Thursday, October 09, 2014

Central Planning and Big Data in Allende's Chile

Simply fascinating article in The New Yorker about consultant Stafford Beer being invited to Chile to help the Salvador Allende government set up what we would now call a "Big Data" project to coordinate central planning. It is based on Eden Medina's book Cybernetic Revolutionaries, which I have not read but should.

The idea was science fiction-like. You would sit in a futuristic chair--of course equipped with ash tray and glass holder--in a room with screens, which would feed constantly updated data about production, supplies, etc. and even allowing for quick projections of the probable effects of your decisions before you commit to them. "La vía chilena" would therefore be as scientifically based as possible. It never actually worked, in part because of the difficulties inherent in such a project but also because the Allende government had so little time in office.

It made me think of how interesting a comparison would be between different efforts at central planning, and what kinds of political and economic impacts those strategies had. Both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez seemed much more whimsical, focused on their gut feelings.

h/t Mark Healey on Twitter


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