`One mind'

Austrian opponents of socialism talk as if socialist planning has to be carried out by one man. Mises (1949) personified him as `the director'. Hayek continues the metaphor, stating that the ``data from which the economic calculus starts are never for the whole society given to a single mind;SPMquot;. How then, he asks, can one mind presume to improve on the combined result of the cogitations of millions (as achieved via the market)? Surely only a megalomaniac, or at any rate one blinded by scientific hubris, could propose such a thing.

Of course no single individual has the brainpower to understand all of the interconnections of an economy, but when have socialists ever asserted anything so foolish? Not even the most avid personality cultists claimed that Stalin drew up the 5-year plans himself. What socialists have proposed is the replacement of market information processing by the processing of economic information within a planning organisation. In the past, because of technological limitations, the planning organisation has proceeded by a division of mental labour among a large number of people. In the future, the information processing is likely to be done mainly by computing machines.

In neither case---and here our critique of Hayek's subjectivism comes into play---is the information concentrated in one mind. In the former case it is obviously not in the mind of a single worker, but it is not even in the minds of a collection of workers. Instead, the information is mainly in their written records, forms, ledgers, etc. These constitute the indispensible means of administration. From the earliest temple civilisations of Sumer and the Nile, the development of economic administration was predicated upon the development of means of calculation and record. The human mind enters in as an initial recorder of information, and then as a manipulator of the recorded information. By procedures of calculation strings of symbols are read and transformed ones written down. The symbols---whether they be arabic numerals, notches on tally sticks or quipu---represent physical quantities of goods; their transformations model actual or potential movements of these goods.

By posing the question in terms of concentrating the information in a single mind, Hayek harks back to a pre-civilised condition, abstracting from the real processes that make any form of administration possible. If instead, his objection is that no system of administration can possibly have the information-processing capacity required for the task, then he is liable to the attack that information technology has revolutionised the amount of information that can be effectively administered.