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The Economic Understanding Of Kim Stanley Robinson

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Over at a book seminar on his latest tome Kim Stanley Robinson tells us that:

Since the Mars trilogy, I’ve been describing history as a struggle between science and capitalism. It’s very Manichean, but I’ll stick with it as a rough cut, enabling all kinds of further work. Using these terms, I can transcode what Henry Farrell says by defining technocracy as the political effectiveness of science, and markets as a manifestation of capitalism. Yes, my imagined world is dominated by capitalism and science. And so is the real world. But markets always misprice things, and are an instrument of capitalist power, so they must be defeated. So: technocracy defeating markets? Okay, I can accept that as a description of my novel.

There’s so much misunderstanding in that, isn’t there?

For example, markets are not necessary to capitalism, rather, they’re a manner of taming it. As markets are not necessary to socialism or technocracy but they’re a way of taming both of those. And for the same reasons too. Markets allow us to – within restrictions, to be sure – do our own thing. Instead of what the capitalist, the socialist planner, or the technocrat insist we must do.

And markets must be defeated? Which is where we get to the Pol Pot/Mao style of society. Huzzah, eh?

Still, this does explain one thing. In the Mars trilogy Robinson presents us with a society which is both technologically advanced and also has great poverty. Actual, subsistence level, serious, poverty. This is not consistent with having technological advance.

But abolishing markets and having the technocrats running everything is a useful literary device for achieving that impossible goal I guess.

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  1. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get around to trying Robinson’s Mars trilogy. It’s been one of those things that one says, ‘Yeah. One day I’ll read it.’

    But I must admit that your sketch of Martian society doesn’t enthral me.

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