Front Page Titles (by Subject) Hayek\'s Refinements of the Misesian Calculation Debate - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4
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Hayek's Refinements of the Misesian Calculation Debate - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Hayek's Refinements of the Misesian Calculation Debate
Three further points may be worth noting in respect of Hayek's refinements of the Misesian calculation debate. First, when Hayek speaks of economic calculations under socialism as a practical impossibility, he is not identifying specific obstacles in the way of the socialist enterprise which might someday be removed. Socialist planning could supplant market processes only if practical knowledge could be replaced by theoretical or technical knowledge at the level of society as a whole—and that is a supposition which is barely conceivable. The kind of omniscience demanded of a socialist planner could be possessed only by a single mind, entirely self-aware, existing in an unchanging environment—a supposition so bizarre that we realize we have moved from any imaginable social world to a metaphysical fantasy in which men and women have disappeared altogether, and all that remain are Leibnizian monads, featureless and unhistorical ciphers.
Fortunately, such a transformation is possible, if at all, only as a thought-experiment. In practice, all supposedly socialist economies depend upon precisely that practical knowledge of which Hayek speaks, and which though dispersed through society is transmitted via the price mechanism. It is widely acknowledged that socialist economies depend crucially in their planning policies on price data gleaned from historic and world markets. Less often recognized, and dealt with in detail only, so far as I know, in Paul Craig Roberts’ important Alienation in the Soviet Economy,50 is that planning policies in socialist economies are only shadows cast by market processes distorted by episodes of authoritarian intervention. The consequence of the Hayekian and Polanyian critiques of socialist planning is not inefficiency of such planning but rather its impossibility: we cannot analyze the “socialist” economies of the world properly, unless we penetrate the ideological veil they secrete themselves behind, and examine the mixture of market processes with command structures which is all that can ever exist in such a complex society.
The third and final implication of Hayek's contribution to the calculation question is his clear statement of the truth that the impossibility of socialism is an epistemological impossibility. It is not a question of motivation or volition, of the egoism or limited sympathies of men and women, but of the inability of any social order in which the market is suppressed or distorted to utilize effectively the practical knowledge possessed by its citizens. Calculational chaos would ensue, and a barbarization of social life result, from the attempt to socialize production, even if men possessed only altruistic and conformist motives. For, in the absence of the signals transmitted via the price mechanism, they would be at a loss how to direct their activities for the social good, and the common stock of practical knowledge would begin to decay. Only the inventiveness of human beings as expressed in the emergence of black and gray markets could then prevent a speedy regression to the subsistence economy. The impossibility of socialism, then, derives from its neglect of the epistemological functions of market institutions and processes. Hayek's argument here is the most important application of his fundamental insight into the epistemological role of social institutions—an insight I will need to take up again in the context of certain similarities between Hayek's conception of liberty under law and Robert Nozick's meta-utopian framework.
Theory and Method in Economic Science
[50.] See Paul Craig Roberts, Alienation in the Soviet Economy, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.