Traditionally before the fall of the Soviet Union, whenever people discussed planning, two main positions were immediately pronounced.  The first one, was that of the traditional right, which opposes any kind of economic planning; and the second one was the position of the left, which supported some kind of planning.


Actually planning has a long history among the Marxists.  The best example of it, for communist parties before coming to power, was the MINIMUM and the MAXIMUM programs.  Usually the former was practical plans and the latter was ideals (see Marx's "Critique of the Gotha Program").  In the countries where Marxists came to power, 5-year plans, etc.  were executed.


The planning departments in Soviet Union grew bigger and bigger because they had to plan a total economy; and with time, they became totally ineffective, even if the most modern computers were used.  Something similar happened in countries that were not communist; but tried to do planning the same way.


The question is then if planning is effective after all?  In fact, many futurists in the most advanced countries are planners and forecasters.


Actually there are many prominent thinkers who consider themselves futurists, and I find myself in almost total disagreement with many of them.  But among the prominent futurists, I can say that, almost 99 percent of the times, I find myself in agreement with the writings of Daniel Bell.  Of other futurists, I also like reading Buckminster Fuller, Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt, Yoneji Masuda, and Willis Harman.


Paul Dickson, in his book "THE FUTURE FILE", has a good presentation of what Futurism and its different trends are.  Also as far as planning is concerned, all the above authors have made substantial contributions to the field.  My own analysis has borrowed a lot from them.


There are three areas of futurism.  The first area is to answer the question of "What will very probably happen in the future?"  The answer to this question is called ANALYTIC FUTURISM, and this field of futurism is the most scientific, and is mostly referred to as forecasting, in the universities.  Old Delphi method, and new studies content analysis and studies of alternative futures are important contributions of this field.


The second area of futurism is in response to the question of "What can happen in the future".  The answer to this question is referred to as VISIONARY FUTURISM.  From Plato to Islam, from Voltaire to Marx, this kind of futurism has always existed as a form of art.


The third area of futurism is in response to the question of "What should be done?".  The answer to this question is referred to as PARTICIPATORY FUTURISM.  From Condorcet's Manifesto to the minimum and maximum programs of the Marxist parties, to the modern planning efforts of most advanced countries, this kind of futurism serves the goals of people who want to consciously participate in creating their future.


Now our discussion, as far as I am concerned, is about participatory futurism.  I think the min and max programs of the Marxists is very outmoded.  The futurists today talk about short-range, medium-range, and long-range plans.  The first one is about 2 years, the second one is about 5 years, and the third is about 10 years.


Even some futurists think the duration should be shorter.  The idea is that anything exceeding 5 years is very questionable (even using powerful economic models such as Wassily Leontief's input-output models), because almost all the factors need to be changed in five years.


Now beside the TIME factor, the new futuristic planning differentiates LOCAL, REGIONAL, STATE, and INTERNATIONAL plans.   For a good presentation of the breakdown of TIME, SPACE, and SOCIETY, see an article with the same name by Daniel Bell in FRAMTIDER (Vol 3, 1993)[It is a Swedish Post Office publication in English and Swedish].


Moreover, the new participatory futurism is not limited by the ideals or practical circumstances, it grows with the ethical, legal, and political values.  In other words, participatory futurism transforms the FUTURE to the NOW.


I think for Iran, first a new understanding of planning is needed.  The old style planning is really morbid and it is as bad as, if not worse, than having no plans.  The modern planning, once understood, is very useful for transforming the economy.


Any planning that does not include the new achievements of biotechnology, telecommunications, computers, space technologies, alternative energy studies, and materials science is doomed to keep Iran in the pre-industrial state of economy.


Today the positive results of genetic engineering can be used for fishing and agriculture.  Telecommunications and wireless technologies can facilitate the production of remote villages, without forcing them into creating smoke-stack cities (we don't need to go the path of creating cities like Philadelphia, Portland, Chicago, etc.). 


We definitely need to understand what different types of planning are and what types of planning to use and what not to use.


Sam Ghandchi

March 25, 1994






* The above article was first posted on SCI (soc.culture.iranian) Usenet newsgroup on March 25, 1994


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