‘Life in a Technocracy’, 1933: a soviet of technicians… in America? /4 (2021)

Man automatically attaches to his ego extraneous elements and calls them his

by Federico Soldani – 23rd Feb 2021

In the second chapter – ‘The Escape’ – of ‘Life in a Technocracy, what it might be like’, Harold Loeb immediately informed the reader that “the alternative is not dreadful.” This was a direct response to the question with which he closed the first chapter ‘Blind Alley’: “Is the alternative to capitalism so dreadful that it may not even be envisaged?” A formulation that in my view, along with its preamble, could be seen as the original idea at the heart of what has been called in more recent years “capitalist realism.”

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Scarcity – Loeb wrote – induces a price that insures a profit. Profit insures the ability to purchase and thus makes distribution possible. The problem is to devise a system of distribution that will function even when goods are redundant. […] and to distribute goods according to need,” which reminds the Marxian “to each according to his needs.” Such reasoning assumed that technology and social engineering in a technocracy would make the problem of scarcity disappear.

A unit of measurement must be adopted which is capable of evaluating everything. Money based on gold, or even money based on a list of basic commodities, will not do because the value of gold like that of other commodities under the capitalist system depends on scarcity, and the purpose of the projected unit of measurement is to escape from the confusion inherent in scarcity valuations. […] The physicists have worked out a means of applying the erg, the unit of work, to all forms of energy. It is possible to state human effort, stored latent energy, recurrent solar energy, in ergs.”

Is it possible to see any influence of Auguste Comte – a pupil of the American and French revolutionary Henri de Saint-Simon and a man considered father of the discipline of sociology – and of his social physics, recently gaining new popularity, in using physical concepts in the context of social sciences?

Howard Scott – Loeb wrote – lays much stress on the fact that energy of every sort may be measured in units of ergs. He has stated that “the solution of the social problems of our time depends upon the recognition of this fact.” […] The community has at its disposal all forms of energy, the stores of oil beneath the ground as well as the heat of the sun and the strength of the wind; the individual has nothing but his own time. In a technocracy the individual will exchange one hour of his time for some form of consumable good produced by, it does not matter how much of the energy owned in common, plus one hour of human time.” In Loeb’s view, the price system is based, among other factors, on “the fears of the scientifically untrained minds in control – the financiers – before innovations.”

Loeb also made reference to “mental energy” and to “negative wastes of brain.”

The foundation of technocracy would be a kind of social contract not dating from a mythical past but incurred by each individual at the instant of birth. The individual may dissolve the contract without notice. That many will choose to do so is not likely. Living outside the system, living by Stone Age standards except for borrowed tools and gifts, would be disagreeable for most people. Doubtless, a few zealots – artists, nature lovers, ascetics – would try living on their own resources.”

“The state, or perhaps it should be called the industrial system, since it has few characteristics of a political state, will guarantee each member of the community a proportionate share of the energy production of the community. […] The valuation […] being an energy valuation, is an exact figure determined by the methods of physical science and independent of supply and demand.

“To keep track of supplies a certificate would be issued to each human unit. This would entitle him to his energy allotment and specify his exact place and function in the industrial system. At birth, of course, his function would be to occupy a certain cot in a certain hospital. This non-transferable certificate is cancelled at the expiration of each year whether or not the energy quota has been exhausted. Since the quota represents energy which cannot be hoarded and exists only in the using of it, wealth accumulation becomes impossible. […] By using a system of descriptive numbering no difficulty occurs in recording even the smallest transaction. Totals would be telegraphed each night to the central accounting bureau and added. Thus an exact record of consumption would be always at hand. New trends of consumption would be recognized immediately, overproductions becomes impossible, and serious shortages most unlikely.”

A publication of Technocracy Inc. ‘The Energy Certificate’ (1938, in the main photo) contained similar considerations as well as an image of how an energy certificate (in the photo below) would look like. In the concluding part – called ‘Values and Marx’ – of the publication a reference was made to Major Douglas Social Credit theory.

Opening this Technocracy Inc. booklet there was also a statement: “That which cannot function ceases to exist.” A technical version of Herbert Spencer‘s social Darwinian “survival of the fittest”?

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“Children would only be required to attend schools where the elements fitting them for useful work were thought. – Loeb wrote – Reading, writing, figuring, and perhaps muscular control would compose the curriculum. Industrial schools wold be voluntary. Cultural schools, being of no concern to this purely productive state, would be outside of the system. […] psychological tests could be used to select those with an innate talent for engineering. […] In assigning vocations it will be possible to give weight to the desires of the individual as well as to the advice of the psychologist.”

Where several successive assignments are not relished, specialists would try to discover the source of the maladjustment. In some cases compromises might have to be made since the needs of the community come, in the last analysis, before those of the individual. But so little effort is demanded of an individual in a technocracy that a freedom of choice, incalculably greater than that possessed at present, would be practical.”

“What northern man will do with his freedom, once it has been obtained, is not the concern of the state. Insects that have attained it fly around in the sun and whir. Birds sing. Man may not do as well. […] The fact that populations do not increase when the standard of life has been raised above a certain level, makes it seem eminently practical.”

As a side note, Loeb briefly discussed the example of cooking: “Cooking would be unpopular only if the process of cooking remained an art, as it is at present, and not a technology. Cooking could, of course, be standardized. […] Since the arts are outside the scope of technocracy, a way to divorce cooking from the system is desirable. Curiously, a device which will attain this objective has already been invented and tested. By means of a high frequency current, an object can be heated from inside out instead of from the outside in.”

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The average person, if he does not stop to think, may assume that his energy is exerted for the sake of private gain. If questioned, however, he will immediately go behind the money goal and admit that he works for power or for fun, if he is very rich; for the goods or benefits that money brings, if he is poor; and for the self-respect that comes from success if he belongs to that extensive though vicissitudinary middle class. An incentive more important than those, at least for the upper and middle classes, is the desire for the approval of his fellows. […] The great majority of individuals desire with an altogether irrational hunger the approval of their fellows. […] Men work for private gain, for profit, it is true. But largely for the symbol, profit, not for the actuality. Their religion, the Mysticism of Money, makes profit the symbol of success, even of virtue.”

“It is already apparent that the concept of property would possess in a technocracy a connotation other than that which it bears today. However, there is nothing unprecedented or unusual in this. Though the concept of property is popularly assumed to be constant, actually its content differs in each epoch. It would seem that the abolition of private property is unrealizable even if desirable, so deeply rooted is the possessive instinct. Man automatically attaches to his ego extraneous elements and calls them his.

“At an early age the child discovers that his toes belong to him. Somewhat later he asks for the moon. During life he learns which items society, through the operation of public opinion, concurs in his owning and adjusts himself accordingly. In the late centuries Western man has gradually denied himself the right to own other men, even of the female sex. At the same time he has extended the individual’s sway over land until the free domain has been limited to public roads and parks. Sunlight and air are still at the disposition of all. Water also is freely tendered to members of the community wherever water is not scarce.”

“Technocracy leaves as private property the standardized state-produced articles which wear out, such as clothes, and the unstandardized, privately produced articles which the individual chooses to make or collect. […] The state as a matter of course provides more than adequate housing for all of its citizens in proximity to their functions.”

Property in a technocracy would be limited to goods used and possessed by the individual. On the other hand, wealth which has already under late capitalism become the capacity to produce goods and not the goods themselves – as was largely true in the past – would not be owned at all. Neither the state nor the individual can own a capacity, though either or both can use one. Thus wealth becomes a power exerted for and by the community, and property is limited to those static objects which alone in any real sense can be possessed.

Metal and fuel under the ground, land that is not cultivated, streams that are unharnessed, would be, like the wind and the sun, neither property nor wealth. When the community needed them it would know where to go for them. With scarcity abolished, no argument remains in favor of permitting their further exploitation by private initiative for private gain.”

(4 – forth of a series, previous articles here, 12, and 3)

Cite this article as: Federico Soldani, "‘Life in a Technocracy’, 1933: a soviet of technicians… in America? /4 (2021)," in PsyPolitics, February 23, 2021, https://psypolitics.org/2021/02/23/life-in-a-technocracy-1933-a-soviet-of-technicians-in-america-4-2021/.

Last Updated on February 23, 2021 by Federico Soldani

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