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“”You can force poor beggars in factories to produce more products, but a farmer can't force the land to produce. He can't preach Marx to the weather so that it rains at the right time. And in the whole of Russia the sun has never been known for as much as one day to listen to the economics of the late Joseph Stalin.
|—Leonard Wibberley, The Mouse that Roared|
A command economy (also known as a planned economy) refers to an economic model in which a central authority
coerces at gunpoint informs farms, factories, schools and companies:
- Which and how many goods, services and professionals to produce
- Where to distribute these and who may partake
- Deciding their set price and value semi-arbitrarily (e.g. 'by decree')
In order for these processes to even be doable on a national scale, far-reaching central control is needed — typically, featuring the total nationalization of industry, education and labour, alongside invention of the internal machinations required to ensure top-down compliance from every individual
cog in the machine person in the system.
This, in stark contrast to the spectrum of demand economies (also known as market economies), in which each individual is — at least theoretically — free to name his or her own terms when it comes to production and trade.
Midas or madness?
“”Planning is not equivalent to 'perfect' allocation of resources, nor 'scientific' allocation, nor even ‘more humane’ allocation. It simply means ‘direct’ allocation, ex ante. As such, it is the opposite of market allocation, which is ex post.
|—Ernest Mandel, In Defence of Socialist Planning|
The command economy model is best known for two things:
- Being attempted by a number of Communist regimes during the 20th century
- Generally blowing up in their faces before too long
In this capacity, the command model has repeatedly been the subject of heavy criticism from all sides of the political spectrum (with the exception of enthusiastic authoritarians, on both sides of the horseshoe). Right-wingers criticize it mainly for gutting free enterprise and traditional values, while left-wingers typically protest that the centralized hierarchy inherent to command economies go against not only Karl Marx's original vision of 'stateless communism', but also clash powerfully with a range of cherished socialist ideals. People and institutions ranging across the political spectrum have expressed vehement skepticism towards the Stalinist-reeking concept of overtly signing away all functions of economic self-determination to a distant clique of politically untouchable 'experts'.
Outside the context of acute periods of war, the command economy model has never been promoted by mainstream economists
outside of totalitarian dictatorships, it having achieved a certain 'general recognition' for being woefully inefficient — to the point of being counterproductive — in the management of any peacetime economy. Rather, current disputes in macroeconomics lie widely between doctrinaire free-marketeers and promoters of government intervention (i.e., of a "mixed economy" ) — a discussion far removed from the fantastical realm of 'great leaps' and 'five-year plans'.
Historically, two major countries to feature command economies were China and the Soviet Union, respectively. While demonstrably capable of garnering results in the short term — a feature held in common with a number of non-command economies — both experiments were ultimately wraught with the loss of social mobility, wild fluctuations in the availability of goods and services, the formation of black markets utterly dwarfing their western 'Prohibition era' counterparts, state-sponsored pseudoscience, famines (both intentional and otherwise), unprecedented environmental devastation, unchecked human error and general ideological insanity.
By the late 1970's, sheer necessity increasingly drove both nations to overhaul their respective economies. While the former, China, is still nominally communist, its economy has diverged dramatically from the introverted 'self-reliance' implied by the old ideals (instead, expanding powerfully into global free market trade). The latter, Soviet Union, no longer exists — in part, as a result of its much more 'ideologically pure' command economy going completely haywire on them for that reason. Exemplifying the sunk cost fallacy, more than a decade of continuous 'life support' proved inconsequential in compensating for the systemic flaws endemic to command economies.
Historical examples of command economies
- The Soviet Union (USSR), and its many satellites, before the collapse. Wasn't doing too hot.
- The People's Republic of China, which had a planned economy until the late 1970s, when Mao Zedong died. Wasn't doing too hot, either. Since giving up its planned economy, however, China's economy has come close to double-digit economic growth rates, though still at the cost of terrible pollution and appalling working conditions in its semi-privatized factories (not that working conditions were so much better before industrialization) due to the inability of the government to effectively legislate, enforce, and/or give a single fuck about the environment.
- Iraq, from the ascension of Saddam Hussein to his overthrow in 2003. Naomi Klein noted in her book The Shock Doctrine that privatization of state-owned industries was done in an intentionally harsh manner, causing unrest when many of the newly unemployed men became militants. Doing way better since ceasing to be a command economy.
- Libya, while a Third International Theory command economy under the dictatorship of Gaddafi, is no longer considered a command economy. In 2013, the World Bank officially defined it as an "Upper Middle Income Economy".
- Laos was at one point a command economy, though it underwent market reforms in the 80s (i.e. not exactly yesterday) now receives loans from the IMF et. al., with commercial tourism racing to the front as the fastest-growing industry. The economy of Laos is no longer a command economy whatsoever, and has generally picked up enormously since dropping the command model.
- Vietnam, which — like Laos — underwent market reforms in the 80s towards implementing a so-called Socialist-oriented market economy; the motivating force being an unwillingness for the nation to go belly-up economically just in exchange for staying loyal to the Soviet-type command economy.
- Myanmar (Burma) — whose ruling general once made the currency divisible by nine because he was told by his seer it was "lucky", causing chaos — was a command economy up to 2011. And what a sight it was! The so-called Burmese Way to Socialism was one of the worst fails in the history of command economies, quite literally single-handedly bankrupting the nation into one of the poorest and most squalid in the entire world. While Myanmar's economy was tied with North Korea's (!) in terms of control and state planning as late as 2009, liberalizations and foreign investment starting in 2011 have since given the country a much-needed gasp of air. Wikipedia now describes it as an "emerging economy".
Modern examples of command economies
- The present-day United States, where the economy is centrally controlled not by a political elite acting through the government, but by plutocrats acting through corporations. It enjoys all the inefficiency and waste of a Soviet-style command economy, but with the benefits directed to as little of the population as possible. 
- Belarus, lone holdout of the former Soviet republics due to its lumbering Stalin-esque dictatorship. Not doing too hot.
- Cuba, never really got off the ground due to major economical sanctions from America, and had to mostly rely on trade with the USSR. Although certain market reforms have been made in recent years, such as letting people become independent contractors (e.g. plumbers) as they can earn more going to consumers directly this way. The Cuban government has also learned a lesson on the many boons of mixed economies — that income from (comparatively free) enterprise can be supported and taxed, thus effectively generating more revenue for state and individual.
- North Korea, a known basket case, is (despite tenuous and minor reforms in 2015) still aptly described as a "rigid centrally planned economy" — ignoring the rampant black market trading (which the
criminalgovernment actually takes part in operating), which includes participation in the international drug trade, the counterfeiting of foreign goods and currencies, human trafficking and illegal arms trading (often with other state-terrorist regimes). Probably the purest incarnation of a textbook command economy operating today — go figure.
Examples that don't really count
- Saudi Arabia, whose oil findings — a random
jackpotfeature of its geography — is the source of the vast majority of its considerable national wealth, technically has a command economy. However, considering the nation's massive oil findings, it should be pointed out that basically any concievable economic system which would allow exploitation and export of the nation's oil would be very, very hard to bankrupt. In other words, as far as economies successful by virtue of them being command economies goes, Saudi Arabia is quite useless as an example. Either way, Saudi Arabia is defined as a "unitary Islamic absolute monarchy" which never recieved any notable influence from Marxist thought, having been a typical monarchy living off a primitive subsistence economy until the big oil dollars started rolling in (ca mid-20th century), making Saudi Arabia the living nightmare of liberals and leftists alike — a filthy rich nation which, aside from its wealth, politically remains entirely pre-enlightenment.
- The historical United States (and essentially every industrialized economy on the planet) during World War II were not command economies, but war economies, which vary substantially from command economies. Furthermore, the US war economy more closely resembled military keynesianism than anything else.
- Major companies — particularly multinationals, those holding a monopoly, or one of the few members of an oligopoly — wisely plan ahead and try to impose their prices and levels of demand on the market, instead of letting them arise "naturally" on the "free market". Naturally, this isn't really the same as operating like a command economy at all, because — aside from not relating to a nation-state, but rather to a market niche — instead of unelected Soviet goons, God-fearing capitalists are at the helm of those companies! And as we all know, anyone could succeed at becoming a capitalist
- Noting that the completely unfettered free market, taken to its extreme, tends to only produce greater freedom of economic action for the rich, powerful, and politically connected — and woe to those who'd form labor unions then!
- Noteworthy socialist ideals made null and void in command economies include: the right not to be reduced to a 'cog in the machine'; practically every socialist conception of localized 'bottoms-up' self-organization; many communalist principles (e.g. democratic rotation of communal offices); the 'widdling away of the state'; internationalist- and pacifist sentiment (e.g. the right to not participate in arms manufacture)<; et cetera, et cetera...
- Just as undertaking a stickup robbery 'actually works' in terms of certainly being able to produce short-term results — though, just at the expense of the long-term.
- See the Wikipedia article on Era of Stagnation.
- See the Wikipedia article on Great Leap Forward.
- See the Wikipedia article on Economic_reform_of_Iraq#Effects.
- See the Wikipedia article on Libya#Economy.
- See the Wikipedia article on Laos#Economy.
- See the Wikipedia article on Socialist-oriented market economy#Reforms leading to establishment.
- Business in Burma: Show me the money, but only if it's crisp, Christian Science Monitor
- See the Wikipedia article on Myanmar#Economic liberalisation.2C_post.E2.80.932011.
- http://www.heritage.org/index/country/Burma (Note: see data from 2009)
- See the Wikipedia article on Economy of Myanmar#Economic liberalisation .282011-present.29.
- Hudson, Michael, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy (Baskerville, 2015) pp.10-11
- See the Wikipedia article on Belarus#Economy.
- see the Cuba article on the US Department of the Treasury https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/cuba.aspx
- Really, Cuba abolished most taxation for over 30 years.
- See the Wikipedia article on Economy of North Korea.
- See the Wikipedia article on North Korea's illicit activities.
- See the Wikipedia article on Politics of Saudi Arabia.
- See the Wikipedia article on Saudi Arabia#Economy.