The original paper: download

Summary for each part:

I: The mathematical solution to constructing a rational economic order is to achieve the same marginal rates of substitution between any two goods. This is not realistic, because it relies on the assumption of complete command of knowledge in a central single mind, while in the real society the knowledge is dispersed among separate individuals. This causes misconception about the nature of economic problem, which is essentially how to efficiently allocate resources by utilizing individual knowledge, rather than utilizing it in its integrated form.


II: Utilizing knowledge, which involves communicating it to the planner and among different individuals, is important in designing an efficient economic system, which can be in the form of central planning, completion and monopoly. Which kind of the economic systems is more efficient depends on whether the existing knowledge can be fuller used.


III: Different kinds of knowledge define different positions of the economic systems. The prominent position of central planning in public imagination is due to the exaggeration of the importance of scientific knowledge. Selecting a group of experts to command such knowledge is actually only a fraction of the wider problem. The knowledge of the particular circumstances, which is not always available, is equivalently socially useful, although it is sometimes regarded as disreputable if one gains advantage by using this knowledge.


IV: Economic problems arise as a result of change of circumstances, making the knowledge of the particular place and time important in making economic decisions. This sort of knowledge, however, cannot be statistically calculated therefore cannot be conveyed to the central authority who make plans based on statistical information.


V: Decentralization is necessary in solving economic problems, because adaptions to changes in economic systems require the knowledge of the particular circumstances to be promptly used. A price system helps coordinate separate actions for individuals whose visions in their own fields sufficiently overlap through intermediaries, thus brings about the outcome that might have been achieved by central planning with complete information.


VI: The price system acts as a mechanism that communicates only the most essential information for individuals to take the right action, and it extends the span of resources utilization beyond the control of any single mind. Like language, this is one of the formations upon which the foundation of civilization is built.


VII: The dispute about the indispensability of price system is not purely a political dissent, but also intellectual and methodological differences. Schumpeter’s argument that valuation of factors of production is implied in the valuation of consumers’ goods is untrue, because it also depends on the supply of the factors. His argument disregards the essential fact of imperfection of knowledge in the real world. Thus the solution to the economic problem has to be processed by interactions of people who possess their partial knowledge.


In sum, the key take-away ideas are:


In the real world, knowledge is spread throughout the society. The knowledge of particular circumstances of place and time is not always public available, but it is useful in making economic decisions. This is an essential feature of the real world’s economic problem, which makes central planning inefficient and infeasible. That’s because central planning requires a single mind processing all the knowledge. Decentralization overcomes this problem via a price system in which individuals with their own partial knowledge coordinate with each other and utilize resources that are beyond the control of any one person.