29 MARCH 1940, Page 22

Books of the Day

Liberal Socialism

The Economics of Socialism. By H. D. Dickinson. (Oxford University Press. 8s. 6d.) SOCIALIST and individualist economics parted company in the mid-nineteenth century, when Marx, as someone has said, misunderstood a mistake of Ricardo's and wrote Das Kapital. " Making full circle of ,their banishment," though hardly " with tears of recognition never dry," they have of late drawn sur- prisingly close together again. This does not apply to the, as it were, Corpernican system of the Marxist faithful—let us say the economics of the Plebs League—and its individualist counterpart, of which perhaps the most widely-read repre- sentative in this country is Mr. S. W. Alexander of the Evening Standard. Between these rival brands, equally pathetically out of date, there is not even the possibility of intelligent argu- ment ; they simply do not use the same language. But the situation is radically altered when one turns, on the one hand, to the up-to-date leaders of individualist economic thought, whether at London, Cambridge or elsewhere, and on the other to the " market Socialists," notably Mr. Dickinson. Mr. Dickinson has written a good deal on the subject, but his work hitherto has been very heavy going for the general reader—or, indeed, anyone else. The Economics of Socialism, however, makes the latest developments of Socialist theory, and its remarkable rapprochement to individualist economics, acces- sible to all. Here there is a common language, a common recognition of economic criteria, a not very divergent view of social ends, a common apparatus of analysis and—it is not too fanciful to hope—a common ground for a synthesis of ideas.

What is this common ground? There is the recognition of the fact that economic value is derived from utility, desirability, significance—what consumers think of the thing in question— and not from the Mandan " socially necessary labour time." There is the stress on the need for fluidity and nice adjust- ment, the free shifting of men and capital, materials and organ- ising ability, from less to more important uses, from less to more economical combinations, in response to changes in demand, in technical knowledge, and in abundance or scarcity of the various primary factors of production. There is the cardinal importance of price as the thermostat of the whole economic order, indicating and measuring gluts and scarcities and affording an incentive to remedy them. There is the whole theoretical apparatus, the device of marginal analysis, the theory of imputation, the terminology. Negatively, there is the common aversion to monopoly, restriction, economic nationalism, the fetish of " sunk capital " and the arbitrary infringement of consumers' freedom of choice. It is an impressive list.

There are plenty of differences, theoretical and other. What to the individualist is an occasional unimportant freak phenomenon of monopoly—the payment to labour of a wage below the value of its imputed product—is to the Socialist Mr. Dickinson an inevitable and universal accompaniment of capitalism. Monopoly itself, to the individualist a pathological excrescence on capitalism, deriving from institutional faults and remediable by institutional changes, is a natural stage of capitalism inseparable from its evolution. It follows, for Mr. Dickinson, that capitalism can achieve neither social justice nor the economic efficiency claimed—and rightly claimed, in his view—for the smoothly functioning indi- vidualist economies of the text-books. Paradoxically, price can only do its job properly under Socialism, with a Supreme Economic Council to co-ordinate and finance the various subordinate economic organs as they " play at competition." Under Socialism, with every economic unit working " within glass walls," the necessary data for economic decision will be available as they are not now ; particular and social gains and losses can be compared and adjusted as they are not now. With equality of opportunity and accurate costing of labour, the net advantages of different occupations could be equalised as they are not now. The individualist economist will hardly accept all this. As a matter of pure economic theory, perhaps the pricing and costing process should go on as smoothly under a planned as under an individualist economy ; as a matter of practical administration, the indi- vidualist sees a nightmare prospect of cumbersome calcula- tions, mountainously piling into arrears on the desks- of the unfortunate planners, only to be swept away in the end in favour of a despairing return to economic dictator- ship. On the international aspects of planning, Mr. Dickinson has no doubts. State capitalism certainly leads to war, for it pursues a nationalistic policy. But a Socialist State has no desire or motive to push exports, wrangle for concessions, corner raw materials, exploit foreign workers, practice exclu- sion, or otherwise endanger international good relations . . Well, well. The likelihood that planning will breed a caucus of dictators, great and small, is another point on which Mr. Dickinson and the liberal economists are at odds.

There are, in fact, differences enough. But they are differ- ences susceptible to being resolved by discussion between reasonable men. There is more in common between liberal individualism and libertarian Socialism than between either of these and their respective parodies—the doctrinaire tyranny of the bureaucrat and the money-grabbing tyranny of the