State Planning and Private Entrepreneurship in the 20th Century

  • Nov 10, 2023, 2:30 pm6:00 pm
  • Nov 11, 2023, 9:00 am2:00 pm
  • Princeton University faculty, staff, and students
  • By invitation only


Event Description

This in-person conference will bring together leading scholars across geographies to think about the role of government planning in the 20th century. It will include four panels of mostly advanced Ph.D. candidates and early career scholars from history or adjacent fields, as well as a policy-oriented panel discussion with established scholars.

View Agenda               View abstracts

Across the globe, the twentieth century saw widespread enchantment with the state’s power to reshape all aspects of economic life. In the era of total war, no part of the economy, from production to trade and consumption, was exempt from state intervention. The infatuation with planning, broadly understood, had intellectual priors in the socialist movement and military planning. Perhaps the most radical expression of planning was attempted in Bolshevik Russia. However, in the aftermath of the Great Depression, many governments, liberal and illiberal alike, propounded new visions of social progress through state-led investment programs. In the wake of the 1973 Oil Shock, disillusionment with state planning spread worldwide, resulting in the dismantling of planning bureaucracies in subsequent decades.

While the critique of planning in response to the rise of state involvement in the economy has focused on the sweeping power of the state and its consequences for political order, the planning mechanisms remain comparatively underexplored. This conference proposes to investigate the legal, fiscal, and procedural instruments pursued to achieve the promulgated goals of planning, examining the dynamic relationship between state planning and private entrepreneurship within a comparative global context. Rather than treating the state and the market as separate entities where the former intervenes in the latter, this conference seeks to unpack how the state and entrepreneurs co-operated, competed, and came into conflict with one another in the reorganization of economic life. A global comparative approach will allow us to bring actors from different geographies and periods into dialogue with one another and, in doing so, transcend the neat compartments of the “history of capitalism,” “history of communism,” and “history of socialism.”

The workshop invites contributions to the following questions:

  • What are the exigencies and justifications for states to redirect investment and reorganize economic life? Which visions of development and progress were at the heart of state planning? What role did organizations play in facilitating state involvement in the economy? How did planning shape technological change? In what ways do states hope to reshape domestic and private life?
  • How do these visions translate into practice? Which fiscal and monetary incentives and legal and procedural mechanisms were introduced to bring private entrepreneurs/ non-state actors in line with the stated goals? What technocratic apparatuses emerged to allocate scarce resources?
  • Which new forms of knowledge emerged in this context? What forms of violence and coercion were instrumental to achieving the goals of planning?
  • How, in response to planning, did entrepreneurs reorganize their business practices to comply with the new regimes of state planning? How did they contest or modify the planning priorities set by the government? Did private entrepreneurs organize themselves to effectively reshape policies for their own ends?


FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2023 | (399 Ruehl Family Room, Julis Romo Rabinowitz Building)
1.00 pm - 2:15 pm The Past and Future of Planning  (panel discussion open to the Princeton University community)
  • Bill Janeway, University of Cambridge
  • Liz Chatterjee, University of Chicago
  • Harold James, Princeton University
  • Yakov Feygin, Berggruen Institute
2:30 – 4:00 pm East Asia
  • Xiao Sun, Princeton University: Owning A Factory in Mao’s China, Nationalizing the Cotton Textile Industry (1949-1958)
  • Peilun Hao, Princeton University: Rescuing the “Bloated” Mills: Shanghai’s Flour Industry and the State, 1946-1956
  • Yujie Li, University of Chicago/ UMD: “(Un)Planning the muscle-powered transportation: How mule carts defied the statistical regime of People’s Republic of China”

Chair/Discussant: Elizabeth Chatterjee

4:15 – 5:45 pm  Northern Eurasia
  • Véronique Mickisch, NYU: Friedrich Pollock: From the German revolution and Soviet planning to the New Deal, 1918-1938
  • Adam Leeds, Columbia University: Accounting for Socialism: Yegor Gaidar, Reform Thinking Before Transition, and Plannedness without the Plan
  • Antoine Jourdain, EHESS (Paris): Lost in “Concertation”: Planning French Agricultural Production (1948 – 1962)
  • Friedrich Asschenfeldt, Princeton University: Planning Agriculture in the USSR and international market coordination during the Great Depression

Chair/Discussant: Edward Baring, Princeton University

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2023 | 399 Ruehl Family Room, Julis Romo Rabinowitz Building
9:30 – 11:00 am South and Southeast Asia
  • James Evans, Harvard University/GWU: Malaysian Maoism and Anti-Red Planning: Development as Defense in Southeast Asia
  • Michael Mandelkorn, Princeton University: To Make or Break the Village: Competing Visions of Rurality and Colonial Legacy in Postcolonial Burma
  • Neel Thakkar, Princeton University: Theorizing the National Economy at the End of Colonialism: India’s National Planning Committee and the Meaning of Economic Sovereignty
  • Adhitya Dhanapal, Princeton University, Handloom Weavers Mobilization in 1952-3: The limits of Planning in Democratic India
Chair/Discussant: Yujie Lie
11:15 am – 12.45 pm America
  • Casey Eilbert, Princeton University: Public and Private Administration in the 20th Century United States
  • Renny Hahamovitch, University of Michigan: Planning for Collapse: NASA, Futurology, and the Loss of the Long-Term in the Apollo Era
  • Julia Marino, Princeton University: Strategic Visions: Tracing the Evolution of American Industrial Policy in the Late Twentieth Century
  • Haris Durrani, Princeton University: Invention, Invented, 1959–1973
Chair/Discussant: Yakov Feygin

12:45 – 1:30 pm

Lunch & Program Close

Co-sponsored by the Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy & Finance and the Center for Collaborative History

  • Julis Romo Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy & Finance
  • Center for Collaborative History