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Elegant Technology

Chapter One
The Hunter and the Farmer

In the beginning, there was agriculture. Before agriculture, humans were barely different from the other primates. Agriculture would change everything because agriculture grows more than plants and animals: it grows civilizations. Before agriculture, human groups consisted of nothing more than wandering clans in search of food. With agriculture, humans could predict when and from where their food would come. Having solved this essential problem, humans would go on to build cities and libraries and governments.

Unlike many scientific discoveries that would follow, the person or persons who discovered agriculture will never be known. Hundreds of theories, many plausible, have been advanced to explain the coming of agriculture. It could have been discovered because of a burial ritual where grain placed with a corpse began to sprout. The accidental scattering of gathered grains by the wind or a broken container could have led to farming. Undigested grains passing through animals will grow new plantsa primitive and accidental form of agriculture. No matter the scenario, a critical event took place. Someone was able to distill the essence of an accidental happening so that it could be recreated on purpose. Crossing the bridge from noticing and defining phenomena to causing phenomena is the quintessential act of human genius. Whoever noticed that seeds grow plants had to convince others to bury carefully gathered food in the hope that more food would come. That person was not only a first-rate scientist, but something of a promoter as well.

In many ways, agriculture is still an act of genius. Many derogatory terms have surfaced through the years to label those engaged in farming. "Peasant" and "serf" are not words of flattery, but slander will never obscure the fact that farmers were some of the first scientists and to this day, many of the greatest scientists, engineers, and inventors have their roots in agriculture. It is possible that genius of this form is an inherited trait and the descendents of the inventors of agriculture are simply redeploying their skills in design shops and laboratories; or it is possible that the agricultural environment is a particularly fine instructor as to the laws of nature. In either case, agriculture was caused by and has caused a new strain of humanity that is in many respects different from the hunting and gathering clans from which farmers sprang.

Agriculture, like any other invention, was clearly not for everyone. The skills necessary to be a great hunter such as daring, aggressiveness, speed, good eyesight, and cunning are not very well suited for farming. In fact, a person can be a very good farmer by being cautious, defensive, plodding, nearsighted, and honest. It probably helps.

No matter the advantages conferred by this marvelous new invention called agriculture; some people still preferred to hunt. They were good at it and they enjoyed it. It only stands to reason that even with the invention of agriculture, many people were more suited for hunting. Any suitable hunting characteristics that can be genetically transmitted had long since become a dominant strain through the processes of natural selection. If a man had the great depth perception and the hand-eye coordination necessary to throw a spear accurately, he was more likely to survive to pass those traits along to his offspring. Some nomadic clans never did acquire agriculture and stuck to hunting, which is what they knew best.

For those nomadic tribes that never figured out agriculture, the agricultural plots they happened upon merely became concentrated sources of food that they took for themselves. The farmers, faced with a loss of their crops, entered into a fateful agreement. They would pay the good hunters in their own clans to defend against the raiders. In return for forty percent of the crop, for example, the hunter-defenders would protect the farmers from those who would take everything. Sixty percent of the crop is better than nothing.

How long this arrangement lasted, no one knows; probably not very long. It could not have taken the hunter-defenders very long to realize that those who farmed had neither the time, skills, nor inclination to defend themselves. The hunter-defenders took over. They merely shifted their predatory activities from harvesting the bounty of nature to seizing the production and the producers they were supposed to protect. The geniuses who had invented agriculture now found themselves a form of property of the hunters.

Although they have a great deal in common, the ability to invent farming and the ability to farm are not the same thing. Historically, the producers began to stratify along the lines of creativity. Valor and bravery are the signal virtues of the hunters while the ability to transform nature creatively is the signal virtue of the producers. If the highest members of the hunters are called heroes, the highest members of the producers are called geniuses. (There have been military men called geniuses but in fact, "military genius" has always been an appropriated expression that is, in fact, an oxymoron.) Although those producers with lesser abilities and skills wound up with the jobs of shoveling out the animal shelters, those with great creative skills eventually left agriculture altogether. This did not mean that they had entered the ruling class. Rather they became the highly skilled artisans and artists who lived better than those left behind on the farm.

At the top of the creative heap were the weapons-makers. Weapons have existed far longer than agriculture. The few remaining nonagricultural tribes have very simple weapons; but "simple" is the key word. The process of creative stratification of the agricultural producing groups means that specialists were now making weapons where before everyone made his own. Since predators were in charge of matters, those with the greatest creative skills usually made weapons. When the first full-time weapons maker appeared is open to question. Probably the Egyptians had such persons. The Greeks may have had them. The long-boat makers of the Vikings could be considered full-time weapons makers.

It took until the nineteenthth century before enterprises appeared with no other function but arms manufacture. Naturally, the weapons of the twentieth century are the most sophisticated, destructive, and dangerous. While the specialists of the agro-artisan groups have learned to build atomic weapons, the hunters have learned nothing. Most would be hard put to fabricate a bow, a simple skill their forebears had. The combination of a bow-and-arrow mentality and nuclear weapons is history's most frightening. What is even more peculiar is that most significant improvements in weapons were made by a producer, such as Alfred Nobel, who deluded himself into thinking that using his invention in war would be so horrifying that none would dare.

Because the hunters have been perpetually in power since the dawn of civilization, most of recorded history is about the activities of the hunters. History books are filled with wars and battles and intrigues. It is odd that the group of people who made most of the history possible, the agriculture-artisans, is almost never mentioned. We know the names of the great Viking sea-captains. We do not know the name of their boat builders. We do not know who invented the stirrup or gunpowder, or paper, or other history-changing invention. The agriculture-artisan class (after this called the producer class) is not given a fair hearing in the history books, but this does not mean that the history of the producer class is unimportant. History has always been written by the flatterers of the powerful and it should not be surprising that the history of the weaker producer class should be ignored, even if that history is vastly more interesting and important to understanding modern problems.

The producer class has made occasional attempts to affect its own lives in ways other than changing what they could make and grow. It was inevitable that producers try other methods because no matter what the producer classes accomplished in terms of technical and productivity gains, the results were taken by the predator class. What the producer classes needed was a social and political philosophy around which to organize. The producer classes got its first such philosophy with the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth.

That Jesus of Nazareth was a producer-class teacher cannot be doubted. Raised in the home of a carpenter, he went on to surround himself with followers from the exploited groups in his society. His teachings are laced with producer-class examples. In the story of "The Good Shepherd," Jesus of Nazareth tells the story of how a hired shepherd abandons the flock of sheep when the wolf attacks. The good shepherd is the farmer who has an interest in his sheep because he is the owner. The good shepherd does what the hired hand will not do and spends the night gathering the flock. (John 10:11-15)

As a producer-class illustration, the story of "The Good Shepherd" is without peer. Since the time of Jesus of Nazareth, many ways have been tried to organize agriculture. No method of organization has ever come close to yielding the productivity of the owner-operator method. When production decisions in agriculture are made by someone other than the person doing the farming itself, whether by absentee owners or by bureaucratic commissars, agricultural production is depressed and misery increases.

Other reasons stand out to explain why Jesus of Nazareth was the first great producer-class giant. Foremost are his teachings of peace. The philosophy of the producer class is that when conditions of peace prevail, production will rise and there will be plenty for everyone. The disruptions of warfare are so great that anything gained will not offset the losses of production. The desire for peace is not only the central fixture of the producer mentality, it is a distinctly antihunter position. The more Jesus of Nazareth talked of peace, the more nervous the men in power became, and eventually they did what people in power do with irritants: they had him killed.

The peaceful producers of the world now had a hero-martyr who had said that the peacemakers would be called "Sons of God." (Matthew 5:9) Jesus of Nazareth had not been gone very long before the decision was reached to "beef up" the philosophy a bit. The disciple Paul--a disciple has best been defined as one who gets an "A" in the course and misses the whole point--
2 began to talk of Christians as soldiers. (Ephesians 6:11-17) Women, who had formed an important element of Jesus of Nazareth's following, were now told to keep silent in church. (1 Corinthians 14: 34-35) Early Christian experiments with production communes were tried and then abandoned. That the philosophies of Jesus of Nazareth, who came from the home of a builder, and those of Paul, who was a member of the religious establishment, should differ substantially is not surprising but inevitable given the basic antipathy of those backgrounds.

By the third century A.D., Christianity had lost much of its steam as a revolutionary movement. Christianity was adding a bureaucracy that was modeled after the Roman system. As time progressed, Christianity became what religion had always been, an excuse for those in power to remain in power. The meekness and passivity of Christian thought no longer threatened the hunters who cynically exploited the people whose imaginations had been illuminated by the thoughts of peace. Christianity became just another excuse for warfare and predatory behavior.

Christianity remained in this dismal state until the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther fired the producer-class imagination by saying that every person has the right and duty to communicate personally with Godthereby bypassing the oppressive and predatory religious bureaucracy. Luther is also famous for pointing out that a person's worth is not contingent on the job held or the position in society, but by how well one does one's assigned job. Such a notion put the hard-working and productive peasant higher up the social ladder than the lazy aristocrat. Luther lived his life as if he believed such a notion, but when the peasants took him too seriously and revolted, Luther found himself siding with the princes.

Because modern Lutherans are such practical, orderly, and nondemonstrative citizens, it is easy to forget the radical nature of Luther's teachings. This is a mistake. The Lutheran countries of Scandinavia are as socially advanced as any on earthdemonstrating past social victories. Currently, Lutheran clergymen and theologians were central to Neues Forumthe movement in old East Germany (D.D.R.) that was as responsible as any for the elimination of the Berlin Wall. Neues Forum was as German Lutheran as Polish Solidarnösc was and is Catholic. The nationalist separatist leaders in Latvia and Estonia are often Lutheran and look to their Scandinavian cousins as models in many matters.

Menno Simon, the Anabaptist leader who founded the Mennonites, never compromised producer principles. His followers became committed pacifists and organized their religious beliefs around nonpredatory production techniques and notions of shared provision. Prohibitions on lawsuits and holding government office showed the breadth of Menno Simon's understanding that predatory practices extend far beyond the organized armed robbery that is warfare. Violent men have gone out of their way to prey on this group.

Producer notions were at the heart of the American Revolution. The intellectual progenitors of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, had impressive producer credentials before they become involved with political movements. Both were inventors and Franklin was a first-rate scientist. Jefferson's notions as to how agriculture was to be organized were much in line with Jesus of Nazareth's ideas of owner-operators. Jefferson referred to his agricultural producers as yeomen-farmers who were the backbone of democracy.

Like the producer movements that preceded it, the American Revolution soon fell into the hands of the hunter class. What Paul did for Christianity, Alexander Hamilton accomplished for the American Revolution. To understand the mindset of Hamilton and his ilk, remember that he and others attempted to get Prince Henry of Prussia to become king of the United States in 1786.
4 By the time Shay's Rebellion had been put down, the producer classes in America found that the great notions of the American Revolution had been abandoned and that rule from Washington was not substantially different than it would have been from London. There was one difference, however. Jefferson and Franklin were, and still are, heroes of the Revolution and absolutely above reproach. Their insights were so clear and their understanding so profound that two hundred years later, their ultimate invention, the United States, is still a marvel, though their design was only partially followed.

The producers needed more than religious and political thinkers, important as they were, to overturn their subservient position in relation to the hunter class. They got such a man in Abraham Darby, the first great English steelmaker. Darby was a pacifist Quaker and hence found himself outside the bounds of English society. He was denied the "privilege" of a university education. He learned his trade in the brass industry because the steelmakers of the day were attached to the arms business. A freedom from preconceived notions allowed Darby to innovate extensively in the production and marketing of steel.

That Darby was a Quaker is no accident. The essential characteristic of the Protestant faiths is religious anarchy as opposed to the authoritarian hierarchy of the Roman church. The Quakers, with their notions of following the light within, which is something akin to a well-developed conscience, are in a class by themselves. They are the logical outcome of the Protestant Reformation. More simply, they may be the first Christians fully to understand Christ.

Because producers avoid fighting, they are often viewed as cowards. This is not so. The bravery of a predator is demonstrated by physically exploring new turf. The producer demonstrates bravery by intellectually exploring new territory. The terror of thinking new thoughts must be very real for the few who ever attempt it. Trusting the light within provides comfort when opening the intellectual doors that lead to intellectual and creative freedom. After all, we refer to a creative insight as a spark or flash and ideas are represented by a light bulb in the mind. It is the same light.

For moral reasons, the Quakers refrained from engaging in the weapons business. They got out of the big-church business. The two routes to the top of the producer heap were blocked for Quakers of ability. Combine the innovative thinking allowed by the trust in the light within with restricted outlets for such thinking and the industrial revolution was practically inevitablewhere else was the talent to go?

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Quakers to history. It is generally conceded that they were responsible for the industrial revolution. As David B. Davis points out in his Slavery and Human Progress, the Quakers were the progenitors of the abolitionist movement and kept it alive during all its many setbacks. In the nearly 2000 years since Jesus of Nazareth, there have been only two social revolutions that have ever really improved the human condition: the industrial revolution and the abolition of slavery. The Quakers were largely responsible for both.

Because the Quakers were outside the English establishment, the industry they represent has always suffered from a discriminatory bias in British society. Industry was just something a gentleman did not do. This anti-industrial bias has destroyed the British industrial underpinnings in the twentieth century and threatens to do the same in the United States where all things English are considered wonderful, no matter how useless or irrelevant.

What makes Darby, and the other early steelmakers, such as John Wilkinson, so interesting is their response to the cash shortage that threatened to stifle growth. Their workers had to be paid in cash and not in kind. The noblemen of England were not sure about this new notion called industry. When they failed to mint enough coinage to support the new ironworks, the ironmongers minted their own coins with their unnoble likenesses stamped on them. No wonder it was called the industrial revolution.

The industrial revolution threatened the hunter power establishment by threatening the very definitions of wealth. No longer was wealth defined as land with serfs attached to it. Wealth became defined as those heretofore worthless resources that were now necessary to feed the maw of emerging industries. Wealth was now counted as money and the tools of productioncollectively known as capital.

The hunter class is nothing if not cunning. The new industrial enterprises were soon owned by the predator class and became as exploitive as the old agricultural arrangements had ever been. Instead of a bright new day, the industrial revolution brought the producer class more ghastly working conditions.

The rise of industrialized production spawned social critics and philosophers to explain why increased production caused such widespread poverty and misery. The producers, of course, knew the reason: predators were taking too much and this had the side effect of destroying the ability to make societies rich.

The most influential of these social critics were the economiststhose who Robert Heilbroner calls "The Worldly Philosophers" in his highly literate book of the same name. Heilbroner's list of economic philosophers whose ideas changed the world extends from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes. That all but one of Heilbroner's "philosophers" wrote in England is not surprising since the industrial revolution began there. What is ominous about the list is that all but one have no experience, inclination, or sympathy for the problems of productionnot even Marx.

If Heilbroner's list is definitive, it would appear that economics as a philosophy is usually an attempt by someone to describe industrialization to predators using the language, perspectives, and superstitions of the hunter. Producer-economist is an oxymoron except for one stellar exception: a first generation Viking-American named Thorstein Bunde Veblen who had deep roots in agriculture and an unexcelled ability to discern the difference between the important and absurd manifestations of the emerging industrial state.

The Producer's World According to Veblen

Thorstein Veblen is in many ways the definitive industrial-class philosopher-economist. He was uniquely qualified by time and location for this role because he was able to observe at first hand all the steps necessary to transform a society from a preindustrial to an industrial state.

Born in 1857, his childhood was spent on a farm that was a model of early industrial agriculture. In addition to being recognized as the most innovative farmer in the county, his father was also a master carpenter who had learned his trade as a youth in Norway. As a result, young Thorstein grew up with a profound understanding of the rituals and techniques of the Scandinavian handicraft traditions. While the American industrial revolution blossomed around him as a university student at Yale, Veblen became interested in the differences between the reality of industrial production and the predatory commercial Calvinist theologies of school.

Veblen's writings focus on the difference between the values of those who produced the industrial revolution and those who stole it from them. He taught at the University of Chicago, the school bought with John D. Rockefeller's ill-gotten gains, which gave him unique access to the latest currents in the justifications for the practices of industrial predatory fraud.

Veblenian scholarship often overlooks an interesting facet of his understanding of the producer-predator conflict. His father, though far from devout, was culturally a Lutheran who defined himself as not a Calvinist.
8 In what may be Veblen's most prescient work, Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution (1915), he describes the cultural differences between England and Germany in ways that Calvinists and Lutherans alike would understand. 9 By learning Lutheran teaching at home while attending schools--Carleton and Yale--that were little more than thinly disguised Puritan seminaries, Veblen had absorbed both traditions and understood their power and hazards. For him, World War I was little more than an unfortunate civil war between the two dominant wings of the Protestant Reformationa conflict made inevitable because of their differing approaches to the industrial revolution.

In Imperial Germany, Veblen's astute analysis predicts most of the important events of the twentieth century. At the risk of oversimplification, Imperial Germany argues that because Germany imported the industrial revolution from England, she was culturally unfit to comprehend her new-found industrial muscle. The industrial revolution, though invented by social outsiders, grew from enlightened English tolerance. The enlightenment missed Germany and after the Revolution of 1848, many of her most skilled workers fled to England where they learned the new industrial forms. Most would return during the reign of Bismarck and bring their newly acquired skills and ideas but by then, Germany was forced to play industrial catch-up.

Veblen noted that although Germany had been culturally unfit to begin the industrial revolution, she was better fit than England to improve on and sustain its potential. In Bismarck's Germany, the industrial revolution was supported by the establishment. Because of official policy and a more cohesive society, industrialization in its productive forms would never suffer the outcast status it did in England. Nevertheless, while Bismarck's Germany would embrace, enhance, and develop the productivity of industrialism, the nation did not accept industrialism's most important cultural premises: intellectual freedom and pacifism.

By 1915, Germany had passed England in any reasonable comparison of industrial might, but industrialism would confuse German culture. Feudal Prussian, Lutheran, Junkerian, Bismarckian subservience, blind loyalty, and patriotism mixed with industrialism caused, according to Veblen, the outbreak of World War I. German unification under Bismarck had brought together the arrogant militarism of Prussia and the might of Krupp's Ruhr.

Veblen's analysis postulated that industrial values grow from industrial practices. Accordingly, England was the home to the industrial revolution and was more peace-loving than Germany where the new industrial values had yet to take root. Even so, the industrial west of Germany was already less inclined toward war with England than the preindustrial Prussian east. He predicted that until the industrial values superceded Prussian patriotism completely, Germany would cause her neighbors great trouble.

The internal cultural dilemmas of Germany's industrial revolution spilled over into the two most deadly wars of history. During the second conflagration, German industrialists acted, or were complicit in, a systematic attempt to coerce or murder everyone not contributing to or defending the new industrial state. By 1939, Germany's army had in many ways become a servant of industrialism. The German armies were destroyed in an attempt to seize industrial raw materials and exterminate the enemies, high and low, of the industrial order.

With militarism destroyed in battle and the philosophic remnants of predation eliminated, Germany would emerge from World War II as a model of enlightened industrial behavior. Today, in the country that produced the feared Wehrmacht, 50,000 young men a year register as pacifists and German civilian industrial output is the envy of most of the world. Die Grünen, the German Green Party, has succeeded in imposing environmental constraints on traditional industrial practices. The resulting industrial environmentalism represents the purest of Nordic industrial values. Veblen would have approved of modern, technologically sophisticated, antimilitarist Germany.

Veblen might be stunned today by the extent of modern English deindustrialization but his analysis predicted that as well. He fixed 1913 as the year Germany passed England in industrial power and assumed this repositioning of the industrial order was irreversible because England had effectively stopped competing.

The twentieth century has demonstrated that conflict between producers and predators can be a bloody ordeal. The outcome, moreover, is still far from clear. When John Kenneth Galbraith wrote the New Industrial State in 1967, it appeared as though industrialism had become dominant internationally. Then, under the banner of Thatcherism, preindustrial, imperial, predatory, Victorian capitalism made a curtain call in the 1980s. England would export only ideas this time, and they would be the antithesis of the industrial revolution. Having deindustrialized, England would encourage others to follow her lead. The English-speaking world and many other nations did just that.

While never properly defined, Thatcherism became a blueprint for industrial and economic decline. It was claimed that high interest rates do not matter, industry and industrial workers are no longer important, low wages are good, industrial planning is impossible or evil, and that production is a problem reserved for the lower classes and those who lose wars. "Honor" is a reason for warfare, but industrial assets will be sold to anyone with anything that resembles money. Financial transactions are to be watched with profound interest; the health of the real economy is ignored. Bond traders have wealth and status while engineers and scientists stand in unemployment lines.
10 Most of all, nothing can ever be thought wrong in the economy as long as the shopping malls are full of goods. Consumption will be king: production is deposed.

The Thatcherite industrial counter-revolution of the 1980s rallied about the flag of "free trade." Because everyone wants both freedom and trade, this idea steamrolled all objections. It should have been remembered that the free trade flag was flown in the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century. The English colonial drug dealers, in their attempt to use opium as social control, encountered Chinese objections. Opium may have made easier British rule but drug addiction was ruining Chinaespecially her cities. Opium was being produced in British India and shipped to China. China tried to close her borders to opium.

These were not properly called warsit was a one-sided affair in which millions of Chinese were massacred or impoverished. When the extent of the carnageover what was essentially a drug deal gone badbecame known the rest of the world, the keepers of British manners and self-esteem were forced to produce a high-sounding excuse for destruction and mass murder. For the history books, the Opium Wars were fought for the lofty ideals of free trade: the right of commerce to operate in a world without borders.

Free trade originally meant in practice that England got to set the world's economic rules to her advantage. Under the slogan of free trade, England seized port facilities and took over customs stations. England would build infrastructure improvements to facilitate her plundersuch as docks and railroads from harbors to mines, bill the colony, and send in the military to collect the debts.

Free trade was the catch-all justification for colonial excess. Free trade came to mean that colonies had no say in the operation of their economies. Americans can easily understand a colony's objection to such a situation. It was over the issues of economic autonomy that the American Revolution was fought. We wanted to run our economic lives.

Because free trade is a philosophy of theft, it is a recipe for decline. While England grew fat on her plundered wealth, and extracted the last farthing from her hellish Midland factories, contempt and neglect of productive enterprise caused her to rest on her industrial laurels. All the important groundwork in organic chemistry was done in England. All the important chemical companies in Europe are German. Pure science may be an honorable occupation for an Englishman of leisure, but turning science into industry is frightfully expensive and time-consuming, and the sort of work fit forharumpha German, for example. It may take time, but eventually hard working and clever people live better than thieves. Flying the banner of free trade, England lost her empire and is now an irrelevant industrial actor with a lower standard of living than almost any country of western Europe.

Free trade's Thatcherite manifestation was almost as ugly as the first version. In the 1980s, free trade came to mean that no area had a right to defend its standard of living, that workers must compete only with the lowest-paid labor on the globe, that geography and climate are of no importance in how a society chooses to organize agriculture, and that citizens do not have the right to defend ecological areas. Under the banner of free trade, developing nations were ordered to destroy their social fabric in the name of global finance. The bankers were quite clear, "Our greed is insatiable so we have raised the price of our productmoney. You will not spend for those frivolous items in your budget, like typhus and cholera vaccines. You must send the money to us instead."

The idea that trade must have no rules is absurd. Trade rules are often flawed and political boundaries are seldom the same as rational trading areas, but there are limits to how far and for what reason molecules in any form should be shipped. Veblen complained loudly about the tariffs and other trade restrictions of his daymostly because they hurt the farmers of the Internal Empire, America's Midwest. He thought it wicked that Germany had designed her trade rules so that she could be completely self-sufficient in a war. According to Veblen, mutual need for trade between nations produced peace so it must be encouraged rather than hindered for the gain of predation. He recognized the power of trade legislation for good and illthe rules must be mutually beneficial.

Valid trade barriers include the protection of agriculture, intellectual property, vital industrial infrastructure, worker's rights, and the environment. Every nation or region must insist on these barriers. Trade rules are importanttoo important to be left to those who believe that because it is difficult to write good trade rules, no rules are better. Like the ideas of a flat earth, the gold standard, and communism, the monster of free trade has done far more damage than good and should be buried in an unmarked grave.

The Deindustrialization of America

The American anti- and deindustrial frenzy of the Reagan era swept away all opposition in its path. Under the catch-all banner of free trade, Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, consumer radicals, feminists, environmentalists, bankers, and anti-militarists united in one voice to cheer the demise of the industrial state and its traditions. Industrialism was blamed for Fascism, wars, pollution, over-population, and according to Robert Bly, the death of maleness itself.

American "free traders" organized the export of the heart and brains of American industrialism: post-industrial ideology became a preindustrial strategy. Industrial dominance, the prize of World War II, became in 1980s America a worthless commodity to be disposed of as scrap. The industrial sum of three generations of intense struggle became ignoble.

The ideological commitment to the glories of preindustrial free trade was astonishingly pure and took upon itself absurd manifestations. One example was most telling. In 1985, in a scene from out of Mitchner's Hawaii, James Fallows, the liberal, articulate, Harvard-educated editor of Atlantic Magazine, took it upon himself to relocate in Japan so as to more effectively spread the gospel of free trade.

Fallows got it backward. Missionaries, secular Calvinist or otherwise, are supposed to journey from the "mother country" to the colony. His hopeless task was to convince the Japanese that a free trade economic philosophy (which had plunged the American economy from unchallenged industrial colossus in 1945 to the status of world's biggest debtor in 40 years) was superior to their system. Fallows returned home to rethink his religion. Like many missionaries that have gone before, Fallows "went native" and has become the foremost American scholar on Japanese culture, but while he was away, the religion spread to the farthest corners of Anglo-American influence.

The scope of anti-industrialism even reached Minnesota, the childhood home of Veblen and the modern home of innovative and influential Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing (3M). Minnesota was probably more immune than most places to the absurd contradictions of deindustrial strategies. Yet even there, in the name of "economic development" during the mad reign of Reagan, the state issued taxpayer-backed Industrial Revenue Bonds for the purpose of building a horse-racing track. Horse-racing, the sport of kings, the highest flowering of preindustrial amusement, had become an "industry." It is to be wished that this was the most important example of the deindustrialization of America! It was not.

As in most of America, most Minnesota Industrial Revenue Bonds were issued to encourage real estate development. This would have hardly surprised Veblen. In Imperial Germany, he comments that government involvement in real estate speculation was a huge impediment to American industrial development. He complains that the building of the railroads was so motivated by real estate considerations, the trains and tracks themselves were near-worthless junk. For Veblen, infatuation with real estate development is the distinguishing characteristic of those seeking preindustrial economic power.

By 1945, the Germans and Japanese had learned the hard lesson that industrial dominance has nothing to do with territory, militarism, or imperialism. So while they spent the 1980s investing in industrial dominance, the deindustrializing Americans reverted to real estate speculation. Japan got the commercial technologies of the twenty-first century for her investment. America got empty office buildings for hers.

Germany and Japan would mostly ignore the tide of deindustrialization. Losing a war completely had purified their industrial philosophies by destroying the hunter classes. Rebuilding a destroyed industrial society would enhance the prestige of the builders. Cultural self-assurance would allow them to stand up to preindustrial English cultural imperialism.

As the 1980s progressed, the world's deindustrializing economies cracked under the strains of predation. In the 1990s, culturally-dominated producer industrialism, embodied in the cultures of modern Germany and Japan, stands triumphant over Victorian English capitalism.

In the Anglo-American world, there was no ideological defense of industrialism. Industrialism is simply not the sort of ideology that has many defenders. Heilbroner may have been correct in his analysis that Veblen was the only producer philosopher-economist in the English Language. In England, producers have always been considered a class not given to philosophizing.

American producers do not face the class and cultural barriers of their English peers. The lack of modern industrial philosophers to mount a defense of American industrialism is better explained by a frontier form of pragmatism which states, "Real producers must produce something tangibleonly dilettantes have time to write or philosophize about production." Veblen published a huge body of complex and difficult writing in his life, yet the farmers who knew him considered him quite lazy.

Validating Veblen's foresight, twentieth century industrial-class geniuses have created huge, wealth-generating enterprises that have benefitted virtually every human who has come in contact with themthe owners, the towns they were in, the employees, the merchants, and the customers. Names like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, Edwin Land of Polaroid, William Norris of Control Data, Donald Petersen of Ford Motor, and Stephen Jobs of Apple Computer are perfect examples. In Pehr Gyllenhämmär of Volvo and Akio Morita of Sony, we have in the 1990s, genuine international industrial-class superstars.

In a sense, these people could be called "producer-economists." None is, of course. One of the industrial revolution's salient features is the division of labor. People who use new thinking to organize production, implement it, and thereby change the world's economies are not called economists. That designation goes to those who write about the changes in industrialization after the fact.

There are some American economists who represent the necessary thinking of production in spite of the tradition of economics as the philosophy of the predators. These mavericks include John Kenneth Galbraiththe prolific neo-Veblenian Harvard economist who began his life on a farm, and Lester Thurow who labors for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.)arguably the intellectual epicenter of American industrialism. Producer writers on economic themes, such as Buckminster Fuller, Amory Lovins, and Edwards Deming, are not considered economists.
12 This is especially odd in the case of Deming because his economic theories are practically worshipped in Japanthe world's most successful industrial society today.

Veblen pointed out in 1915 that, as in England, American industrialization is the product of social outsiders. Henry Ford, the dominant industrialist of the early twentieth century, was Irish and as far outside the established order as was possibleeven in his home town of Detroit. Non-English immigrant groups have contributed significantly to American industrial progress. During this century, Germans directed the space program and invented much of the computer hardware, Italian and Jewish immigrants unleashed nuclear power, and in the 1980s, industrial entrepreneurs from around the world have redefined what remains of American industrialism. Unfortunately, the American social, economic, and political establishment has never seen industrialization as anything but wealth to be plundered. Industrial might meets social power on a regular basis and because England was used as a model in the 1980s, industry lost influence. As deindustrialization creates the social catastrophe of economic collapse, producer philosophy will regain its lost legitimacy and the producer-economists will be heard once again.

The philosophies and practices of industrialism have never become totally dominant in the United States. Cultural confusion about industrialism in America means that she resembles in many ways, 1915 Germany: still looking for a war to fight, still hoping the military will organize consumption of industrial output. While America dithers about industrialism, the nation loses ground to those cultures where the issues have been settled. America is being forced to make a decision about the commitment to industrialism because no decision is worse than a bad one.

The predators choose to ignore or discredit industrialization because they have been having a lovely twentieth century. Two world wars conducted at insane levels of brutality plus countless lesser atrocities, cataclysmic economic upheavals, and an international system of codified usury that makes the exploitation of nineteenth century British colonialism look like benevolence, all combine to let the world know that the hunter-predators are still out there. Unfortunately, predatory tendencies that arose through the millions of years when those were just the traits to have, will not disappear by themselves in a few thousand years, certainly not in a few hundred.

Japan's industrial history is similar to Germany's. Like Germany, Japan imported industrial ideas and tools. Deming did not become Japan's industrial-producer guru in a vacuum. World War II had three effects on the Japanese hunter-predator classes.
13 First, they lost a war and were killed or discredited. Second, General MacArthur saw to it that the industrialists were granted the right to reorganize. He insisted that they do away with their petty bickering and get on with a serious program of standardization.

Third, their industry had to involve itself strictly in nonmilitary enterprises. The peace terms forced upon Japan created a genuine producer class state. Japan accomplished the job in only 40 years. More interestingly, Japan's huge economic size and phenomenal technical accomplishments have finally attracted the attention of the great predator powersthe United States and what is left of the crumbling Soviet states.

Of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, there has been one ridiculed more than any other, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5) There is a passage in the musical Camelot where the line has been changed to ". . .it's not the earth the meek inherit, it's the dirt." John Paul Getty, the oil billionaire, is supposed to have said, "The meek may inherit the earthbut not the mineral rights."

While no one who has competed recently with the Japanese in business would call them meek, the fact remains that compared to the belligerent, ruthless, arrogant fighters the Japanese were only a few decades ago, they are now polite, decorous pacifists by comparison. That is close enough to meek for this rough outline of history. Not only is Japanese influence greater now than at the zenith of the militaristic Japanese-East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, the Japanese own the most modern production facilities world-wide.

In September of 1985, when the United States became a debtor nation, much financial power shifted from New York to Tokyo. Some might argue that because Japan's financial markets are not up to world leadership, Tokyo is still not the financial center of the planet. Industrial leadership will solve this minor objectionsooner rather than later. This is not the same as inheriting the earth, maybe, but it's very, very close.

The emergence of a producer superpower like Japan is sufficient reason to treat the producer class with the importance that it deserves. This is much more than a matter of fairness. The producer class, although not warlike, has some problems of its owneven when it solves the social and economic riddles of industrialization. The ultimate dilemma of the industrial revolution is environmental destruction with its mounds of waste and constant resource depletion.

It should not be surprising that since the twentieth century saw the first real rise in power of the producer class, many major, intractable problems of the late twentieth century industrial economies are producer problems. The problems of the producer class can only be solved by the producer class. The problems of toxic waste cannot be solved by war or revolution. To get to the heart of industrial problems, it becomes more important than ever that producers, their ideas, and their history not be ignored.

Because there is no escaping the environmental dilemmas posed by industrialization, America must choose an industrial environmental strategy. So far, the United States has aped English deindustrialization. Industrialization has been declared the environmental problem to be addressed with legislation to regulate production, funds for "clean-up" squandered on legal hand-wringing, and industrial liquidation through financial fraudall examples of nondecisons. The invisible hand became unconscious.

England survived deindustrialization quite gracefullyAmerica will not. Too many Americans define themselves by their work to be declared useless burdens who should wander out onto the ice, like an old Eskimo, and die. England has had a few riots. The United States risks civil war if deindustrialization continueseveryone is already armed and violently angry. The suicides, assassinations, and violent demonstrations associated with the American agricultural collapse of the 1980s should warn of the impending social chaosnow that the economic collapse has migrated to the cities, industries, and financial institutions.

The choice of deindustrialization in America is odd. In spite of pockets of Anglophilia, Americans do not like the English or their thinking very much. Whenever the United States acts like old imperial Englandsuch as when overthrowing governments in Chile, Iran, Guatemala, and Panama, official Washington is forced to act in secret for fear of public outrage. American imperial pretensions have been so controversial within the United States that thousands owe their employment to denying them. Americans dislike English industrial output so much that they refused to buy the Rover Sterling automobileeven though it was nothing more than a Honda assembled in England. Imitating England is strange for a country that fought a Revolution to free itself from English rule.

In contrast, German and Japanese industrialization is widely admired in the United Statestheir products are status symbols. Americans believe, moreover, that Japanese-German industrialization is American industrialization. "We taught them everything they know," is a sentiment widely expressed and to some extent, accurate. Americans who understand production find Japanese and German industrial practices stunning.

The American public does not need to be convinced that the German-Japanese industrial model is superior, but rather the people who run the banks, teach the children, operate the bureaucracies, and pass the laws. It is this lagging socio-economic indicator that must be convinced to look at another alternative. It is they who must be convinced that industrial-economic might has little to do with armies. It is they who must be convinced that industrialization has many social organizations and that Marxism was the enemy and alternative to but one of them.

The time is right to look more closely at German and Japanese industrial ideas. The end of the cold war means that these pacifist countries have become prototypes of civilian production. If, as it appears, Germany has already invented an environmentally-correct industrial strategy, the last valid impediment to an American conversion to a more elegant industrial order has been eliminated. American industrialization will never be identical to a German or Japanese versionthe cultures are too different, but, fortunately, a new American industrial order could be superior. Germany and Japan both taught that the student can best the teacher. It is to be hoped that American industrial environmentalism becomes the world's finest--for American environmental problems are the planet's most serious.

GO TO-- NOTES: Elegant Technology: Chapter One

GO TO-- Elegant Technology: Chapter Three

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