Collectivism and money

One of the interesting realizations I had recently is that one of the mistakes that has been made in attempts to implement collectivist economies in the past is the insistence of sticking to “money” – i.e. the idea that you can successfully represent the value of everything as a single number. I’ve talked in the various bits about bucketized currency about why you can’t accurately model value in the real world just by using one price, and I’ll probably go on about it at some length again later, but for the moment, let me just mention that if you’re not using flow-based resource management or production for use, you’re still falling into a lot of the fallacies that keep breaking the capitalist system. I know that the USSR, for example, had a currency, which makes me suspect that it was not really all that collectivist.

One of the things that I keep noticing is how various failures to track and respect value tend to make the on-paper accounting system get out of whack with the real world, and how this leaves us with the impression that we are broke when in fact we are not. I’ve come to the conclusion that the powers that be like it that way – seeing Trump has finally convinced me that there really are people like the villains in Disney films, who cackle gleefully at the idea of enslaving others and are overjoyed to know that somewhere, someone is suffering because of decisions they made.

Of course, those disney villain types are a lot of what makes designing a resource allocation system so difficult. If everyone was going to play fair and within the rules, we wouldn’t actually need a RAS at all – a few large warehouses full of stuff per community and a agreement to clean stuff up and bring it back, and to fix anything that gets broken, would be all we would need. But, of course, any time there’s a system someone is going to have to try and game it. And clearly there’s some people who take great joy in making sure they get the biggest slice of the pie – even, ironically, if they’re *getting a smaller piece than they would have if everyone had gotten the same slice*. (That is, as far as I can tell, where we currently are – if we worked together and implemented some of the technologies I have spoken of elsewhere in this blog, we’d all be – at least in terms of the experiences we were having – rich beyond the dreams of avarice. But the people with the most resources – the ones who could most help make that happen – would rather be known as the head cheese, than have more because we all have more)

Anyway, back to my original point. One example of this is overdraft fees. Now, first of all, these obviously don’t represent anything rational in the real-value world. It didn’t cost the bank *anything* that the overdraft occured, other than the very tiny loss of imaginary fractional banking reserve headroom. In the real world, no resources were lost. However, the bank robs (no other word for it) the customer based on the overdraft, thusly making the accounting system get out of whack with real world resources.

I don’t know that the USSR specifically had overdraft fees, but I do know that not all dollars – or rubles – are created equal, so any time you have the idea that you can put a price on something you’re probably falling for the fallacy of price. A dollar that buys a robot-farmed apple is a much “cheaper” dollar than a dollar that buys a handmade item made by a craftsman. A dollar that buys power generated by coal is a much more expensive dollar – measure in suffering or in dead people, your choice – than a dollar that buys power generated by a nuclear plant. We try to use scarcity to set price, but this isn’t that reasonable a thing to do and encourages gaming of the system (I gesture you to Enron shutting down all of California’s peaker plants so it could make millions off of how power had suddenly become scarce). The truth is, the idea that it’s rational to give things a price tag is a fallacy. And yet, we do need to encourage people to conserve scarce resources, and to budget and make decisions based on what’s most important to them. How to do?

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