No, socialism is still a really bad idea, even with a spine

The Guardian treats us to a long read about what socialism should be for the future. There's something of a pity to it as John Quiggin is usually better than this. The definition of neoliberalism wanders around too much, equating at times the US meaning (let's be good progressives but use markets to do so) to our own full on embrace of and cheerleading for markets and economic liberty globally.

The definition of socialism similarly changes, at some point meaning just a bit more redistribution, at others wholesale restructuring of everything. But there is still the one great glorious error:

A socialist program would allocate much less economic activity to big business, and more to other forms of organisation. In deciding what kind of economic activity belongs where, a range of considerations are relevant.

This is to be the Fat Controller with the economy (no, Quiggin has lost weight, this is not that insult). It is to think that we can allocate across the economy in this manner. And the truth is we cannot, which is the great failure of exactly this sort of socialist planning of it.

We can most certainly change the rules. We could make coops more privileged over more capitalist forms of organisation, certainly. We can change how much redistribution we do. Raise or lower tax levels, there are all sorts of things feasible. But allocation isn't one of them.

For people react to changes in those rules - that being a useful description of economics itself, how do people react to changes in incentives? One of the rather important points being that the reactions can be different from those envisaged. Making food nice and cheap by fiat doesn't lead to cheerful farmers delivering the stuff up, it leads to them not growing any. Allocating a sector to small business rather than large isn't going to work well. For there's clearly a good reason why it's being done on a large scale in the first place, isn't there? 

We've tested the idea of socialist planning and allocation to destruction, we generally refer to that experiment as the 20th century. There are still useful discussions to be had about making the world a better place but a return to that failed idea isn't one of them.