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The technocracy movement is a social movement which arose in the early 20th century. Technocracy was highly popular in the USA for a brief period in the early 1930s, when it overshadowed many other proposals for dealing with the crisis of the Great Depression.[1][2] The technocrats proposed replacing politicians with scientists and engineers who had the technical expertise to manage the economy.[1]

Contents

Overview

Technocrats believed that politicians and businessmen could not manage a complex, rapidly advancing industrial society. The technocrats proposed replacing politicians with scientists and engineers who had the technical expertise to manage the economy. The technocratic philosophy assumed that energy was the critical factor determining economic and social development. The technocrats measured social change in physical terms: the average number of kilocalories used per capita per day. Money would be replaced by energy certificates, the total supply of which would be determined by the total amount of energy used in the production of goods and services.[3]

The coming of the Great Depression created an opening for some of these radical ideas of social engineering.[4][5] By late 1932, various groups across the United States were calling themselves "technocrats" and proposing reforms.[6]

By the mid-1930s, interest in the technocracy movement was declining. Most historians have attributed the demise of the technocracy movement to the rise of Roosevelt's New Deal,[5] a more democratic method of accomplishing the planning and economic reconstruction that the technocrats had called for. The authoritarian, elitist, and even fascist overtones of the technocracy movement undermined its popular appeal as a political movement.[7][8]

Many books have discussed the rise and decline of the technocracy movement in the 1930s.[9] The most notable of these is Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocrat Movement, 1900-1941 by William E. Akin.[10]

Origins

The technocratic movement has its origins with the progressive engineers of the early twentieth century and the writings of Edward Bellamy,[11] along with some of the later works of Thorstein Veblen such as Engineers And The Price System written in 1921.[12][13][14] William H. Smyth, a Californian engineer, invented the word "technocracy" in 1919 to describe "the rule of the people made effective through the agency of their servants, the scientists and engineers",[15][16] and in the 1920s it was used to describe the works of Thorsten Veblen.[17]

Early technocratic organisations formed after the First World War in both Europe and the United States. In the U.S., these included Henry Gantt’s "The New Machine" and Veblen’s "Soviet of Technicians". These organisations folded after a short time, but not before Howard Scott attended a series of "Soviet of Technicians" lectures.[17]

United States and Canada

A sign on the outskirts of a Depression-era town about meetings of the local technocracy branch.

Howard Scott has been called the "founder of the technocracy movement"[1] and he started the Technical Alliance in New York near the end of 1919. Members of the Alliance were mostly scientists and engineers. The Technical Alliance started an Energy Survey of North America, which aimed to provide a scientific background from which ideas about a new social structure could be developed.[18] However the group broke up in 1921[19] and the survey was not completed.[20]

In 1932, Scott and others interested in the problems of technological growth and economic change began meeting in New York City. Their ideas gained national attention in 1932 and the "Committee on Technocracy" was formed at Columbia University, by Howard Scott and Walter Rautenstrauch.[21] However, the group was short-lived and in January 1933[22] splintered into two other groups, the "Continental Committee on Technocracy" (led by Harold Loeb) and "Technocracy Incorporated" (led by Scott).[23][24]

Public interest in technocracy peaked in the early 1930s:

Technocracy's heyday lasted only from June 16, 1932, when the New York Times became the first influential press organ to report its activities, until January 13, 1933, when Scott, attempting to silence his critics, delivered a rambling, confusing, and uninspiring address on a well-publicized nationwide radio hookup.[24]

Following Scott's unsuccessful radio address, the condemnation of both him and technocracy in general reached a peak. The press and businessmen reacted with ridicule and almost unanimous hostility. The American Engineering Council charged the technocrats with "unprofessional activity, questionable data, and drawing unwarranted conclusions".[25]

The technocrats made a believable case for a kind of technological utopia, but their asking price was too high. The idea of political democracy still represented a stronger ideal than technological elitism. In the end, critics believed that the socially desirable goals that technology made possible could be achieved without the sacrifice of existing institutions and values and without incurring the apocalypse that technocracy predicted.[26]

The faction-ridden Continental Committee on Technocracy collapsed in October 1936.[27][28] However, Technocracy Incorporated continued, adopting distinctive red and grey uniforms for its staff and a fleet of cars in these colors.[29][30] These features brought the organization under suspicion during World War II. The organization was banned in Canada for several years, but the ban was lifted in 1943.[29]

There were some speaking tours of the USA and Canada in 1946 and 1947, and a motorcade from Los Angeles to Vancover:[31]

Hundreds of cars, trucks, and trailers, all regulation grey, from all over the Pacific Northwest, participated. An old school bus, repainted and retrofitted with sleeping and office facilites, a two-way radio, and a public address system, impressed observers. A huge war surplus searchlight mounted on a truck bed was included, and grey-painted motorcycles acted as parade marshalls. A small grey aircraft, with a Monad symbol on its wings, flew overhead. All this was recorded by the Technocrats on 16-mm 900-foot colour film.[32]

1948 saw a decline in activity and considerable internal dissent. One central factor contributing to this dissent was that "the Price System had not collapsed, and predictions about the expected demise were becoming more and more vague".[33] Some quite specific predictions about the Price System collapse were made during the Depression, the first giving 1937 as the date, and the second forecasting the collapse as occurring "prior to 1940".[33]

Membership and activity declined steadily in the years after 1948, but some activity persisted, mostly around Vancouver in Canada and on the West Coast of the United States. Technocracy Incorporated currently maintains a website and distributes an occasional newsletter.[34]

Europe

Movements advocating some aspects of technocratic government occurred in France, the Groupe X-Crise, formed by French former students of the Ecole Polytechnique engineer school in the 1930s, as well as Redressement Français, a French technocratic movement founded by Ernest Mercier in 1925. Along with the Belgian Henri de Man, X-Crise advocated planisme (planism) over economic liberalism. Influenced by de Man's planism, the Neo-socialists Marcel Déat, Pierre Renaudel, René Belin, and the "neo-Turks" of the Radical-Socialist Party (Pierre Mendès-France, etc.) promoted a "constructive revolution" headed by the state. Such ideas also influenced the Non-Conformist Movement in the French right-wing.

In Great Britain, Political and Economic Planning, a think-tank founded in 1931, also advocated similar economic intervention. In Germany prior to the second world war a technocratic movement based on the American model introduced by Technocracy Incorporated existed which ran afoul with the political system there.[35]

A Russian movement existed based on similar beginnings from the North American movement also.[36]Alexander Bogdanov also had a conception of technocracy, and his conception of Tectology bears some semblance to technocratic ideas. Both Bogdanov's fiction and his political writings as presented by Zenovia Sochor[37], imply that he expected a coming revolution against capitalism to lead to a technocratic society. The most important of the non-Leninist Bolsheviks may have been Alexander Bogdanov.[38]

From 2004 the European Technocracy movement has gained more momentum with the formation of the Network of European Technocrats.[39]

References

  1. ^ a b c Peter J. Taylor. Technocratic Optimism, H.T. Odum, and the Partial Transformation of Ecological Metaphor after World War II Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 21, No. 2, June 1988, p. 213.
  2. ^ Edwin T. Layton. Book review: The Technocrats, Prophets of Automation, Technology and Culture, Vol. 9, No. 2 (April, 1968), pp. 256-257.
  3. ^ http://www.technocracy.org/man%20hours%20and%20distribution.htm
  4. ^ Beverly H. Burris (1993). Technocracy at work State University of New York Press, p. 28.
  5. ^ a b William E. Aikin (1977). Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocracy Movement 1900-1941, University of California Press, pp. ix-xiii and p. 110.
  6. ^ Beverly H. Burris (1993). Technocracy at work State University of New York Press, p. 30.
  7. ^ Beverly H. Burris (1993). Technocracy at work State University of New York Press, p. 32.
  8. ^ Frank Fischer (1990). Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise, Sage Publications, p. 86.
  9. ^ Daniel Nelson. Technocratic abundance Reviews in American History, Vol. 6, No. 1 (March 1978), p. 104.
  10. ^ Book review: Technocracy and the American Dream, History of Political Economy, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1978, p. 682.
  11. ^ Elsner, Jr., Henry (1967). The Technocrats: Prophets of Automation. Syracuse University.  
  12. ^ Donald R. Stabile, Veblen and the Political Economy of the Engineer: the radical thinker and engineering leaders came to technocratic ideas at the same time, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol, 45, No. 1, 1986, pp. 43-44.
  13. ^ Janet Knoedler and Anne Mayhew. Thorstein Veblen and the Engineers: A Reinterpretation History of Political Economy 1999 Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 255-272.
  14. ^ Frank Fischer (1990). Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise, Sage Publications, p. 84.
  15. ^ Barry Jones (1995, fourth edition). Sleepers, Wake! Technology and the Future of Work, Oxford University Press, p. 214.
  16. ^ Raymond, Allen (1933). What is Technocracy?.  
  17. ^ a b Akin, William E. (1977). Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocrat Movement, 1900-1941. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03110-5.  
  18. ^ "Questioning of M. King Hubbert, Division of Supply and Resources, before the Board of Economic Warfare" (PDF). 1943-04-14. http://www.hubbertpeak.com/hubbert/Technocracy1943.pdf. Retrieved 2008-05-04.  p8-9 (p18-9 of PDF)
  19. ^ William E. Aikin (1977). Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocracy Movement 1900-1941, University of California Press, p. 37.
  20. ^ William E. Aikin (1977). Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocracy Movement 1900-1941, University of California Press, pp. 61-62.
  21. ^ William E. Aikin (1977). Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocracy Movement 1900-1941, University of California Press, p. ix.
  22. ^ William E. Aikin (1977). Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocracy Movement 1900-1941, University of California Press, p. 96.
  23. ^ Jack Salzman (1986). American studies: an annotated bibliography, Volume 2 p. 1596.
  24. ^ a b Howard P. Segal (2005). Technological Utopianism in American Culture Syracuse University Press, p. 123.
  25. ^ William E. Aikin (1977). Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocracy Movement 1900-1941, University of California Press, p. 88.
  26. ^ William E. Aikin (1977). Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocracy Movement 1900-1941, University of California Press, p. 150.
  27. ^ Harold Loeb and Howard P. Segal (1996). Life in a technocracy: what it might be like p. xv.
  28. ^ Howard P. Segal (2005). Technological Utopianism in American Culture Syracuse University Press, p. 123.
  29. ^ a b David Adair (1967). The Technocrats 1919-1967: A Case Study of Conflict and Change in a Social Movement
  30. ^ Frank Fischer (1990). Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise, Sage Publications, p. 86.
  31. ^ David Adair (1967). The Technocrats 1919-1967: A Case Study of Conflict and Change in a Social Movement p. 101.
  32. ^ David Adair (1967). The Technocrats 1919-1967: A Case Study of Conflict and Change in a Social Movement p. 103.
  33. ^ a b David Adair (1967). The Technocrats 1919-1967: A Case Study of Conflict and Change in a Social Movement p. 111.
  34. ^ http://www.technocracy.org
  35. ^ [1] Science, Technology, and National Socialism By Monika Renneberg, Mark Walker Retrieved Aug-30-09
  36. ^ [2] Science in Russia and the Soviet Union: a short history By Loren R. Graham Retrieved Aug-30-09
  37. ^ Zenovia Sochor: Revolution and Culture:The Bogdanov-Lenin Controversy, Cornell University Press 1988
  38. ^ http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/apr07/page10.html
  39. ^ Gunnarsson, Olle (2008-02-18). "Författarskaper utmanar" (in Swedish). Västerbottens-Kuriren. p. 22.  
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