Once of the criticisms I often find in reviews of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics–and believe me, most of them do mention this–is that it’s too ‘conservative’, and not in a blatantly obvious way. The reviews seemed to note that the pro-right views were more… subtle. Nevertheless, in my reading this morning, I came across this statement, clearly in support of the right/capitalist view:
“The amount of such highly localized information [regarding gas sales in the area], known to thousands of individual filling station owners scattered across the United States, is too enormous to be transmitted to some central point and then be digested in time to lead to government allocations of fuel with the same efficiency as a price-coordinated market can acheive.” (Sowell, Basic Economics. 2000.)
Clearly, a blow aimed at socialism. However wrong it may seem for myself, a fifteen-year-old dabbler, to argue the claims of a seventy-something economics professor, I have to object. Two things: 1) There is a way to transmit that enormous amount of information: it’s called the Internet. With live-updating and more system compatibility in today’s network, thousands of localized computers could be almost seamlessly channeled into the computers of a company headquarters for data-filtering. 2) The idea of democratic socialism accommodates for that large amount of information received (after filtering). One of the big ideas pushed forth by socialism is that the government needs to be much larger to provide more services and act more democratically. True, the government cannot deal with this sort of a system as it exists, but the larger government proposed by socialists possibly could.
I may not be right in saying that, of course, because I suffer from that idealistic “if the world changed completely to suit this new system, it would be perfect” view that seems to plague philosophers (especially the politically-minded ones). I just wanted to point out that it may have been inconvenient to relay information to government branches in the past, but the internet and live connectivity have completely changed that. If someone can tell you how to unbug your Microsoft Word from India at virtually no cost, certainly a socialist government is now plausible–at least more than it used to be.
This leads me to an interesting question: as the world becomes more seamlessly integrated via live internet connectivity, does socialism really become more plausible, and if it does, is this the way the world might eventually start to shift? That’s what the dystopian authors from the 50’s seemed to predict, but they weren’t living in the world of constant connection that we do now. Books like The World is Flat (Thomas Friedman) seem to reassure that capitalism will ultimately prevail, but I have to wonder: if socialism becomes more plausible, will it become more attractive?
Not to say that I’m fully in favor of socialism (slightly inclined that way, maybe, but not in really in support of it), but the idea of its plausibility possibly correlating with its attractiveness is worth thinking about. Socialism is one of those ideas I’m a bit iffy about, because I love the idea politically, but it’s not as economically or socially sustainable as would make me comfortable. That, and 99% of dystopian literature uses a form of hyper-socialism as the evil government. Name me a single piece of dystopian literature that uses a form of hyper-capitalism as the big, bad institution and I’ll put everything aside to read it. Where would socialism ultimately lead us? Not a clue; and that’s the problem.