I just read The Economic Bandwidth Problem by Frank Miroslav. It’s another just-so story about how trying to beat the Invisible Hand at efficient allocation makes no more sense than trying to initiate perpetual motion. That it would be an uphill battle, anyway, with the assumption that somehow an uphill battle necessarily brings “force” into the equation.
Two categories of non-market left ideas are given as examples. One is the “centrally planned state socialism” put forward by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell. The other is Parecon as described by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel “over several books.” While the former is described as centrally planned, the latter is not described as decentralized. Parecon is also described as something to be found in books, with no mention of applications of it to the publication and distribution of books, and to other cooperative undertakings.
Perhaps the most distilled description of what anagorism is supposed to be is the anagorist slogan “against market and state!” I reflexively smell a straw man whenever anyone posits a dichotomy. My first instinct is to look for a third way that is categorically different from each of the two ways someone has conveniently placed in front of me. In this case, there seems to be an assertion that any instance of the idea of a planned economy belongs necessarily in either the category of “centrally planned economy” or the complementary category of decentralized planned economy, which “exists only on paper.”
Miroslav says the central problem at the heart of the economic calculation problem today is bandwidth. While more bandwidth would be useful, I feel I must disagree. The huge problem as I see it is signal-to-noise ratio, or the fact that the bandwidth that is available is used very, very wastefully.
Apparently, some of us have been led to believe that the coordination successes we’ve seen under capitalism can be turned towards socialist ends. I believe the source of this capitalist success is neither computing power nor bandwidth, but extreme information asymmetry. Would successfully counteracting this asymmetry, or even stealing the informational assets, serve socialist ends?
How extreme is the level of information asymmetry surrounding a typical transaction in the market economy as we know it? I contend that it’s the informational equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Modern websites and mobile apps are designed specifically to transmit signal (behavioral data and other actionable data) in one direction and noise (basically bloat) in the other. “Basic informational realities of the universe” aside, this “Maxwell’s Dæmon” approach to accumulation of informational advantage seems to work. Maybe it doesn’t, and the businesses who are spending billions on the services of data brokers are basically buying snake oil. Then again, maybe we’re living in the best of all possible worlds. At any rate, when it comes to individual economic decisions, it appears to me that there are some very high bandwidth channels for accessing data that might be used for decision support. It also appears that the information landscape visible to individuals is largely controlled by business. Which price quotes offered up for price comparison, for example, is a question of which vendors have an exclusivity deal with the “comparison shopping” website. One thing that does not exist is a way to run queries against the combined product offerings of the global economy. This is a failure of signal-to-noise ratio, not of bandwidth.