Tag Archives: Stafford Beer

GOSPLAN emergent?

The ever-interesting Yorkshire Ranter makes a good point (nearly a month ago, but nevertheless…) that certain elements of retail behemoth Tesco’s logistical setup bear a theoretical resemblance to Soviet-style command economies:

An unremarked-on aspect of the 1.5% interest rate cut last week. Namely, are we already living in a near-real time planned economy, as Stafford Beer foresaw? It sounds like I must be joking. But how else are we to interpret Sir Terry Leahy’s trip to see the Bank of England and the Treasury? Tesco boasts that one in every eight pounds spent in the UK passes through its tills; this bit is always in the papers. They rarely mention their huge management-information system, except to the trade.

If you wanted close to real-time information about the consumer economy, I can’t think of anything that would work better.

It’s quite a leap of the imagination, but this segues very nicely with Ken MacLeod’s recent comment on the future of IT security. MacLeod suggests that we are seeing a move in politics away from decentralised, bottom-up, market-based solutions and towards centralised, top-down, state-based solutions:

What if right now, we’re at a moment when trends that looked inexorable have reached a turning point? What if the common sense of the age is about to flip from free-market capitalism to state-regulated capitalism? Of course, turning that into actual policy won’t happen overnight, or smoothly – too much political legacy code – but if it does happen then over the next ten years or so we’ll be in an age of big government projects, some sort of new New Deal. We’d find ourselves back in the day before yesterday‘s tomorrow.

Further reading with decidedly SFnal tones includes operations systems specialist Stafford Beer‘s Project Cybersyn for the Chilean government and the USSR’s five year plans.

[image from kevindooley on flickr]