Planners, Go Home!
MAY 01, 1960 by LAWRENCE SULLIVAN
Mr. Sullivan is Coordinator of Information, U. S. House of Representatives.
Reflective world opinion appears suddenly to have got hold of the fact that no Five-Year Plan ever has delivered as promised.
Russia has modified six of her Five-Year Plans in mid-stream; India already has publicly cut back her extravagant goals in three; and Red China has modified two expansion visions in ten years. Every cut-back in socialist deliveries is explained by unforeseen developments—circumstances beyond the planning ken of the professional state planners.
Is social planning a new science, or merely a facile scheme of political payola?
Eugene Lyons once summarized his ten-year impressions of Moscow planning with the observation: "I know men and women without the ability to keep their own household accounts in order who have no hesitancy in tackling the godlike bookkeeping of human destiny."
Our own Bureau of the Budget reports total expenditures of $8,391,000,000 planned for "research and development" programs in fiscal 1961. This compares with only $74,000,000 for all such federal programs in 1940. The day may be close at hand when we will find ourselves spending so much for officially planned development that we have no funds for the things we really should be doing today.
A holiday for planners easily may be our next national mood, or hysteria. In the soft-music candlelight of the more stately bistros on Capitol Hill, of a pleasant spring evening, one senses a rumble of legislative chatter which seems to murmer, "Planners, Go Home!"
The scourge of professional planners hit America like a cyclone in the mid-1920′s, a direct import from the new postwar socialist areas of Europe. Under communist doctrine, state planning became for that generation, "the wave of the future." The new literature of the era, as typified by Main Street and Manhattan Transfer, and by the vitriolic debunking biographers, made national planning the fashionable fetish of the intelligentsia and beatniks of that day.
Forty years of history now reveal some stark truths about state planning: (1) The more planners we have, the bigger grows the tax bill from year to year; (2) Without ever a thought how the money is to be raised, planners throw off their grandiose schemes in millions and billions from week to week—for schools, hospitals, recreation, senior citizens, moon shots, birth control, muscular dystrophy, or fallen arches; (3) The lads who make the more grandiloquent national plans seldom are around at maturity date, leaving only the stay-put taxpayer to face the sobering reality of the final cost sheets. The original planners, by this time are busy at blueprinting fantastic new projects, in Alaska, Puerto Rico, or Laos.
In government or out, every public planning group is sustained in Washington and the principal State Capitols by an alert and aggressive pressure-group lobby.
Secretary of Commerce, Frederick H. Mueller, recently tabulated all the new programs presented in formal bills on Capitol Hill during 1959. These measures, had they all passed, would have called for more than $300 billion in the ensuing five years—all on top of the present budget!
"Future commitments on public works already begun—housing, highways, and similar projects—total $98 billion.
"Even if Congress starts no new programs this year, certain existing ones contain built-in increases for civil aviation, merchant shipping, veterans’ pensions, outer space, and many other programs. These built-in increases amount to over $2 billion for fiscal 1961, and already will add a billion dollars to the 1962 budget.
"Facing us also are accrued liabilities estimated at some $30 billion for military retirement, $28 billion for civilian employee retirement, and about $300 billion for future pensions, compensation, and other benefits voted for veterans. These accrued obligations for past services total roughly $358 billion."
Secretary Mueller’s summary thus presents the picture:
Built-in budget commitments
$ 98 billion
Total future obligations
This tabulation takes no account of unfunded liabilities under our federal Social Security programs.
Historically, the most convincing documentation on frustrated planning comes directly from the planner’s fatherland.
No other nation in modern history has attempted economic planning on so vast a scale as Communist Russia. In the communist lexicon the Gosplan is the very beginning of economic life. As outlined by Saburov before the Twentieth Party Congress of 1956, the Gosplan develops production schedules not only for the entire national economy, but "for individual branches, for every enterprise, building site, and collective and state farm."
"This will permit determination and direction of the development of every enterprise over the coming years."
The first major area of Bolshevik social planning was in "housing for the masses." Soon after the 1917 revolution, Lenin abolished private ownership in land, nationalized all privately-owned housing, and established an airtight government monopoly in construction.
The first national housing program, a segment of the New Economic Policy, NEP, was launched in 1923, with great propaganda fanfare.
At that point, the total urban population of Russia averaged 6.45 square meters of living space per person. By 1932 the available living space was only 4.94 square meters per person, and by 1955, 4.78 square meters.
European public health socialists in the nineteenth century had agreed upon 9 square meters per person (96.75 sq. ft.) as the minimum hygienic standard for urban living space.
Czarist Russia had achieved 7 square meters per capita in 1914 or about 78 per cent of the then accepted European socialist standard for cities. By 1955 communist planners had pulled the Russian per capita housing area down to 53.1 per cent of the 1880 standard.
A Deteriorating Condition
By this record, the housing planners in Russia not only failed to keep abreast of normal population growth, but actually reduced average urban living space per capita. Urban population is four times what it was in 1923, but the total urban living area has expanded only by three. Urban housing standards throughout Russia today are the most miserable in all Europe.
In the words of one reputable world authority on Russia, Soviet housing today, after 37 years of socialistic planning, "remains one of the worst blights on the communist record." (Timothy Sosnovy, Problems of Communism, Washington, 1956, p. 31.)
Translated into our own measure of feet and inches, urban Russians today have less than 51 square feet of living space per person, or about 205 square feet for a theoretical family of four. This would mean one room roughly 10 by 20 feet for every family. Current U.S. housing standards allow 320 square feet per person, or better than six times the most recently measured standard in Moscow, in 1955.
Such is the supreme accomplishment of planning in the first target area of communism—"housing for the masses."
The Alluring Empty Vision
In Russian housing, as almost everywhere else in national planning, the goals were not met chiefly because labor and materials were not supplied in the measure called for by the master plan. To quote Sosnovy: "Even the meager goals set in the plans went long unfulfilled, due to a discrepancy between the planned volume of building and the resources made available in both capital and labor."
This documented national experience reflects perhaps one deeper purpose of socialist planning—to promise needy multitudes pie in the sky, without a moment’s practical thought how the promise may be realized. Socialist planners gain stature and prestige, not so much by realization of their heady dreams, as by the intoxicating visions they project before the confused and distraught masses. The rosy promise—the alluring empty vision—is the political stuff on which socialism thrives.
The promise of a million new houses at some indefinite future date will win far more votes and command much stouter political allegiance than will actual delivery of one hundred real houses this year. Most Russians have been living in roseate houses-on order since 1918, but, concludes Sosnovy, "it is worth noting that the present living-space standard leaves the urban citizen substantially worse off than he was over forty years ago under the Czars." This is one principal reason why the Kremlin dare not submit itself to an honest public appraisal by the people through the medium of a free election anywhere behind the Iron Curtain. Philosophers in every latitude and longitude declare it still is universally true that "you can’t fool all of the people all of the time."
How Will It Be Financed?
Defenders of socialism are quick to point out that every successful industry maintains a research and development agency to plan future growth.
The essential difference is that industrial planning is paid for by the industry as it moves forward. Professional political planning sometimes promises to be "self-liquidating," but never is.
A striking example is our current national highway program. Although less than four years old, it is already about 25 per cent short of planned funds to finance the 1961 mileage. A program estimated at $33 billion when launched in 1956 is now estimated at $41 billion. Over and above the special new gasoline and rubber taxes earmarked for the roads fund, there is presently in sight by 1962 a deficit of $10 billion in the road financing plan.
If we are ever to put a net over our runaway public planners, budget officers at every level of government must adhere to one massive policy—no program may be received from any government planning group unless and until it shall be accompanied by a detailed scheme of new taxes to finance the proposals to complete realization. Plans too often are launched with a million-dollar appropriation when the total cost is recognized at $10 million over five years. "Let’s get it started," runs the planners’ lingo, "and we’ll raise the extra money somehow!" This is precisely the technique of built-in budget increases cited by Secretary Mueller in his breath-taking tabulation of $750 billion in future federal obligations. This is the stuff inflation is made of.
"Our hazard today," Secretary Mueller concludes, "is not depression or famine or plague or invasion or civil war. It is the ever-present threat of inflation. Free enterprise has blessed us with record prosperity and all the resources essential to unmatched growth. And we have peace.
"Shall we enter this decade’s Promised Land of unprecedented abundance? Or, by our own folly, shall we utterly ruin the brightest prospect that ever beckoned mankind?"
The Secretary’s question likely will be answered by our future policy toward irresponsible government planners.
A five-year moratorium on public planning would offer at least a breathing spell—and a long overdue opportunity for every budget agency in government—local, state, and federal—to take a new financial bearing.
Can we escape the plague of planners?