Since 1978, China has undergone a fundamental and very successful reform from a planned economy towards a market economy. But one should still keep in mind that this is still an autocratically governed country where technocrats call the shots at all levels. China is still working with five-year plans and the economy is still tied to administrative goals. SO how does economic planning work in China nowadays?
Gregory Chow offers some insights, in particular on how this planning has recently become more important due to the global economic crisis. Administratively, policy is guided by the five-year plans, which interestingly have recently included new sections on welfare and management of society, making apparent some worries about the adverse effects of market economies and rapid development (or democracy when people can complain?). The remarkable part of these plans is that explicit targets are set, and policy is in a major way oriented towards these targets. Of course, the government still controls directly a considerable number of state-owned enterprises. And it has the traditional tools of policy in a market economy at its disposal to influence the rest of the economy. These policies are coordinated at all levels thanks to the very central nature of government.
In some sense it would also be good for market economies to also set some targets for policy. In fact, this is what politicians should be arguing about and then let technocrats put policy in place to achieve these targets. I would not mind targets like putting a man on Mars by 2020, making sure everyone in covered by health insurance by 2015, get 50% of commuting kilometers on public transportation, or defense expenses being completely dedicated to defense (and not attack) by 2015, for example. In fact, the World Bank has well-defined targets for developing economies. In do not see why this should not be applicable for developed ones. At least it would make governments capable of rallying support for some goals and be explicitly accountable.