The “planner”

Frank Chodorov writes in “The Rise and Fall of Society”-

The essence of value is the human capacity of measuring intensity of desire. When the two frontiersmen bartered their respective abundances, their desires were limited to the necessaries. As increasing population makes for a greater subdivision of labor, and therefore for a greater variety of goods and services, this problem of evaluating desires and of exerting one’s will in favor of this or that satisfaction becomes correspondingly more intricate. When the choice lay between a bear skin and going naked, the problem of raiment was readily resolved. But now the matter involves a choice between a two-button and a three-button suit, between blue and gray, to say nothing of the quality of workmanship or correctness of size; also, population has brought a new influence to bear upon the evaluation, that of public opinion, and style becomes a consideration. Antecedent to the clothing problem, moreover, a decision must be made between clothing and a harness for the horse or a set of books for the children. The desires are many. What constriction, in the nature of things, compels a decision in favor of one gratification over another? What is the true measure of intensity of desire? The answer that man gives to this question is a ratio between variables: that gratification which, taking into consideration all the factors of inclination, environment, and necessity, will yield him the most satisfaction, according to his lights, in return for the least amount of effort that must be given up to acquire it. For it is written in the book of life that the cost of every “good” is that undesirable thing called effort.

Thus labor, in juxtaposition to desire, is the ultimate determinant of value. Let us keep in mind, however, that it is not the labor invested in producing the “good” which fixes its value—not the “cost of production”—but the labor one must give up as the price of possession. The fisherman was not unaware of the effort expended in getting the fish, effort he might have put into growing potatoes, and the other frontiersman knows how much time he invested in his tubers. This awareness of labor cost bears heavily on their respective evaluations of their desires for the things offered in trade; therefore, the cost of production (or the cost of reproduction) tends to approximate the price of gratification.

It would not serve the purposes of this essay—which is concerned with the economic forces that underlie social institutions—to delve into the theory, or theories, of value, or the related subject of price. It is enough to point out that were it not for this human capacity to make evaluations there would be no market place, and if there were no market place there would be no Society. Despite all the recondite thought that has been put into this subject, no definition of value offered is quite as definitive as the popular phrase “easy come, easy go.” What one acquires with little effort one has little reluctance to part with if in so doing one can obtain something wanted; on the other hand, if the getting of a pair of shoes calls for the giving up of a month’s labor, an inhibitory influence comes into play and maybe the old shoes will be pressed into service for a while longer. It is this interplay of two psychological forces—intensity of desire and aversion to labor—that is the essence of value, and any attempt to reduce it to a mathematical formula is fatuous; to do so would require an understanding of the inner workings of every individual, under all circumstances, and that calls for omniscience. When a trade is consummated, the psychological forces come to rest, and this objective act is a historical fact that is measurable; that is, the price agreed upon tells us something about what the buyer and seller had been cogitating upon before the trade took place. There is no way of measuring their antecedent emotional experiences. And even then, even after the trade has been consummated, it cannot be said with certainty that it will be repeated. The determination of value in the future is largely guesswork. That is why there are “mark down” sales.

This impossibility of fixing future values is the rock on which “economic planning” founders. Not only is the planner without data on which to base his prognoses, but the plannee himself cannot furnish it. No man can foretell with certainty what he will want at a future time, or how much he will want it, for no man can predict the influences that will determine his decisions. Today he is most anxious to have a hat, but tomorrow he is convinced that headgear causes loss of hair and he decides to go uncovered; or the repair of his roof is a more pressing need than the automobile he had set his heart on; or a lessening of his income compels a reevaluation of his desires. Variability of choice makes predictions most precarious, as producers well know. The best the planner can do is to forecast “average” desires on the basis of past experience. But the “average” necessarily eliminates the desires of last year’s minority, who may be the majority this year. Confronted with this problem of variability in desires, the “economic planner” must resort to constriction, to limitation of choice, to the strangulation of imagination. The planner undertakes to prescribe what the individual should want, and the basis for his prescription is a conviction that he knows best what is “good” for the individual. Because it is in the market place that variability of choice expresses itself, through price, the planner’s conceit leads him to attempt to control consumption by controlling price. But price is not controllable, simply because desires are not controllable. The barrier to free choice which the planner sets up acts like the dam in the river; the water does not stop flowing but either overflows the dam or spreads out in a lake. Price control does not stop wanting or bidding; it simply creates what propaganda calls a “black market,” which is in fact the true market, somewhat distorted but nevertheless true. It may be illegal but it is highly moral, for it arises from the individual’s right to himself, to the product of his labors, and to the pursuit of happiness which is the essence of living.

Since the control of consumption by means of fixed prices proves impossible, the planner turns to constricting productive specialization. That is, he undertakes to desocialize Society. As we have seen, men come together and cooperate for the improvement of their circumstances—to raise their common wage level—and they accomplish this purpose through specialization; any attempt to constrict specialization is therefore unnatural and regressive; to the extent that if it succeeds it tends to break up the integration or to retard its growth. Men must then get along on less. But it is not in the nature of men to get along on less, and to counteract this inner drive the planner must resort to violence. All “economic planning” ultimately rests on purging. Purging of what? Of the impulses on which Society is built. The “economic planner” does not control prices or production; he polices men.

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