• U.S.

Science: Technocrat

8 minute read

“At Notre Dame the coach had a grudge against me, and kept me on the bench. Well, at the most important game of the year, during the last quarter, with exactly one minute to play, we were losing. The coach was tearing his hair. He finally turned to me and said, ‘Go on, get in there.’ I rushed into the game, carried the ball for ten rushes 80 yards down the field and made the touchdown that won the game. With the stands in an uproar, the coach rushed over to me and said ‘My God, who . . . where . . . who are you, where did you learn to play such football?’ I looked at him, peeled off my sweater and showed him all the decorations and medals pinned on my chest that I had won playing football in England, Turkey, Germany….”—Howard Scott, as told to Greenwich Village cronies.

Just when the country was most despairing of being run by an engineer in the White House, there emerged in New York a movement, a new “ism,” to have the country run by all its 300,000 engineers and technical experts. Technocracy was the new “ism’s” name and its proponents styled themselves Technocrats Headquartered at Columbia University they announced that, employing three dozen unemployed engineers, architects and draftsmen, they were conducting an “Energy Survey of North America.” Startling was their array of statements about technological unemployment, mankind’s machines destroying mankind’s chance to earn a living “under the present price system.” As preliminary fireworks they expounded such statistics as these:

¶ Total capacity of U. S. industrial equipment is one billion horsepower, which does the work of ten billion men, or five times the earth’s total population.

¶ On the basis of 1830 methods, six million men would have been needed to cultivate the soil for the 1929 U. S. wheat crop. With the best existent equipment 4,000 men could have planted the whole crop.

¶ If every structure on Manhattan Island were destroyed and the entire community rebuilt with the latest inventions, the reconstruction would pay for itself in 20 years.

¶ A new machine for making light bulbs produces 442 bulbs a minute, replaces 10,000 men.

Such statistics are not new. The late Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) recited similarly as early as 1921 when he published The Engineers & The Price System Economist Stuart Chase, Veblen’s friend has been writing similarly since. But last summer a tall, middle-aged man named Howard Scott with a wide-brimmed hat and a prodigiously rapid, sharp, agile tongue, was being received and handed around by alert tycoons, notably Banker Frank Arthur Vanderlip. From one drawing room and dinner to another he moved everywhere causing gasps of amazement, scowls of worry, questions of deep and inquiring respect.

Mention of him in the New York Times and TIME was followed last month by a much-touted article in Alfred E Smith’s New Outlook. Various radical weeklies in the U. S. and in Great Britain pecked at the subject. Meanwhile the drawing room chatter kept up; Technocracy became a vogue; the slower-moving magazines rushed m. Harpers for January carries an article as will the March Cosmopolitan (with foreword by the now somewhat embarrassed President Nicholas Murray Butler). The Saturday Evening Post expects one by Banker Vanderlip when he has discovered and verified what facts the Technocrats possess. Even precious Vanity Fair (December) touched gingerly on Technocracy & Scott.

Most curious was the fact that not one of the editors or tycoons whom eloquent Howard Scott so excited and impressed could have told you for certain: where Howard Scott was born, raised, educated what were his credentials as engineer or scientist; for whom he had worked; nor, for that matter, precisely what he meant by his statements of Technocracy’s solution tor technological unemployment This was partly because Technocrat Scott threw about himself an air of scientific impersonality and profundity. Technocracy was an idea; he was its intelligence; his person and personality did not matter; listen and understand, if you can, but do not interrupt or pry into Howard Scott

Last week the Scott legend began to crack None too sure what manner of man he was, professors at Ohio State University withdrew their names as his sponsors when he came there to lecture. And the New York Herald Tribune had the enterprise to conduct and publish an inquiry into Howard Scott’s past, together with a somewhat toplofty editorial to assure Wall Street that the status quo was not in danger.

The Man has been known about Manhattan’s Greenwich Village the past ten years as a sardonic bombaster His tall story of football at Notre Dame (see above) is one of his more amusing less lurid ones. He has the vocabulary of many sciences technical and social, at his command. Until his present emergence as a Techo-economist he was accepted as an entertaining drifter who lived in Village squalor. For some time he conducted “a small business called Duron Chemical Co which made paint and floor polish at Pompton N. J. Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center was a customer. Howard Scott’s job was to deliver his goods show his customers how to use the floor polishing material. He disliked that, let the business go to pot.

He has thoroughly obfuscated his history prior to 1918. At that time, according to testimony put in the Congressional Record, he was working in a cement pouring gang at Muscle Shoals. His superintendent accused him of wartime sabotage He continued to drift around the construction camps, persuaded the chief engineer of Air Nitrates Corp., a subsidiary of the American Cyanamid Corp. that he could build an efficient electric carbide furnace. After dawdling for months he was dropped for nonproduction. (His rodomontade imagination transmutes his Muscle Shoals experience, makes him “chief technician” of the whole project.)

His next recordable appearance is in 1920 as director of the Technical Alliance a loose organization for the discussion of social implications of the Machine Age. The late Charles Proteus Steinmetz and Thorstein Veblen were members. Other, living ones, are Stuart Chase, Frederick Lee Ackerman (Manhattan architect), Bassett Jones (Manhattan elevator engineer). They erroneously believed Howard Scott a doctor of science from the Technische Hochschule, at Charlottenburg, Germany. The interlocutions of the Technical Alliance languished. But Howard Scott, in Greenwich Village, prated and ratiocinated.

Two years ago Walter Rautenstrauch, professor of industrial engineering at Columbia University and extra curricula a commercial industrialist, gave Howard Scott a room at Columbia, told him to put the Technosocial ideas on record.

Thus the Technical Alliance was transmogrified into Technocracy and Howard Scott, Greenwich Village character, pupated into the Technocrat. He moved his living quarters from the Village to the district called Chelsea, a half-mile closer to Columbia University. That his father made money in Constantinople or that he himself “built the Manchurian Railroad” or was born in Virginia or arrived in the U. S. by swimming from a liner from which he had jumped are typical of statements made by people who say that they are friends of the No. 1 Technocrat and that they “have heard.”

Technocracy. To theorists like Messrs. Rautenstrauch, Jones, Ackerman and Chase, technocracy is a serious effort to collate facts which may show whither industrial civilization is moving. To thousands of discontented technicians employed (or discharged) by oil. lumber, automotive and other industries whose wealth they envy, Technocracy is the hope of a new economic deal. To I. W. W.’s. with whom Howard Scott was once associated, Technocracy is a new lever against Capitalism. Each man sees in Technocracy what he wishes for and Howard Scott, Technocracy’s spokesman, breathes fog upon their mirrors.

Technocracy presumes that all the wealth and functions of Society can be calculated in terms of energy unity—British Thermal Units, kilogramme calories, joules, ergs, footpounds, horsepower. Upon that presumption was started the “Energy Survey of North America,” in which one man’s time for eight hours is considered equal to 1,500,000 footpounds. Technocracy headquarters, which now has few cartographers at work, has energy charts of about 50 U. S. industries ready for display, talks about 300 charts too significant for revelation, promises 3,000 charts eventually.

The charts, say the Technocrats, show or will show that the present price system will not work. What will work is a world managed by Technocrats wherein everyone does an equal and rather small amount of work (say 12½ hours a week for 20 years) and enjoys an equal and very large income—in goods provided by the state or obtained by an exchange of “erg” tokens.

How this transformation from dollar economy to energy economy is to come about, Howard Scott never explains. Says he at times: “Technocracy proposes no solution.” At other times he silences questions with a pontifical belch.

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