Pointing Toward “Utopia”

Pointing Toward “Utopia”

BEYOND THE WELFARE STATE, by Gunnar Myrdal. Yale University Press: 1960.

One of the more curious things about the teaching of economics these days is the sharp and often vitriolic attack on planning. All too often the idea that careful forethought is essential to eliminate poverty and heighten the quality of economic existence is derided as a road to serfdom. Economics, we are told, is a pure science concerned only with spelling out the inferences to be drawn from a set of a priori statements. Man becomes a money-grubber whose selfishness redounds to the happiness of all; he delicately balances pain and pleasure in order to arrive at business decisions; he has sensitive antennae which impel him to respond instantaneously to the shifting demands of consumers; he can flit from industry to industry in search of ever greater profit; and all this supposedly makes for the best of economic worlds which only “planning” threatens to destroy.

One economist who dismisses such antediluvian notions is Gunnar Myrdal. As Sweden’s Minister of Trade and Commerce, Executive Secretary of the United Nations European Commission, author of a monumental work on the Negro in America and now research director of the Twentieth Century Fund Asian Study, Dr. Myrdal has been able to draw from a deep well of practical experience to irrigate and make flourish an extraordinary body of theoretical work. He has observed planning in small communities, at national levels and among international agencies. He knows its values and its deficiencies, but he knows too that without planning only chaos will inherit the earth.

The present book takes planning for granted. Planning, says Myrdal, exists in a way that most conservative writers refuse to acknowledge, despite the fact that the interests for which they frequently speak have not been especially known for an altruistic rejection of tariffs, land grants or other government subsidies. In fact, national economies more and more have been regulated and literally planned to an extent quite unthinkable a hundred years ago. Consequently, the whole heated discussion on planning has an element of fantasy about it, for the fact is that government activity is now crucial for a viable economy and will continue to be so. Once again Myrdal touches a raw nerve in American life: the split between creed and deed, is as marked in economics as in race relations.