Phil "Mr. Timesizing®" Hyde

For the Technocracy Curious
© 1999 Philip Hyde, PO Box 622, Cambridge MA 02140 USA (617) 623-8080

Technocracy was a futuristic philosophy that enjoyed wide public acclaim in the early Depression. It was based on the last great work of maverick U.S. economist, Thorstein Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System (1921). It was started in the early 1920s by a young engineer named Howard Scott who, with others, came out with a short Introduction to Technocracy (John Day: New York) in 1933.

Says historian Ben Hunnicutt, "Over the winter of 1932-1933, technocracy dominated the national news." The technocrats directly assailed the old view that "work breeds work" which had been underpinning the sneering dismissal of what was misnamed the "Lump of Labor Fallacy" - the view that there's only a certain amount of work available and we better get moving on a way to share it. The technocrats replaced the traditional "work breeds work" idea (still very much alive among traditional economists such as the editors of The Economist magazine of London) with the diametrically opposite view - that as technological productivity rose, human employment fell proportionately. That was the whole point of technology for G*d's sake! Reference - Ben Hunnicutt, Work Without End (Temple University: Philadelphia, 1988), p. 278.

Unfortunately the technocrats did not translate this blinding glimpse of the obvious into a published design for a flexible workweek proportionate to diminishing human employment (or inversely proportionate to unemployment aka excess human inventory). Some claim that the Technocrats did have a dynamic formula for calculating the optimal point-to-point workweek. However, all the Technocrats revealed at the time was the end result of their calculation for the early '30s, namely, a 16-hour workweek and a 660-hour workyear. The did not reveal their "source code." (In Timesizing, the workweek's fluctuation is determined by the unemployment rate, just as Walter Reuther and others suggested, and the unemployment rate is redefined to really mean something - including everyone who is dependent on the taxpayer. The whole process is facilitated and paced by regular public referendums, dba electronic democracy.)

For all its faults (see list below), technocracy developed one of the fullest, positive (war-free) visions of the nation's future in American history. For example, in a technocratic society, "religion would be transformed, not eliminated. The churches would be freed from the 'mysticism of money,' their current 'fundamental faith,' and strengthened in their true calling: the 'inculcation of joy' and ethics based in 'spiritual values.' Freedom from work could be the occasion for a renewed appreciation of the spiritual and reverential aspects of life. Given free time, men and women could be expected to direct their energies, instead of [just] their money, in these directions - [since the churches would be important] mainly for the life of the spirit and not 'inculcate resignation' to work...." Reference - Ben Hunnicutt, ibid., p. 284. Technocracy's vision is elaborated in Harold Loeb's "Life in a Technocracy" - still available in a version edited by Maine historian Howard Segal.

Technocracy had five flaws, all of which Timesizing, and its underlying "operating system" which we can call Automatic Reinvestment Capitalism, correct.

  1. Technocracy wanted to replace democracy with rule by an elite of engineers. (Like Jan Schlichtman, the ultimately good-guy lawyer played by Travolta in "A Civil Action," Automatic Reinvestment Capitalism regards the issues as far too important to leave to the scientists and engineers or any other subgroup, however prestigious at the moment - Schlichtman came out with this view repeatedly on Lydon's 1/6/98 "Connection" on NPR - and so Automatic Reinvestment Capitalism relies on electronic democracy and lots of it.)

  2. Technocracy shunned politics. "Technocracy does not know how to get from here to there," Scott confessed...."It is not interested in political methods." Quoted from Arthur Schlesinger's Crisis of the Old Order: 1919-1933 (Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1957), p. 463. (The Timesizing Wire has already waded into the distasteful stew of American politics at this depressing point in American political history. Our director, Phil Hyde, has already run for Joe Kennedy's congressional seat twice on a Timesizing platform in aid of initial research on how Timesizing translates into politics or at least gets understood by the person in the street.)

  3. Technocracy wanted to replace the market (calling it, with Veblen, the "price system") with energy-based values facilitated by a currency of 'Energy Certificates' denominated in ergs and joules. (Timesizing doesn't replace the market - it balances it, levels its playing field, straightens out its framework, and uses it to take care of the details. And Automatic Reinvestment Capitalism doesn't jump to a currency explicitly denominated in energy units - it simply facilitates the constantly shifting evolution of the currency base which definitely passes through maybe four energy-based stages [income, deficit, wealth, debt,...] between roughly 2100 and 2500 AD before moving on to even more-general senses of measurement. And Automatic Reinvestment Capitalism sees "money" in economese (the professional dialect of economists) as equivalent to "energy" in physicese (physicists' dialect) and sees no reason to actually rename monetary units (dollars and cents, euros, or whatever).

  4. Technocracy calculated a 16-hour workweek (four 4-hour workdays) and a 660-hour workyear (featuring nearly 11 vacation weeks/year) as appropriate to the times, but outlined no strategy for transitioning from here to there, giving as a reason that "times change" and there's no sense strategizing for a moving target. (Timesizing doesn't wait for perfect circumstances to strategize transitions. It outlines a number of transition strategies, any or all of which may be useful in a number of "changing times" since we're talking about a very deep-structure change here. The strategies include an initial multiphase private-sector module followed by a five-phase public-sector module - see our handbook Timesizing, Not Downsizing for details.)

  5. Technocracy fell prey to Chesterton's pan-utopian flaw - it blamed the game (i.e., the market aka the price system) instead of the lack of a mechanism to ensure that all the players stayed IN the game. It did not dynamically define, in any dimension, a range that would constitute fair share per person. (Timesizing keeps all players in the game by keeping those at the bottom from getting wiped out and dropped, and keeping the insulation of those at the top from bringing down the whole system. Timesizing implements automatic reinvestment in on-the-job training and hiring, targeted by overtime and overwork, and builds in an easy upgrade feature from the start. The reinvestment threshold (aka the maximum standard workweek) functions as an upper limit on "share per person" and the new definition of unemployment (aka the minimum workweek) functions as the lower limit. The two bracketing limits together define a range which satisfies the criterion that if flexibility requirements prevent you from equalizing (shares per person) on a point, you must at least equalize on a range.)
As partner Kate opined after Phil xeroxed Scott's 61-page Introduction to Technocracy at the Boston Public Library, "Technocracy has a huge build-up - a whole wonderful new scientific-engineering viewpoint that leads you to expect an incredible new no-BS, no-rhetoric system - that just isn't there when you get to the end of the book. Where's the beef?" Fortunately Phil had just articulated "the beef" with record brevity for the Harvard Coop's Timesizing event on March 9 and here it is -

Timesizing involves cutting hours instead of people, building training right into the workplace, and targeting, triggering and funding training-hiring from overtime. It starts with "overtime" based on the 40-hour week but then on our unemployment rate - if unemployment increases, so does overtime-training-hiring (and v.v.). "Unemployment" is broadened to include all kinds of dependency on the taxpayer - welfare, disability, homelessness, prison, forced part-time. One new groundrule lets us dismantle hordes of government regulations, programs and bureaucracies. Public referendums gate and pace the solution, and also protect it from high interest and import rates.

Top | Homepage