This is not the same old, same old. I tried to motivate Mises’ insights on economic calculation with new angles. An excerpt:
[When I worked for a volunteer group after the Haitian earthquake], we all had to choose which team we would join during a given block of time, but there were rules so that nobody hogged the “cushy” jobs (like staying inside and assembling poles that would be used to prop up tents). Indeed, everybody had to sign up at least once for the disgusting job of cleaning the bathroom at our camp. Even though these rules made sense from the perspective of “fairness” and maintaining team morale, they probably stifled our overall “output.” I noticed that I was very adept at assembling the poles for the tents, whereas I was unprepared for the heat of Haiti in April and therefore not particularly adept at breaking apart concrete blocks with a sledgehammer in the hot sun. (The earthquake had reduced many people’s properties to a pile of rubble.) To be a “tough guy,” I volunteered for “rubble crew” more than necessary, but I probably would have contributed more had I focused on pole assembly. Yet nobody but me (the professional economist in the group) was thinking like this. None of the team leaders had to provide an account of the resources (including the labor of the volunteers) used during a particular day and compare that to the amount of “help” (however quantified) their team had provided to the Haitians. In other words, there was no way for the team leaders to apply a cost/benefit test to their respective operations.
In complete contrast, a for-profit operation in a market economy can make very precise calculations. When I worked at the dairy department in high school, we did have a “scoreboard” that was always lurking in the background, “keeping us on point.” Our manager knew whether it made sense to assign so many workers to a particular shift or whether to carry quarts of chocolate milk in addition to the white whole, 2%, and skim quarts. Monitoring of employee effort wasn’t perfect, of course, and there was still some guesswork, but monetary calculation at least provided a coherent standard against which my manager could judge all of her decisions.