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Techno-Socialism: The Illusions of Technology in Search of Utopia

Techno-Socialism: The Illusions of Technology in Search of Utopia

In the history of humanity, few ideologies have incited as much enthusiasm and controversy as socialism—a subject that has captivated the minds and hearts of many, stirring passions and igniting fervent debates. Its proponents proclaim it as the harbinger of a new dawn, promising to rectify perceived injustices and build a (utopian) society based on equality and solidarity. Socialism, in its various forms and iterations, purports to address the flaws of capitalism and create a fairer and more prosperous world. In a socialist society, it is believed that human nature will undergo a transformation; it will be purified of selfishness, and reshaped to create a new type of socialist individual. The desires of this individual will be compatible with the hard work, prosocial behaviors and devotion required to achieve the goals and fulfill the directives set by the socialist state. Socialism advocates for the abolition of private property, collective ownership of the means of production, and the centralization of economic power in the hands of the state, purported to be controlled democratically, but in actuality ruled by a dictator or a committee. Through this reordering of social relations, it is believed that a fair distribution of resources and wealth will be achieved, eradicating poverty, exploitation, and social stratification.

From the early utopian experiments to the most recent manifestations in the twentieth century, socialism has evolved and taken different forms, each with its own supporters and accompanying theories. The early utopian socialists, such as Charles Fourier, Henri de Saint-Simon, and Robert Owen, laid the foundations of the socialist tradition, while Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels created “scientific” socialism, which marked a significant departure from the utopian visions of the past. In the twentieth century, various hybrid forms of socialism emerged, attempting to reconcile the aspirations of socialism with the pragmatic realities of the market economy. Social democrats, for example, advocated for a mixed economy, where a welfare state would provide a safety net and redistribute wealth, while market mechanisms would continue to operate.

However, despite their variations, these different types of socialism ultimately share a common thread rooted in the fundamental rejection of the principles of individualism, private property, and the market economy, without which economic calculation is impossible. Examining the various types of socialism throughout history, a recurring pattern can be observed—an inherent tension between the collectivist aspirations of socialism and the individualistic principles necessary for human development. The failure of socialist experiments, whether in their utopian manifestations or seemingly more pragmatic ones, highlights the limits of central planning, the importance of property rights, and the indispensable role of market processes in coordinating economic activity.

Socialism suffers from a serious malady—an inherent inability to engage in economic calculation. Mises could not conceive of understanding economics without economic calculation, presenting a devastating critique of socialism in 1920. Economic calculation is a comparison between anticipated benefit and anticipated cost (expressed in money). It is essential for decision-making in an economy, as prices and ownership of the factors of production determine what and how much should be produced. By destroying the regime of private property and breaking the price mechanism, the profit and loss system from the structure of economic life, socialism throws society into a perpetual state of disorder, into a world without prices to guide the allocation of resources and signal consumer preferences, with decision-makers unable to rationally allocate limited resources and coordinate productive activities. The consequences of this economic chaos are dire: inefficiency, scarcity, and stagnation of progress.

While supporters of socialism may have noble intentions, we must confront the harsh reality that pursuing their vision involves concentrating immense power in the hands of a few select individuals. The utopia they imagine requires the omnipotence of the state, allowing it to dictate the lives and destinies of individuals. History has repeatedly taught us that concentrating power breeds corruption, stifles individual initiative, and even eliminates the freedoms that socialism’s supporters claim to defend. Private property instills individuals and enterprises with a profound sense of responsibility and accountability. It allows economic agents to internalize the costs and benefits of their actions, promoting a feedback loop that directs resources to their most valuable uses.

The Illusions of Techno-Socialism

In the era of rapid technological advancement, a new wave of socialism has emerged, clothed in the garb of innovation and guided by the promises of big data and artificial intelligence. This Techno-Socialism, as termed by Brett King and Richard Petty in 2021, presents itself as a remedy, offering the vision of an all-knowing and all-powerful state harnessing the capabilities of advanced technologies to create an efficient and egalitarian society. However, we must not be swayed by the charm of this apparently new embodiment of socialism, and it is essential to subject its theoretical foundations and practical implications to thorough scrutiny.

“A socialist community would have to sail without the compass of economic calculation the entire ocean of possible and conceivable economic permutations like a ship without destination and without route” (Mises, 2022, p. 122). At the heart of Techno-Socialism lies the belief that a vast amount of data, coupled with the capabilities of artificial intelligence, can enable the state to overcome the economic calculation problem that has long plagued socialist societies through knowledge centralization. Supporters argue that, through comprehensive data collection and analysis, algorithms can replace market prices as guiding forces in resource allocation and decision-making. They contend that this newfound capacity to process vast amounts of information will eliminate inefficiencies and lead to optimal outcomes for society as a whole. However, a closer examination reveals the inherent errors and dangers lurking beneath the surface of this techno-socialist vision.

The assumption that a centralized authority can hold and process all relevant data is a grave error. The complexity and sheer dynamism of market processes, intertwined with the intricate web of human preferences and knowledge (human action), make it impossible for any entity, regardless of its technological capabilities, to capture and understand the entirety of this complex fabric. Techno-Socialism exhibits unjustified trust in the infallibility of algorithms and artificial intelligence. While these tools possess remarkable capabilities, they are not devoid of presuppositions (ad-hoc or systematic) and inherent limitations. The decisions made by algorithms are only as good as the data they are trained on and the underlying assumptions coded into them. The potential for algorithmic errors and unintended consequences is significant, especially when complex social, cultural, and economic dynamics are reduced to simplistic models. The risk of entrenching and perpetuating biases, suppressing individual autonomy, and suffocating creativity becomes far too high in the pursuit of a technocratic utopia. The vanity of Techno-Socialism blinds its proponents to the incomplete and subjective nature of the data they attempt to rely on, leading to distorted evaluations and misguided interventions.

However, the fatal flaw of socialism is not the lack of knowledge but the absence of an economic calculation mechanism based on private property and market prices. In the absence of private property, when resources are collectively owned or under the auspices of a central authority, the economic calculation mechanism loses its foundation. The lack of private property rights traps economic agents in a quagmire of uncertainty and ambiguity. The absence of authentic prices, which arise organically through voluntary exchange of goods and services in private ownership, obscures the necessary signals for efficient resource allocation. Data, in its raw form, comprises a collection of facts, figures, and observations about the state of the world. By using prices derived from voluntary exchanges, market participants are equipped with an essential tool for efficient resource allocation. Prices, through their spontaneous emergence and continuous adjustment, serve as vital signals, conveying information about the relative scarcity of goods and services and reflecting the ever-changing preferences and evaluations of individuals. hey facilitate the efficient allocation of resources and guide entrepreneurs in making rational decisions based on prevailing conditions of supply and demand.

The attempt to replace the price mechanism with algorithmic calculations derived from data faces insurmountable challenges. The absence of private property over the means of production destroys the very foundation on which economic calculation relies. In such a system, the means of production are controlled and allocated by a central authority, devoid of the decentralized nature of the market. The absence of private property and voluntary exchange disrupts the essential price feedback mechanism, making economic calculation an unattainable ideal. This concentration of power lacks the ability to incorporate dispersed knowledge and subjective evaluations of individuals comprehensively because they are based on individual perceptions and cannot be reduced to a simple numerical scale or algorithmic process.

The complexity of human subjectivity makes it difficult to capture and aggregate in a standardized or uniform manner; therefore, market consumers’ evaluations are subjective by nature; hence, they are not quantifiable in any way. They involve opinions, experiences, values, and personal preferences that vary from person to person. These subjective evaluations are shaped by factors that are not easily quantifiable, often depending on context and changing over time. They introduce a level of dynamism and variability that cannot be captured or standardized within a centralized decision-making process.

For example, when it comes to evaluating the quality or desirability of a product, individuals may have unique tastes, preferences, and experiences that influence their judgments. These subjective evaluations may include factors such as personal aesthetics, emotional reactions, cultural influences, and individual needs. Market prices originate in voluntary cooperation and can never be simulated because their significance is not related to truth or objective knowledge; they stem from entrepreneurial efforts. In the absence of the market price mechanism, the techno-socialist regime is adrift, lacking the compass necessary to navigate the complexity of a functional economy.

Furthermore, Techno-Socialism raises profound concerns regarding individual privacy, personal autonomy, and concentration of power. The collection and analysis of vast amounts of data require intrusive surveillance measures that violate individuals’ privacy, eroding the very foundations of a free society. Centralized control by the state over such immense information resources grants unprecedented power to those in governance, allowing the potential for manipulation, coercion, and suppression of dissent. History bears witness to the dangers inherent in concentrating power in the hands of a few, as the excesses of authoritarian regimes have led to the trampling of individual rights, stagnation of innovation, and erosion of economic prosperity.

The pitfalls of collective voting in economic planning

As presented in the introduction, in the realm of socialist thought, new models constantly emerge presenting themselves as embodiments of modernity and progress, as solutions to past failures. This is also the case here: a particular variant of Techno-Socialism, rooted in the notion of an online voting system for business plans, seeks to overcome the limitations of the big data model by incorporating the interconnectedness offered by digital technology. At the heart of this subtype is the belief that blockchain can be used to enable direct democratic decision-making processes.

Blockchain technology, most commonly associated with cryptocurrencies, allows for transparent and secure record-keeping through a decentralized system, a viable solution if applied in a free-market context. Thus, instead of relying on representatives or centralized authorities, individuals in a techno-socialist society could directly participate in decision-making through verifiable digital voting systems. Supporters argue that all individuals can participate in the democratic selection of economic activities, allocating resources and directing production in accordance with the aggregated preferences of the community. They claim that this collective decision-making process, combined with the accessibility and transparency of the blockchain system, will lead to fair and efficient allocation of resources, surpassing perceived inefficiencies of the market.

The assumption that collective voting can effectively replace the price mechanism and entrepreneurial spirit of the market is deeply flawed. The complexity of market processes, the dispersed knowledge held by individuals, and the dynamic nature of consumer preferences make it impossible to replicate the spontaneous order of the market by any centralized system, whether based on artificial intelligence or collective voting. Informational challenges related to aggregating diverse and often contradictory preferences in a coherent and meaningful decision-making process are far from trivial, leading to distorted outcomes and suboptimal resource allocation. This overlooks the critical role of entrepreneurship and the profit and loss mechanism in stimulating innovation, adaptation, and progress, assuming that all individuals possess equal knowledge and understanding of complex economic (and political) issues.

In reality, the vast majority of individuals do not have the time, expertise, and motivation to thoroughly analyze every issue requiring a vote. This hypothesis also exacerbates the free-rider problem, where individuals can benefit from decision outcomes without actively participating in the voting process. This leads to a lack of widespread participation, diluting the notion of collective decision-making and distorting the democratic outcome. Ultimately, it leads to a situation where the majority of voters fall prey to simplistic slogans, emotional appeals, or misinformation, thereby undermining the very idea of informed decision-making. Market-driven creative forces, fueled by the profit motive and private ownership of the means of production, have repeatedly proven to be engines of economic development and prosperity. By removing decision-making power from entrepreneurs and the competitive forces of the market, Techno-Socialism blocks the dynamism and discovery process necessary for societal progress. Mises (2018) emphasizes the crucial distinction between the managerial and entrepreneurial functions, noting that the former cannot supplant the latter. Engaging in speculation and investment is not a matter of mere play. Speculators and investors expose their own wealth, being accountable to the ultimate rulers of the capitalist economy, the consumers.

This type of Techno-Socialism raises profound concerns regarding the nature of the presumed democratic decision-making process in the economic domain. While the concept of popular vote may seem attractive in theory, it fails to account for the inherent limitations and challenges of collective decision-making in complex economic systems. The tyranny of the majority, susceptibility to demagogy and populism, as well as the potential for suppressing minority voices are real risks that need to be carefully examined. The cumbersome nature of decision-making through online voting systems is subject to the pitfalls of manipulation, misinformation, and voter apathy.


Ludwig von Mises’ timeless work on socialism remains as relevant today, perhaps more so than ever. His book serves as a powerful warning that the socialist vision, in whatever form and despite any claims of modernity, fails to address the deeply ingrained errors and inherent contradictions that have plagued socialism throughout history. Mises’ insights into the limits of centralized planning, the complexity of human action, and the significance of individual freedom continue to resonate in our increasingly digital age.

It is not knowledge, but entrepreneurial judgment, which is nonexistent without private property, that drives the market process. Techno-Socialism, with its dreams of omnipotence and omniscience, risks reproducing dark chapters of human history in pursuit of an illusory ideal. This socialist vision, despite its appearance of technological sophistication, fails to address the fundamental flaws and contradictions. Its trust in the capabilities offered by big data, artificial intelligence, or a collective voting system for business plans is misplaced, as it disregards the complexity of human action, the limitations of centralized planning, and the value of individual freedom. As we navigate the complexity of our digital era, we must remain vigilant, upholding the principles of individualism, private property, and the spontaneous order of the market, for it is through these pillars that genuine progress and human flourishing can be achieved.

Photo source: PxHere.


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