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Tools of capitalist managers

atbell

TRIBE Member
A starting tangent.

Hope you dont mind if I go off on a bit of an (other) tangent...

Im assuming you're an engineer

Engineering is a very good example:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Professional Engineers Ontario ([url
www.peo.on.ca)][/url] Through the Code of Ethics, professional engineers have a clearly defined duty to society, which is to regard the duty to public welfare as paramount, above their duties to clients or employers.

Of course I dont mean to pick on engineers or anything, but you may find the work of David F. Noble very interesting
Particularly Forces of Production, published in 1984 (not '75 as wikipedia mistakenly states), "a social history of industrial automation".
From the dustjacket:
[for those who may not know: "metalworking industry - the heart of a modern industrial economy" means "machine tools" = the machines that make the other machinery that makes everything else]

Quote:
This provocative study of the post-war automation of the American metalworking industry - the heart of a modern industrial economy - explains how dominant institutions like the great corporations, the universities, and the military, along with the ideology of modern engineering, actually shape the development of technology itself.
Noble shows how the system of "numerical control," perfected at MIT and put into general industrial use, was chosen over competing systems for reasons other than the technical and economic superiority typically advanced by its promoters. Numerical control took shape at an MIT laboratory rather than in a manufacturing setting, and a market for the new technology was created, not by cost-minded producers, but instead by the U.S. Air Force. Meanwhile, competing methods, equally promising, were rejected because, among other reasons, they left control of production in the hands of skilled workers, rather than in those of management or programmers. Thus, Noble demonstrates, engineering design is influenced by political, economic, managerial, and sociological considerations, while the deployment of equipment - illustrated by a detailed case history of a large General Electric plant in Massachusetts - can become entangled with such matters as labour classification, shop organization, managerial responsibility, and patterns of authority.
In its examination of technology as a human, social process, Forces of Production is a pathbreaking contribution to the understanding of this phenomenon in American society.

Its very well done.. hes very 'political', obviously, but very intellectually fair, reasonable, consistent, etc, not some raving leftist ideologue.. former professor of the history of technology at MIT and "Curator of Industrial Automation at the museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute" (a position he had to leave b/c his ideas bothered some people)
The history is very concrete. I was thinking you'd probably find the stuff about engineering and technology interesting
Hi-tech engineering involving computers in particular was born out of very particular ideas that in context become kind of unsettling: "total control", "command & control", all explicitly about projecting control, thats where a lot of "automation" comes out of, and these foundational ideas had a very formative influence on how the field has developed since (and the influences that determined those original ideas have continued to play significant roles as well)

Another good one is America by Design ("Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism"), which Science magazine summarized very conservatively: "Arguing the thesis that 'the history of modern technology in America is of a piece with that of the rise of corporate capitalism,' Noble contends that the industrial transformation that took place in the United States between 1880 and 1930 owed much of its impetus to a relatively small cadre of scientists and engineers who shared a devotion to the spirit and objectives of large-scale private enterprise. ...within the period covered by this book, Noble has explored, with many insights, a series of key developments whose connections have not been previously examined."
The New Republic is more to the point: "an extraordinarily detailed and closely argued examination of the institutional devices that came to link management and engineering." <-- that really concisely sums up why its so interesting, and its not wishy-washy, its written with a strong (actually 'sympathetic' Id say) scientific sensibility... also, connections to the military and WWI are very specific and influential, not as extreme and total as they would be in WWII though

He talks about Norbert Wiener: (the wikipedia entry greatly understates his political convictions)
Quote:
Originally Posted by en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norbert_Wiener
mathematician and applied mathematician, especially in the field of electronics engineering. He was a pioneer in the study of stochastic processes (random processes) and noise processes, especially in the field of electronic communication systems and control systems. He is known as the founder of cybernetics. He coined the term "cybernetics" in his book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (MIT Press, 1948), widely recognized as one of the most important books of contemporary scientific thinking. [...]He thus represents a watershed period in American mathematics. Wiener did much valuable work in defense systems for the United States, particularly during World War II and the Cold War.
[...]
After World War II, Wiener became increasingly concerned with what he saw as political interference in scientific research, and the militarization of science. He published the article "A Scientist Rebels" in the January 1947 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, in which he urged scientists to consider the ethical implications of their work. He himself refused to accept any government funding or to work on military projects. He was a strong proponent for using automation to improve the standard of living, and to develop impoverished areas. These ideas were very influential in India, and he advised the Indian government during the 1950s.

He also refused to advise industry (as in, management) (and you can imagine he was probably turning down pretty enormous amounts of money doing so) on how to implement his ideas to management's advantage at the cost of workers, help enhance employers "command and control"
Instead he wrote to unions urging them to take action and offering to help them, warning them about cybernetics "falling into the wrong hands", explaining that he was refusing to help degrade workers and destroy jobs, but, sooner or later, others less sympathetic to labour would, and how the consequences of this kind of technology and his ideas in the future could be severe
Of course it didn't have to be, it could just as well be developed to empower people more widely... but look at who the engineers that developed computing worked for... literally totalitarian commanders: the allied command at the height of WWII, the most powerful military command establishment ever, and then continuing into the Cold War... thats who developed the technology, then it went to business management
So its not so extreme when Noble describes (emphasis added to the really cool line) "private capital, scientized and subsidized, mobile and global, and now heavily armed with military-spawned command, control and communications technologies. Empowered by the second industrial revolution, capital is moving decisively now to enlarge and consolidate the social domination it secured in the first."
This is good stuf but I am tired. More tomorow.

oh, and I am not an engeineer although I do have an engineering degree.
 

atbell

TRIBE Member
This provocative study of the post-war automation of the American metalworking industry - the heart of a modern industrial economy - explains how dominant institutions like the great corporations, the universities, and the military, along with the ideology of modern engineering, actually shape the development of technology itself.
Something to be understood about engineering is that it was developed by the military. The first engineers were military men who used a mix of science, know how, and elbow grease to solve very specific problems. Early engineers would have build catapults, earthworks, and been responsible for battle innovations such as sapping (digging under enemy walls and then collapsing the tunnels to bring down the walls).

This influence can be seen in one of the key elements of engineering training which is problem solving methodology. The math and science elements are actually secondary to what engineers learn, they are simply tools. Engineering is more about the application of those tools to achieve desired results. This problem solving discipline is why corporations love engineers.

As for universities roll in engineering. Ah, they've got the knowledge, people are willing to pay to get it. Why do students pay for it? I know there are people who see only dollar signs. I just like to know how things work. Oh, and destructive testing always held an allure for me.

Noble shows how the system of "numerical control," perfected at MIT and put into general industrial use, was chosen over competing systems for reasons other than the technical and economic superiority typically advanced by its promoters. Numerical control took shape at an MIT laboratory rather than in a manufacturing setting, and a market for the new technology was created, not by cost-minded producers, but instead by the U.S. Air Force. Meanwhile, competing methods, equally promising, were rejected because, among other reasons, they left control of production in the hands of skilled workers, rather than in those of management or programmers. Thus, Noble demonstrates, engineering design is influenced by political, economic, managerial, and sociological considerations, while the deployment of equipment - illustrated by a detailed case history of a large General Electric plant in Massachusetts - can become entangled with such matters as labour classification, shop organization, managerial responsibility, and patterns of authority.
In its examination of technology as a human, social process, Forces of Production is a pathbreaking contribution to the understanding of this phenomenon in American society.
Control theory is amazing stuff. It is one of the few subjects I really eat up even if I hated doing the practice work. The use of control theory enables complex systems to be modeled and reduced to very usable work from horribly complicated beasts.

I can see how labour wouldn't like this stuff. It lets one engineer do the work of ten people more accurately then they could ever hope to. I wouldn't be quick to dismiss this relatively new application as a conspiracy, although I would have to read more about the history before I was firm on anything.

And yes it is essential for the military. Control theory IS rocket science, it's that simple. It's behind the propulsion systems used in rockets and it keeps them going straight. As a note, control theory is also essential in the detonation of nuclear weapons.

Arguing the thesis that 'the history of modern technology in America is of a piece with that of the rise of corporate capitalism,' Noble contends that the industrial transformation that took place in the United States between 1880 and 1930 owed much of its impetus to a relatively small cadre of scientists and engineers who shared a devotion to the spirit and objectives of large-scale private enterprise.
No argument there. Say ten guys get together thinking "how are we going to get rich?" And one of them says "why don't we make something, but instead of doing it like slow Joe over there we will do it six times as fast. Not only that but if we sell all over the country we can make it cheaper then him too." Then they work on mass production.

After World War II, Wiener became increasingly concerned with what he saw as political interference in scientific research, and the militarization of science. He published the article "A Scientist Rebels" in the January 1947 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, in which he urged scientists to consider the ethical implications of their work. He himself refused to accept any government funding or to work on military projects
I don't think this began after WWII. Much like the birth of engineering, research has long been influenced by the military. There is a part of me that wonders to what degree scientists and engineers should be "moral" in their work. Aren't moral decisions the realm of politics, religion, and philosophy?

He also refused to advise industry (as in, management) (and you can imagine he was probably turning down pretty enormous amounts of money doing so) on how to implement his ideas to management's advantage at the cost of workers, help enhance employers "command and control"
Instead he wrote to unions urging them to take action and offering to help them, warning them about cybernetics "falling into the wrong hands", explaining that he was refusing to help degrade workers and destroy jobs, but, sooner or later, others less sympathetic to labour would, and how the consequences of this kind of technology and his ideas in the future could be severe
These are thoughts that Dickens might have expressed.

If you want a some hard line moralizing you could say that Nobel was immoral for withholding the technology from management because it stalled the process of shedding unneeded labour which could then have gone on to become productive in other spheres.

If he really wanted to help the people he would have dumped his technology as soon as he could and then would have confronted the problem, which we have yet to confront, of how to get labour shed from one area to be picked up by another.

Good or bad, that's the trend right now. Job security is almost non-existent and dealing with that in a globally competitive way is paramount to having a sound modern economy.

(that's pretty off the cuff but I am sure that people here will be ready to point out problems above ;) )

So are engineers tools of capitalist managers. I would say no.

They use tools for capitalist managers, military managers, and themselves.
 

deafplayer

TRIBE Member
atbell said:
Something to be understood about engineering is that it was developed by the military. The first engineers were military men who used a mix of science, know how, and elbow grease to solve very specific problems. Early engineers would have build catapults, earthworks, and been responsible for battle innovations such as sapping (digging under enemy walls and then collapsing the tunnels to bring down the walls).

This influence can be seen in one of the key elements of engineering training which is problem solving methodology. The math and science elements are actually secondary to what engineers learn, they are simply tools. Engineering is more about the application of those tools to achieve desired results. This problem solving discipline is why corporations love engineers.
Thats interesting
Once you get back into the old history, it also becomes a matter of what practices end up getting recorded as "engineering", recognised as special skills, then cultivated with extra resources etc...
There's reason to think that, to the extent that 'engineers' (or ppl who do something like engineering, I guess this would have included ppl like masons and blacksmiths) have exclusive prestige, they (and their practices) have quite possibly been cultivated by those who can grant to them prestige (the local burgher, lets say - or, other professionals)

As for universities roll in engineering. Ah, they've got the knowledge, people are willing to pay to get it. Why do students pay for it? I know there are people who see only dollar signs.
and social status, recognition, the chance for a life of creative work in which you can cultivate skills (which Im assuming is something basically universally enjoyed) and so on
Control theory is amazing stuff. It is one of the few subjects I really eat up even if I hated doing the practice work. The use of control theory enables complex systems to be modeled and reduced to very usable work from horribly complicated beasts.

I can see how labour wouldn't like this stuff. It lets one engineer do the work of ten people more accurately then they could ever hope to. I wouldn't be quick to dismiss this relatively new application as a conspiracy, although I would have to read more about the history before I was firm on anything.
[…]
No argument there. Say ten guys get together thinking "how are we going to get rich?" And one of them says "why don't we make something, but instead of doing it like slow Joe over there we will do it six times as fast. Not only that but if we sell all over the country we can make it cheaper then him too." Then they work on mass production.
That’s the problem… I cant get into it at length at this moment, but doesn’t that seem suspiciously convenient? It seems to be entirely self-justifying
There are two implications: the creators are driven by productivity and efficiency, and society cultivates such things as well, they compliment each other (hence your logic, that if ppl thought about how to get rich they would come to the conclusion that they should invent some kind of super-human production system - because that’s what society will reward, thats what its looking for)

But it is self-evident that productivity means nothing if its not under your control

There are also assumptions built into the professional education I mentioned earlier that show up here… about “accuracy”, the desirability of eliminating human error, about “one engineer doing the work of ten people more accurately than they could ever hope to”, which does sound quite desirable and impressive

Again I cant get into length at the moment, but, then again, I also cant tell how serious youre being (see below)

also, a question: do they teach about these kinds of social/political questions in engineering programs? Are they discussed?
Given the Engineers of Ontario (or Ontario Engineers?) 'code of ethics' or whatever exactly it was called, that you posted a link to earlier (it said the first duty is to serve the interests of the public (or 'society'?) even ahead of the clientel).... given that supposed primary purpose, one might expect there to be a great deal of emphasis put on such issues (and society to look very diffierent)
I don't think this began after WWII. Much like the birth of engineering, research has long been influenced by the military. There is a part of me that wonders to what degree scientists and engineers should be "moral" in their work. Aren't moral decisions the realm of politics, religion, and philosophy?
I don’t even know what to say… this is relevant to our ‘professionalism’ discussion
The fact that the idea is actually common, that certain work should be exempt from morality, seems to strongly support the theory that professionals are professionals precisely because they serve powerful interests……ie, it’s the other way around: people who serve powerful interests are deemed “professionals”, given privilege even up to the point of it being a pretty common notion that they should be exempt from morality in their work (and work characterized specifically by being very powerful and important to society, at that!)

These are thoughts that Dickens might have expressed.

If you want a some hard line moralizing you could say that Nobel was immoral for withholding the technology from management because it stalled the process of shedding unneeded labour which could then have gone on to become productive in other spheres.
This was not Noble it was Weiner, inventor of cybernetics!

If he really wanted to help the people he would have dumped his technology as soon as he could and then would have confronted the problem, which we have yet to confront, of how to get labour shed from one area to be picked up by another.

Good or bad, that's the trend right now. Job security is almost non-existent and dealing with that in a globally competitive way is paramount to having a sound modern economy.

(that's pretty off the cuff but I am sure that people here will be ready to point out problems above;))
Yes I think I’ll try… lets just cut out some of the 'content' and look at the framework:

“If he really wanted to help the people he would have… confronted the problem…
Good or bad

So yeah I totally disagree obviously :) but I cant tell how serious your being

So are engineers tools of capitalist managers. I would say no.

They use tools for capitalist managers, military managers, and themselves.
Noones suggested they’re merely tools of capitalist managers.. from the beginning, a main point was that they enrich themselves, and its power and privilege generally, to which they belong, and which happens to tend to correlate with wealth
 

atbell

TRIBE Member
This ones' so good it gets it's own reply:

deafplayer said:
also, a question: do they teach about these kinds of social/political questions in engineering programs? Are they discussed?
ROFLMAF

....


Ah... no.

Well, kind of. Every engineering program accredited by the PEO is required to have a course on ethics. The course material is scrutinized by the PEO every 4 or 5 years or something like that.

Here's the UWO course description:
"ES 498F/G, Engineering Ethics, Sustainable Development and the Law
Description: This course will cover professionalism, ethical theory, the code of ethics and enforcement; the environment; and contracts and risk."

All of this is covered in 3 x 1 hour per week classes over 4 months.

To get a feel for the nature of this course, in my year they had some TA who was a chemical engineer who marked our single essay out of 20 ... using two decimal point "accuracy". So marks of 12.36/20 were possible on the essay.

I will let you decide how much Ethics one really gets out of that little amount of time.

There was also a pass / fail (ie no marks awarded) class in first year that was mostly a test of English proficiency but it was called ethics. It was a cut throat course and my first failure ever, I was one hour late handing in the essay I wrote and because the only option was pass or fail... I failed.

Politics and engineering are never discussed.

It's essentially all math in engineering. Most of the course descriptions could easily start with "use calculus to figure out ..."
 

atbell

TRIBE Member
deafplayer said:
But it is self-evident that productivity means nothing if its not under your control
I don't see it that way. I like to think that productivity in the control of others will benefit me in a way proportionate to the benevolence of the controlling party. It's a risk that greed will cause the controlling party to hoard all the benefits of the productivity to themselves, but that is a moral fault of the controller, not of the productivity.

deafplayer said:
There are also assumptions built into the professional education I mentioned earlier that show up here… about “accuracy”, the desirability of eliminating human error, about “one engineer doing the work of ten people more accurately than they could ever hope to”, which does sound quite desirable and impressive

Again I cant get into length at the moment, but, then again, I also cant tell how serious youre being (see below)
It's not so much a matter of serious or not, I'm kind of airing a view point. It's not one that I am going to die over or anything, kind of thinking out loud. The line of argument that accuracy and decreased labour requirements follows is very similar to the industrial revolution, and many of the counter arguments seen in the media are also the same.

I can see how the consolidation of manufacturing in the hands of the few could result in a negative hierarchy but I don't think that's a reason for a society to drag it's feet and cling to labour intensive production methods. It's a better idea to work at figuring out what new uses we can find for labour then protecting the old uses.

A good example would be garbage collection / recycling. Scrap consumer goods like electronics and cars should be dismantled and re-used, garbage should be sorted so that only things that really can't be re-used end up in land fill. Right now these are labour intensive things to do. They could be paid for by many creative policy initiatives.

For example: Noranda has a plant outside of Toronto that recycles electronics that it operates by charging 45 cents a pound to the person disposing of the electronics. Alberta pays companies to recycle electronics (oil revenues make everything good). In Europe many countries have a tax on electronics to cover their disposal cost.


deafplayer said:
I don’t even know what to say… this is relevant to our ‘professionalism’ discussion
The fact that the idea is actually common, that certain work should be exempt from morality, seems to strongly support the theory that professionals are professionals precisely because they serve powerful interests……ie, it’s the other way around: people who serve powerful interests are deemed “professionals”, given privilege even up to the point of it being a pretty common notion that they should be exempt from morality in their work (and work characterized specifically by being very powerful and important to society, at that!)
Again this is not my view in particular. I'm more an advocate of being responsible for your own actions no mater who you are.

The reason I voiced the thought is because of the time and money that would be involved in training engineers in ethics, sociology, and politics. It would add another couple of years to the program at a minimum.

Having said that.... Doctors and lawyers spend 4 / 3 years in school AFTER their first university training. Maybe another year wouldn't be such a bad idea.

deafplayer said:
So yeah I totally disagree obviously :) but I cant tell how serious your being
This is back to the same issue of job preservation. I don't see any reason why a technology should be withheld because workers feel threatened by it. The advance could easily be enacted increasing worker productivity which would generate more revenue. The question of who benefits from the increase is an issue to be resolved between the management and the labour. Ideally the labour could work less at a higher hourly wage and still produce more due to the increased productivity. In this case the labour gets more leisure time while maintaining the same income and the management gets more productivity while keeping costs stable.

Problems arise when productivity gains are not shared by the workers. As an example, any productivity gains due to technology that I saw in the jobs I have seen only resulted in individuals getting more work for the same pay. Incentives need to be set up to keep work productive by sharing the gains of productivity. That's the way to deal with technological advances not sweeping them under the carpet for fear of abuse.
 
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