This FAQ is not intended to provide simple answers, but to facilitate access to the debate and the literature.

Hasn't the planned economy historically failed?

Historical 'real existing socialism' and its centrally planned economy failed. But it is also true that even the authoritarian and inefficient planned economy of the GDR and the Soviet Union was able to do some things better than the market economy, such as industrializing poor agrarian countries or largely eliminating unemployment and expanding social equality and security (Allen 2003). And even capitalist societies such as the British and US war economies organized themselves as largely centrally planned economies for war mobilization in the Second World War. But apart from such large-scale projects with clear priorities, a centrally planned economy is not particularly flexible or innovative. There are various reasons for the failure of the Soviet model (Ellman 2014).

For pro-capitalist theorists, 'real socialism' failed primarily due to its top-down production orders, disregard for 'local knowledge' and therefore poor information. They also point to the lack of incentives through similar wages, job guarantees and the subsidization of inefficient companies. There was hardly any drive for efficiency and innovation. For them, real socialism was economically too "soft" and therefore too undynamic. Some proponents of a democratic planned economy agree with this assessment but identify which specific elements should be rejected instead of rejecting planned economies in general. Modern "reform socialists" such as Pat Devine and David Laibman or libertarian socialists such as Robin Hahnel criticize authoritarian, centralized, top-down planning and propose models with more decentralized planning (Devine 2002, Laibman 2012, Hahnel 2013). Computer socialists such as Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell explain the failure primarily with underdeveloped information technology and call for computerized democratic central planning with modern technology (Cockshott/Cottrell 1993). For value critics such as Stefan Meretz and Simon Sutterlütti, real socialism abolished the market and industrial competition, but since it continued to enforce work through wages, it was only state capitalism; their model of commonism is therefore based on voluntarism (Sutterlütti/Meretz 2018).

In summary, it can be said that the Soviet 'traditional model' of central planning was too authoritarian and top-down. It was not only politically questionable, but also prevented a socialist economy from functioning in the long term. We should therefore reject such a model, but not by rejecting planned economies in general, but by exploring the possibilities of a planned economy that is firstly essentially democratic and secondly (depending on the model) also functions in a much more decentralized way. Modern computer and information technology, as it is already used today in planning within huge capitalist companies offers completely new possibilities for new and more flexible forms of a democratic planned economy (Phillips/Rozworski 2018).

Today, especially against the backdrop of the climate crisis (but also many other problems), we can also assume that the market economy has failed - something that today even liberals admit. So far, no market economy in the world is on the right course to really tackle the climate crisis. A planned economy could deal with issues of planetary boundaries in a much more democratic and far-sighted way. It increasingly appears to be the only way to seriously prevent a climate catastrophe (Saito 2023).

Can the economy be planned sensibly at all? Isn't the economy too complex?

That a planned economy cannot work because a modern economy is too complex is a classic argument of neoliberals such as Hayek and his followers. They demand humility before the market, because its "invisible hand" is supposedly the only means of taming social complexity. Even if the market sometimes produces irrational effects, this is unavoidable, as no single mind and no central computer would be able to grasp this complexity. All the 'local, implicit knowledge' is only accessible at a local level - therefore, the market order is the best possible economic order.

Being against planning does mean being against aligning the economy with social and ecological goals on a macro scale. But already today there are huge, complex organizations that work according to a common plan, shared goals and are highly 'collaborative', i.e. their various activities are closely coordinated with each other and with the shared goals. This was emphasized by the socialist management theorist Paul S. Adler (Adler 2019). He argues that the entire economy could follow similar principles that are already practised in gigantic capitalist companies today. Adler shows that highly complex organizations such as a 'toyotist' car factory, a high-profile software company and a gigantic hospital complex in the USA have a highly differentiated division of labour and specialization and therefore have to use a lot of local, tacit knowledge. Also, despite the existence of highly formalized processes and hierarchies, these companies do not dictate everything 'top-down', but also integrate strongly participative, 'bottom-up' elements. Adler calls this an "empowering" bureaucracy as opposed to an authoritarian bureaucracy. This not only allows local levels to have a say at higher levels and to activate them, but also to go beyond merely narrow-minded profit criteria.

Of course, these participatory elements are repeatedly threatened and undermined by the profit imperative and the ownership structures of capitalist companies. Nevertheless, they can assert themselves again and again and this shows in practice that participatory planning and control of highly complex organizations is certainly possible. Central to this are the rules of interaction between subsystems, which align the overall system to specific purposes. Today, modern information technology plays a major role in this because information and communication are vital for coherent action and conscious coordination of complex systems. Today, we have completely new possibilities that make a complex, modern and highly 'collaborative' planned economy tangible. Modern planning models take up these current developments in capitalism (sometimes called 'post-Fordism') by strengthening participation and integrating 'local knowledge'. In this way, they raise functioning ‘small scale’ processes - whereby some of the companies mentioned are not small at all - to the level of the economy as a whole.

Isn't a planned economy unfree?

Capitalism has often managed to be considered a 'free system', especially in comparison to a planned economy: on the one hand politically (parliamentary democracy vs. authoritarian party dictatorship), on the other hand economically (entrepreneurial autonomy and greater choice in consumption and employment vs. state control). However, a planned economy needs neither be centrally organized nor politically authoritarian. Dictatorship is not only morally wrong, it also economically harmful because it prevents the inclusion of knowledge and criticism.

Capitalist democracies are by no means politically free. Capitalist states only have "relative autonomy" from the imperatives of capital accumulation and must provide a good environment for profit maximization to secure jobs, taxes and creditworthiness (Adler 2019). And in this restricted democracy, free interests do not fight to be heard; instead, they are still capitalistically formed: The vast majority would prefer no poverty in old age, high wages and no destruction of nature, but these demands jeopardize the "business location" and can only tentatively be sought after. In contrast, a planned economy could offer genuine political freedom, as the imperatives of profit maximization and national competition would no longer prevail. Conflicts of need could be finally decided democratically, e.g. do we want to use resources primarily for the production of goods, global justice, good housing or the transformation of the energy sector? A democratically planned economy could offer the freedom to collectively own the economy and society without being subject to anonymous market forces or authoritarian states.

Furthermore, economic freedom of capitalism is questionable. Liberals like to uphold the freedom of the market but are usually overlook the dictatorship of market forces. Although companies are relatively free to hire and produce, they must maximize their profits. And the "freedom" of a privileged few to compete for well-paid jobs stands unchallenged alongside the miserable reality of people fighting for their living in gigantic slums or war zones.

Real socialism produced a small selection of consumption options, capitalism makes this consumption largely dependent on coincidences such as birth nation and inheritance. Real socialism limited job choice, but capitalism creates at least as pervasive a hierarchy and injustice in the division of labor. A modern, democratically planned economy would have to put an end to the disadvantages of both capitalism and authoritarian socialism and raise the respective advantages to a higher level.

If real, genuine freedoms are meant, namely the freedom to express one's opinion, to join forces with others, to freely choose one's political representatives, to freely choose preferred consumer goods, one's own educational path, workplace and place of residence, to initiate and pursue one's own economic projects on one's own initiative, and especially an important basis for all such freedoms, namely substantial social security, i.e. freedom from the fear of starvation, from homelessness and free access to health care, education, mobility, etc., all these freedoms can and must be guaranteed. - All these freedoms can and must exist in a modern planned economy. But the 'freedom' to inherit vast amounts of wealth without having done anything for it and to use it to continue living off other people's work on an ever-increasing scale on other people's work - that will end, yes. So will the 'freedom' to exploit others, to oppress or to destroy nature. But the 'freedom' of social security, which goes hand in hand with the constant threat of becoming unemployed and possibly starving to death. All these 'freedoms' would no longer exist.

If economy is ours, if we democratically control economy, we are no longer unfree in the face of alien, anonymous market forces that dominate us. We are 'in control of our own destiny' as a society and as individuals and can organize our social metabolism with nature in such a way that it enables the greatest possible individual and social freedom, while at the same time respecting our livelihoods as a condition of freedom in the first place.

Why do we need a planned economy?

We need a planned economy because capitalism is ecologically, socially and individually destructive and because market socialism - as the best-known left-wing "alternative" to capitalism - does not solve its problems. Although capitalism has created immense material wealth and technological progress, it also produces enormous injustice, wars, and the destruction of nature, exploits people and strengthens patriarchy and racism. Furthermore, capitalism can hardly be 'contained'. The state is the great hope to control capitalism, but it depends on a functioning profit economy for taxes and creditworthiness, so it only has relative autonomy (Adler 2019). The climate catastrophe and ecological crisis in particular reveal the dictatorship of market forces that prevent societies from acting in a truly rational manner.

After the failure of the authoritarian planned economy, many on the left turned to market socialism. This only extends the idea of containing the market and expands it to include the abolition of capitalists and the socialization of the means of production (Nove 1983, Miller 1989). But worker-owned enterprises continue to produce for the market and are subject to the same imperatives of profit and all the negative effects that go with it (Elson 1988, Devine 1988). These problems were already evident in the market socialism of Yugoslavia. The left once again needs an offer beyond the market economy. The left needs an alternative.

A democratically planned economy seems not only necessary today, but also within reach. For not only must we finally begin to orient our economies towards a dignified life and a decent standard of living for all people within the planetary boundaries, instead of being at the mercy of anonymous 'market forces' that confront us as an alien power. Modern developments, for example in information technology, which is already being used today to solve very complex coordination problems in a sensible and democratic way, also point to this attractive possibility.

How should this work and what would it look like?

We have created an overview of various approaches on this website. Here you will find a brief description of the models and further links/literature. All models presented here aim to abolish the market as the central coordination mechanism and replace it with democratic planning. What this looks like in concrete terms depends on the model.

For example, Cockshott/Cottrell's Cybersocialism uses modern mathematical and digital possibilities to develop democratic central planning. While critics accuse the model of centralism and technocracy, supporters emphasize that resources can only be optimally distributed in a centralized manner. In contrast, Pat Devine's model, 'Participatory Planning through Negotiated Coordination', is more decentralized. Companies buy and sell independently via 'horizontal market relations' when it comes to existing productive capacities, but the decision on investments, i.e. on changes to productive capacities, is not made by 'the market' and the profitability of companies, but by democratic committees with the participation of representatives of all those affected by the decision. The Participatory Economy (Parecon) is based on self-organized producer and consumer councils, which propose plans in an iterative process and thus negotiate equilibrium prices so that a plan that balances supply and demand is created. Representatives of Commonism also advocate decentralized planning but emphasize that only the abolition of wage labour allows for fair and needs-oriented planning. Vettese/Pendergrass call for a focus on ecological issues and combine centralized planning concerning societal needs and planetary boundaries with decentralized implementation.

There is therefore a multitude of models that also criticize each other and can therefore be developed further if their respective strengths are balanced out in a new synthesis. Other emancipatory theories and perspectives that point to blind spots or unrealized potential can also take the debate to new levels.

What would change for me?

Justice is central to all planned economies. Despite its authoritarian form, even under real socialism there was significantly more equality and the fear of unemployment ended. There existed no more capitalists who live solely off the exploitation of others and buy themselves private islands while others live in slums. A planned economy would also be the end of the global, racist division of labor. Today, 60 workers work in terrible conditions for one average inhabitant of the global North. And injustice is not only unhealthy, but it also makes people unhappy (Prilleltensky 2012). In a planned economy, we could also determine the goals of the economy and would not just have to elect governments that have to (or want to) prioritize profit over justice or growth over natural limits. Ecological crises ranging from biodiversity and epidemics to the climate crisis require a fundamental reconstruction of the economy, which the market economy clearly fails to achieve (Saito 2023). A planned economy could tackle the ecological crisis appropriately and we would not constantly have the feeling that we are helping to bring about the end of the world. The healthcare sector and care work in general could also be given the resources and time they need. And in our private lives, we would finally have the time and leisure to do meaningful care work for children, elderly and sick people. Today, our workplaces are places of exploitation, and this is reflected in the organization of work. If a high level of universal basic services or even universal provision were to reduce the pressure to work, companies would also have to organize work in such a way that it is demanding but not overtaxing, relaxed but not boring, needs-oriented and not exploitation-oriented. And the goal of our work would no longer be maximum profit, but the satisfaction of needs.

Who would do the unpopular work?

Most planned economy models strive for a high level of basic provision, for example through a strong public infrastructure and/or an unconditional basic income, or even the decoupling of work performance and consumption altogether. If work is still paid, wages are often similar so that the bus driver is recognized in the same way as the baker or doctor. So why should people do the unpopular work? Models with paid labour often suggest better pay for particularly unpopular, hard and dangerous work. Participatory Economy ensures with its mechanism of "balanced job complexes" fair distribution of unpopular work, so that for example surgeons have to change bedpans regularly (Hahnel 2013). Proponents of planned economies without paid labor argue that society will and must invest a particularly large amount of resources in unpopular work in order to make it needs-oriented and/or to (partially) automate it. Society can now finally distribute resources and time according to need rather than profit (Benanav 2022). Furthermore, a society can rotate unpopular work as in Ursula LeGuin's famous novel 'The Dispossessed’, where all adults have to do one day of community work every 10 days (LeGuin 2017). It also can replace it with other work or, if possible, not do it at all - quasi sufficiency/frugality: If the strawberries are too strenuous to harvest and/or too few people can be found to harvest them, they have to be rationed or become more expensive (for an overview, see Sutterlütti 2023). Critics consider an incentive through payment to be unavoidable, at least for a transformation period (cf. Dapprich2021, Hahnel 2023).

How do we get there?

The planned economy is about the conquest of production and reproduction, and there are both reformist and revolutionary approaches to the transition. However, proponents of planned economies are often more inclined towards a fundamental break - even if this is partly conceived in parliamentary terms - than gradual reformism. Because a planned economy is aimed at a fundamentally different (re)production method, a different social system. The classic left-wing counterpart to the planned economy - market socialism - in turn relies on gradualism and reforms, as utopia is closer to the actual state of affairs. Utopia shapes the political strategy.

Abolition of the market faces strong, capital- and power-rich interest groups - social struggles are therefore certainly necessary. Proponents of the planned economy argue that a left-wing movement needs an imaginable, tangible alternative to capitalism to be attractive or even credible. At the same time, many proponents of the planned economy also demand that left-wing movements should not mainly appeal to the government or rely on a left-wing government within capitalism - as experience in South America, Greece or Spain, for example, shows, but must emphasize the hard limits and contradictions within capitalism (Adler 2019).

Where and when could we start?

There exists already a great deal of planning in capitalism, be it in large companies (Leigh/Philipps) or by states. Social movements also often intervene with a push towards democratic planning, for example in tackling the climate emergency, strengthening the care sector or skyrocketing rents. There are many different seed forms of the planned economy, the expansion of which can already be fought for - be it the expansion of public services through social infrastructure, the establishment of solidarity-based alternatives such as community supported agriculture or economic democratic efforts in companies. The state's containment of the market is also based on the idea of planning, but this produces a rather authoritarian understanding of planning. Efforts towards socialization are close to planning, as the question quickly arises as to how to deal with socialized housing, energy companies or automobile companies and what the overall social framework would have to look like so that socialization does not simply end up as nationalization. For a planned economy, not only a radical critique of capitalism and critique of ideas of socialist containment of the market and market socialism are important, but also the strengthening of the question of the post-capitalist alternative in existing struggles. Aiming for a planned economy does not necessarily mean pursuing a completely different political fight, but it often means a completely different narrative for social movements and struggles - less an appeal to government and changes of government in capitalism, but a reference to their powerlessness and the demand for a change of system (see Adler 2019).

Can a planned economy really be ecological?

The traditional planned economy debate often focuses on justice, increasing productivity and 'red plenty'. It often promises an increase in consumption compared to capitalism. Against the backdrop of today's ecological crisis, however, there are some more recent developments.

On the one hand, this crisis reinforces the desire for a planned economy by demonstrating the inability of the capitalist state to democratically shape the economy and, on the other, the inability of capitalism to consciously contract. This also explains bestsellers such as Herrmann's "The End of Capitalism" or Saito's "Marx in the Anthropocene" (Saito 2023). In contrast to a market economy, even an authoritarian planned economy can use social resources comprehensively for a rapid transformation - be it industrialization or the end of fossil fuels and the expansion of renewable energies (cf. Allen 1998).

On the other hand, ecological crises and movements challenge the traditional, productivist, often promethical-technocratic plan perspective with perspectives such as 'private sufficiency, public luxury' or de-growth. Among other things, ecological economists argue that for ecological issues, the general unit of account - even if it includes ecological dimensions (cf. Cockshott/Cottrell/Dapprich 2022) - is reductionist (Vettese/Pendergrass 2022). Ecological issues require the weighing up of a wide range of dimensions in real terms (e.g. land use, energy consumption, emission targets) and also the realization that humans cannot fully understand and predict nature (Planning for Entropy 2022). There are now explicit ecological planning considerations (Durand/Hoffernbert/Schmelzer 2023), often within the framework of eco-socialism, ranging from a decentralized, self-sufficient economy to cybernetic central planning (Vettese/Pendergrass 2022).

Is a planned economy (queer) feminist?

A (queer) feminist perspective is clearly underrepresented in the planning debate. The actors in the debate are often cis-men and this is also reflected in the concepts. However, in recent years, feminist engagement with and criticism of planned economy has been growing (Lutosch 2022, Quick 2022) and models are trying to take this up (Chowdhury 2022). Feminists criticize the performance ethic and work fetish, even demand the abolition of all paid work, question the worker as the main actor in planning put care work instead of the production of goods, physicality and relationships at the center of considerations. A debate about post-capitalist futures can also draw on feminist utopian traditions (LeGuin 2023, Piercy 2016). As with the ecological question (queer) feminist perspectives strengthen a planning perspective. The expansion of a public sector would anchor care issues more firmly in society. Economic security and a well-developed public care sector are a basis for self-determination (Ghodsee 2019). And only the control of the economy and thus a possible end to the segregation and devaluation of unpaid care work allows gender and injustice to be abolished.