A story, no doubt apocryphal, is told of how Marx, when asked once to specify in somewhat greater detail how a socialist economy would function, blew a smoke-ring into the air, watched it dissolve, and remarked: t! can see thus far and no further.1 He did occasionally of course overcome his reticence, as, for instance, when he wrote A , Critique of the Gotha Programme. But, on the whole, the reticence prevailed. One result of it has been that economists in socialist countries have, over the years, laboured painfully and ab ovo to find answers to theoretical problems of socialist construction and management without the guiding hand of Marx. To be sure, even if Marx had been less reticent, debates and disagreements among socialist economists, whether im Grossen or im Kleinen, would have continued. That is as it should be; but the debates could have straightaway begun perhaps from a more meaningful level.
There was the famous discussion, spread over many years, on the scope and applicability of the law of value under socialism. As the lead article in the current number of Social Scientist makes clear, there has been an equally fascinating and prolonged debate on the theory of rent under socialism. This debate too, which began by asking basic questions such as whether ground-rent as a category can at all exist under socialism, moved on, by the sixties, to a discussion of complex theoretical issues underlying real-life practical problems.
A number of issues came to the fore: First, in so far as in agriculture and extractive activities, different enterprises incurred different unit cases of production on account of natural and vocational factors, how should the Otrtputs be priced so as to avoid a systematic discrimination in favour of the better-endowed enterprises? Secondly, if, notwithstanding the pricing rule, the better-endowed enterprises continued to enjoy an advantage unrelated to the specific quality of their performance, what kind of fiscal and other means could be adopted to nullify this undeserved advantage? Thirdly, when there are different modes of land ownership in agriculture, e.g.. State ownership, collective ownership and individual ownership, what additional considerations does this particular factor introduce into the entire question of evaluating and fixing ground-rents? Fourthly, does