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Abundance, Fabricated
Automations Promise to the Postwar American Left
Max Novendstern
Harvard University
May 5, 2014
Once or twice in a generation, The New York
Times declared on April 7, 1963, a single word
captures the attention, imagination, and concern of
the American people. For previous generations,
abolition, unionization, and prohibition were
such words. They seemed to offer some profound
clue to the problems and the promise of complex
forces at work in Americas past. In the Sixties, the
Times continues, America had another such word.
Today, the word is automation.
Even the most casual Times reader would appre-
ciate the sentiment. Over the course of the Sixties,
Americas newspaper of record published more than
seventeen thousand articles containing the word au-
tomation. Readers would learn, for instance, that
in 1962 John F. Kennedy ranked full employment
at a time when automation. . . is replacing men to
be the major domestic challenge of the Sixties.
They would learn in 1967, Nikita Khrushchev called
automation the means we [communists] will use to
lick you capitalists.
They would learn that work life was on the
precipice of foreboding change (Automation Is
Said to Create Boredom Along With Joblessness,
one headline asserted, adding mysteriously, Edu-
cation in New Recreation Philosophy Should be
); that family life was too (Automa-
tion Tied to Home Tension, Automation Tied to
Mental Stress
); that in 1957, Pope Pius XII saw t
to weigh in (Pope Urges Care With Automation)
and that in 1955, Congress held fourteen days of
public hearings on the broad economic and social
impacts of the automation revolution.
But a perceptive reader might be bemused. Be-
Automation References in The New York Times
cause three years before Congress hearings on
automation, and a decade before The Times declared
it the word of its the generation, no Times reader
would never have heard of the word. Because the
word did not exist.
In 1952, technology consultant John Diebold
introduced automation to the general public as
the title of book he had adapted from his Harvard
Business School graduate thesis, written only one
year before. Dyslexic, Diebold disliked spelling
automatization. Because he was using the word a
lot, he coined something shorter. The origins of this
generation-dening word were humble, indeed,
Diebold conceded.

A. Words Rise
This paper is about the rise of the word
automationhow the word traveled from the title

The word was used by manufacturing industry specialists before it

was introduced to the general public. The McGraw-Hill Encyclo-
pedia of Science & Technology in 1948 notes that Del S. Harder
of Ford Motors Company used it in 1947 to mean the art of
applying mechanical devices to manipulate work pieces into and
out of equipment, turn parts between operations.
of a twenty-six-year-olds book into the collective
attention, imagination, and concern of the Ameri-
can people, what people meant when they used the
word, and why certain people felt compelled to use
it so often.
I take the commonsense position that new words
ourish because people consider them to be useful.
If a machine operates in a way that seem suf-
ciently new, perhaps a new word is apposite. But
to make this judgement, people draw from a stock
of prior word-relationshipswhich is to say, they
grapple with ontological issues of what constitutes
newness and value issues of what things are worth
talking about in the rst place. So in telling the story
of a new word, we have to wade into the universe
of ideas that the word emerged within.
My argument is that the rise of automation can be
explained as the convergence of four major currents
in the Postwar intellectual historical period: rst,
the advent of the computer as a genuinely new
type of machine; second, the Cold War project
of justifying American capitalism, its capacity to
generate abundance and its benets for the working
class, against the Soviet threat; third, the acute fear,
that emerged with the rise of unemployment in the
early Sixties and the emergence of a radical cultural
left, that elites would wrest control of society;
nally, the hopewhich goes very deep in industrial
capitalismthat machinery may free us from the
necessity of hard labor and deliver us a society of
Automation became of symbol for these varied,
interwoven dialogues. In this way, it might be under-
stood as a vital key to the Postwar political economy
Automation cannot mean merely labor sav-
ing, because technology the production of tech-
nology that economizes on labor is as old as pro-
duction itself. The VP of Manufacturing at Ford
Motors Company, A.J. Davis, facing the prospect
of new Congressional regulations, would emphasize
this point at Congress 1955 hearings. Automation
was nothing new. The rst use of automation I
can remember, Davis quipped, was perhaps little
David when he slew Goliath with the slingshot.
In Davis view, automation was no different
from what Ford Motors had been doing since the
introduction of its assembly line. Mechanically con-
necting different stages in the production process
goes back hundreds of years. He describes a our
mill built in 1807, where grain was dumped into
a hopper that led to a scale, where it was weighed
and dumped again into another hopper that had a
screw-type convey at the bottom.
This conveyor carried the grain to a bucket
elevator, which raises it to the top oor.
From the top oor it owed by gravity
to another screw conveyor that carried it
to hoppers feeding the mill stones. As
the our emerged it was fed mechanically
to screens then into barrels, and nally
carried away by wagon or barge.
A. Feedback Principle
In fact, Davis reveals at the Congressional hear-
ings that Ford Motors had been using Diebolds
word automation internally (unbenownst to
Diebold) for years. For them, it meant the auto-
matic handling of parts between progressive pro-
duction processes. This relatively straightforward
goalof connecting each stage of the production
process, so that materials were not handled by
peoplehad guided the automobile manufacturing
industry since the beginning.
But Diebold rejects this. In his rst article on
the subject, AutomationThe New Technology he
agrees that Fords transfer machines, are a natural
step in the evolution of machine tools and thus
nothing new. This does not mean that automation
is nothing new though; it means that what Ford is
doing is not automation. Automation is not just
advanced mechanization; tt is mechanization of
a very special sort.
Rather than a our mill, Diebold considers the
rst automation technology James Watts steam
engine, because the engines speed was regulated by
a spinning apparatus Watt called the governor. As
the engine heated up, steam pierced through a valve,
which caused a pinwheel to spin. This spinning
pinwheel then closed off the valve, slowing the
engine down. The engine controlled its own speed.
The central principle of automation, as distinct
from mechanization, is feedback. Like a pin-
wheel that rises with heat, and in rising reduces
that heat, automation is built around the paradigm
of the closed loop, whereby a sensor takes in
inputs, a controller processes those inputs, and an
effector acts on the instructions it receives. This
loop between perception, processing, and acting (so
it was theorized) gets close to the essence of life
It meant a system could have a purpose, an
intention, that it could change itself as the world
outside of it changed. Empirically, all living sys-
tems, large and small, seemed to depend on it. If
one could build a machine around the feedback
paradigm, what could that machine not do?
B. Information Theory
In May 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor,
a Defense Department-afliated research organiza-
tion called National Research Defense Committee
(NRDC) issued a memo titled, The Human Be-
ing as a Fundamental Link in Automatic Control
Systems. The NRDC wanted to improve the per-
formance of their Sperry Anti-Aircraft gun, which
succeeded or failed on the strength of its ability to
direct itself to its target.
The primary specication of the weapon was
(of course) that its shells detonate at the point in
space-and-time where the enemy aircraft was. But
a secondary specication was that it do so in as
foolproof as possible a way, as the memo said,
so that the availability of skilled technicians would
never constrain the militarys capacity to ght.
The NRDC wanted machines that could predict
the movement of an enemy, and kill that enemy,
with minimal human involvement. In opening this
research, they found MITs Norbert Wiener, and in
nding him, helped set in motion the founding of
the eld of cybernetics, the intellectual origins of
Wiener, a former child prodigy, and legendary
eccentric, had become well-known for his work in
analog computation, just as the government had
designs for this research. The Sperry gun problem
resembled the sort of model-based predictions that
Wieners research focused on: planes under re at-
tempt to thwart their adversaries by taking partially-
random walks.
Wieners initial suggestion, of shooting up can-
isters of ammable gas, setting a ten yard radius
in ames, was deemed unsporting. Ultimately, he
devized a statistical model for prediction. After
the machine located the plane at time t = n,
it developed a prediction from its baseline model
for the planes location at point t = n + 1.
Crucially, the machine would then wait. Once
time t = n + 1 transpired, it would gather data
about where the plane actually went, and calculate
an error termthe distance between its prediction
and realitywhich it used for its new prediction.
The process would iteratepredict; observe; update
predictionall while pushing down the error term,
until at a certain acceptable threshold, the machine
red its shell.
Wiener published his results as a working paper
under the unexceptional title, The Extrapolation,
Interpolation, and Smoothing of Stationary Time
Series with Engineering Applications, in what was
perhaps the founding paper of modern automation
theory. In discovering a way for a machine to
relate to the world through the processing of infor-
mation, Wiener believed he had achieved nothing
less than a new synthesis of the sciences. Power
engineering, he said, would no longer be a mere
mechanical engineering eld, but a eld subsumed
into communication theory. All systems, whether
mechanical, biological, or social, operate through
information signalsthrough bits, a word coined
a full seven years after Wiener wrote. Signals are
the measurement of the probability of possible
messages, and are gathered, analyzed, and acted
on through feedback loops. Cybernetics was being
Suppose that I pick up a lead pencil, wrote
The mind is not coding precise motion
specications prior to my moving. Rather, it is
willing that I pick up the pencil. Having willed
my hand into motion, it uses the nervous system
to continuously report on the hands progress to-
wards its goal. The delta [error] between the hand
and the pencil is gradually minimized, feedback
guiding motion. In an article entitled Behavior,
Purpose and Teleology, Wiener and his longtime
collaborator Arturo Rosenblueth called for scientists
to disenthrall themselves of behavioralism, their
xation on input-output models, in favor of the
teleological, the idea that systems can act with
purpose. The hand that picks up a pencil, and the
torpedo that seeks out its target, have will.
Wieners word cybernetics was a cognate of
the Latin word for governor, an allusion to
Watts steam engine, and a corruption of the Greek
word for steersman, who guides the boat. Upon
the publishing of his unexpected bestseller coin-
ing the word, Cybernetics, a new eld exploded
open. Wiener co-hosted conferences in New York
City where logicians studying circuits, physiologists
studying hand tremors, and sociologists. Talcott
Parsons spoke of the cybernetic mechanism at the
symbolic cultural level. Behind the machines that
could replace human beings was another, perhaps
even more ambitious dream: the remapping of all
known systems as the ow of discrete, knowable
John Diebolds rst published paper was on pro-
ductivity dataa subjectthat had recently become
very popular, as he said in the papers introduc-
The Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow
would concur, saying that productivity had become
the hot subject of Postwar economics. It has
everything. It is the essence of economic growth,
and the key determinant of cyclical movement of
unemployment. There is no getting away from
That Diebold would transition from a study
of productivity, to a book on automation, to his
role as a social commentator on the lecture circuit,
provides a clue to the link between technology,
growth, and politics in the Postwar period.
A. Growth Discourse
Franklin Roosevelts economic adviser, Harry
Hopkins, bluntly declared in 1939 that America
continue as a democracy with ten million or twelve
million unemployed.
By this standard, the Second
World War helped defend democracy at home as
well as abroad: because of wartime scal stimulus,
unemployment dropped from ten million to three
million, from one out of every four Americans to
one out of every twenty; wages jumped by forty-ve
percent; the proportion of families earning less than
two thousand dollars a year fell from three quarters
of the population to one quarter.
Instead of dipping back into a recession, as most
commentators predicted, the U.S. economy doubled
in the decade following the end of the Second
World War. Growth eased social tensions, validated
political decision-makers, and funded the Cold War.
Growth, as Kennedys Chairman of the Council of
Economic Advisers Walter Heller would say, was
the pot of gold and the rainbow.
Diebolds early productivity report can be read
as an attempt to answer the question: Where did
this growth come from? In the report, he pulls
investigates the claim, by the newly founded Bureau
of Labor Statistics, that U.S. productivity has grown
at an annual rate of two percent per year, into
the various industries that drive those productivity
Diebold arraye forty two industries over an eight-
year period, showing that double-digit increases in
the productivity of industries like Electric Light
& Power and Rayon & Other Synthetic Fibers,
mask double-digit decreases in the productivity of
industries like Lead and Zinc Mining and Malt
Liquors. While the paper is mostly focused on
the presentation of data, not the construction of
growth theories, it is hard to miss the intuition that
major differences in the productivity outcomes are
related to the major differences in the technological
sophistocation of the industies in question.
Economic models at the time were arguing this
very thing. The rst major growth model, by
economists Roy Harrod and Evsey Domar, placed
capital investment at the center of the growth pro-
cess. But the Harrod-Domar model (as it became
known) feared that population growth and capi-
tal investment must be perfectly balanced if the
forces of diminishing returns to scale were not to
create unemployment or ination.
Robert Solow
built the most famous growth of the periodthe
source code for an entire economic disciplineby
contesting Harrod-Domars assumption that there
is no possibility of substituting labor for capital in
productionwhich is to say, their assumption that
technology cannot become more automated.
Diebolds Productivity Chart
Without productivity gains, it is true, countries
would experience diminishing returns to more cap-
ital expenditure, but technological improvement is
like adding more people to the factory oor. If there
were too many people, it would not be economical
to invest in automation, because labor would be
cheap. If there were not enough people, it would be
economical to invest in automation, because labor
would be expensive. Technological improvement
would thus act, like Norbert Weiners cybernetic
feedback mechanism, as a stabilizing force for an
economy in its ascent. By the beginning of the
1950s, the fear of a Postwar recession had given way
to a kind of triumphalism. Economic growth was
not a precarious hope, but the norm against which
deviations must be solved. Automated technology
would be at the center of this.
For the British economist Paul Einzig, the sur-
vival of the entire Postwar economic systemfor
its entitlement programs to be nanced, the wage
demands of powerful unions to be met, the con-
sumption norms enhanced by credit and redistribu-
tion to be maintained, the permanent mobilization of
the military to be continuegrowth must continue,
and thus automation must move forward and fast.
It is thus of vital importance, not just from the
point of view of our prosperity, but even for our
survival as free nations, to proceed with automation
with the utmost speed, he concludes the opening
chapter of his book, The Economic Consquences
of Automation
Without automation, this entire
Postwar stabilization might collapse.
But if growth came the continued saving of labor
in production, experienced as productivity gains,
where did this continued saving of labor come
from? Economists liked to call Solows total factor
productivity, his stand-in for productivity gains, a
measure of our ignorance.
There is a sense of
technologys constant improvement as a mystery,
somethinglike inspirationwhose source is ter-
minally mysterious. Thus when the Times declared
in 1953, Salvation by Automation, they were not
just channeling the sheer importance of growth to
the Postwar social system, but also the sense in
which the source of growth was quasi-divine in
B. Factory as Machine
Diebold opened the 1955 Congressional Hear-
ings on Automation and Technological Change
by dening automation as the culmination of man-
agement sciences systems integration project.
Whereas machines had previously been used to
x breaks in our own work, as if they were
simply tools, or prosthetics, for expanding human
power. But now, industrials were thinking about
the production processes themselves as complete,
integrated systems.
[W]e try to weld together the parts of that
system in order to optimize the use of
our resourcesthe human resources and
material resources and capital resources
that are being used to produce the end
product. One way of dening automation
is to say that it is a means of organiz-
ing or controlling production processes to
achieve optimum use of all production
resourcesmechanical, material, and hu-
This view of the factory itself as a machine
goes deep in the management science tradition. No
gure was more central to it than Frederick Winslow
Taylor, who co-taught the most popular class at
Diebolds alma mater in its founding year. Harvard
Business Schools dean, Edward Gay, called Scien-
tic Management the most important advance in
industry since the introduction of the factory system
and power machinery.
The two function of management science, in
this tradition, as Taylor said, were rst to increase
the efciency of a given production process, by
expanding its outputs relative to its inputs; and
then second, to discipline worker as participants in
this production process. After Taylors time study
of the Midvale Steel Companywhich involved
fty thousand experiments consuming nearly eight
hundred thousand pounds of steelTaylor would
declare that by far, the greatest value was not
in any particular technological breakthrough he had

but in the development of workers slide

rules. The slide rule brought human and machine
together; it was a tool of efciency and of discipline,
at once. With it, Taylor succeeded at his goal, of
taking control of the machine shop out of the hands
of the many workmen...thus superseding rule of
thumb by scientic control.
Supplying minute
instructions for every single step of the production
process, the slide rule formed the basis of the time
sheet, the Scientic Managers minute-by-minute
instruction sheet, and that in turn created the basis
of the rewards system, which increased pay based
on established production baselines. The steel saw
tests, the slide-rule instructions, the timers, and
penalty-and-bonus systems were parts of a single
optimized whole.
By reducing productions dependence on human
workers, automation presented an opportunity to
move beyond what Taylor could do. There would
be fewer difculties disciplining workers, because
there would be fewer workers. And there would
be greater opportunities to optimize the production
process, because there would fewer limits to what
could be done. We can now rethink the problems
of an entire business in terms of ultimate goal and
nal product, Diebold declared. In light of the

In the course of the study, Taylor discovered a new steel production

method, the Taylor-White Process, that is credited with saving
the machine industry hundreds of thousands of dollars per year,
and according to some, helping scale up the U.S. Governments
weapon production before the First World War. See Frank B. Copley,
Frederick W. Taylor, Father of Scientic Mangement (New York:
Harper and Bros., 1923), Vol 1., pg. XV
remarkable potentialities of these machines, we
ought to ask, what cannot be done at all without
Against this expansive vision of automation, it
was harder in 1955 to see what automation was than
what it was not. At one of the nations largest steel
plants, photo tubes measured light waves in order to
determine iron ore temperatures during the smelting
process. But when the machine signaled that the fur-
nace needed tapping, the foreman still veried that
the machine was correct, and the worker still did
the tapping. The iron smelting process makes use
of automatic control processes, Diebold concluded
a bit dourly, but is not truly automatic.
But for all his enthusiasm about rethinking, the
consumer products Diebold cites hardly inspire. One
company added a small glass nipple to the side
of a liquor bottle to enable a labeling machines
automatic positioning. Another company redesigned
an ice cube with a hole in the middle, which
happens to make it better at cooling liquids (viz,
increased surface area), but also easier to move by
machine. From the consumers perspective, oddly,
these products are slightly worsepeople accomo-
date the machines. One detects a whiff of dissat-
isfaction when Diebold notes that consumers prefer
folded pretzels to stamped ones. This holdover from
pre-automated times requires pretzel companies to
spend far more money on pretzel knot-tying devices.
Truly, we have yet to perceive the magnitude and
the true nature of the momentous change automation
is effecting in our lives, in our businesses, and in
our society.
C. Benevolent Monopolism
In 1951, Ford Motors opened its Cleveland
Engine Plant, bringing, as one contemporary said,
Detroits automation philosophy to its relentless
Sixteen hundred feet of assembly
lines, connected through automatic transfer ma-
chines, snaked through the factory oor. Davis calls
the economics of automation like this clear. If
it would take a skilled sheet-metal worker eight
hours to shape the upper half of a fuel tank by
hand, in the Cleveland Engine Plant, it takes twenty
seconds. The proportional labor costs drop from
fteen dollars to a few cents. Automation is part
of a generation-long evolution that made possible
this extraordinary savings.
But he quickly concedes that, in fact, the eco-
nomics of automation are not very clear at all.
Very frankly, Davis concedes, we cannot trace
in precise detail the extent to which...automation
and other measures...have affected our overall em-
ployment gures.
The truth is, he continues, au-
tomation is rife with unanticipated consequences,
in terms of labor required and myriad hidden costs,
even as it is utterly essential.
Most obviously, the machines are expensive.
Davis estimates that the capital costs of the Cleve-
land Engine Plant were twenty-ve percent greater
than a conventional plant of identical capacity. They
are also harder to upgrade. By the time Ford opened
the Cleveland Engine Plant, executives understood
that the six-cylinder engines it manufactured had be-
come outmoded by the Great Horsepower Race of
the American automobile industry. Ford responded
by building a second automated plant, Cleveland
Engine Plant II, next to the rst, designed for v-
8 engines. But they soon realized that even these
would be left behind, necessitating a third plant.
In 1955 alone, Ford spent two-hundred and thirty
ve million dollars revamping its engine plants.
Automation technology is probably not economi-
cally feasible, Davis concludes, unless [it] can be
adapted, modied, or realigned without excessive
costs to accommodate the expected changes in the
The feedback machines were ironically
lessnot moreadaptable to changes in the envi-
Meanwhile, they broke. Not everything is won-
derful about these machines, D.C. Burnham,
Oldsmobiles top manufacturing engineer remarked
in 1949. The greatest problem is to keep them run-
ning. When one [station] is down, all are down.
And too few technicians existed to x them. Diebold
estimates that in each year of the late Fifties,
demand for engineers outstripped supply by one
hundred thousand. The machine freed up direct
labor costs, the costs of paying workers to work
on cars, only to increase indirect labor costs, the
costs of paying workers to work on the machines
that worked on cars. The President of the Chrysler
Division at the Chrysler Corporation said that con-
sidering it all, it is very possible that the total in-
crease in non-productive labor may easily be greater
than the productive labor saved. Davis asserts the
same. During those four years, Ford saw a fourteen-
percent increase in total employment, a larger jump
than production volume itself. endnoteStablization
1955, pg. 58
Davis defends automation against congressional
regulation by invoking language of the Cold War.
Fords progress was made possible only through
the free enterprise system and has produced for
us a standard of living envied by the entire world.
But the difculties of implementation he describes
cast doubt on the claim. For who among the rms in
the market could afford to bear the costs entailed?
The president of the Automobile Workers Union,
Walter Reuther, expressed a widely-shared concern
when he said that automation equipment may be
so expensive -and the required output so large as to
make its use prohibitive by small or medium-sized
Thus it was that a 1959 Times article titled,
Automation Gain Seen in Russia, would begin:
The Soviet Unions social system is best suited to
reap benets from automation... Command econ-
omy are optimized for mobilizing large amounts of
capital and for reducing the duplication of efforts.
The automation revolution would move fast in the
Soviet Union, another expert remarked, because
the industrial process is planned through the whole
cycle from raw materials to the nished product.
The Soviets believed in scientic management
from the beginning. Lenin himself said of Frederick
W. Taylors work: The Soviet Republic must at all
costs adopt all that is this eld. But
he believed that the Soviets were positioned to out-
do Taylor, by combining the Soviet power and the
Soviet organization of administration with the up-
to-date achievements of capitalism.
In this context, John Kenneth Galbraith in 1952
could defend corporate monopolism in his book,
American Capitalism. Corporate consolidation, he
said, was not the doing of nefarious business ex-
ecutives, but a product of the organic efciencies
created by scale. As rms get bigger, they increase
their capacity to develop technology, and as their
technological capacity increases, so does their mar-
ket power. The notion that technological innovation
can be driven by the small man deploying only
his wits to better his neighbor is a pleasant
ction writes Galbraith. In the Postwar economy,
technological development had become too costly
and too high-riskand frankly, too importantfor
small rms to venture.
Instead of competition, markets will be regulated
by what Galbraith called countervailing power
by big unions, big purchasers like Sears and Roe-
buck, and big government. Big was progressive.
America capitalism would battle Soviet statism
by converging on its advantages. Contemporaries
made much of this. On the subject of corporate
consolidation, Daniel Bell would write of Amer-
icas Un-Marxist Revolution. On the subject of its
relationship to government, he would say The New
Deal through Trumans Square Deal represented the
square assertion of the legitimacy of an economy
managed by government.
If the war had shattered anything, one histo-
rian of the Postwar left would say, it was the
already damaged belief that capitalism, if left to
its own devices, would be able to generate the
good society. British historian Anthony Crosland
would say in 1951 that capitalism is undergoing
a metamorphosis into quite a different system. He
called it postcapitalism.
The dominant emphasis ceases to be on
the rights of property, private initiative,
competition, and the prot motive; and is
transferred to the duties of the state, social
and economic security, and the virtues of
cooperative action.
Daniel Bells noted essay from the period, The
End of Ideology, thus does not speak to an end
to ideology in the Fifties, but rather the end of
doctrinaire capitalism and doctrinaire socialism, and
the emergence of something in between. Few se-
rious minds believe any longer that one can set
down blueprints and through social engineering
bring about a new utopia of social harmony, he
writes. And yet, few classic liberals insist that
the State should play no role in the economy. There
is, therefore, a rough consensus among intellectu-
als. Against this consensus, all else is emotional,
D. Society as Machine
By the early Sixties, John Diebold was argu-
ing that elite managers who truly understood the
implications of automation on business and soci-
ety deserved a new professional classication as
members of a far-seeing elite. To Diebold, the stakes
could hardly be higher.
Our task is wisely to our use our tech-
nology, our knowledge of history, and our
compassion to make the age of automation
a golden Periclean age in which a society
based on the work of the machinenot of
human chattelrises to the full heights of
which the human spirit is capable
Managers during the Postwar period often in-
voked their sense of public responsibility. We must
participate in the formation of public policy, one
manager wrote in the Harvard Business Review in
1952. Indeed, another noted, there is no higher
responsibility than to earn general public respect
through objective participation in, and consideration
of, national questions...
Diebold said that Postwar
managers have the greatest sense of social respon-
sibility in all history.
The notion of the corporate manager who acts on
behalf of the publics wellbeing assumes something
about the competencies of managers. It assumes that
what enables the manager to understand his factory
should enable him to understand society. Uniting
the microcasm of the factory to the macrocosm of
the economy, to technical material of automated ma-
chines, was Wieners eld of information theory.
Business is a complex information system, and
so is automation, and so is society. The cybernetic
worldview is of a machine inside of a machine
inside of a machine, connected with information
information that Diebolds specially trained man-
ager is uniquely capable of interpreting at all levels.
Mastering this was the essence of his new profes-
sional classication.
The historian Robert Wiebe hypothesized that
the expansion of professional education in America
after the industrial revolution was part of a search
for order amidst the chaos of the period.
schools were not just new credentialing tools, but a
new frontier of science, in the words of University
of Michigans dean, set to study the forces that were
upending society.
The search for order during the period moved
to the public sphere writ large. In a 1917 address,
the president of the American Social Science As-
sociation would talk of extension of the scientic
method to politics.
A parallel...appears between two eld of
scienceone dealing with oxygen, hy-
drogen, and gravitation; the other with
cities, states, and numerous other political
and social institutions...Each count, each
city is but an experiment station for the
guidance of all others.
The Progressive reformer Morris L. Cooke en-
thused, we shall never fully realize either the
visions of Christianity or the dreams of democracy
until the principles of scientic management have
permeated every nook and cranny of the working
E. Placating Workers
Productivity, efcient, and growth were not suf-
cient in themselves, however; people had to believe
abundance was widely shared. In the context of the
Cold War, if capitalism could deliver the goods
to the working class, given its power disparities, it
might prove that those disparities need not be elimi-
nated. Growth was a bulwark against socialism. The
Committee for Economic Development argued in
1947, that productivity is a vitally needed lubricant
to reduce class and group frictions.
As long as we can get more by increasing
the size of the pie there is not nearly so
much temptation to try to get a bigger
slice at the expense of others. That applies
particularly to the common and conicting
interests of labor and capital. If it werent
for possibilities of increased productivity
the struggle between capital and labour
would be more severe and dangerous than
it is.
The period recalled Werner Sombart famous obser-
vation that on the reefs of roast beef and apple pie,
socialistic utopias of every society are sent to their
doom. Wealth creation could answer the two key
questions of politicswho gets what? and who
can rule?by taking those questions off peoples
Taylor himself would tell engineers at a confer-
ence on steel tools, the great opportunity, as well as
duty of the engineer class was to elevate the condi-
tion of the working class by creating efciency and,
in this way, prosperity. Indeed, productivity increase
is the only opportunity open to us, measurably
speaking, of settling the great labor problem.
to give the men what they want most -
higher wages, shorter hours, better work-
ing conditions; and, on the other hand, to
give the companies what they most need
-a lower labor cost, so that they might be
able to successfully compete at home and
The notion of productivity as a lubricant for
the tensions between worker and management went
deep into the management discourse. Taylor took
great umbrage at the claim that he was working for
anything but the wellbeing of workers. It ought
to be perfectly evident to any man, he wrote
one labor leader in a letter, that no other human
being would devote the whole of his life...for a
lot of manufacturing companies in which he has
not the slightest interest... No, his work was done
entirely with the idea of getting better wages for
the workmen.
...of developing the workmen coming un-
der our system so as to make them all
higher class men -to better educate them
-to help them live better lives, and, above
all, to be more happy and contented. This
is a worthy object for a man to devote his
life to.
And yet, early labor leaders unanimously con-
demned Taylors work. The experiment of Doctor
Taylor, in ascertaining with scientic accuracy the
breaking point of seven out of eight laborers, wrote
Samuel Gompers, the inuential founder of the
American Federation of Laborers, presents novelty
only in its cold-bloodedness and its endeavor to
transfer mathematical observations on the strength
of metals to those of the strength of mens muscles
and spirit.
The most resonant arguments centered
on the matter of dehumanization. What are the
human costs of treating labor like technology? It is
easy to feel the pathos of one workers recollection
that Taylor told him: he had others to think, and
we were supposed to do the work.
He said to me, many times, I have you
for your strength and mechanical ability,
and we have other men paid for thinking,
and I think he used to try to carry this out
pretty well. But I would never admit to
him that I was not allowed to think. We
used to have some pretty hot arguments
just over this point.
The promise of automation with respect to work-
ers was thus to achieve Taylors original goals by
overcoming the limits of employing humans at all.
Optimal production would no longer be purchased
through dehumanization, prosperity of Taylors kind
no longer bred resentment. Which is to say, under
automation, the jobs would clearly be better.
Automation supplant[s] heavy, dangerous, and
unpleasant work with easier, more pleasant, and
more interesting work, Davis claimed. Diebold
afrms Norbert Wieners ominous warning in the
beginning of his book on cybernetics, The Human
Use of Human Beings: It is a degradation to a
human being to chain him to an oar and use him
as a source of power; but it is an almost equal
degradation to assign him a purely repetitive task
in a factory which demands less than a millionth of
his brain capacity. But Diebold reverses this claim.
These are precisely the jobs that automation will
take away.
The jobs that will be reserved for people are those
requiring judgment and those that a machine cannot
readily be built to doin other words, the more
interesting ones.
The ethical position advanced is
that humans should not do the work that machines
could possibly do. If we have machines do work
that machines could do, what will be left for hu-
mans is humanity, as Diebold says elsewhere, the
fundamental human qualities such as imagination,
volition, purposefulness, compassion, or love.
Psychology literature at the time would afrm this
sense that automation would liberate workers from
dehumanization without sacricing on efciency.
Berkeley sociologist Robert Blauner argued that
alienation in the workplace had traveled a course
that could be charted on a graph by the means
of an inverted U-curve. Studying a print shop, a
textile mill, a car plant, and a continuous ow,
i.e. automated, chemical planteach a proxy for
a historical stage in the development of capitalism
Blauner found that the craft work of the print
shop and the automation work of the chemical
plants gave workers the deepest creative satisfaction,
autonomy, and sense of ownership, the antonyms of
The problem of work became the problem of ad-
justment. Even jobs that were clearly better could
be bad simply because they were new, management
theorists speculated. The researcher Charles Walker
published a detailed sociology in 1957 of a single
steel pipe mill in Lorain, Ohio, which had recently
upgraded to seamless production. Even though
conditions in the new factory were less hazardous,
dirty, [and] hot, workers complained.
On my
old job, one said, my muscles got tired. [But
then] I went home and rested a little bit and my
muscles were no longer tired. I also had nothing to
worry about. Now, with a shift towards work, in
Walkers telling, that required skills of the head
rather than skills of the hand, your muscles dont
get tired, but you keep on thinking, even when you
go home.
But soon, the characteristics of the automatic
factory that the workers said they disliked most
the constant watching, the importance of precision,
the mental tension were, after two years time,
the characteristics they enjoyed. The key word for
Walker is adjustment. One learns to enjoy these
new jobs with adequate adjustment and acclima-
But what does this acclimatization
entail? One senses the underlying meaning in a
discussion of the continuity of automatic factory,
where Walker notes that automation produces in
the workers mind the impression that he is taken
along automatically towards completing a task,
what he calls traction, not experiencing irritating
obstacles which have to be overcome, what he calls
The automatic factory pushes the worker along,
rather than the other way around. Here is, it seems,
is a larger vision of technologys relationship to hu-
mans. If we understand that technological changes
generate physiological and psychological forces,
then we can see that human behavior, insofar as it
is affected by such forces, may be predicted, and
that the psychological factors may to some degree
be controlled through controlling the technological
environments out of which they spring. We may
learn the science of the adjustment of human nature
to a technological civilization.
The critique of
automation advanced is not that that it is bad, but
that we are not ready. The task of management is
to make us ready: we must adjust human nature.
Diebold concluded his opening statement to the
National Planning Associations 1960 hearing on
automation by singling out a specic work for
attack. A certain recently published book, he said,
had not hesitate[d], in spite of the absence of facts,
to portray a technocratic society with a small ruling
class of engineers as something to expect as a result
of automation. For Diebold, this idea was almost a
personal insult:
I, for one, feel particularly bitter about
such undocumented prophecies of disas-
ter, because my own feeling is that au-
tomation is needed as the key to the
survival of our way of life.
The book in question is by the German sociologist
Frederick Pollock, and it reads like any other eco-
nomics text. Pollock cites two hundred and eighty
two sources in his bibliographyDiebolds own
work three timeacross two hundred plus pages
of analytical prose.
A. New Elite
Diebolds comment about Pollock would seem,
then, totally unremarkable, except for a specic
fact. Pollock was the cofounder of the Institut fur
Sozialforschung at the University of Frankfurt, a
renowned neo-Marxist collective. He had spent his
career theorizing the failure of the Marxist over-
throw of capitalism, which he adamantly supported.
The summer preceding the year Diebold wrote
Automation, Pollock helped Theodor Adorno edit
Minima Moralia, a book of Nietzschean aphorisms
that performed revolt against the ruse of reason.
Pollock and Diebold, in short, came from differ-
ent worlds. Yet automation brought them together.
Unemployment Rate
Figure 1.
Sentiment of The New York Times
Automation Headlines
Figure 2. Sentiment was computed through the simple subtraction
of positive words from negative words in a data set of the top
twenty most relevant headlines on automation from the New York
Times in each year according to a Proquest search. A lexicon of
6800+ positive and negative words was used, generated by Hu and
Liu: liub/FBS/sentiment-analysis.html#lexicon
In fact, as I argue in this chapter, their exchange
about the technocratic society, the consequences
of automation for matters of freedom and power,
would bridge the liberalism of the Fifties, with its
hope for abundance and leisure, to the radicalism of
the Sixties, with its fear of control and alienation.
Readers of Pollocks book learn of an economic
general staff, that sits at the apex of the social
pyramid. We are warned of a widening gulf
between a small group of highly qualied man-
agers, engineers and specialists on the one hand,
and the vast mass of wage-earners on the other.
We are pacied into accepting this consolidation of
power by a continued improvement in the standard
of living and by the efciency of modern methods
of inuencing the minds of the masses.
There was, in short, a fear of precisely what
Diebold wanted: a new management class uniquely
capable of solving both micro-economic and macro-
economic problems. By the middle of the 1960s,
technology analyst Robert Boguslaw published a
book calling Diebolds new class of system engi-
neers the periods New Utopians. They consid-
ered it their job to progressively reduce the scope
of responsibility of human beings. This hope, held
out by progressives like Thorstein Veblen, who
denounced the confusion, obstruction, waste, and
retardation of capitalism, and by managers like
Diebold, was being reinterpreted as a threat.
B. Structural Unemployment
As U.S. unemployment rose from its Postwar low
of three percent in 1952 to the Postwar high of
seven percent in 1962 the popular discourse shifted
markedly. Positive sentiment dropped (see Figure 1)
and words like jobless replaced abundance. At
the very least, by giving more control to capital,
automation made it easier to re workers.
Increasing productivity means more outputs or
fewer labor inputs. Which to emphasize? Does the
title of physicists Eric Leaver and John Browns
1946 article, Machines Without Men, mean ma-
chines taking away jobs, or machines freeing men
from them?
Automation opens up vistas of un-
paralleled abundance and comfort; at the same time
it stirs fears of mass unemployment and frustration,
the Times wrote.
The 1957 comedy, Desk Set,
could not tell whether to take seriouesly the threat of
the boss trying to replace us all with a mechanical
Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn): Peg,
Peg, calm down! No machine can do our
Costello (Joan Blondell): Thats what they
said in payroll and as soon as it was in-
stalled, half the department disappeared!
Articles of the time were lushly illustrated with
janus-faced, anthropomorphized robots. As Schum-
peter had observed in the Thirties, and Marx be-
fore him, capitalism progressed through crisis. The
future was born from the creative destruction of
the present. Everyone agrees that the future holds
incalculable promise of economic betterment for all
Americans, the Times concludes. The question is:
Can we get there without dislocation and suffering?
Professional economists asked the same question.
The issue for economists of the Sixties was not
whether stimulus would work, per Keynian macroe-
conomics, but how well it would work. Since Robert
Solow and Paul Samuelson had formalized William
Phillips analysis of ination and unemployment
into the Philips Curve in 1960, policymakers
were under its spell. The Philips Curve held that
unemployment and ination were inversely related,
and that if Keynes demand constraint were only
part of the unemployment problem, then stimulus
would quickly lead to ination.
The political implications were clear. By 1963,
Kennedys economic team was pressuring Congress
for an eight billion dollar tax cut intended to push
down unemployment to the countrys so-called nat-
ural rate of four percent. Kennedys Chairman of
the Council of Economic Advisers, Walter Heller,
reiterated his view that unemployment was caused
by demand problems on nearly every page of 1963
Economic Report to the President. Only when we
have removed the heavy drag our scal system
now exerts on personal and business purchasing
power...can we expect to restore the high levels of
employment and high levels of growth that we took
for granted in the decade after the War.
Meanwhile, politicians tended to look towards
structural problems. Balking at stimulus, Congress
nevertheless passed the Area Development As-
sistance Act, then the Public Works Accelera-
tion Act, amendments strengthening the United
States Employment Act, and then the Manpower
Development and Training Act, a comprehensive
program designed to give training assistance to the
people made unemployed through technological im-
provements, as constitute a yearly Manpower Report
to the Presidentstructuralist policies all.
The Hearings attending the Manpower Report
served as a natural venue for debate about au-
tomations effects on unemployment. Occasionally
humor ensued:
Senator Clark: I see the problem in the
coal mines...I see it in the assembly lines
in the steel mills.... I walk into an elevator
and there is no longer an operator. It is
easy to come to an empirical conclusion
that this progress of automation and cy-
bernation is having a much greater effect
on employment than your statistical anal-
Figure 3. From Peter Druckers Times article Automation is not The Villian, January 10, 1965
ysis would show.
Mr. Heller: We regard the overall statis-
tics, Senator Clark, as empirical evidence
of our most reliable kind...while we rec-
ognize a very big problem of square pegs
in round holes and think that a broad-
gauge program should be continued and
indeed expanded to round off those square
pegs so they will t into round holes, at
the same time we think that a very large
part of our the lack of enough
round holes, of enough job slots, for the
people whom you see as displaced by
Senator Clark: I was frightened that I
might become unemployed 5 years from
now and have to go back to the law
and will nd that machines are writing
briefs and disease is being diagnosed by
a computer. This may be the fear of the
jungle man for civilization he does not
The argument often took the form of dueling
interpretations of the same data. Heller reasoned that
if automation was driving up unemployment, then
the industries most affected by automation would
experience the most unemployment. But the data
did not bear this out. When all goods-producing
industries are treated as a unit, Heller said, the
unemployment rate has risen by one percentage
point, the same as for all other experienced wage
and salary workers.
Meanwhile, structuralists like Michigan State
economist Charles Killingsworth argued that if au-
tomation was driving up unemployment, then the
workers most susceptible to displacementthose
with the skills that automation outmodedwould be
displaced at the highest rate. The data suggested this
was so. From 1950 to 1963, Killingsworth noted,
workers with fewer than four years of education
underperformed the national employment rates, suf-
fering a twenty two percent decrease in employment
rates, while workers with more than twelve years
of education outperformed the national average,
enjoying about a ve and half percent increase. The
effect of automation was to twist the demand for
labor, Killingsworth said, driving it up for elites and
down for the rest.
At stake in all this was a very deep problem
of labor economics. Since Ricardo and the Clas-
sical Economists (as we have seen), economists
spoke of technologys effects on jobs in terms of
Says Lawthe view that supply creates its own
demand. Machines that increase our capacity to
produce will also increase our capacity to consume.
Because if we can produce a product for less money,
then we can sell it for less money. If we can sell
it for less money, then people will either buy more
of that item in proportion to the price drop (elastic
demand), or the same amount of the product and
have money left over to spend or invest (inelastic
demand). Or the company may choose not to lower
prices at all, which will free up money to pass to
shareholders or to invest in expansion. The point
is, money freed up by productivity gains is money
spent. Money spent is money earned. Money earned
means new opportunities for workers, who will be
absorbed back into the labor market.
Says Law falls apart, however, if the money
saved on the production of goods is not money spent
on new goods. The doctrine that machines make
jobs, Killingsworth says, is drawn primarily from
studies of the [last one hundred years]...when the
growth potential of major markets for goods was
still very great. Massive new industries changed
the nature of our daily lives, driving the economy
forward. But markets like this can hit diminishing
returns. In the rst thirty years of the twentieth
century, the number of people who owned a car
increased from one in ten thousand to one in ve.
But in the second thirty years, the ratio moved
merely from one in ve to one in three. Is the market
for cars reaching its saturation point? What of the
rest of our economy?
Look across a the whole range of con-
sumer goods and you will see that our
modern consumption society has done a
highly effective job of supplying the wants
of the great majority of customers. About
99.5 percent of the homes that are wired
for electricity have electric refrigerators;
93 percent have television sets; 83 percent
have electric washing machines; and we
have even more radios than homes.
Put bluntly, people might run out of things to
buy. In the background of the debate this Americas
transition into a so-called service economy. For
the previous twenty years, manufacturing employ-
ment had baselined at twenty-ve million employed,
while service employment had risen from fteen
million to thirty ve million. Will the growth of
jobs in the services offset the loss of jobs in goods
industries? Killingsworth asked. Looking out from
the early Sixties, the answer was not foreordained.
Politics, not economic theory, resolved the
structural unemployment debate. The Johnson Ad-
ministration passed Hellers tax cut in 1964, and
by 1965 had ramped up spending on the Vietnam
War, from two billion to thirty billion dollars.
The economy was stimulating through technological
production for the purpose of making war. For the
next ve years, the unemployment rate dropped
monotonically to a new postwar low.
C. Deskilling
If automation threatened (ambiguously) to take
away jobs, what it did to the nature of those jobs
was similarly threatening, and similarly ambiguous.
There was, on the one hand, something hopeful
about releasing the working class from manual
labor. The Marxist Andre Gorz expressed optimism
in 1965 that the creative character of work in
industries stimulated by automation would expose
the latent conict between the teams of scientic
and technical workers, conscious of their abilities
[and the management class].
But as the Sixties turned into the Seventies,
America witnessed the largest labor unrest since
1947 (the most volatile year in American his-
tory), undercutting this optimism. Two-and-a-half
million workers struck that year; thirty four strikes
included more than ten thousand workers. Was
this conrmation of Gorzs optimism, about the
class-consciousness-raising power of technology, or
refutation of it? Blue collar workers are gaining
a renewed sense of identity, of collective power
and class that used to be called solidarity, Time
magazine reported, suggesting Gorzs thesis.
But the line fails to communicate what distin-
guished the riots. These workers appeared less
as social-realist heroes of the industrial age, one
historian writes, than in ways that were simulta-
neously profound and strange, militant and absurd,
traditional and new, male and female, insurgent and
recreational, as well as white, black, and brown.
Thirties era militancy was fusing with Sixties era
culture. The poet Gil Scott-Heron remarked, Amer-
ica doesnt know whether it wants to be Matt Dillon
[the cowboy in the television show Gunsmoke] or
Bob Dylan.
Commentators warned of the Lordstown Syn-
drome, named after a three-week-long strike in
1972, where young, politically leftist, ethnically
interracial autoworkers at a General Motors plant
in Lordstown, Ohio shut down what was then the
fastest assembly line in the world. The workers
acted as free agents, outside their unions authority.
With all the shoulder-length hair, beards, Afros and
mod clothing along the line, Newsweek said, it
looks for all the world like an industrial Wood-
As one pamphlet said of the Lordstown revolts,
the strikes manifested a resistance to work itself.
Having secured the basic necessities of life, they
said, workers are beginning to think about a more
human existence in work. Malcolm Dennis, the
Vice President of Labor Relations for the Ford
Motor Company, noted in 1969,A few years ago
Reuther and his Executive board...could map the
unions course with condence. Today they seem
uncertain. For many, he continued, the tradi-
tional motivations of job security, money rewards,
and opportunity for personal advancement are prov-
ing insufcient...
In the U.S. Senate, in 1972, the Sub-Committee
on Employment, Manpower and Poverty, with Sen-
ator Edward Kennedy presiding, the Lordstown
chapter of the United Autoworkers Union, would
say that the worker has become alienated to the
point where he casts off the leaders of his union,
his government...He is disassociated with the whole
The Lordstown factory was fast, processing forty
ve percent more cars per hour than Britains fastest
factory, because it was automated, with more than
twice as many industrial robots as Britains factory.
A worker installing a seat into the car frame had
thirty-six seconds to walk twenty feet, pick up the
seat weighing twenty pounds, return to his station,
place the seat on the chassis, then screw four bolts,
rst by hand and then with a guneight tasks in
If a worker failed on one round, he was in
the hole, the assembly line continuing through.
Intensity of the work drove up the intensity of
workers supervision. You just about need to ask
to piss. That aint no joke. You raise your little
hand if you want to go wee-wee. one said. Then
wait maybe half an hour till they nd a relief man.
And they write it down every time too cause youre
supposed to do it in your time, not theirs. Try it
too often and youll get a week off.
This picture
from Lordstown was far from hopefulness Diebold,
Blauner, and Gorz painted.
The former line worker Harry Braverman struck
at the heart of this contradiction with his seminal
Labor and Monopoly Capital:
[I]t is emphasized that modern work, as a
result of the scientic-technical revolution
and automation, requires ever higher lev-
els of education, training, the greater exer-
cise of intelligence and mental effort...At
the same is also said...that work
has become increasingly subdivided into
petty operations that fail to sustain the
interest or engage the capacities of hu-
mans...that these petty operations demand
ever less skill and training; and that the
modern trend of work by its mindless-
ness and bureaucratization is alienat-
ing ever larger sections of the working
Braverman began where Marx did, with the dis-
tinction between labor and labor power. In the
former, the worker produces a good and sells it,
whereas in the latter, the worker sells his time
which is to say, his life for a period of time
to a manager who directs what and how he pro-
duces, and then after selling it, retains the difference
between the prot and the wage inputs. At this
structural level, to say that work is alienated
means something very specic. It means that the
worker has transferred control over the labor process
to someone that is not himself.
Adam Smith theorized that labor divided would
make workers specialists, thus increasing their
value. But he recognized the costs of specializa-
tion, as well. The man whose whole life is spent
performing a few simple operations, he wrote,
has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to
exercise his invention...He naturally loses, therefore,
the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes
as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human
creator to become.
Even for Smith, that apostle
of divided labor, productivity grows through the
devaluation of the workers mind.
Bravermans force came from tying Marxist no-
tions of alienation to the debate about automation by
way of deskilling. He introduces the key argument
of his book through extended quotations from the
Harvard Business Schools 1958 text Automation
and Management, where from which he reproduces
a seventeen-level chart depicting a scale of mech-
anization. The scale moves from the lowest level,
work by hand, to the highest level, machines that
anticipate action required and adjust to provide it.
Besides the chart are notes on the level of skill
required for each: for automation, the level of
mental effort, general skill, responsibility, and
inuence on productivity, are labeled decreasing-
nil or simply nil. Braverman is unequivocal.
Automation culminates Marxs alienation process:
it is the total renunciation of worker power in the
production process.
D. Mass Conformity
Finally, there was in the Sixties a more general-
ized, amorphous concern about automation. Insofar
as automation became a symbol of consumer cap-
italism, it became a symbol of all the conforming
effects rational modernity.
To the prominent Columbia sociologist C. Wright
Mills, a middle class that no longer made things, but
coordinated the distribution of those things, foretold
the emergence of a new personality. In his book
White Collar, he writes that workers now sold their
skills with persons. With anonymous insincerity
the Successful Person,,,makes an instrument of his
own appearance and personality. He sacrices his
self to a multitude of consumers or clients or
His unhappy vision is of an automated world
where people themselves become automated. They
become, as he writes, cheerful robots. Confronting
an uneasy interlocking of private and public hier-
archies, with ever more spaces becoming objects
of management and manipulation, the worker not
only loses some freedom of his body, butin lan-
guage anticipating Michel Foucaulthe loses some
of the freedom of his soul. Mills quotes from the
transcript of management conference:
There is one thing more that is won-
derful about the human body. Make the
chemical in the vial a little different and
you have a person who is loyal. He likes
you...because you have been so good to
him; you have changed the structure of his
book. You have to put into his work and
environment the things that change that
chemical that stimulates the action, so that
he is loyal and productive...
Paul Goodman, the New York essayist whose
book Growing Up Absurd made him in the words
of The Times, the acknowledged exemplar of anti-
bureaucratic existence... would voice similar anxi-
eties. To Goodman, abundance was a kind of embar-
rassment, a fraud. The worst feature of our present
organized system of doing things, he wrote, is its
indirectness, its blurring of the object (xii). What
if automatic machines are used generally, he asks.
Work becomes a kind of lie. The plain truth is,
he concludes, that at present very many of us our
useless, not needed, rationally unemployable.
It is in this paradoxical atmosphere that
young persons grow up. It looks busy
and expansive, but it is rationally at a
stalemate...The majority of young peo-
ple are faced with the following alter-
native: Either society is a benevolently
frivolously racket in which theyll manage
to boondoggle, though less protably than
the more privileged; or society is serious
(and they hope still benevolent enough to
support them), but they are useless and
Growing Up Absurd was commissioned as a book
on juvenile delinquency, but became a polemic
against the emasculating effects of abundance. In
every days newspaper there are stories about the
two subjects that I have brought together in this
book, he began, the disgrace of the Organized Sys-
tem of semi-monopolies, government, advertisers,
etc., and the disaffection of the growing generation.
The two are the same. Ask any articulate member
of the young generation
and they will explain that the good jobs
are frauds and sells, that it is intolerable
to have ones style of life dictated by
Personnel, that a man is a fool to work to
pay installments on a useless refrigerator
for his wife...They consider it the part of
reason and honor to wash their hands of
all of it.
When Mario Savio, symbol of the campus Free
Speech Movement, stood in front of two thousand
U.C. Berkeley students on the steps of Sproul Hall,
he framed the demands of the Berkeley Free Speech
movement as a kind of corporate technology as
dehumanization problem. In response to the U.C.
Berkley Dean of Student Carlk Kerrs comments
about his role in the school as the role of a manager
of a rm, Savio If this is a rm...then Ill tell you
something: the faculty are a bunch of employees,
and were the raw material! But were a bunch of
raw materials that...dont mean to be made into
any product, bought by any client of the Univer-
sity...Were human beings
Then he uttered perhaps the dening lines of Six-
ties student unrest by way of a machine metaphor:
There is a time when the operation of
the machine becomes so odious, makes
you so sick at heart, that you cant take
part...and youve got to put your bodies
upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon
the levers, upon all the apparatus, and
youve got to make it stop.
While the metaphor invokes industrial-age machin-
ery, there is a good chance Savio was thinking about
computers, the basis of automation, as he spoke. In
an interview afterwards, he said, at Cal, youre little
more than an IBM card.
Through a kind of syllogism, if excessive logos-
centric thought leads oppression, then freedom must
be an escape from that style of thought. Allen
Ginsberg, the lead voice and publicist of the Beats,
took irrarionalism as the principal force of his art.
He spoke of the horric tyrant reason, which
created the nuclear bomb which can destroy body,
feeling, and imagination.
In Howl, reason is
Moloch, the Ammonite god for whom children
were sacriced in the re: Moloch whose mind is
pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running
As important as technological change is,
Diebold remarked to the Commission of the Euro-
pean Economic Community in the early Sixties, we
must recognize that technology is merely an agent
for social change. In the automated future, we will
witness a tremendous increase in the standard of
living, the tremendous growth of the middle class,
a decline in servants who will be replaced by the
growth of the appliance industry, the growth of
the suburbs, and lastand underlying them allan
increased leisure.
The notion that American prosperity would
free people from workwould deliver a Leisure
Societypervaded the discourse. As Robert
Bendiner summarized in 1957, the spate of lit-
erature on the coming Era of Leisure gives us a
view of the an Elysium of culture that will put
the Greeks in the shade or by contrast a hell
of mass boredom modied by home carpentry, hi-
, plush motels, and ping-pong. (Bendiner, 1957:
10) If one ought to judge a period not by the
questions it debates, but by the truths it assumes,
then the importance of the debate on the problem
of leisure is the tremendous condence it evinced
in the productive power of the American economy,
supported by technological machinery.
A. History of Leisure Hope
The hope that machinery might reconstitute the
plenty of Eden that Adam lostcursed as he was by
God to gain his food by the sweat of his brow
is at least as old industrial capitalism. While the
Luddites were smashing looms in the North of Eng-
land, radical socialists in London were defending
the advance of machinery on the grounds that it was
ownership the machinesor more generally, how
the abundance they produced was distributednot
the machines themselves that constituted problem of
capitalism. As one socialist put it, the artisans too
often blames the inanimate, unthinking machine,
rather than the Machiavellian spirit which controls
its operation.
Machines played a central role in Robert Owens
socialist utopia. Now behold the effects of ma-
chinery in a co-operative community, Owen ef-
fused. [E]ndless labors might be performed by
machinery; and the more machinery they might
invent the more time they would have to spend in
amusements, or to devote to literary and scientic
Karl Max and John Stuart Mill, those two titans
in the history of economics, each placed an end
to work at the center of their visions. I confess I
am not charmed, John Stuart Mill wrote, with the
ideal of life held out by those who think that the
normal state of human beings is that of struggle
to get on; that of trampling, crushing, elbowing,
and treading on each others heels...
For Mill,
the purpose of growth, driven by capitalist struggle,
was an end to the need for that particular kind of
The furthest Marx got in elaborating daily life
under communism was the premise that each person
could do what they want their time. We might do
one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in
the morning, sh in the afternoon, rear cattle in
the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in
mind, without ever becoming a hunter, sherman,
herdsman or critic.
For Marx, the very benet of machines for
capitaliststhat they reduce the costs of labor
might become capitalisms death knell, as workers
can no longer buy the products the capitalists are
creating. Demand is destroyed by technological
productions success.
Contradiction in the capitalist mode of
production: the laborers as buyers of com-
modities are important for the market.
But as sellers of their own commodities
labor powercapitalist society tends to
keep them down to a minimum price.
The tendency of machinery to replace labor would
culminate, in Marxs eyes, in the full decoupling of
work from production. Labor will cease to be the
measure of wealth, and the mode of production
which rests on the exchange value thus collapses.
By the turn of the century, Thorstein Veblen
would write of the consumption-oriented leisure
class; Alfred Marshall would note that it would
probably be well that most people should work
rather less; and the philosopher and mathematician
Bertrand Russell would argue in his essay, In Praise
of Idleness, that If every man and woman worked
for four hours a day at necessary work, we could
all have enough.
Perhaps the profoundest expression of this hope
came from John Maynard Keynes who, admist the
throes of the Great Depression, argued that high
unemployment was not not from the rheumatics
of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-
rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjust-
ment between one economic period and another.
Unemployment had soared, he wrote, because we
were inventing ways of saving labor faster than
we were nding new uses for that labor, a new
disease called technological unemployment. But
the ailment, like a growing pain, is a sign of
progress. It means that in the long run, mankind
is solving its economic problem. (italics original).
Overproduction, unemploymentare these not,
Keynes asks, kinds of social achievements? They
mean we are defeating scarcity and creating leisure.
They mean we are freeing ourselves from the clutch
of obsessive money accumulation, so that we may
cultivate into greater perfection, the art of life
itself. Like lilies of the eld who toil not, we
might learn to live for life itself.
Keynes offers us nothing less than a full-throated
liberal millennialism: the dream that capitalism will
culminate in the end of what is problematic about
capitalism; that work will end the need for work;
that self-interested acquisitiveness will expose itself
as disgusting, precisely because it succeeds. But all
this not yet. For at least another hundred years we
must pretend, Keynes slyly says, that fair is foul
and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not.
B. American Leisure Society
In the Postwar period, the leisure debate moved
from the periphery towards the center of conver-
sation. The greatest prospect that we face, no
less an the eminent economist than John Kenneth
Galbraith wrote in The Afuent Society, indeed
what must be counted one of the central economic
goals of our society, is to eliminate toil as a required
economic institution.
But we cannot achieve this
until economics reckons with the total alteration in
underlying circumstances that had transpired from
the time of Malthus to the time of automation. Orig-
inally predicated on optimizing resource allocation
in the condition of scarcity, economics had to begin
considering human well-being in the condition of
afuence. This was the central thesis of his book.
President of the United Autoworkers Union, Wal-
ter Reuther would say at the 1955 Congressional
automation hearings that if only a fraction of
what technologists promise for the future is true,
Reuther remarked, within a very few years au-
tomation can and should make possible a four-day
workweek, longer vacation periods, opportunities
of earlier retirement, as well as a vast increase in
our material standards of living. Indeed, Postwar
American was the time and place in the history
of human civilization where such a thing could be
For centuries [people] have struggled with
the economics of scarcity; now we are en-
tering that period of human history when
the tools of abundance made possible by
developing science and technology make
it possible for mankind to meet basic
economic and material needs. And, having
satised these needs, we can devote more
time, energy, and resources to facilitating
mans growth as a social being, as a
cultural and spiritual being.
That work hours should decrease inevitablythat
the thirty- or twenty-ve-hour week, the two-and-
a-half or three-day weekend, extended vacations,
early retirement for older workers, and increased
schooling for young peoples would all follow
from automation, as Reuther saidmust of seemed
reasonable at the time. Because working hours had
fallen nearly thirty percent in the United States in
proceeding half century. But the argument repre-
sents a fascinating shift in Reuthers own think-
ing. Only eight years prior, he had renounced the
reduction of work hours at a United Autoworkers
conference, asking with biting sarcasm:
Does anybody think there is a Santa Claus
who comes down from the North Pole
with all these things [we produce] in a
big red bag and dumps them in the dis-
tribution channels?...Our basic ght is to
get the purchasing power to buy the things
we make. Not to make less things, but to
make more things and to get more money
to buy the things we make. We want more
goods, and when we have enough goods,
then we will ght for more leisure.
One wonders, in automation did Reuther feel he
had found his Santa Claus?
What was left were the social questions posed,
for example, by Keynes in Economic Possibilities,
who wondered, what will people do with all this
leisure? I think with dread of the readjustment of
the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, wrote
Keynes. David Riesman, channeling Keynes, would
write that it is, extraordinary how little we have
anticipated the problems of the bountiful future.
While high productivity looks surprisingly easy,
he continued, what will be hard is guring out what
comes next.
We do not have a vocabulary for this problem,
but its answers are already working themselves
out around us. Riesman interprets the rise of the
suburbs as a tremendous but tacit revolt against
the productive work culture of the industrial age. In
their implicit antagonism to the grime of cities and
the harsh physical conditions of their factories, the
suburbanites register their preference for unroman-
tic...cosiness and voluminous consumption.
As work loses its centrality, leisure has yet to
pick up the slack. The problem of the suburbs is one
of aimlessness, a pervasive low-keyed unpleasure.
As work becomes equalized, status must be sought
out elsewhere. Riesman notes the vigor with which
housewives pursue gardening. He notes their need of
drama and bite...[of]spurs when life no longer auto-
matically provides them.
Will a future of domes-
tic handicrafts, travel, organizational activity, sports,
spectatorship, and even part-time entrepreneurship
sate us? Will house building and maintenance,
movies and TV shows, home cooking (with trading
of ethnic recipes), ower raising, and so on be
Riesman, with no irony, suggests the
establishment of a Play Progress Administration,
modeled after the New Deals Work Progress Ad-
ministration, to manage the spiritual problematics
of post-economic life.
C. Playful Anarchy
By the Sixties, radicals were concerned about
the commodied nature of the the leisure liberls
like Galbraith and Reuther were advocating for.
Mills denigrates leisure as the only option when
workis meaningless in itself. Herbert Marcuse, the
inuential Frankfurt School theorist, talks of the
technique of mass manipulation that characterizes
a world where the entertainment industry...directly
controls leisure time
But it is striking the extent to which the liberals
critics from the left, the Sixties radicals, shared a
vision of automation freeing workers from work.
The pathos of escaping from the clutch of capitalist
production pervaded. The Beatles Yellow Subma-
rine captures the hope well: the hope for a world
where we live a life of ease and everyone of us
has all we need, in this utopia where goods are
provided without labor, the Yellow Submarine.
One radical publication from the suburbs of
Chicago, Rebel Worker, dened their left position,
in opposition to the so-called traditional left, as
life lived in the limitless possibilities of the free
imagination in conditions of playful anarchy.
Their name was an allusion to an old IWW pub-
lication, but alsomore importanta statement
that rebelling against the premise of capitalist labor
would dene their political position.
In an essay, On the Unwholesomeness of Honest
Toil, they write that if life is sold in toto on
an auction block or piecemeal in personnel ofces,
its still life thats being sold. Perhaps in the past
society truly needed labor, but at the moment, with
over forty thousand jobs being lost to automation
each week, its a rather anachronistic proposition.
They quote from the nineteenth-century utopian
socialist Paul Lafarge, who wrote The Right to be
Lazy in 1880, saying that the proletariat...despising
its historic mission, has let itself be perverted by
the dogma of work. So ideologically captured,
the wage-earner does not yet understand that the
machine is the savior of humanity, the god who shall
redeem man from the sordid arts and from working
for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and
Rosemont makes this argument distinctly Amer-
ican. In the very rst paragraph of the very rst ar-
ticle published by the Chicago Surrealist Group, an
offshot of Rebel Worker, he wrote Situation of Sur-
realism in the U.S. as a crisis of monopoly capital-
ism, where colonial revolutions abroad...provoke
increased automation at home. But then the passage
turns to uncertainty. It will be agreed that the
multifarious implications of the automation revolu-
tion are as yet too poorly understood, too vaguely
outlined, for everyone to predict accurately the chain
of events of which we are at the moment only
observers in the night, participants in the fog.
Then it blooms into hope:
But it is certain, at least as Herbert Mar-
cuse has shown in his important work
Eros and Civilization, that material con-
ditions in the world today are historically
ready for a revolution greater in scope
than ever conceived by parties and groups
of the traditional Left, a revolution aimed
at the total liberation of man, or, in Mar-
cuses words, a non-repressive civiliza-
Marcuses text Eros and Civilization was written
because he wanted to produce, in the words of his
biographer, a theory that would explain why rev-
olutionary consciousness had failed to develop.
He wanted to answer the question Lafarge posed,
which is why the grip of the dogma of work was
so strongwhy people were not lazy, why they
did not play.
In Marcuses eyes, Freuds psychology was, at
best, a social psychology, and above all, a study
of repression. Civilization was built on the sub-
stitution of the pleasure principle, a love of play
that we are born with, for the reality principle,
a regime of deferred gratication on which all
work depends. The great traumatic event in the
development of mana trauma re-inicted upon
every lifeis the realization that full and painless
gratication of his needs is impossible. In exchang-
ing the pleasure principle for the reality principle,
the individual lets society organize his desires.
It transubstantiates his instinctive freedom. If
absence of repression is the archetype of freedom,
Marcuse asserts, the key claim of his radical Freudi-
anism, then civilization is the struggle against this
The promise of automation is that it frees society
from the material necessity of this repression. Un-
der the ideal conditions of mature industrial civi-
lization, alienation would be completed by general
automation of labor, reduction of labor time to a
minimum, and exchangeability of functions.
Since the length of the working day is itself
one of the principal repressive factors imposed upon
the pleasure principle by the reality principle, the
reduction of the working day to the point where the
mere quantum of labor time no longer arrests human
development is the rst prerequisite for freedom.
In his widely-read One Dimensional Man, written
ve years later, Marcuse goes further. To perhaps
the central question of his most widely-read book,
What are the prospects for containment of rev-
olution? Marcuse answers through extended dis-
cussion of automation. The centrifugal tendency
of the welfare society to destroy its own base for
repression is inherent in technological progress
It seems that automation to the limits of
technical possibility is incompatible with a society
based on the private exploitation of human labor
power in the process of production, which is to say,
it is incompatible with capitalism. Automation,
Marcuse declares, once it became the process of
material production, would revolutionize the whole
society. It would shatter the reied form of labor
by cutting the chain that ties the individual to
the machinerythe mechanism through which his
own labor enslaves him. And it would, in turn,
give the individual the dimension of free time
as the one in which mans private and societal
existence would constitute itself. This would be, he
declares, the historical transcendence toward a new
Theres not single fucking place where its
still 1967.a San Franciscan voice, 1974,
reported by Armistead Maupin
What happened? What became of the dreams
automation inspired? Since the Sixties, American
real per capita GDP has grown by nearly three
hundred percent. This number, if anything, vastly
understates the extent of growth, according to U.C.
Berkeley economist Brad Delong, because it fails to
take adequate account of quality-per-dollar changes.
Delong guesstimates that material improvements
add an extra one percent growth per yearmaking
wealth per capita today, by this estimate, a full ve
hundred percent higher than when Diebold wrote.
This has hardly delivered us a leisure society.
To the contrary, the average two-parent household
works twenty ve percent more total hours today
than in the Sixties, as women moved into the work-
The number of college-educated males
working fty-hour weeks has increased by nearly
fty percent.
As for the hope for free labor,
the admittedly crude measure of self-reported job
satisfaction suggests things are moving in the wrong
direction. One extensive survey shows an eight
percent decline in very high job satisfaction from
the early Seventies to the mid-Nineties, and another
that satisfaction dropped sixteen percent from the
mid-Eighties to today.
At the most macro-level,
William Easterlin nds no statistical relationship
between the pace of economic growth and total life
What explains the distance between the apparent
success of the Postwar lefts predictions of abun-
dance and the apparent failure of its program for
work? I want to conclude by suggesting four broad
hypothesestwo economic, pertaining to matters
of technology, and two discursive, pertaining to
matters of culturefor future researchers who want
to reconstruct the status of the Postwar program for
A. Age of Stagnation
One set of answers to the question, What hap-
pened? begins by noting that automation, and the
advanced technologies it came to symbolize, simply
failed as technologies against the high hopes of
Stagnating Vehicle Speed Records
Figure 4. Vehicle speed records according to
the Postwar period. Rather than accelerate, techno-
logical change decelerated. After a hundred years
of rapid increases in passenger and freight vehicle
speeds, from the horse to the Boeing 707 intro-
duced in 1958, average speeds essentially baselined.
Similar observations can be made across a range of
consumer products. From the early part of the 20th
Century to the Fifties, the average family went from
using wood stoves, ice boxes, horse and carriage,
brooms, and doctors who practiced bloodletting, to
using central heat, refrigerators, cars, vacuums, and
widely available penicillin. In early 20th Century,
Jules Verne imagined a world of spaceships, sub-
marines, and radios, and that is roughly the world,
by the Fifties, that we had.
Nothing nearly so dramaticwith the impor-
tant exception of information technology, discussed
belowchanged the material lives of the average
American in the subsequent sixty years, who have
kitchens that look roughly the same as they did in
Diebolds time, and whose cars drive roughly as
fast. Supporting this anecdotal observation are the
best econometrics data, which say that from 1972 to
today, productivity slowed down from 2.36 percent
per year in the previous century to 1.59 percent per
Technologies always thwart our hopes with the
complexity of implementation. The advent of glob-
alization, meanwhile, driven by low-tech innova-
tions like the standardized shipping container, made
it cheaper for manufacturers to arbitrage global
wage disparity than to invent more sophisticated
automation technologies. It became easier for rms
like Nike to use brute manual labor in outsourced
plants to to invent shoe-building robots.
Finally, perhaps, it is simply better to understand
our past abundance as the picking of a succession
of economic low-hanging fruit that cannot be
picked again, rather than the creation of a permanent
state of technological progress: the cultivation of
unused land in the West; the commercialization
of industrial technology; the expansion of higher
education; the postwar European reconstruction; the
movement of women into the workforce. As these
opportunities have hit diminishing returns, so too
has the growth of the U.S. economy slowed.
B. Age of Inequality
At the same time, the benets of growth have
not been shared evenly. Despite per capita GDP
growth of over a hundred and sixty percent since
the Eighties, the median income in America has
increased by only eleven percent. The incomes of
the top one percent and top tenth of a percent,
by contrast, have increased by sixty three percent
and one hundred and fteen percent, respectively.
From the Diebolds writing until today, the top one
percent have increased their share of the national
income from around one out of every ten dollars
earned to more than six out of every ten dollars
After the Great Compression of the
Fifties, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul
Krugman called it, came the Great Divergence of
the Eighties.
Critics from the Sixties predicted that automation
would stratify the labor force into an elite group
of technical workers with the rest of us tending the
machines or lling in the labor gaps. Suggesting this
very outcome, MIT Economist David Autor notes
that most job growth in the past twenty years has
occurred either at the highest levels of skill or the
lowest levels of skill, with the those in the middle
the jobs of the middle classdisappearing the
Just as technological progress has unequal effects
on the price of labor, it has similarly unequal effects
on the price of the goods it produces. Technology
has succeeded at decreasing the costs of all sorts
of manufactured goods. The average family spends
twenty one percent less on clothing than they did
in the Seventies (adjusted for ination), twenty-two
percent less on food, and forty-four percent less
on major appliances.
But the goods that are not
manufactured have increased in costs. Medical costs
have increased by around four hundred and fty
percent since 1982.
Public and private universities
costs increased around one hundred and twenty ve
percent since the Sixties, and the cost of a house
for the average family increased from seventy two
thousand in the mid-Eighties to one hundred and
twenty thousand in by the early Aughts.
All told, if you subtract out the costs of mortgage,
health care, services like childcare and education,
the amount left over for the average two parent
family in early Two Thousands is almost exactly
the same (indeed, slightly less) than it was for the
average two parent family in early Seventies. This
despite the fact that our average couple today has
two parents in the workforce. To call this remark-
able is an understatement. Since the early Eighties,
America has seen a two hundred and fty percent
increase in foreclosure rates, a four hundred and
thirty percent increase in bankruptcy rolls, and a
ve hundred and seventy percent increase in credit
card debt. This is not what our Postwar theorists of
abundance would have predicted.
C. Age of Scarcity
As the Seventies opened, Yale Law School pro-
fessor Charles Reich testied to the hope of the pro-
ceeding two decades by predicting, in an ebullient
bestseller, that the culture, clothes, music, drugs,
ways of thought, and liberated life-styles of the
Sixties constituted a revolution of consciousness
that is both necessary and inevitable and will in
time expand to all people. We are witnessing, he
announced in the title of his book, The Greening of
The decade that followed seemed set on em-
barrassing Reichs optimism. Oil crises, staga-
tion, Watergate, urban disorder, Iranian hostage
situationthe Seventies were the Decade of Night-
mares, in historian Philip Jenkins phrase.
mullahs in Saudi Arabia could set in motion a global
recession, and an eight hundred percent inationary
spiral in the price of oil, spoke to the limits of
technologys promise. In the rst quarter of 1975,
growth declined by nearly ve percent. The stock
market lost almost half its value. Food prices rose
by twenty percent.
The age of abundance has ended, Harvard his-
torian David Herbert Donald atly declared in the
Times in 1977. The people of plenty have become
the people of paucity.
The simultaneous rise
of ination and unemployment deed the expecta-
tions of Philips Curve, deating the Keynesians
optimism. The energy crisis caught us with our
parameters down, Walter Heller remarked. The
food crisis caught us too. This was a year of infamy
in ination forecasting. There are many things we
really just dont know
Thus a third hypothesis is that Americans stopped
talking the end of work purchased through afuence
because they stopped believing they had achieved
afuence. Perhaps my most useful function as a
historian, Donaldson said dramatically, would be to
disenthrall [my students] from the spell of history, to
help them see the irrelevance of the past... Rarely,
it seems, have national moods shifted so markedly.
The ght against ination that transpired through
the Seventies proceeded on often frankly moralistic
terms, as if beating ination required that one be
convinced life cannot be enjoyed without work, that
there can be no pleasure without pain. Eminent
economists James Buchanan and Richard Wagner
wrote in Democracy in Decit that, Just as an
alcoholic might embrace Alcoholics Anonymous,
so might a nation drunk on decits and gorged
with government embrace a balanced budget and
monetary stability. Indeed, they linked ination to
the zeitgeist of the Sixties:
A generalized erosion in public and pri-
vate manners, increasingly liberalized atti-
tudes toward sexual activities, a declining
vitality of the Puritan work ethic, dete-
rioration in product quality, explosion of
the welfare rolls...Buchanan and Wagner
2000, Pgs. 159-292
Ination fueled this all. Enjoy, enjoythe impera-
tive of our time, they sneared, as if to ask, Who,
amidst nightmares, has the audacity to talk about
leisure? Who, amidst paucity, has the temerity
to ask that work be joy?
D. Age of Pleasure
But the simple narrative that the Seventies consti-
tuted a backlash in the name of propriety against the
Sixties, facilitating the rise of conservatism in the
Eighties, misses the essential connections between
the three periods. Culturally, of course, the Seventies
mainstreamed some of the very excesses that
those in authority were denouncing. Mad Magazine
and Taxi Driver, Animal House and Saturday Night
Live, brought drugs, sex, and critiques of authority
into ordinary living rooms. What had become un-
thinkable under Eisenhower, John Updike quipped,
and racy under Kennedy, had become, under Ford,
almost compulsory.
But there are deeper connections to be found.
Can we not hear some essential connections be-
tween Buchanans scolds about the Welfare state
and Charles Reichs concern about concentrated
bureaucratic power? Can we not sense some sim-
ilarities between the atomized individualism of the
rising free market economics and the atomized indi-
vidualism of the Sixties radicals? Consider Reichs
vision of revolution:
The Corporate State cannot be fought by
the legal, political, or power methods that
are the only means ever used up to now
by revolutionists and proponents of so-
cial change. We must no longer depend
wholly upon political or legal activism,
upon structural [including technological]
change, upon liberal or even radical as-
saults on existing power. Such methods,
used exclusively, are certain to fail. The
only plan that will [work] is one that
will be greeted by most social activists
with disbelief and disparagement, yet it is
entirely realistic, given the nature of the
contemporary State: revolution by con-
The nal hypotheses is the most expansive: Re-
ichs anger at the Corporate State, and his pro-
posed retreat from the political on behalf of the psy-
chological, helped denude the left of a rhetorically
plausible case for social democratic institutions just
when those institutions were in crisis. By attacking
the leisure society on behalf of free work and liber-
ated play, the radicals created a rhetorical void into
which free market capitalism could step, justifying
itself on behalf of entrepreneurial creativity, syn-
thesizing certain hopes of the anti-work heterodoxy
into work itself.
For Christopher Lasch the bridge between the
Sixties and the Eighties was the narcissistic
personality-type, the man who lived only for him-
self, only for the momentthe personality that cap-
italism reveled in. That darkest of thinkers, Marquis
de Sade, said that unlimited self-indulgence is the
logical culmination of the revolution in property
relations, and so it was, for Lasch, of the Sixties.
The pursuit of pleasure disguises a struggle for
In The Culture of Narcissism, Lasch heaps scorn
on ex-radicals like Jerry Rubin who sought the
continuation of their left politics, as Rubin put
it, in health foods, tai chi, Esalen, hypnotism,
modern dance, meditation...a smorgasbord course
in New Consciousness.
By the Eighties, this for-
mer spokesman for youth anti-authoritarianism was
running a multi-level vitamin marketing startup and
consulting for investment banks. He summarized his
own trajectory by speaking of his generation:
I see the Yuppies as the most potentially
positive social force in the country. Its
the baby boomers, who in the 60s were
into disruption, in the 70s were into per-
sonal growth and self-improvement, and
in the 80s are into business and money...I
think were moving into a period of en-
trepreneurial capitalism, which will be
based on small business. Were also mov-
ing from an industrial society to a society
of biotechnology, electronics, computers,
information. The base is changing. And
whos doing it? The same people who
were wearing face paint and had long hair
in the 60s.
As Rubin alludes, nowhere was the fusion of Six-
ties rhetoric and raw capitalism more apparent than
in the changing valence of the computer metaphor.
Forty ve years after Mario Savio spoke desparag-
ingly of the IBM card as a symbol of repression at
Cal, Steve Jobs would stand before Stanford gradu-
ates a few miles south at their Commencement, and
note that he had dropped out of school to pursue
Satori (and drop acid), and would summarize his
hopes from the Sixties by way of quote from Stewart
Brands Whole Earth Catalogue, a countercultural
publication that sought to help commune-dwellers
escape civilization by teaching them about hand
sawing techniques, on the one hand, and Norbert
Wieners cybernetics theories, on the other. Jobs
described work at Apple in almost straightforwardly
Millsian and Goodmanian language: Your work is
going to ll a large part of your life, and the only
way to be truly satised is to do what you believe
is great work. And the only way to do great work
is to love what you do.
Today, the language of autonomy and play in
work is de jure at vanguard rms. Google adorns
its campuses with beanbag chairs and gives each
employee one free day a week to work on any
project they want. Google is not aggressively bid-
ding through compensation incentives to attract
scarce talent at the top of Americas highly polar-
ized labor marke; rather, it is building a company
which means something more than just searching
the internet...
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
declared in his letter to investors on the dawn of the
companys IPO that Facebook was not originally
created to be a company. It was built to accomplish
a social mission to make the world more open and
connected. Facebook is not an advertising company
whose goal is not to attract users attention through
low marginal cost entertainment streams, so that
it can gather personal information and sell other
peoples products more effectively. Rather, it is a
social movement.
Facebook currently trades at one hundred and
seventy eight billion dollars; Google and Apple
are the second largest and largest companies in
the world, respectively. Their commitment to the
language of autonomy and play is not an ephemeral
oddity in the history of capitalism, but a state-
ment about capitalisms own forward-looking self-
denition. Marx once said that radicals in America
had proven themselves to be handmaidens of the
petite-bourgeois, always teaching the capitalists how
they had to change in order to survive.
perpetual cooptation of its critics is a model of
how capitalism becomes more humane, or of how
it forties itself through ideological manipulation
depending on how you choose to look at it.
E. In Our Time?
A few years ago, the creator of the rst Web
browser, and one of the most important technology
investors in the world, Marc Andreessen explained
in the Wall Street Journal that software is eating
the world.
Anything that can be remade by the
Internet, he explained, will be. We might as well
substitute automation for the the Internet: this
is the deus ex machina of our own time, threatening
and promising to change everything. Founder of
Wired Magazine, Kevin Kelly, took to the mag-
azines pages recently to explain Why Robots
Will And Must Take Our Jobs.
Nobel Prize-
winning economist Paul Krugman has expressed his
Sympathy for the Luddites,
and former Trea-
sury Secretary and President of Harvard University
Lawrence Summers used a valedictory speech to
Until a few years ago, I didnt think
this was a very complicated subject; the
Luddites were wrong and the believers
in technology and technological progress
were right. Im not so completely certain
Seemingly, it is the historians role to disabuse us
of these prophecies by explaining how often they
are wrong. But my hope in telling the story of
the Postwar automation discourse was something
different: I wanted to remind us of how people once
Fuchs 1963
Braestrup 1962
Times 1963
Bigarts 1955; Automation Tied to Home Tension
Times 1957
Stablization 1955
Stablization 1955, pg. 53
Diebold 1952
Mindell 2004, see pgs. 275-307
Wiener 1961, pg. 7
The Signicance of Productivity Data, pg. 53
Solow 1962
Hodgson 1976, quoted on pg. 49
Collins 2000, quoted in pg. 54
The Signicance of Productivity Data, pg. 53
Harrod 1939
Solow 1956, pg. 65
Einzig 1957, pgs. viii-ix
Solow 1956, pg. 65
Salvation by Automation 1956
Stablization 1955, pg. 58
Administration 1912, pg. 5
Taylor 1907, pg. 4
Diebold 1970, pg. 66
Diebold 1959, pg. 34
Diebold 1970, pg. 5
Hounshell 2000, quoted on pg. 168
Stablization 1955, pg. 57
Stablization 1955, pg. 55
Hounshell 2000, quoted on pg. 121
Stablization 1955, pg. 58
Stablization 1955, pg. 111
Automation Gain Is Seen in Russia
Petrovski 1990, quoted on 282
Galbraith 1970, pg.86
Brick 2006, quoted on pg. 160
Bell 1962, pg. 402
Salvation by Automation 1956, pg. 13
Maier 1988, quoted on pg. 66
Khurana 2010, xxxxxxxxxx
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Macy 1917, pg. 3
Cooke 1913, pg. 493
Maier 1988, pg. 65
Kakar 1974, quoted on pg. 105
Kakar 1974, pg. 184
American Federationist 1911, pg. 277
Kakar 1974, quoted on pg. 98
Diebold 1959, pg. 35
Diebold 1970, pg. 7
Walker 1976, pg. 199
Walker 1976, pg. xix
Walker 1976, pg. 19293
Walker 1976, pg. 202
Walker 1976, pg. xxii
Diebold 1959, pg. 6
Adorno 2005, pg. 150
Pollock 1957, pg. 86
Boguslaw 1981, pg. 18
Leaver and Brown 1946
Raskin 1955
Bix 2000, quoted on 251
Advisers 1963, pg. XV
Committee 1964, pg. 178-781
Committee 1964, pg. 98
Committee 1964, pg. 1408
Lothstein 1970, pg. 169
Cowie 2013, quoted on pg. 2
Cowie 2013, quoted on pg. 2
Cowie 2013, Quoted in pg. 4
Weller 1974, quoted on pg. 4
Weller 1974, quoted on pg. 5
Garson 1972
Braverman 1998, pg. 3
Smith 1987, pgs. 166, 301
Mills 2002, pg. 182
Mills 2002, Quoted on pg. 235
Goodman 2012, 23
Goodman 2012, pg. 1
Cohen and Zelnik 2002, pg. 119
Elkholy 2012, pg. 228
Ginsberg 1956, pg. 21
Diebold 1970, pg. 27
Berg 1982, quoted on pg. 285
Mill 1998, pg. 126-127
Marx and Engels 1972, pg. 53
Harvey 1999, quoted on pg. 90
Pecchi and Piga 2010, pg. 166
Galbraith 1998, pgs. 302-303
Stablization 1955, pg. 101
Cutler 2008, pg. 35
Riesman 1964, pg. 182
Riesman 1964, pg. 105
Riesman 1964, pg. 237
Riesman 1964, pg. 256
Riesman 1964, pgs. 15761
Marcuse 1974, Pg. 48
Rosemont and Radcliffe 2005, pg. 15
Rosemont and Radcliffe 2005, pg. 16868
Rosemont and Radcliffe 2005, pg. 168
Rosemont, Rosemont, and Garon 1997, pg. 1
Kellner 1984, pg. 154
Marcuse 1974, Pg. 15
Marcuse 2013, Pg. 35
Marcuse 2013, Pg. 35
Jenkins and State 2006, pg. 47
DeLong 2000
Charts Multimedia
Jacobs and Gerson 2004, pg. 35
Blanchower and Oswald 1999; Only 45% Of Workers Are
Satised In Their Jobs, A Record Low 2010
Introducing This Blog
Warren 2004, pgs. 15-18
Summers 2013
Warren 2004, pg. 51
Reich 1995, pg. 4
Jenkins and State 2006
Reich 1995, pg. 4
Donald 1977
Pivotal Decade, quoted on Loc. 2387 (Kindle)
Updike 1994
Lasch 1979, pg. 127
Rubin 1976, pg. 20
Jerry Rubin
Stanford and 94305.723-2300 2005
Laszlo 2011
Blackburn, Lincoln, and Marx 2011, pg. 242
Andreessen 2011
Better Than Human
Krugman 2013
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