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A Test of Technocrafts

ISSUE:  Spring 1933

Introduction to Technocracy. By Howard Scott and others. New York: The John Day Company. 90 cents. Life in a Technocracy. By Harold Loeb. New York: The Viking Press. $1.75. The A B C of Technocracy. By Frank Arkright. New York: Harper and Brothers. $1.00. Technocracy, an Interpretation. By Stuart Chase. New York: The John Day Company. 25 cents. What Is Technocracy? By Allen Raymond. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. $1.50.

It is to be hoped that the ousting of Technocracy by Columbia University will not diminish the public’s interest in a vivid and important propaganda. For the main allegation of the Technocrats—that our mechanical proficiency has invalidated some of our basic economic and political institutions—is accurate. Moreover, this contention is presented with talent. What has popularized Technocracy is not the simple content, but the esoteric quality of science in which it is wrapped. The universal acclaim given to Einstein showed the publicity value which lies in a mathematical formula. Also, instead of being announced, Technocracy leaked out—with the assistance of a clever press agent. I have just read five recent volumes on the subject. They have all been cooked up on short order. They are all brief and three of them are dogmatic; these last represent the minimum of independent thought and knowledge on the part of their authors. The best of the whole list is Stuart Chase’s “Technocracy, an Interpretation,” which is clear, fair, and reflective. In the reading time of an hour or so it affords an excellent notion of the subject. Allen Raymond’s volume, “What Is Technocracy?” is objective but reporto-rial, and consists in good part of interviews and paraphrase of other published material. In “Life in a Technocracy,” Harold Loeb writes with ease and point, but is naive in his economic and social forecasts. Frank Arkright’s “A B C of Technocracy” is thin in pages and thick in perception. The brief “Introduction to Technocracy,” by Howard Scott and others, declared on the cover to be “the only authorized presentation,” is condensed and frequently cryptic.

The Technocrats find that mechanical advance increases product and decreases the number of workers not only relatively but absolutely. But the sale of the mounting product requires the expenditure of wages, and with wages disappearing this can be accomplished only by a sag in prices. If the sag in prices stopped production it would be bad enough in the short-time effect, but it would, however drastically, restore the industrial balance. An excruciating difficulty arises from the fact that large-scale enterprises, with heavy fixed charges, fight valiantly, and begin to fight successfully, against curtailment of operation. To cut costs, they increase mechanical energy and further reduce employment. The burden of debt becomes insupportable, for it continues after the equipment for which it was contracted has become obsolete and the purchasing power of the monetary unit has increased, to the enrichment of creditors and the destruction of debtors. Thus the price system is incompatible with a matured machine technique; and the monetary system, instead of being based upon credit and more remotely upon gold, must be grounded in energy, So much, very briefly, for the thesis of Technocracy. As presented by the inner circle it is stated, finally, in formulas; the mathe- j matical expressions may be vexing, but the underlying reasoning is simple enough.

A well known musician has entertained himself and the public by showing, in radio broadcasts, how songs and foxtrots of the day are adaptations of old and familiar tunes, the headlong jazz obscuring the originals. The same might be done for the syncopation of the Technocrats. As one follows their staccatos he encounters, besides Veblen, who is admittedly their theoretical inspiration, other airs; of their derivations they appear to be unconscious. The Guild Socialists of a decade and a half ago come to mind, with their emphasis upon the growing importance of the technician in economic arrangement, and their insistence upon the incompetence of civil parliaments in industrial legislation. Simon N. Patten is present, with his contrast between a deficit and a surplus economy, his keen appreciation of the accomplishments of applied science, and his desire to supply the evident need of a theory of consumption. Farther back in time but not more remote in contribution were the socialists — Marx and Owen chief among them—and the American nationalist economic writers.

The bows which the Technocrats make, willingly or grudgingly, to such authors as Leech, Soddy, and Henderson, are of small interest, for these mentors and anticipators are themselves so recent as to be the legatees of the more original minds mentioned.

The indebtedness of the Technocrats to Marx is everywhere patent and nowhere acknowledged, so far as the present reviewer is aware. If it were not for their little flings at Marx, which are usually ill informed, one would be tempted to discharge them as copyists by convicting them as ignoramuses. The Technocrats tinkle on a xylophone, while Marx played on a mighty organ. That changes in the methods of production condition social institutions was precisely his theme, and that was almost a century before the earliest Technocrat spoke up. To be convinced of this, leave aside, if you will, all of Marx’s laborious and devastating volumes, and remember only an incident recalled by Lieb-knecht. He stood with Marx, at Christmas time, before a shop window in Regent Street, in which the display was a toy electric train circling its track. “That thing,” observed Marx, “spells the end of the capitalist system.” Here was no elaborate “Continental Energy Survey,” such as the Technocrats proclaim, but simply a penetrating intelligence at work.

Mr. Howard Scott, who is the bell-wether of the group, says that “Technocracy proposes no solution, it merely poses the problem raised by the technological introduction of energy factors in a modern industrial social mechanism.” At the same time he goes out of his way to disallow communism. His eyes are so wide open to the physical scene that he has failed to understand the economic requirements. He inveighs against the price system when his real quarrel, as any reader is bound to recognize, is with the capitalist system. Every one of his exhibits demands the replacement of private ownership of the social means of production by common ownership, and the operation of these production units for use and not for profit. Chase remarks that “Technocracy . . . is Veblen pushed a few steps forward, modified by recent industrial history and Mr. Howard Scott.” He might have said that Veblen is Marx in modern dress. Technocracy is simply truncated communism. It is least satisfying when one is aware of what the Russians are attempting.

Scott discards the Russian method because it includes a system of prices. He would use energy units as media of distribution of goods and services. The erg, he declares, is stable, while any “value unit” (the dollar or the franc) is in itself fluctuating. The erg is a “unit of measurement,” “a certification of available energy converted.” It is worth remarking first of all that here is a recrudescence of old proposals of a work unit; in cruder form this was the expedient of Robert Owen in his labor exchanges, and the idea, as embodied in “socially necessary labor time,” was a fundamental tenet of Marx, not to speak of the labor theory of value of the Ricardians. Mr. Scott apparently realizes, without saying so, that an energy currency unit must in fact be unstable, losing exchange value in relation to goods as new power resources are tapped and improved industrial methods are developed, for he provides that the outstanding erg currency shall be cancelled at short intervals, and that no debt shall be accumulated. This necessitates, of course, public ownership of the instruments of production, and public supply of capital.

The American nationalist writers, from Hamilton to Patten, preceded the Technocrats in hoping to work out economic salvation in this country or on this continent without much eye to Europe, with its diminished resources and its inapplicable theory. More particularly, it is to be remembered that Henry C. Carey developed a theory of distribution which anticipates that of the Technocrats, for, given replacement cost as a standard of value, the share of the capitalist must become less as technological improvements are introduced. The marked optimism of the Nationalists also reappears in the buoyancy of the Technocrats. Such mention of earlier discoverers is more than an academician’s footnote to the current cries of Technocracy, for these forerunners were masters where the Technocrats are apprentices.

The present books give no good notion of the method of transition from a capitalist to a technocratic regime. Mr. Scott, as has been said, contents himself with pronouncing the death sentence upon what we have. Mr. Loeb advances some tentative suggestions toward bridging the gap, among them the sensible advocacy of repeal of the anti-trust acts in order that big and relatively efficient business units may gobble up their small competitors.

This review began with the hope that Technocracy’s message may not be lost on the American public. The response that the announcements have evoked argues our slow reaction time, for socialists and communists have been trying for weary years to drive home the same lesson. It would be a pity if awakening is further delayed. The true significance of Technocracy lies in the fact that it furnishes another ally for the collectivist advocates. Such recruits, unconscious of their inspiration and their loyalty, testify to the force of the Marxian forecast.


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