The Technical Alliance was the forerunner of Technocracy, Inc. For reasons of ensuring the studies of the Alliance were not “politicized,” they had to incorporate to maintain a legal standing to protect their information.
Note the date of this interview; February 20, 1921. The land area we call North America could have begun to build a future that would have given us the opportunity to conduct our society with the limits allowed in the natural world, yet afford all citizens a standard of living that even today we would envy. All this without war, social inequality and an environment as pristine as is now only pictured in old photographs.
“There is no insurmountable problem ahead of the American people. We can have prosperity just as soon as we are willing to go after it. It isn’t necessary to wait a single month for Europe. Forget the German indemnity. Never mind what the League of Nations does or doesn’t do. As for Congress, let Congress go ahead and talk; it doesn’t matter. All that we need in order to get prosperity is sufficient natural wealth, sufficient skill, sufficient industrial equipment, sufficient labor power, and intelligent direction. We have all of these things except the last, and there is no reason under the sun why we can’t have that as soon as the technicians decide to get together.”
Howard Scott is Chief engineer of the Technical Alliance, a new organization, with very modest headquarters at No. 23 West 35th Street. (New York City) It is not a business or commercial organization. It does not intend to direct any special enterprise. It is exactly what its name implies: an attempt to get the technical men of all branches of American industry together.
“What for,” I asked Scott?
“To find out what the American people want,” he answered, “and get it for them.”
The answer was simple and inclusive but why the technical men? Are there no other interests to be consulted?
“The technicians, Mr. Scott explained, are the only group who know how people get things. They are not the only producers, but they are the only ones who know how production is accomplished. Bankers don’t know. Politicians and diplomats don’t know. If these fellows did know, they would have gotten the wheels started before this. They all want production − everybody does; but those who have been running things don’t know how to run them, while those who do know how have not so far considered it their business.”
It took a long time to get even that much from Howard Scott. It is evident that newspaper men rank in his eyes somewhere along with financiers and diplomats. He is an engineer, and wouldn’t argue. He would answer a question if he had an answer, but if he didn’t have it, he would express no views. There are no two “sides” to any questions in the minds of engineers like this. If they have the answer, there it is. If they haven’t, the only thing to do is go and get it. The fact that the answer is still unknown doesn’t permit the assumption that there is more than one.
Although the Technical Alliance has just been formed, Mr. Scott has been working at the project for several years. Not trying to get the engineers together − that is not an engineer’s method of forming an organization. He has been gathering data and making charts showing just how industry has been carried on today; and so far as he could, he has been calculating the percentage of waste.
“The whole problem may be stated,” he said, “as the problem of elimination of waste, but waste to an engineer has a different meaning than it does to the general public. People generally think of waste only in terms of potato peelings or of spending money for what they hanker for, instead of for what they think they ought to buy. If the elimination of that kind of waste could solve the problem, China should be the richest country on earth today; but the engineer recognizes exhaustion of any natural resource is a waste.”
“If we could eliminate idleness and duplication of effort,“ he said, “we may have immediate prosperity −such prosperity as the world has never known. If we could find a way then to husband our natural resources, we may make that prosperity permanent.”
“Can the engineers and technical men do this?” I asked.
“If they can’t,“ he answered, “nobody can. Inasmuch, however, as that is only one thing they are trained to do, the problem doesn’t seem difficult. The simple fact is that they have not tackled the problem up-todate. They have been trying, with gratifying success, to eliminate idleness and duplication of effort within the various industries in which they have been employed, but so far they have not thought of American industry, which means, practically, that they haven’t thought as engineers.”
“The time has come, however, when the engineer must do exactly that. We are reaching a crisis, and the technicians are the only people who can find out what to do. They must survey the country, tabulate its resources, discover its possibilities in natural and human power, uncover the present wastes and leakages, and work out a tentative design of coordinated production and distribution.”
“And suppose you draw up a seemingly workable plan,” I asked. “What are you going to do with public opinion?”
“It is all a technical matter,” he said. “It makes not the slightest difference whether the public knows about it or not. The steam engine didn’t need a press agent. The Einstein Theory doesn’t require any special legislative enactment. If the only people who can bring order to our present industrial chaos find out exactly how to do the job, we needn’t worry about the next step.”
“Won’t you run against some political difficulties?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “in the same way the well-known tide ran against political difficulties in the person of His Majesty King Canute. Politics is our natural approach to matters that we don’t understand. When we know exactly what we want, and exactly how to get it, we get it. If we don’t know what we want, we vote for it with a superstitious hope that a change − any sort of change − will bring it out of its hiding place. Mr. Harding (29th President of the U.S.)was elected by an overwhelming majority because we wanted something badly, and we thought that ‘normalcy’ might be it. Had we been in a little more pain, we should have probably elected Debs, (Eugene Debs, candidate for President) hoping that a change in ownership would somehow work a miracle.”
“Isn’t the question of ownership a vital one?” I asked.
“No,” he answered. “It makes no difference who owns the sun. What concerns us vitally is whether we use it properly or not. No lovers ever quarreled about who owns the moon. Neither does it make any difference who owns the earth if we can only discover how to use it. Ownership is a myth. If we once get to using our coal and iron and our industrial and transportation systems to their full capacity, nobody will be fool enough to care if they are owned or not.”
“The engineer especially is not concerned with ownership. Technicians, as such, cannot function in politics. Their training has placed them in a position where decisions are the results of intrinsic fact and not of personal opinion, whether autocratic or democratic. They cannot function in finance because their science is one of production and utilization, not one of title or credit. They cannot function in labor unions as presently organized because these unions are mere political groups in which the individual member functions not as an individual responsible for a certain detail of the industrial process, but as a voter expressing some − usually borrowed − opinion.”
“The Technical Alliance is simply an attempt to organize the technical workers on their jobs instead of organizing them as an academic group outside. In one sense of the word, this may be called the first genuine labor organization in America, for every technician is engaged in strategically important labor and is concerned primarily with the organization, that is, the coordination of industry.”
“Technical men must necessarily look on industry as industry. The central purpose of industry − and the only purpose which the engineer, as such, can pay attention to − is to serve humanity. Mr. Gantt, (Henry L. Gantt − engineer and social scientist)in his very conservative estimates, proved that our present industrial machine is not giving more that 20 percent of the service it is capable of giving, primarily because the machine is controlled by business groups for business ends, rather than industrialists for industrial ends. His figures were actually far too high, because with the elimination of the business motive would come the elimination of thousands of industries now engaged in making things which only business organizations need: and because with the machine once operating at its full capacity, there would be such an abundance produced for everybody that we would not need to protect private property as it is protected today.”
Mr. Scott is anything but an enthusiast, yet I have never heard an irresponsible soap boxer make more staggering statements. To multiply the nation’s wealth by ten − without waiting for new inventions and without considering a political move − seemed to him a simple problem for the engineers when they organize as engineers.
For lack of anything better to say, I asked him a question which every advocate of a new order will recognize as an old acquaintance: “Won’t you have to change human nature first?” Mr. Scott smiled dryly.
“Did you have to change human nature,” he asked “in order to keep passengers from standing on car platforms?”
“Go on,” I said, “I’m listening.”
“They put up signs first,” he continued, “prohibiting the dangerous practice, but the passengers still crowded the platform. Then they got ordinances passed, and the platform remained as crowded as before. Policemen, legislators, public service commissions all took a hand but to no effect; then the problem was put up to an engineer.”
“The engineers solved it easily. They built cars that didn’t have platforms.”
According to Mr. Scott, the same course will have to be followed in the matter of a still more familiar prohibition. THOU SHALL NOT STEAL. Church and state, he says, have united unanimously throughout all history behind this law, but it has never been enforced. Technical administration alone, he maintains, can enforce it. How? Let him answer in his own words.
“By coordinating the industrial process; by operating all industries as one agency for one definite purpose; producing and distributing the things that people want so that an abundance of everything shall be accessible to all.”
“Private property,” he said, “is generally recognized as a burden even today, and few people would want to carry it if they could be rich without having to do so. For the first time in history, though, humanity has a machine at hand which is productive enough to make everybody rich, and it has the technical knowledge at its disposal to run such a machine.”
“But do you expect the engineers to agree upon a program?” I asked. “They have prejudices and differences, don’t they, just like the rest of us?”
“They disagree as politicians,” he said, “but not as engineers. We are not trying to organize them, however, into a society to debate something, but into an alliance which will discover the facts. Engineers do not disagree on facts. They all know what direction a stone will drop. They all know that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. If there is anything else they want to know as engineers, they find out; and when they find out, there isn’t the slightest disagreement. Engineers are not radical or conservative. As engineers, they are no more radical than a yardstick and no more conservative than so many degrees Fahrenheit.”