In presenting the plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita, Wichita’s planners routinely make no distinction between government planning and private planning. In their presentations, they will draw analogies between the wisdom of individuals or businesses creating and following a plan and government doing the same.
An example is Wichita Downtown Development Corporation President Jeff Fluhr, who told the Wichita Pachyderm Club that the development of downtown is like the planning of an automobile trip, so that we don’t make major investments that we later regret.
But government and the private sector are very different, facing greatly different constraints, motivations, and access to information. As a result, the two planning processes are entirely different and not compatible.
In the following excerpt from Planning for Freedom: Let the Market System Work. A Collection of Essays and Addresses, Ludwig von Mises addresses this issue. As Mises writes, the choice is not between planning or no planning. The choice is who is to plan.
“Conscious Planning” versus “Automatic Forces”
As the self-styled “progressives” see things, the alternative is: “automatic forces” or “conscious planning.” It is obvious, they go on saying, that to rely upon automatic processes is sheer stupidity. No reasonable man can seriously recommend doing nothing and letting things go without any interference through purposive action. A plan, by the very fact that it is a display of conscious action, is incomparably superior to the absence of any planning. Laissez faire means: let evils last and do not try to improve the lot of mankind by reasonable action.
This is utterly fallacious and deceptive talk. The argument advanced for planning is derived entirely from an inadmissable interpretation of a metaphor. It has no foundation other than the connotations implied in the term “automatic,” which is customarily applied in a metaphorical sense to describe the market process. Automatic, says the Concise Oxford Dictionary, means “unconscious, unintelligent, merely mechanical.” Automatic, says Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, means “not subject to the control of the will . . . performed without active thought and without conscious intention or direction.” What a triumph for the champion of planning to play this trump-card!
The truth is that the choice is not between a dead mechanism and a rigid automatism on the one hand and conscious planning on the other hand. The alternative is not plan or no plan. The question is: whose planning? Should each member of society plan for himself or should the paternal government alone plan for all? The issue is not automatism versus conscious action; it is spontaneous action of each individual versus the exclusive action of the government. It is freedom versus government omnipotence.
Laissez faire does not mean: let soulless mechanical forces operate. It means: let individuals choose how they want to cooperate in the social division of labor and let them determine what the entrepreneurs should produce. Planning means: let the government alone choose and enforce its rulings by the apparatus of coercion and compulsion.
Under laissez faire, says the planner, the goods produced are not those which people “really” need, but those goods from the sale of which the highest returns are expected. It is the objective of planning to direct production toward the satisfaction of “true” needs. But who should decide what “true” needs are?
The various planners agree only with regard to their rejection of laissez faire, i.e., the individual’s discretion to choose and to act. They disagree entirely on the choice of the unique plan to be adopted. To every exposure of the manifest and incontestable defects of interventionist policies the champions of interventionism always react in the same way. These faults, they say, were the sins of spurious interventionism; what we are advocating is good interventionism. And, of course, good interventionism is the professor’s own brand only.