‘Life in a Technocracy’, 1933: a soviet of technicians… in America? (2021)

“Americans, their faith in Capitalism unimpaired, deny the illness”

by Federico Soldani – 7th Jan 2021

The President Elect of the United States of America Joe Biden was introduced on November 7th 2020 by his Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris under a huge writing with a slogan: “The People have chosen Empathy.”

Harris talked about how “our very democracy was on the ballot in this election with the very soul of America at stake” and about the need “to heal the soul of our nation” and added that “Joe is a healer.”

Biden then proceeded to his victory speech and talked about the committee of technical and scientific experts as his first priority.

I sought this office to restore the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation… The Bible tells us to everything there is a season, a time to build, a time to reap and a time to sow and a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America

On Monday, I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisers to help take the Biden-Harris plan and convert it into an action blueprint that will restore it on January 20, 2021. That plan will be constructed out of compassion, empathy, and concern. I will spare no effort, none, or any commitment to turn around this pandemic….

Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now. Refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not some mysterious force beyond our control; it is a decision, a choice we make… If we decide not to cooperate, we can decide to cooperate. I believe this is part of the mandate given to us from the American people. They want us to cooperate in their interests.

Lincoln in 1860 coming to save the union. FDR in 1932 promising a beleaguered country a new deal. JFK in 1960 pledging a new frontier. And 12 years ago, when Barack Obama made history, he told us “Yes, we can.” …

Let it be the nation that we know we can be, a nation united, a nation strengthened, a nation healed.

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The discourse around technical and scientific experts, including engineers and doctors, in American politics is not new.

In his 1933 book “Life in a Technocracy: What It Might Be Like,” Harold Loeb presents his vision for an evolution or a revolution, like the Russian and then Bolshevik Revolution leading to the Soviet Union, in order to move from capitalism to technocracy in the United States of America.

Loeb was from a rich and prominent New York City family and his mother was a member of the Guggenheim family.

Left to right sitting: Ernest HemingwayHarold LoebLady Duff Twysden (with hat), HadleyDon Stewart (obscured) and Pat Guthrie during the July 1925 trip to Spain that inspired Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (Wikipedia)

In the 1920s in Paris, Loeb was friend of Ernest Hemingway and actually became, under a different name but easily identifiable, the main character of what many consider Hemingway’s most significant novel “The Sun Also Rises” (1926), later published in England as “Fiesta” (1927). The story that inspired the novel and how Hemingway’s masterpiece came to be is written in “Everybody Behaves Badly” (2017).

Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises” first two words are for the character openly inspired by Harold Loeb: “Robert Cohn.”

There were several key figures in the technocracy movement, such as Thorstein Veblen, William H. Smyth, and Howard Scott, in addition to Harold Loeb.

A movement whose origins are “shrouded in controversy” as Howard P. Segal reminds us in his introduction to a 1996 re-edition by Syracuse University Press of ‘Life in a Technocracy.’ Segal highlighted how Loeb’s ‘Life in a Technocracy’ is “an undeservedly neglected work that might still illuminate the directions of our avowedly technological society. It continues to speak, then, to the real present as well as to the imagined future.”

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The term ‘technocracy’ had been used at least since 1882. Its use in the context of the technocracy movement can be traced first in 1919 by William H. Smyth, a California engineer, who used the word technocracy to describe “the rule of the people made effective through the agency of their servants, the scientists and engineers” in his article “‘Technocracy’—Ways and Means to Gain Industrial Democracy” published in the journal Industrial Management.

Copy addressed to Cordell Hull – Wikipedia: he was the longest serving U.S. Secretary of State, under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt / FDR, Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations, and was referred to by President Roosevelt as the “Father of the United Nations”

Federation of Nations; an alternative to the League of Nations,
 William Henry, Smyth 1922

Most of the future leaders of the movement were inspired by their association between 1919 and 1921 with the Yale educated economist and social critic Thorstein Veblen who was teaching at New York City’s New School for Social Research.

Veblen in his “The Engineers and the Price System” (1921) discussed the possibility of a revolutionary overturn by technicians and workers against business owners in order to paralyze American government and industry and establish a “Soviet of Technicians.”

He described strategies for changing the ownership of U.S. industry either by persuasion or by force.

Another key figure of the technocracy movement was Howard Scott, working in engineering despite no formal education in the field, who according to Segal was “an enigmatic New York City Greenwich Villager” living in the same apartment building as Loeb. He had been also described, since very little is known about his background and early life as “a mysterious young man” and “a kind of Bohemian engineer.” Scott was prominently involved in the ideological and organizational foundation of the technocracy movement. One of the organizations he funded, still existing to this day is Technocracy Inc.

One of the first articles on their website accessed 2nd Jan 2021 is “A mental challenge” (Sept 10th 2020) about mental health difficulties during the 2020 CoViD-19 pandemic:

“It has made me, at times, be in a state of depression because I do not think an election, any election will put us in a better position.  This pandemic has helped to bring out so many festering problems that until now, we have managed to suppress. 

We need to change our whole system; the Price System problems just bring out the worst in people. …

This organization’s premise is that through scientific facts and functional decision making we can achieve a marvelous step upward on behalf of mankind and enable people to aspire to their higher positive instincts.

Technocracy Inc. is that organization.  This is the time for the majority of citizens to inquire and contemplate its concept and design.

Official symbol of the Technocracy movement (Technocracy Inc.).
The Monad logo signifies balance between consumption and production.

Howard Scott – Wikipedia in front of Technocracy Inc. Section house RD-11833-2 SHQ  (1942).
This work is the copyright of Technocracy Incorporated.

While Loeb in ‘Life in a Technocracy’ makes continues references to and comparisons with the Soviet Union in discussing how Capitalism needs to, and in the end will, transform into a Technocracy, his Greenwich Village neighbor Scott and his organization Technocracy Inc. were known, according to Segal, for their resemblance not to communism but to fascism:

the specter of authoritarianism, which Veblen’s proposed ‘Soviet of Technicians’ had always raised in some minds, Technocracy Inc. raised that very specter with its militaristic demeanor, rigid hierarchical structure, special insignia and salute, grey uniforms, and fleet of grey automobiles. The resemblance of Technocracy Inc. to fascism (more than to communism) was not lost to commentators, and neither was its mounting anti-Catholicism (both in contrast with its self-proclaimed scientific rationality). […] Scott tried to recruit masses of lay citizens in order to pressure the government into appointing him ‘Director General of Defense for the duration of the Second World War.”

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According to Wikipedia, accessed 3rd Jan 2021, the word “soviet” etymologically is derived from a Russian word signifying council, assembly, advice, harmony, concord, and all ultimately deriving from the Proto-Slavic verbal stem of *vět-iti “to inform“, related to Slavic “věst” (“news”), English “wise”, the root in “ad-vis-or” (which came to English through French), or the Dutch “weten” (‘to know’; cf. “wetenschap” ‘science’).

According to Soviet Historiography the first known use of the word soviet was in 1905, the year of the 1905 Russian Revolution.

In ‘Life in a Technocracy’, Loeb wrote: in a technocracy “the punishment should prove efficacious in most cases. When an individual proved obstinately recalcitrant for obscure reasons, the psychiatrists would attempt to unravel the trouble.”

“Americans, their faith in Capitalism unimpaired, deny the illness”

(1 – first of a series of articles)

Last Updated on January 8, 2021 by Federico Soldani

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