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Adherents of a prescriptive theoretical model for economic development planning in a controversy of the 1920s.

The geneticists participated in an important theoretical controversy with the teleologists over the nature and potential limits to economic planning. The issue was fundamental and cut to the heart of the very possibility of central planning. Would a central planning agency be constrained by economic laws, such as supply and demand, or by other fixed economic regularities, such as sector proportions, or could planners operate to shape the economic future according to their own preferences?

The geneticists argued that it was necessary to base economic plans on careful study of economic laws and historical determinants of economic activity. The past and certain general laws constrained any plan outcome. In this view, planning was essentially a form of forecasting. The teleologists argued on the contrary that planners should set their objectives independently of such constraints, that planning could seek to override market forces to achieve maximum results focused on decisive development variables, such as investment. Proponents of the geneticist view included Nikolai Kondratiev and Vladimir Groman and were well disposed to the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s. The teleologists included Stanislav Strumilin and Pavel Feldman who were less well disposed toward the NEP and believed it would be possible to force economic development through binding industrial and enterprising targets.

The argument became quite heated and over-simplified. The degree of freedom of action that the geneticists allowed planners was miniscule, and it appeared that planning would involve little more than filling in plan output cells based almost entirely on historical carryover variables. The teleologists claimed a degree of latitude to planners that was almost total. In the end the geneticists lost, and Soviet planning followed the teleologists' approach: it consisted of a set of comprehensive targets designed to force both the pace and the character of development. Soviet experience over the long run, however, suggests that the geneticists were closer to the mark concerning constraints on development.

See also: economic growth, soviet; kondratiev, nikolai dmitrievich; new economic policy; teleological planning


Gregory, Paul R., and Stuart, Robert C. (1990). Soviet Economic Structure and Performance, 4th ed. New York: Harper Collins.

Millar, James R. (1981). The ABCs of Soviet Socialism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

James R. Millar

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