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Since the demise of the USSR, the mantle of the largest planned economies in the world has been taken up by the likes of Walmart, Amazon and other multinational corporations For the left and the right, major multinational companies are held up as the ultimate expressions of free-market capitalism. Their remarkable success appears to vindicate the old idea that modern societ Since the demise of the USSR, the mantle of the largest planned economies in the world has been taken up by the likes of Walmart, Amazon and other multinational corporations For the left and the right, major multinational companies are held up as the ultimate expressions of free-market capitalism. Their remarkable success appears to vindicate the old idea that modern society is too complex to be subjected to a plan. And yet, as Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski argue, much of the economy of the West is centrally planned at present. Not only is planning on vast scales possible, we already have it and it works. The real question is whether planning can be democratic. Can it be transformed to work for us? An engaging, polemical romp through economic theory, computational complexity, and the history of planning, The People’s Republic of Walmart revives the conversation about how society can extend democratic decision-making to all economic matters. With the advances in information technology in recent decades and the emergence of globe-straddling collective enterprises, democratic planning in the interest of all humanity is more important and closer to attainment than ever before.


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Since the demise of the USSR, the mantle of the largest planned economies in the world has been taken up by the likes of Walmart, Amazon and other multinational corporations For the left and the right, major multinational companies are held up as the ultimate expressions of free-market capitalism. Their remarkable success appears to vindicate the old idea that modern societ Since the demise of the USSR, the mantle of the largest planned economies in the world has been taken up by the likes of Walmart, Amazon and other multinational corporations For the left and the right, major multinational companies are held up as the ultimate expressions of free-market capitalism. Their remarkable success appears to vindicate the old idea that modern society is too complex to be subjected to a plan. And yet, as Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski argue, much of the economy of the West is centrally planned at present. Not only is planning on vast scales possible, we already have it and it works. The real question is whether planning can be democratic. Can it be transformed to work for us? An engaging, polemical romp through economic theory, computational complexity, and the history of planning, The People’s Republic of Walmart revives the conversation about how society can extend democratic decision-making to all economic matters. With the advances in information technology in recent decades and the emergence of globe-straddling collective enterprises, democratic planning in the interest of all humanity is more important and closer to attainment than ever before.

30 review for The People’s Republic of Walmart: How the World’s Biggest Corporations are Laying the Foundation for Socialism

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    An accessible introduction into economic planning. The book’s thesis is that, with the help of recent technological advances, effective planning is not only possible but already commonplace within large multinational corporations such as Walmart and Amazon; planning obviously can work, the co-authors convincingly argue, and what remains uncertain is only how it might take democratic, not authoritarian, forms. The question’s huge and sadly not well considered in the book, which nevertheless offer An accessible introduction into economic planning. The book’s thesis is that, with the help of recent technological advances, effective planning is not only possible but already commonplace within large multinational corporations such as Walmart and Amazon; planning obviously can work, the co-authors convincingly argue, and what remains uncertain is only how it might take democratic, not authoritarian, forms. The question’s huge and sadly not well considered in the book, which nevertheless offers a series of interesting case studies on everything from the limitations of capitalist nationalization to the economic uses of Big Data. The lack of footnotes and a bibliography is frustrating, though certain chapters are compelling and name sources for further reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John

    Better than I expected! The title - and some pre-release press - made me think this would be a superficial examination of Walmart and Amazon's efficiencies that didn't grapple with the extractive and exploitative means they used to achieve them. But it's actually an accessible history of economic planning, in theory and in practice! The book covers the "socialist calculation" debate between the market socialist and Austrian schools of economics, all the way through Coase's theory of the firm. The Better than I expected! The title - and some pre-release press - made me think this would be a superficial examination of Walmart and Amazon's efficiencies that didn't grapple with the extractive and exploitative means they used to achieve them. But it's actually an accessible history of economic planning, in theory and in practice! The book covers the "socialist calculation" debate between the market socialist and Austrian schools of economics, all the way through Coase's theory of the firm. The authors also cover actual experiments in planning, ranging from post-October Russia to (you guessed it) Walmart. It's a fun and readable introduction to the field. SPOILER ALERT: "unplanned" market economies are anything but, and the real dispute is over who will do the planning. Minor quibble: the intro and early chapters are full of self-conscious quips as the authors apologize for wasting our time with such a boring subject. Thankfully, this withers away pretty quickly. Don't apologize for being the book I bought, book!

  3. 4 out of 5

    For simplicity's sake I'm simply gonna split the book review in two: +) I love the cover so much and would advise you purchase it just to have it. The texture of the cover is also quite sensuous; most Monthly Review books have a similarly spongy feel. It contains very useful categories. Envisioning firms as zones in which all movement and distribution is planned, with the edges corresponding to all the commodities entering & leaving, one gets a very clear sense of just how planned a 'market societ For simplicity's sake I'm simply gonna split the book review in two: +) I love the cover so much and would advise you purchase it just to have it. The texture of the cover is also quite sensuous; most Monthly Review books have a similarly spongy feel. It contains very useful categories. Envisioning firms as zones in which all movement and distribution is planned, with the edges corresponding to all the commodities entering & leaving, one gets a very clear sense of just how planned a 'market society' is — even more so in this monopolist stage. The point about index funds working as a for-profit planning authority resonates a lot, and has its roots in both Lenin and the Chinese marketisation 1979-1992. Paul Cockshott. -) Why is there no bibliography. Why no numbers or footnotes. No empirical investigation. No original research. Why does the book feel like a proof of concept instead of the thing itself. The stuff on the Soviet Union is irredeemably low-effort. It didn't count as planned because it was too ad-hoc, authoritarian and nasty. The category that's been wishi-washily built up is suddenly replaced by a moral judgement. The chapter does not engage with the internal economic mechanics of the time, instead preferring to dwell on the figure of Stalin, ticking off all the trotskyist boxes and scoring a special optional slam dunk by incorporating the Holodomor myth. The book has no concepts of class. "Why would a peasant prefer an unelected bureaucrat over an unelected capitalist?" Because, I wager, the first guarantees a couple hundred million lives without wanton rapacious violence and the second sells off your livelihood if it makes them a buck. Everything is dissolved in an idealized nebulous democracy/authoritarianism-dichotomy; the USSR was bad because it jailed suspected counterrevolutionaries, Allende was good because his three years in power held a lot of hope for the future (before a generation was drowned in the reign of helicopter fascists). More an extended thinkpiece than a book or pamphlet really. I can't use this in discussions, it doesn't source anything. ++) But very very nice cover

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steffi

    I guess we need to talk about planning. ‘The People’s Republic of Walmart’ (VERSO, 2019) is a very convenient primer on (democratic) planning, re-thinking planning in light of the already existing great swaths of the global economy that exists outside the market and are planned. Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, and third largest employer after the US and Chinese military, with an ‘economy’ comparable to Sweden’s, is a prime example of this sort of complex global central planning. T I guess we need to talk about planning. ‘The People’s Republic of Walmart’ (VERSO, 2019) is a very convenient primer on (democratic) planning, re-thinking planning in light of the already existing great swaths of the global economy that exists outside the market and are planned. Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, and third largest employer after the US and Chinese military, with an ‘economy’ comparable to Sweden’s, is a prime example of this sort of complex global central planning. The question is whether this sort of complex planning, which is now technologically possible, can be democratic, whether the ongoing massive revolution in data and technology will become tools for authoritarian capitalism or democratic planning. A sort of democratic planning which could overcome the tyranny of the market without creating a Soviet style tyranny of planning bureaucrats. While all this is quite technical and technological, ultimately it’s political and it’s critical to bring back planning into the discourse as we are looking for real opportunities for a 21st century socialism. Public ownership (nationalization) alone does not mean democratic ownership and a more egalitarian allocation of resources and opportunities than currently done by the market where like 26 individuals own more than the bottom 3 billion people or so. So this was a good to bring me up to speed in terms of what’s going on in this rather neglected field of economic planning and the debate of the role of the market in democratic socialism. Definitely triggered a lot of thinking and a follow-up reading list 😊

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    "This idea—that finance itself will socialize production—may read like clickbait provocateurism" The above source criticism unfortunately applies to this book as well. I picked it up hoping that it would provide case studies on the way that modern large corporations act as planned economies. Unfortunately it provides little more detail than assertion that they do. It is actually a polemic, which phrases that range from the asanine: "Social scientists have long understood that building different in "This idea—that finance itself will socialize production—may read like clickbait provocateurism" The above source criticism unfortunately applies to this book as well. I picked it up hoping that it would provide case studies on the way that modern large corporations act as planned economies. Unfortunately it provides little more detail than assertion that they do. It is actually a polemic, which phrases that range from the asanine: "Social scientists have long understood that building different institutions will also make us into different people. Will we still need incentives?" to the (the unfortunately common white leftist) "colour-blind" rhetoric: "delivering unto the boss (at least for the hours of work) no less a whip hand than that of the slavemaster" Just read the blurb, there's no more content on the inside.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Carson

    Typical of the left-accelerationist approach. It shares a lot of the same technological and economic assumptions as Inventing the Future by Srnicek and Williams -- which is not a good thing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Robert Maisey

    This book is an exceptionally clear, well researched and timely intervention into the debate around left wing economics that has made such a resurgence in recent years. Socialism is not a simple moral alignment, it is not a value set, it is a distinct proposal for the organisation of production. From Marx onwards, socialist thought has proposed to progress society beyond the revolutionary but amoral market forces which define capitalist production, and towards a form of economic planning that all This book is an exceptionally clear, well researched and timely intervention into the debate around left wing economics that has made such a resurgence in recent years. Socialism is not a simple moral alignment, it is not a value set, it is a distinct proposal for the organisation of production. From Marx onwards, socialist thought has proposed to progress society beyond the revolutionary but amoral market forces which define capitalist production, and towards a form of economic planning that allows human need to replace the profit motive as the driver of the creation and distribution of wealth. Economic planning, however, is slandered with as many myths, lies and untruths as the socialist idea itself. Not only does this prevent clear sighted analysis of where planning has gone wrong, but also prevents us recognising where planning has worked admirably. This is why this book will be so illuminating for many readers already convinced of the correctness of the socialist principle, but unable to wrap their minds around a picture of what the socialist economy would really look like, beyond heavily regulated welfare capitalism. However, this is not simply a sermon for the already faithful. It will also be of interest to economic thinkers of the right. Just like the great debates around economic planning in the 1930s, it engages with theories of capitalist production on their own terms. For example, if the market is the most efficient mode of allocating resources, why do the massive multinational firms of our age (like Walmart) operate planned economies internally? Why has the internal market in the NHS been so wasteful while the big data led planning operation inside Amazon been such a triumph of efficiency? As well as looking at the mechanics of contemporary capitalism, it makes several important historical case studies. The Soviet boom of the 1950/60s and experiments with cybernetic planning systems in Salvador Allendé's Chile are especially illuminating and thought provoking. My only criticism of this book is that while it bravely takes a long overdue plunge into the reality of socialist economic planning, it overcorrects in its attempt to insulate itself from the hysterical anti-sovietism that any such study will inevitably attract. Thus, in some places, it hamstrings itself. For example, it goes to great lengths to explain how the botched Stalinist collectivisation process was less an act of real planning and much more like opportunism and plunder. This is fine as far as it goes, but the book spends so long on this point that it doesn't bother to look at any other aspects of Stalinist planning that might be more useful to us - for example, how did the Soviet Union pack up their entire Western industrial zone under fire in 1941 and re-establish a gigantic military-complex a thousand miles away in Siberia almost overnight? The People's Republic of Walmart acknowledges that the 1930s was the golden age of economic planning in theory, but allows the Moscow trials to scare it away from a serious look at the first ever economic plans put into practice. Overall however, this book is a treasure trove of intellectual exploration, exposition, research and argument. It will help prize open the closed box of neoliberal economic thought that keeps even the most enlightened minds shrouded in darkness. The writing style is fast paced, witty and engrossing, and although I personally would love to have seen a fully referenced version, oozing with footnotes and packing a bibliography as long as the text itself, the populist format is the right choice. Our current political moment has awakened a great many aspiring economic thinkers, people who might not have time to unpack a formal textbook during their 20 minute lunch break, so this book will strike just the right balance for them, as it did for me. Could not recommend enough.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Pinna

    A good introduction/polemic about economic planning. While not an academic work, it does make reference to many of the protagonists in the various calculation/planning debates. It's well written and topical but I can't give it five stars because it doesn't have a list for further reading. A good introduction/polemic about economic planning. While not an academic work, it does make reference to many of the protagonists in the various calculation/planning debates. It's well written and topical but I can't give it five stars because it doesn't have a list for further reading.

  9. 4 out of 5

    La Crosse Public Library

    The People's Republic of Walmart by Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski, is an investigation in contemporary and historic central planning, where it works, and where it might do even more. While conventional wisdom dictates that central planning is inefficient and free market competition is the best way to ensure maximum productivity, the business giants of today illustrate that this is not true. Walmart and Amazon, today's economic powerhouses, succeed not from free competition between their st The People's Republic of Walmart by Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski, is an investigation in contemporary and historic central planning, where it works, and where it might do even more. While conventional wisdom dictates that central planning is inefficient and free market competition is the best way to ensure maximum productivity, the business giants of today illustrate that this is not true. Walmart and Amazon, today's economic powerhouses, succeed not from free competition between their stores and departments, but from centralized planning and mutual aid between warehouses, storefronts, and factories producing goods. The book is by no means a defense of our current business paradigm, and does not apologize or excuse their poor treatment of employees and environmentally damaging practices. It is a lesson in how all capitalist enterprises contain elements of central planning, usually through the dictatorship of management. The book goes on to review the many successes of government led research and development, which accounts for the great majority of advancements in our society. It is a great read which challenges common assumptions, and backs up its claims to boot. ~Peter, Library Assistant

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah GT

    The book is quite unequal. Too much humorous little comments in the first chapters combined with the absence of any footnote or even a bibliography quickly showed the lack of seriousness of the project. This is unfortunate since the subject is relevant and important. Another frustration I had is that they stress the importance of democratic planning throughout the book but don't spend a whole sentence discussing what would it look like, how can we achieve it, what obstacles we might have, etc. T The book is quite unequal. Too much humorous little comments in the first chapters combined with the absence of any footnote or even a bibliography quickly showed the lack of seriousness of the project. This is unfortunate since the subject is relevant and important. Another frustration I had is that they stress the importance of democratic planning throughout the book but don't spend a whole sentence discussing what would it look like, how can we achieve it, what obstacles we might have, etc. The chapters on USSR and their economic planning is poorly written and dense with unexplained economical concepts, that contrast with the rest of the book, which was clearly written to be accessible. I learned a few things, it made me use my imagination, but not much more. It is a promising subject though and I wish more authors will try to think about planning, how it is already used today and how can it benefit a more equal and democratic society. Here a suggestion for further reading for those interested : Digital Socialism by Evgeny Morozov in the New Left Review https://newleftreview.org/issues/II11...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthias

    A very readable overview of a very important (set of) subject(s), advancing a project towards which I am extremely sympathetic. However, a lot depends on the technical details (on subjects as vastly dispersed as formal computing problems, Amazon logistics, and planetary science), and it remains rather abstracted towards these (though it does suggest helpful further reading.) This being the case, it may serve to get someone new to questions of economic planning interested in the subject, while pr A very readable overview of a very important (set of) subject(s), advancing a project towards which I am extremely sympathetic. However, a lot depends on the technical details (on subjects as vastly dispersed as formal computing problems, Amazon logistics, and planetary science), and it remains rather abstracted towards these (though it does suggest helpful further reading.) This being the case, it may serve to get someone new to questions of economic planning interested in the subject, while proponents and skeptics will be better off consulting more specialized and technical literature.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Megan Mattes

    I read this shortly after Francis Spufford's Red Plenty, and these two books pair very well together. Phillips and Rozworski have done a fantastic job at demonstrating the ways in which planning is utilized (to great success) within private firms, yet it is still regarded in the public context to be unworkable, infeasible. Their vision for public economic planning is deeply democratic and engages workers themselves, bearing no resemblance to the Soviet authoritarian, top-down model people often I read this shortly after Francis Spufford's Red Plenty, and these two books pair very well together. Phillips and Rozworski have done a fantastic job at demonstrating the ways in which planning is utilized (to great success) within private firms, yet it is still regarded in the public context to be unworkable, infeasible. Their vision for public economic planning is deeply democratic and engages workers themselves, bearing no resemblance to the Soviet authoritarian, top-down model people often think of when they hear the term. All in all, a great book with interesting ideas.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sean Guynes

    An incredibly detailed survey of the markets vs. planning debate, and how the current affordances of planning already ironically at work within capitalism can be transformed into a base for socialism.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Edward

    Really exceptional book. Still digesting.

  15. 4 out of 5

    August Denys

    In a strange way, this books starts from a random thought from Frederic Jameson in a footnote to his book Archeologies of the Future. This random thought is partially a recognition of and partially a play of the idea that Walmart and Amazon, being larger than some countries entire economies and having a stock of commodities that should be impossible to plan for, are planned economies, that is they do not function by markets. But let me clarify, it seems that this is limited to internalized marke In a strange way, this books starts from a random thought from Frederic Jameson in a footnote to his book Archeologies of the Future. This random thought is partially a recognition of and partially a play of the idea that Walmart and Amazon, being larger than some countries entire economies and having a stock of commodities that should be impossible to plan for, are planned economies, that is they do not function by markets. But let me clarify, it seems that this is limited to internalized markets vs internal economic planning. While this is an interesting idea to play with, and we can recognize that Walmart systematically should be impossible by Libertarian economics models, the Calculation debate as started by Otto Neurath for planning with Hayek and Mises against, I don't think these authors fully catch this goal. There are many great takeaways from this book, that Salvatore Allende was a democratically elected Marxist who was creating a precursor to Walmarts system called Cyberysm, a real time planning computer network, which was all but destroyed by the US back coup of Chile with Augusto Pinochet saved in idea by a few who escaped the country, or the fact that the fall of Sears was due to an Ayn Randian experiment to make what would have been an internally planned business into an internally competing market place, or with the establishment of the NHS losing efficiency because the Libertarian thought was that Markets would be more efficient, which they weren't, and more. While these may be some interesting topics, I don't think they necessitate a grasp for the reader to take hold of. In a way, this book is more the equivalent to impressive small talk at a bar or cocktail party where we can easily bring up the names Otto Neurath, Ronald Coarse, Eden Medinas and others, and while it is great to learn their names, we won't, from this situation, know the depth and scope of their work or their idea presented until we delve into their work ourselves. Which is made a little frustrating by the copy that I've read from because it doesn't contain an index or a Bibliography. While it is obvious that the writers know what they are talking about, and while they are not spending the book jumping from tangent to tangent, perhaps the biggest misstep of the book that I encountered was a lack of clarity the position they were against. Very little if any time is spent to show the reader what a Market is, a term that they use quite often, and for that matter what constitutes a price signal. There is a lot of history here (which with the lack of a Bibliography is a bit concerning), but from the economics side we get very little. There is a theory called Market Socialism, and it is brought up in the book and it is said to faultily rely on static classical economics instead of a concept of dynamism, yet without know beyond a vague notion of what a market is we just have to take the authors word instead of engaging in it (or otherwise do more external research). For that matter, it doesn't even seem that this book argues correctly for planning. What do I mean? From the examples of Walmart and Amazon we see that their systems do what the authors call planning; however, it would seem that they never show a concrete enough example to say why it is planning. I've worked for Walmart before as a cashier (something the book doesn't really bring up, the work days of the workers), and based on the system we have to items precisely. For example, say if a person was buying two six packs of Dr. Pepper; however, one pack is regular the other is diet. As a cashier of Walmart we have the ability to scan something and press a number for how many of those items there are. So, in a sub example, if somebody was getting ten six packs, we wouldn't have to scan all ten separately, we could simply scan once for an item set of ten. Back to the main example, we cannot scan the regular Dr. Pepper twice, we have to scan both of them. Why? Because if we scan the regular twice, we will have an extra item in the next shipment of regular Dr. Pepper and we will be missing and item of diet. In this sense, we have shrunken the inventory of the diet version. This is one aspect of what the system calls shrink. However, as I was a cashier, and I do know that shoplifting exists (the main culprit of shrink), I do not know whether there are employees that go around to check inventory levels. I would call this example above a concrete example, that is, a situation to look at what the authors call planning. Why did I do this? Because it is not clear to me the reader with this experience that what I laid out is planned. Rather, what it looks like to me is a tyranny of information. That is that Walmart's system is not like the Ideal of democratic planning of Allende's Cyberysm, and it does not seem to be the authoritarian plan of few at the top of Walmart; rather, what has authority over us is the information. In a sense, it seems that efficiency can never be democratic, that if the goal is to be efficient, then there is only one way to do so. Thus, the question shifts us from how might we live from, what is most efficient. Of course, this itself is just a vague notion that is left vague by the authors, not an actual critique because the viewpoint on it is so narrow. For as it is right now, Walmart and Amazon are not the most efficient models for they do not equally distribute the items they've gained. They make a single point vastly better than another, not because the other is worth less, but that the other point was not in the same position. But this is to say that while the authors do show a vast knowledge of the subject, and there a many things a person can gain from the book, I do not think just showing the existence of planning all that beneficial. Are the people at Walmart really in charge, or are they victims of a chimera of Planned Capitalism? And would they even recognize this beast of a Chimera that they keep alive when it harms so many more?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    not as prescriptive as i expected it to be. lots of interesting context addressing the political and social feasibility of a planned economy, but did the authors really expect ME, CHRISTIAN, a stupid dumbass, to draw MY OWN conclusions about the practical application of these historical examples? awfully presumptuous of them to assume I would be capable of that. good book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rob Trump

    I have a handful of the Jacobin Verso releases but I have only read this one and Four Futures so far - as much as I love Frase as a thinker and writer, this one is a lot stronger in making a direct argument. Should probably become a go-to in explaining socialists want and why it’s feasible. More lefties talking about linear algebra please!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    The book never really justifies the premise but it does offer a sufficient primer to Stafford Beer and cybernetics. I wish it had done more to bridge the gap between the Walmart premise and the cybernetics.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Super interesting read even if you aren’t into economics (I’m not) and presents a compelling argument for how planning is already present & works in much of our market-based economy (such as corporations like Walmart) & could be utilized in a more democratic system.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Planning is good!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rob Smith

    Anyone who's worked for a period of time in a big box retail store: Old Navy, Walmart, Kohl's, etc., already knows firsthand the underlying thesis of this book. These massive corporations are slow to move, slow to change, and everything comes down to the absolute fiscal bottom line. This book is a weak four strong three. I bought it in tandem with Capital City (from the same line of Verso/Jacobin books) and for me, it's tough to resist comparing them. Broadly speaking, they both sit on well-tread Anyone who's worked for a period of time in a big box retail store: Old Navy, Walmart, Kohl's, etc., already knows firsthand the underlying thesis of this book. These massive corporations are slow to move, slow to change, and everything comes down to the absolute fiscal bottom line. This book is a weak four strong three. I bought it in tandem with Capital City (from the same line of Verso/Jacobin books) and for me, it's tough to resist comparing them. Broadly speaking, they both sit on well-treaded ground. Capital City about NYC and gentrification, and this one is on Big Data and Big Corporations. But while Capital City simply restated a lot of the issues surrounding real estate in the most written about city on the planet, People's Republic of Walmart looks Big Data and how giant profitable companies use them to plan. It goes out of it's way to repudiate the idea of centralized planning, and along the way shows how Amazon, Walmart, and others used centralized planning to effectively achieve their ends. These books are meant to be introductions, but I've read a fair few books on big data, and I have some experiance working in retail. Big box stores are frequently hampered by whatever corporate wants, and have you rely on outmoded equipment, practices that are completely untethered from the reality of running a store day to day. They also like employing a thousand mini-tyrants who are just juking stats as hard as they can to get to the next bonus or the next step up. It is to me, like the media stereotypes of late 20th century Soviet Union. But instead of just being about how Amazon is tracking you or how Walmart keeps it's prices down it's how about the absolute incredible amount of planning that goes into setting up and maintaining these supply chains. It's about optimizing Amazon's warehouses, shortening the time from warehose to delivery. Everyone loves Amazon Prime, but none of us really think about the pure insane logistics that go into providing that service, not just for us but for literally millions of others. It's a good book, full of very interesting information I'd like to read again. Couple of complaints. First there's little in the way of citations. This is pretty much how the entire line of Verso/Jacobin intro books are. These authors I've never heard of before, and they're bios on the back flap don't instill me with a lot of faith. They're discussing politics, economics, history, much of it without citations. They name some books I'm familiar with in the text, but as someone who was a history major in college, any and all citations help everyone, not just academics. There's also a lot of "too online" jokes in the first few chapters. I'm on Twitter terminally, but to someone who picks this up from the library on a lark, probably won't get or care about these jibes. I understand the point: it's to make left-leaning books fun. On the side of the political spectrum where having a personality can be considered reactionary, this is actually important. This book could be tighter, I dislike the introduction, the conclusion and the tiny chapter on the Anthropocene. The meat of the book on Amazon, Walmart, the NHS and the Soviet Union is good. I like how it's arranged around the theme of central planning and isn't explicitly chronological or boring analytic. It's worth picking up to compliment any big data big box company book you've been reading.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Harith A

    This book is an accessible introduction to economic planning, from a left-wing perspective. 4 stars because I'm new to this, and therefore its readable polemics were sufficiently informative for me. It attempts to take the old adage "socialism works in theory but not in practice", and prove that the inverse is in fact true. If global corporations like Walmart are the champions of the market, it is only because they implement such a large and accurate degree of internal planning themselves. They d This book is an accessible introduction to economic planning, from a left-wing perspective. 4 stars because I'm new to this, and therefore its readable polemics were sufficiently informative for me. It attempts to take the old adage "socialism works in theory but not in practice", and prove that the inverse is in fact true. If global corporations like Walmart are the champions of the market, it is only because they implement such a large and accurate degree of internal planning themselves. They demonstrate that planning works in practice, if not in theory. What if, the book imagines, we could take their systems, their technologies, and their ability to generate and synthesise vast quantities of crucial data, and use them to further a more democratic and distributive economy? The other main theme is that the market tends to produce only what is profitable, rather than what is useful. This is why a market-driven economy builds superyachts ahead of affordable houses, continues to extract fossil fuels, and neglects the development of potentially life-saving classes of antibiotics. It's fairly familiar stuff. The book claims that, rather than planning devolving into despotic authoritarianism (a criticism levelled at failed socialist economies), authoritarianism leads to the failure of planning. Broad calls to "Nationalise X" are therefore deficient, because they fail to communicate the detail of the demand: that only democratic management from the bottom-up is acceptable. It illustrates this with a chapter on the NHS, tracing its genesis as a socialist endeavour through to its privatisation today. The book improves as it goes on. There are two interesting chapters on the Soviet Union, followed by an excellent one on Salvador Allende's attempts to network the economy over the internet (in a project called Cybersyn). Along with the NHS, these real-world examples help flesh out the struggles that previous attempts to plan industry have faced. Russia was perhaps not technologically advanced enough to sustain the communicative practices needed in order to feed its people. And even if the revolution laid the foundations for the social, military and space-age achievements it made in subsequent decades, it was not without a dire human cost. I found the Chile chapter especially bleak. The eventual coup was greenlit by the US, and it was Pinochet who then implemented the Hayek/Chicago school of neoliberal marketisation for the first time. Only then did Thatcher and Reagan follow suit, with disastrous effects.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason P

    Mainstream economics has scoffed at the idea of planned economies for some time now. They usually cite the failure of the Soviet Union or Mises and Hayek's work on the calculation and other problems. However, the dirty little secret of modern capitalism is that it's already largely a planned economy, just under the control of massive corporations such as Walmart and Amazon. The accomplishments of their planning put the Soviet Union to shame and frankly, the free market as well. The only problem Mainstream economics has scoffed at the idea of planned economies for some time now. They usually cite the failure of the Soviet Union or Mises and Hayek's work on the calculation and other problems. However, the dirty little secret of modern capitalism is that it's already largely a planned economy, just under the control of massive corporations such as Walmart and Amazon. The accomplishments of their planning put the Soviet Union to shame and frankly, the free market as well. The only problem is they are currently privately owned and not democratically owned by the people. With modern computer science Marxist economists like Paul Cockshott have presented theories on how this kind of democratically planned economy could be done nationally and potentially globally. This really changes the argument for socialism which took such a big blow with the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, it might be those huge corporations that dominate capitalism which become its own grave diggers.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Twain

    Concise and to the point. A great introduction to what socialism is and is not. Shows how planning works inside of firms and supply chains. Shows the benefits and efficiencies of economies of scale and how that could be further improved in a planned economy. Lays out flaws and inefficiencies of capitalism and the markets, and explains how those problems are mitigated my socialism. Discusses planning intertwined with democracy and decentralization of decision making. Shows incompatibility of plan Concise and to the point. A great introduction to what socialism is and is not. Shows how planning works inside of firms and supply chains. Shows the benefits and efficiencies of economies of scale and how that could be further improved in a planned economy. Lays out flaws and inefficiencies of capitalism and the markets, and explains how those problems are mitigated my socialism. Discusses planning intertwined with democracy and decentralization of decision making. Shows incompatibility of planning and authoritarianism. Also demonstrates how new technology and information can be used in planning the economy that was not possible until recently. Completely takes apart the Mises argument against socialism.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vuk Trifkovic

    Light touch, but very good. Definitely one of the better non-fiction books so far this year. There's a lot of retelling up of other works, there is occasional lack of rigor (e.g. comparing 50% EVs of new car sales in Norway vs. 3% EV share of all cars registered in California). Yet, writing is genuinely sparking and the avenues it opens up pretty interesting. Light touch, but very good. Definitely one of the better non-fiction books so far this year. There's a lot of retelling up of other works, there is occasional lack of rigor (e.g. comparing 50% EVs of new car sales in Norway vs. 3% EV share of all cars registered in California). Yet, writing is genuinely sparking and the avenues it opens up pretty interesting.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ted Smith

    Not actually about Walmart, but rather a sequence of unsourced, un-footnoted "studies have shown" tier garbage. I was hoping for something about the actual economics of Walmart but this was not actually treated in the book beyond the first chapter. Not actually about Walmart, but rather a sequence of unsourced, un-footnoted "studies have shown" tier garbage. I was hoping for something about the actual economics of Walmart but this was not actually treated in the book beyond the first chapter.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jon Harris

    Poorly written and reasoned. Never lived up to its title.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Fred

    An interesting polemic, with lots of fun tidbits that made me want to research things further. I think the lack of bibliography/sourcing is a major knock against it, and makes it tough to take it seriously. I also thought the first half or so (about amazon, Walmart, etc) left much to be desired. The arguments themselves felt unsatisfactorily in-between being simple and complex: the discussion of Amazon’s logistics felt like an overview from a business magazine, and I felt like I didn't get a gre An interesting polemic, with lots of fun tidbits that made me want to research things further. I think the lack of bibliography/sourcing is a major knock against it, and makes it tough to take it seriously. I also thought the first half or so (about amazon, Walmart, etc) left much to be desired. The arguments themselves felt unsatisfactorily in-between being simple and complex: the discussion of Amazon’s logistics felt like an overview from a business magazine, and I felt like I didn't get a great picture of how this "planning" actually works. Yet, they name-drop some esoteric jargon at times: I think the reader of this book could handle some more advanced discussion of the math/theory behind logistics/planning. Similarly, I don't feel like enough space is taken describing an obvious counter-argument: "OK so Amazon/Walmart are vertically integrated. But people still buy stuff with limited money, how does the system work without scarcity/money?" They talk about it a bit, but I think this point is much less obvious than saying that Walmart/Amazon use logistics, which are basically planning (and which they discuss at length). The writing itself (especially in the beginning), felt sloppy. A lot of stuff in the Sears section had me scratching my head, wondering how an editor didn’t catch it. For example, they drop some latin (or maybe it was French) phrases without context, and I had to look them up. However, there were times when they had to explain relatively simple concepts (like what a variable was), which I thought was strange. Who is the target audience for this book? Is it more for laymen, or is it more for people willing to dive a bit more into the weeds? I think either is fine-or even in-between, I'm sure the authors want it to be applicable for everyone-but they walk the line in an unsatisfying way, where some sections assume the audience is much more well-read than other sections. The writers also can't help themselves from talking about the conditions of Amazon warehouses, and things of that nature, at length. I don't think the space they devote to it is worthwhile given the shortness of the book. I thought the Soviet Union/Chile section was interesting. Someone more familiar with the history of the 20s-50s Soviet Union would get a lot less out of it than I did, but I think they provide an interesting focus on the history of planning here. Made me interested to research the topic further.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    The thesis of this book is that "socialism works in practice, just not in theory". Many of the largest economies in the world -- Walmart, Amazon, any other multinational company operating in multiple markets -- rely internally on planning, not on markets. Repeated attempts to leverage "the efficiency of the free market" within corporations has only revealed the inefficiency of markets in comparison to centralized planning. In short, supply chain management is actually a crypto-socialist tool for The thesis of this book is that "socialism works in practice, just not in theory". Many of the largest economies in the world -- Walmart, Amazon, any other multinational company operating in multiple markets -- rely internally on planning, not on markets. Repeated attempts to leverage "the efficiency of the free market" within corporations has only revealed the inefficiency of markets in comparison to centralized planning. In short, supply chain management is actually a crypto-socialist tool for centrally planned economies, and there is no reason why we can't apply it in place of capitalist markets more generally. In fact, it's likely the only way to avoid the broken profit incentives that have destroyed the planet and exacerbated social inequality. My favorite part is when they point to libraries as an example of consumer-driven distribution vehicles that don't rely on price signals and still work. The book is surprisingly readable. A lot of leftist literature assumes that the reader not only has an academic background, but majored in some humanities or social science discipline which used a lot of dry reading assignments to prepare them to to parse intentionally obfuscated manuscripts. Possibly because the authors hope to recruit operations researchers and computer scientists to their cause, they have instead written an entertaining and easy read. I have one big complaint about their argument. In their chapter on the Soviet Union, the authors try to make the case that not only is authoritarian control unnecessary for planned economies, it is actually harmful to their effective organization. I'm sure we would all like to believe that democracy is inherent to socialism, but the argument they make mostly boils down to: the Soviet Union was authoritarian, the Soviet Union collapsed, therefore authoritarianism makes socialist planning untenable. It's not significantly different from people who say that socialism is untenable because the Soviet Union was socialist and the Soviet Union collapsed. Furthermore, it is fairly directly contradicted by the fact that the planning systems they celebrate come from corporations that have central authoritarian control.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Cable

    Where the **** are the endnotes? This book was great. It goes over a wide variety of topics, examining the different attempts at planning throughout history and how much planning occurs under capitalism. It even divulges some pretty crucial observations as to the nature of capitalism itself, the possibilities for nationalization and reformism, and the future of human civilization. But.... There's no endnotes. I'm under no obligation to take ANYTHING you say seriously without citations. And, if yo Where the **** are the endnotes? This book was great. It goes over a wide variety of topics, examining the different attempts at planning throughout history and how much planning occurs under capitalism. It even divulges some pretty crucial observations as to the nature of capitalism itself, the possibilities for nationalization and reformism, and the future of human civilization. But.... There's no endnotes. I'm under no obligation to take ANYTHING you say seriously without citations. And, if you're like me and you find the book really compelling, there's nothing you can do to follow up and learn more about the topic. Especially a topic that's rarely ever covered in a book this popular. You've made it impossible for people to go out on their own and keep pursuing what's written about here, or at least, significantly less convenient. Why would you do that? Why? The lack of sources also shows a fundamental lack of seriousness about the whole project. People already have a difficult time taking the idea of central planning seriously after so many failures, historically speaking. If you're going to change minds on this, you have to really, really back up what you're saying. If I recommend this book to someone and they say, "Matt - this is just goofy utopianism. It's not a serious intellectual endeavor. Look! There aren't even any citations!" guess what my counter argument would be? It would go like this: "......" Seriously, I'd give this book a five star review if there were SOURCES. But there's no sources listed, which for a non-fiction book is a mortal sin. There's no way to evaluate what's being said here. I'm hot about this, because otherwise it's such an amazing book. Republish this with some endnotes please. Can't believe this even needs to be said. Come on, Jacobin. Get it together.

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