There are several theories why the Soviet Union collapsed: imperial overstretch, economic inefficiency, ideological bankruptcy. Take your pick or mix all three.
But in his book Homo Deus, the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests a more prosaic reason: planned economies (and authoritarian regimes) are rubbish at processing data. “Capitalism won the cold war because distributed data-processing works better than centralised data-processing,” he wrote.
但是，以色列历史学家尤瓦尔?诺亚?哈拉里(Yuval Noah Harari)在《人神》(Homo Deus)一书中，提出了一个更为平凡的原因：计划经济（以及威权政府）在处理数据方面是废物。他写道：“资本主义赢得了冷战，因为分布式数据处理比集中化的数据处理更有效。”
How could any central planner sitting in Gosplan’s offices in Moscow hope to understand all the moving parts of the Soviet economy across 11 time zones?
The lunacy of that system was best explained to me by Otto Latsis, the late Russian economic journalist. He recounted how he once visited a Soviet roof tile manufacturing company, which had big expansion plans. He discovered that all the investment was being sunk into a separate plant to destroy discarded, imperfect tiles to stop them being sold on the black market by the factory’s workers.
As with most Soviet factories, the planners had set demanding targets for the new plant, focusing on quantity rather than quality, creating perverse incentives to smash up near-perfect tiles. It is hard to think of a starker example of the value destruction that wrecked the Soviet economy.
But the explosion of data in our modern world could — at least in theory — inform far better managerial decisions and reduce the information imbalances between a planned and a market economy. Central planners are rapidly acquiring the tools to process data a lot more effectively.
All our connected devices are pumping out oceans of data about our real-time economic activities, demands and desires. Properly harnessed, that data could mimic the price mechanism as a means of matching demand and supply.
For the past few decades, free market economists have been stomping on the grave of the planned economy. Might it rise again in a radically new form?
Some seem to think so in China, which remains wedded to Communist ideology — no matter how loosely applied in practice — and is developing one of the most vibrant data markets in the world.
Last year, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, the online platform with some 500m users, argued new technologies provided the means to gather and process data on a near-unimaginable scale.
Applying artificial intelligence to those data sets was deepening our real-time understanding of the world. “As such, Big Data will make the market smarter and make it possible to plan and predict market forces so as to allow us to finally achieve a planned economy,” he told an economic conference.