Time was when planning was the watchword of all radical, progressive or revolutionary opinion. Whether it was a matter of the wall-to-wall planning of the fully nationalised socialist economy, the liberal and pluralist arrangements of the welfare state with Keynesian economic management, or simply the protection and improvement of the environment, all schemes for making the world a better place to live in - or at least the advanced, industrialised world - assumed that this would happen when a body of professional experts were given the power and authority to devise and enforce appropriate blueprints. Then, in the Seventies, planners got a bad name. In Britain, national economic planning, for years ceaselessly battered by the stop-go waves, finally collapsed in a shambles of vacuous incomes policies and relentlessly rising unemployment, to be replaced by the strident invocation of non-planning and by apparently deliberate further increases in unemployment and massive de-industrialisation. In France, central indicative planning, which had seemed almost miraculously successful with the enormous economic growth of the Fifties and Sixties, was discredited when it proved unable to withstand the buffetings of inflation. A little belatedly, the Soviet Union discovered that its planned economy - once feared in the West (though admired by some) for its awesome efficiency as well as its achievement of equality - was ramshackle, corrupt, backward and thoroughly inefficient. The United States, which had not admitted to having any truck with planning since the days of the New Deal, beyond the level of freeways and land-use zoning, found that urban free ways were gumming up and that zoning had neither improved inner-city ghettoes nor prevented the endless spread of subtopia. Above all, planning, to the British public, meant town planning. This was widely perceived to have done little more than create instant new slums in unloved and unhabitable tower blocks, or stifle initiative with the red tape of regulations and restrictions.
LRB 31 August 1989 | PDF Download