goods be managed? PC: The first thing you've got to focus on is not   little consumer goods, it's ships and airplanes.  If an airplane is no longer being used at the  

moment on the Dublin to London route, what happens  to it? If Ryanair has leased it from one of the   Irish companies that lease airplanes it goes back  to the leasing company and the leasing company   leases it out to somebody else who is flying from  Belarus to Iraq and flying refugees into Belarus.  What's important there is that even within  the capitalist system, the actual ownership   of the key means of production is not in the  hands of the final user, which is the airline,   it's in the hands of some higher body, which is a  leasing body, which redirects it to some other use   when one organization no longer needs it. So that is the most important feature for   a society as a whole, that means of production  which potentially could be used elsewhere don't   just sit idle on an airfield, but are actually  transferred to where they're going to be used.   What's important here is having national  organizations which keep a national registry   of the different classes of means of production  and reassign them when they're no longer in use.  Now, it's a much smaller matter, consumer  goods. An airplane: 20 million, 100 million;   your used radio: not so much. There's  already a whole system for dealing with that  

in the form of charity shops,  Freecycle, and similar giveaway systems.  AO: Sure. Let's put that to the side, though,  and look at an intermediate group where it's   something which is costly enough that people  wouldn't want to just give it away for free,   but it's not so expensive that it falls under the  previous discussion about means of production.  PC: Give me an example. AO: For example, a vehicle, a car, it might be  

furniture, it could be a musical instrument like,  say, a keyboard that costs a thousand euro, or a   sailing boat, or a piece of jewellery or a car. PC: Hold on, you're starting to move up   from everyday items to luxury items when  you start talking about sailing yachts.  If we just take furniture, well furniture is the  most obvious system where people give it away,   to the British Heart Foundation or whatever the  equivalent in Ireland is, to recycle or things   just get scrapped. A lot of people actually get  rid of the furniture they don't want on Freecycle.  Then look at cars. Increasingly people don't own  cars, they lease them. Why do you assume that in  

a socialist society people would directly own the  cars, rather than lease the cars from the state?  AO: Well I suppose, yes, if they lease them then  that's the question answered. As for furniture,   if I was playing devil’s advocate I’d say to a  large extent people give it away, or they just   dump it, but there are a lot of items - it could  be furniture but it could be many other things,   again musical instruments would be something  - where somebody would go onto a website like,   I don't know what the websites  are internationally, but DoneDeal,   eBay, etc, where you might have bought a  keyboard for a thousand or two thousand   euro and you want to upgrade now. But you  don't want to just give it away because it   cost a significant fraction of your income.  So you would like to get some of the value   back. Is there a way to address that? PC: These are attitudes and views of   things which come from buy and selling being the  norm. If the norm is for things to be given away,   you will in your time also have got lots of  things which other people are giving away,   and it will it'll seem the norm. AO: Okay so then really what  

we're talking about is moving more  towards the norms of a gift society.  And do you think there would be any issues of  transition there? That it could take people time   to adjust to that mentality? That there could  be an intermediate system or that we could just   go straight into it? I guess that would depend  on so many things. In revolutions, for example,   people's mentality can change pretty quickly. PC: They do and there are elements of this that   people are used to. These already  exist, I’m not making this up.   You go down to any shop in Britain and I’m sure  in Ireland too and there are shops selling things   which people just gave to the shops because  they thought that the charity was worth it.  AO: For sure. 7 - This is about the number of  

commodities in an economy. In your presentations  you often use the figure of 10 million commodities   in a complex advanced country. However, does this  accurately represent the number of commodities in   an advanced country today? Does such data exist?  If it were 10 billion rather than 10 million   would that make much of a difference? PC: There is data. You can, for example,   find out how many distinct product lines Amazon or  Alibaba have, and it is above 10 million. The 10  

million figure is a figure for the Soviet economy  in the 1970s. So it's a big country, but China is   bigger. So Alibaba sell a fair bit more than that. The figure is bounded, though, by the number of   people in the economy. Generally, any product  requires the collaboration of several people   so that the number of products is not going  to grow above the number of people. So, yes  

it can be big but it's going to be of the same  order of magnitude as the population probably a   bit below an order of magnitude of the population. AO: If I were to summarize, you're saying if you   have a country with a billion people which  is an advanced economy, then the number of   different commodities within that  country would be approximately on   the order of one billion? PC: I would say   probably of the order of a hundred million rather  than a billion. I’m saying roughly an order   of magnitude less because of the fact that every  industrial product actually requires collaborative   labour of several people to produce it. AO: I think the answer is probably no,   but do you think that makes much of  a difference then? I mean, really,   in that case if we're looking at China, which has  1 billion people, roughly, which is the largest   country, between 10 million commodities  and 100 million is one order of magnitude   so I don't think that would make a difference. PC: I mean, a country with a billion people   can afford much bigger computers than a country  with one million people, so, no, I don't think   it's a problem. I think the computing power they  can throw at the problem grows at least as fast as   the problem. I mean, the Chinese produce the  most powerful computers and the figures are  

staggering for their highest performance  machines. So I don't think it's an issue.  AO: And given that with the advance in computer  technology that's happened over the last say   few decades it seems that computing power is  well ahead of where it needs to be anyway.  PC: Yeah. I mean, Jack Ma, who has practical  experience of this in China, is certainly on   record as having said that he thinks the whole  economy could be planned without money in China.  AO: That's very interesting. 8 - Another question, probably the last one,   this is about basic research. In calculating  the integrated labour time of a product,  

how can basic research be taken into account? Whereas it might be clear, or clearer, say,   to Nissan how much labour time they  dedicate to developing the Nissan   leaf electric engine in their  Nissan leaf engine R&D team,   it wouldn't be clear how much labour time went  into, say, a vaccine which drew upon 20 years of   basic virology research in universities across the  globe. So how could the integrated labour time of   basic research be taken into account in a product? PC: This is one of the points Marx made a long,   long, time ago. That as society develops, the  greater part of the productive power that's put   into making things comes from general scientific  and technological knowledge which has been built   up over generations. And it is not something  private, it’s collective knowledge. And because   it's not something private, it doesn't have to  be paid for in the price of an individual item. 

When you buy food mixer, it depends on work that  Faraday did on uncovering the relationship between   electric current magnetic field and force. But  you're not actually paying for Faraday's research.   They all rely on it and couldn't do it without  that research, but you don't have to include   that. The reason you don't have to include it  is that labour time calculations are only about   what is being done with current activity,  current allocation of activity. Nothing   you do now can affect what happened in the  past, so there's no point including that. 

Now, you might decide that research and  development charges should be levied for products.   So that when medicines were being charged to  a hospital, assuming the medical care is free,   should you charge the research and development  costs of the medicine? Almost certainly not.   Because if you did, you would deter the hospital  from using the most advanced, most recent,   medications which have involved recent research. That’s the way it works in the capitalist world.   The newest drugs are the most expensive and  there is therefore in a free public health system   a bit of a deterrent from using these latest  drugs. But from the point of view of social   welfare maximization the labour that went into  the research into, let's say, the Pfizer vaccine,   was all done in the past. And in terms of  delivering as much of the vaccine as possible,   all that counts is the labour that is  required to make another dose of it.  

So it's not necessarily rational to include  the research and development cost in it,   to the extent that it will minimize social welfare  if you do. Because it'll overestimate what it's   going to cost to treat people. AO: If I could just recapitulate   what you've said to see if I understand. Would it  then be more a matter that society would decide in   broad terms how much labour time, integrated,  it would like to dedicate to basic research?   Based on historical precedent, based on a more  qualitative understanding. You know, we want to   dedicate a lot of society's resources towards  basic research, and we'll let them effectively   do their thing rather than monitoring  precisely how that connects to all sorts   of products which emerge out of that later. PC: Well, you want to motivate researchers   to research things that are going  to be useful and be put into   practical application. So there is certainly going  to be some kind of incentive for them to do that. 

But, yes, the basic research has  got to be met out of the current   labour budget of society. That's what happens  now except, to the extent that it is done by   private firms, the firms advance capital on that  and expect to get a return on their capital. To   the extent that other parts of the research  and development are paid for by the state,   then the information isn't private information  and becomes generally useful. For a lot of the   basic computer science and communications  technology that we're relying on at the moment,   the basic research was all publicly funded. AO: That brings us exactly to ten past nine,   so we can leave it at that. PC: Who else are you interviewing? 

AO: Well, I’ve got a list of people. I’m going  to wait till after Christmas at this rate but   I’ll tell you who. I’d like to interview Pat  Devine, I would like to interview Robin Hahnel,   because he just came out with Democratic Economic  Planning, and some other people. I’d like to   interview Varoufakis as well about his book  Another Now. A handful of other people. 

PC: Okay. I see the kind of  people you're asking, yes.  AO: Yeah, I want to stick on this topic for  now because I think it's very much underserved.  PC: Yes. AO: I think,   for example, there's a lot of material  out there about cultural issues,   and so forth, but in terms of these things I  don't really think it's being discussed and I’d   like to try to get a discussion going. PC: Can I suggest someone you should   also speak to? AO: Yes please. 

PC: Philip Dapprich. He's German, currently  working at the University of Berlin,   and he particularly focuses on how to  use Kantorovich-style opportunity costs   in economic planning. AO: Okay definitely.  PC: Another person just to get in touch  with is a guy called Hardin, he's a Swede,   and he's doing a lot of research on this.  He's got a whole group working on it.  

There's a growing number of people working  on this. There are people who could give you   useful contributions on this. AO: In terms of doing another interview,   would you like to do that again in two  weeks or will we wait until after Christmas?  Paul Cockshott: After Christmas,  wait till after the holiday period.  After the Oligarchy: Brilliant. So,  great to talk to you again. Fantastic   discussion. I appreciate you taking the time  to talk with me and we'll talk again soon.

2022-07-01 14:11

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