economic calculation

At last, the people: Stafford Beer's model of the Chilean economy

Beer with model

I had a couple of bottles of wine and a tangled bank of discussion last night with Andy Goldring. One of those ones where notes must be taken - at least on my part, since I got so many ideas from him. The one I want to write about here is Stafford Beer, a plummy, crazy-bearded cybernetician. After his World War Two service he got into cybernetic management theory, consulting for a load of large companies. I'd heard about his attempt to create a cybernetic economy at some point but never followed it up. It's a fascinating chunk of history. The economic system he designed was called Project Cybersyn; there's a website with films from a documentary / art installation about it, which has a wonderful bit of footage from Beer's time at UMIST. It's accessible via one tiny little pink dot - or if you're impatient, the direct link is in the source of the page - I've kindly put it here for you. [update: video is now on youtube here] The silent UMIST audiovisual timer at the start gives it a convincing sense of antiquity. I recommend watching the first five minutes at least.

One day while working in London in 1971, Beer - to quote from the film -

... got a letter that very much changed my life. It was from the technical general manager of the state planning board of Chile. He remarked in this letter that he had studied all my works, he had collected a team of scientists together, and would I please come and take it over? I could hardly believe it, as you can imagine. But this was to start me on a journey that had me commuting 8000 miles over and over between London and Santiago.

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