(Original post by Faland)
Well firstly, why would a socialist society visit war against a fellow free society? I can't see how that'd happen. If by a 'free society' you mean the kind of false, ideological freedom propagated within the oligarchies of modern capitalism, with their choiceless electoral systems, then war could occur. Though I think it'd be the empires of the West who'd likely initiate it, just as they have against democratic movements in countless peripheral countries when they get in the way of exploitation.
A society in which all property is controlled by the state is not free by definition, since people are entirely dependent for survival and for every action they would like to take on the availability of property.
And I think you might be confused about how new technologies are developed - officials should have nothing to do with it. All that is necessary is for the scientists and technicians to be given the resources they need to pursue the experiments they want; now, under capitalism, these resources are only provided with the condition that doing so eventually results in more profit for the corporations. In a more ideal society, the resources would be provided at the behest of an educated public, through democracy, so as to ensure that the projects necessary for the welfare of future societies are undertaken.
Unless you think there should be a referendum on every research proposal (perhaps line-item referenda on all public spending?) people will elect someone who will appoint an official who will decide how money is spent. The indifference of this official to what makes money is not an advantage: rather, it removes any mechanism for sorting useful inventions from useless ones.
One interesting example of this is titanium in the USSR. As everyone knows, iron was important early in the industrial revolution and steel was important later on. The key difference is that iron is stronger than wood per weight and steel is stronger than iron per weight. The USSR decided that titanium, which is stronger per weight than steel, is therefore the natural progression and established a huge titanium industry. In the West, which had a price mechanism, titanium has some niche uses in air and space construction, but in the USSR it was applied much more widely. The Americans were shocked to find out that the Soviets had titanium-hulled submarines that could dive much deeper than any of theirs, for instance.
What they didn't realise, because they did not have a price mechanism, was that titanium consumed much more resources to produce than steel but was only a little better. In most circumstances titanium was not worth it as opposed to using steel. Those titanium hulled submarines were better than steel hulled submarines, but steel hulled submarines were so much cheaper that many more could be built, and the titanium hulls weren't that
much better. Eventually the Soviets realised, by looking at what was happening in the West, that they had overestimated the usefulness of titanium. If the whole world had been socialist, however, they might not. The simple heuristic of their educated engineer-bureaucrats had failed.
Actually, having line item referenda on every spending proposal wouldn't have helped here either, just wasted more of everybody's time.
Now with titanium they incorrectly extrapolated a trend, but socialism is even worse at exploiting entirely new developments, because there's no model that the bureaucrats/voters can apply to see where they are going to come from. Another military example is stealth technology, which was actually invented by Soviet scientists. But they didn't understand what they had done. The bureaucracy was set up with a mindset from WWII and following Western developments: planes should be faster, fly higher, and have bigger radars. Stealth technology reversed the trend and introduced a new factor. So, stealth technology went to the US.
Smart phones fall into this second category. A state monopoly research institution would almost certainly eventually develop the ability to make large networks of radio transceivers. It's not very complicated, after all; the USSR's problem was that quality control tended to be too poor to actually manufacture them. But would the state monopoly telecommunications company decide to invest in a huge network of base stations when it is set up to provide cable communications, and when its officials receive no reward for developing a new service (but would certainly be punished severely for wasting society's money if it failed)? I doubt that this world would have smart phones in 2014.
The 'war on Cancer' is not something I know much about; what I do know, however, is that state-sponsored research has been far more successful in recent years than anything in the private sector. You just need to look at clinics like the Manchester Christie to see how innovative treatment methods can be explored to great reward without having anything to do with capital. It is because of places like The Christie that the cancer deathrate has been in a perpetual downwards slide.
What breakthrough treatments have there been in cancer in the past 50 years? There have been very few, despite the US government's vast spending (and similar, though more morally obtained, private charity money in the UK and elsewhere). Tamoxifen is actually one, and it was first used at The Christie. But The Christie didn't discover or develop it. It was discovered by ICI, a private chemical company.