Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

How do anti-capitalist anarchists solve the Calculation Problem?

+2 votes

According to capitalist supporters, especially Austrian economists such as Ludwig Von Mises, they claim that free markets (or markets in general) are practically impossible without currency. They say that currency is required to establish price signals and thereby establish supply and demand. Any system without a supply and demand system will have gross inefficiencies and will either inevitably collapse (As Mises predicated with the USSR) or lapse into extreme poverty stuck in a barter system. Do anti-capitalist anarchists have a solution?

 I know some claim that we can use computers but multiple studies have been done that show some of the most powerful super computers today can't even process the calculations needed for a small town with no currency, let alone a whole nation. I see mutualists talking about issuing currencies with funny rules. Funny rules include: Issuing currency for work (By a central planner?), the employee would pay for commodities and the currency would be destroyed which would break the supply and demand signals needed for the supplier the employee purchased from. Not only that, but a mutualist currency is just yet another fiat currency which robs us of our currencies purchasing power and robs us of experiencing the passive currency value increase on innovation (because the money supply is always inflating, which more than cancels out the innovations cost savings). Not to mention the economic booms and busts fiat currency creates and the corruption when someone has control over a currency system. And then there's the counterfeiter, what do you do with them?

This question would mainly be aimed at anarcho-syndicalists since they propose an industrial system (which I like for my standard of living), but that makes the calculations infinitely worse without a stable currency. It's not so bad for small communes (50-100 people or so) and it's not an issue with anarcho-primitivists because many tribes organically create their own commodity currencies such as shells, beads, feathers, special tokens which are precursors to the more energy intensive commodity currencies of gold, silver, etc of industrialised civilisations. Even people in Western Pennsylvania used whiskey as a commodity currency until George Washington came down, showed force, and killed a few civilians(Whiskey Rebellion) and then imposed the whiskey tax. 

This question just bugs me, if there was a real solution to the Calculation Problem I would be much more comfortable with anti-capitalist anarchism. Especially since anarcho-syndicalists in places like Catalonia Spain killed anyone who used currencies, seems like an extreme solution for yet no obvious alternative. So, what do you think, is there a solution to the Calculation Problem?

Here's a link for probably a better explanation of the Calculation Problem:


asked May 31, 2015 by AnarchyInPrinciple
edited May 31, 2015
Oh, for Fuck's* sake.


This question bugs you,  because we have all been brainwashed into caring what some sycophant parasite from centurial-dusted austria opines upon our lives.  Fuck them, one and all; the bounds they put upon the discussion of our lives is overly-narrow and intentionally circumscribed - they try to bind the debate to their examples and ignore the rest of our lives.


ussr - had a functioning currency/wage system, so fuck von mises.

-syndicalists in spain killed anyone who used currency - ??? what the ...  That's a new one on me, i can't comment until you give me something to go on there...

Whiskey Rebellion!  -  this seems to be a recurring theme.  Irrelevant as a datapoint, maybe relevant as an underlying meme?!


In plain english, their 'Calculation Problem' is an artifact of a world view that most of the people on this site (and anyone who subscribes to 'anti-capitalist') rejects out of hand.  It is akin to asking a lobster its opinion on Carnot's thermodynamic efficiencies, - totally bloody irrelevant, (except, unlike the lobsters, we have pointy sticks, and shit that burns really really fast...)


The problem, dear heart, is not what some dead (or soon to be dead) academic scribbled in some self-indulgent paper;  the problem is that you (as many of us) have not yet shrugged off these clinging ghouls.  You will, soon enough; til then be welcome in our arms, and please help us pick the ghouly bits off our backs - the damn things keep turning up.



* - Fuck : primary ancestral fertility diety.

- Not to be confused with Shit/Piss, the ancestral diety of regeneration and renewal.
some damn good shit there, cb.
HAHAHAHAHA clodbuster, i would give that 5 likes if you made that an answer, (j/k....creating 4 usernames isn't fun enough for that purpose).

this is really all you need to know about capitalism, the izzy azalea critique/masculine love ballad of the institution of work

here's another good one: preliminary materials for the theory of the young girl


Do you have a source for the claim

"multiple studies have been done that show some of the most powerful super computers today can't even process the calculations needed for a small town with no currency, let alone a whole nation."?

 Wikipedia cites Nove, but a quick glance shows no such argument.


2 Answers

+3 votes

I think this is a great question, it mirrors a lot of my previous doubts about "small community" thinking.


Anti-capitalists cannot solve problems for large groups of other people. However, they've proven how wonderful they can be at creating problems for large groups of people. Industry requires central planning, and hence needs to be controlled by a small planning committee while everyone else has to do the actual labor(I.E., THEY HAVE TO TAKE ORDERS). While those who work the labor can get payed handsomely (the mondragon cooperative is a good example of that), factory labor is very repetitive and therefore unfulfilling for lots of people, and as someone who has had a lot of experience with small businesses, management can be extremely stressful and usually IS unfulfilling. Stress and repetitive motion can have very detrimental effects on the body, and day-day-out masochism isn't worth any amount of money.  And of course, industry also requires a massive amount of environmental destruction in it's current form.. I'm not too optimistic about finding a techno-solution because we still aren't even close to being able to run the entire industrial civilization off solar energy, and science has made tons of innovations in their efficiency.

If you want to find comfort in a solution to the worlds problems, just give up: you won't. Welcome to nihilism, have a nice day.

Edit: it may be possible that a small ACTION could wipe out societal misery, but it hasn't happened yet....

answered Jun 1, 2015 by anonymous
edited Jun 1, 2015 by
–3 votes
Short answer: by keeping an abstracted measure of value, without turning that abstraction, which we call currency, into capital.  

The claim is that capital currency is indispensable because we use flows of it to gather information about exchange.  I argue instead that information about exchange is indispensable, and the abstraction of value that facilitates exchange can be divorced from capital. We can give currency the qualities we want it to have and deny it the defects we deplore.

Gathering data doesn't have to be tied to a manipulable, inequitable commodity like a capital currency. When an exchange happens, we will still record inventories, which is most of what markets track.  Additionally we can have a treasure chest of complimentary information to contextualize that data, which markets mostly lack.

Mises argument relies on a too-familiar assumption, often asserted by someone looking to stop a conversation: there is no alternative.  He said it long before Thatcher did.  According to him, markets and only markets provide relevant information. I believe that better information than any market provides can be gathered by asking people what they want and observing what they actually choose to get.

At first, what people ask for and what they will offer to provide will be unequal.  In the first iteration of this system, we will ask for (for example) too much booze and not enough bicycles, and other misalignments.  Workers who make these things will respond with what they will commit to producing and how much work it will take.  Then, people who asked for a gallon of whisky a month will see the aggregate social cost reflected in a realistically indicative price, and some will revise their request to half a gallon.  At the same time, some people will notice the cost of a bicycle is lower than they thought it might be, and decide they want one instead of none.  These revised requests go back to the workers in aggregate, and a new set of prices are proposed. At each iteration requests fluctuate less, prices get more stable, and when a threshold of tolerance is reached, we have a democratic, self-managed agreement on how much of what will be produced, and how much abstract representation of effort it will cost to buy each product.

Notice that we do not have to *mandate* that people consume all or only what they requested.  Those requests can be smeared out into a general geographic or associative population, so people who overestimated their desire for booze can balance out those who underestimated, and demand will still be met.  If real demand gets too far ahead of agreed production plus a scheduled reasonable surplus, a real-time price adjustment can be made, and the data collected can be used predictively in the next round of iterations.  The process will get better as successive cycles are completed.  All the data anyone could want can be collected and analyzed without ever introducing a capital currency, a central planner, or even very much unmet want or wasted production - far less than market capitalism creates now.

Mises had some useful ideas about making predictions based on past behavior.  He also had some terrible ideas, like fascism being a worthwhile tool for managing emergencies - such "emergencies" to include direct democracy and attempts to reduce class disparity.  While I think his brand of liberalism has done plenty of harm, I also think derivatives of his work in the study of decision making can be applied to a better system.
answered Jun 2, 2015 by k.lin (460 points)
i downvoted this answer because there is absolutely nothing anarchistic about it. one can be anti-capitalist without being an anarchist, and i'm not even sure how anti-capitalist this is.