The Planning Daemon: Future Desire and Communal Production

Historical Materialism 31 (4):115-159 (2023)
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Abstract

Within the planning discourse two poles have materialised over the last decades: a participatory ideal guided by substantive rationality, opposed to an algorithmic governmentality subordinated to instrumental reason. This rift within socialist thought is also observable when it comes to the discovery of needs. The paper understands this discovery procedure primarily as a forecasting problem and demonstrates how many authors dedicated to a participatory planning process call for consumers to write down their desires in the form of wish lists. As a response to this epistemically questionable discovery procedure, the state of the art in capitalist demand-forecasting at enterprises like Amazon is presented, where machine-learning algorithms excel at modelling interrelated time series on a global level by extrapolating demand patterns in real-time. The paper closes with a proposal to reconfigure this predictive apparatus for socialist ends and raises questions concerned with the political implications of centralising decision-making in black-box algorithms.

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