Social Engineering

on Wednesday, 01 June 1955. Posted in Social Credit

The author of Social Credit was Major C. H. Douglas. That his proposals are rooted in and in the line of Truth, is confirmed by events of the past 35 years.

Following is an address given by Major Douglas to the Women's Engineering Society in London on January 19th, 1938:

While I am addressing engineers primarily, I should like to take a somewhat wider view of the profession of engineering than that commonly taken to-day; to take instead a conception of engineering which in my opinion it has deteriorated from (if I may give emphasis to a sentence by being allowed to end it with a preposition).

There are certain aspects of engineering with which engineers are quite familiar, and in which words are used that have become common language, and one of these aspects is comprised in the word "efficiency".

Perhaps it will help to an understanding of what I am going to say about efficiency if I recall a story current in the Royal Air Force of a capable young pilot who was sent on a special mission to visit a sheik in some comparatively inaccessible spot 100 miles inland of the Red Sea. The journey took him thirty hours, and as it was part of his mission to impress the sheikh with the marvels of modern European efficiency, he enlarged on the fact that the trip had taken him only thirty hours, whereas it was a journey that could not have been made with camels in less than six weeks. So, as he emphasised, he had been able to save nearly six weeks. To this the sheik replied with a question very pertinent to what I shall have to say: "And what are you going to do with the six weeks?”

There is a great deal of loose talk about efficiency, the engineering definition of which is the ratio of input to output. But that definition is not quite comprehensive enough, for the important question is, "output of what?" That is the question that should be answered clearly whenever there is talk about efficiency.

It is quite possible to have an ineffcient machine with highly efficient components. A nut and bolt, for example, may be very efficient, but there is no guarantee that the machine of which they are a part is efficient; and, from a similarly small point of view, there is no doubt that many departments of engineering, just like the nut and bolt, are extremely efficient. I should like to emphasise very strongly that any particular section of industry is, in the modern world, like the nut and bolt, part of a larger machine, so that it is possible to have many very efficient parts while the machine as a whole is decidedly inefficient.

Before starting on an enterprise of any kind it is essential to have a clear idea of the objective. Otherwise it is true to say that no one and nothing can be efficient in a universal sense. For example, the objective of engineers is, fundamentally, to save labour. Engineers are engaged essentially in the substitution of powerdriven machinery for manual labour, and, in doing so, they are consciously or unconsciously applying the principles contained in the Charter of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which.defines the profession of engineering as the direction of the greatest sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man. Now if you are trying in every possible way to substitute for the labour of man the forces of nature derived in the main from the energy of the sun, while at the same time the small group of men who are in charge of policy -- who control the destinies of this and other countries — say that the objective we must strive for is the employment of everybody, then, with such a conflict of objectives, there must be complete inefficiency.

You must know your objective before you can have any real efficiency; and until you have a clear conception of the objective, any talk of efficiency is useless, except in a very limited and delusive way. For example, to facilitate rolling motion, ball bearings are highly efficient, but for the purpose of generating heat — as a heat engine — they would be extremely inefficient.

If the various departments of modern industry — and the smaller subdivision the truer this becomes — are taken at the equivalent of the nut and bolt stage of my argument, they are, in the main extremely efficient; but the more you try to enlarge the subdivisions the less the efficiency becomes.

Consider for a moment what happens in this vast hive of activity which we call London. Stand on one of the principal Thames bridges at about 9 o'clock in the morning, or in one of the main thoroughfares from a big railway station, and watch the people teeming in, and consider what most of them are going to do. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that at least 80 to 90 per cent of them are going into offices to make marks on bits of paper. Now the efficiency of what these people do in relation to the realities of economic life is practically nil. These people are wasting their own and other people's time, and I hope that none of them will imagine for a moment that I am being offensive to them when I say so.

Take, for example, insurance. Thousands of people are engaged in making marks on paper regarding insurance, and insurance is nothing but a parasite on a particular system. Under some other system practically the whole of what is done in the insurance world at the present time would be totally unnecessary. The same remarks apply to the immensely complex, irritating and time-wasting taxation system, which keeps hundreds of people busily working, and is a complete waste of time. The whole of the results which are supposed to be achieved by the system of taxation could be achieved without any book-keeping at all; they could be achieved entirely through the price system.

In the early days of the engineering profession, the great engineers all began as mechanics. Men like Boulton, Watt, Stephenson, were engineers with their hands; but as the engineering profession expanded, they grew into professionals, but still keeping close to the earth to — realities. They became great men, men like Telford and Brunel, who were authorities on engineering, who established a situation in which they gave orders instead of taking them. From these high standards the profession of engineering has degenerated during the last 20 or 30 years, and the business of engineering is becoming more mechanical, though the mechanics of to-day are mechanics of the brain instead of the hand. The ability to handle a slide rule and make the complicated calculations and adjustments which are the business of engineering at the present time, are purely mechanical unless there is a consciousness, a real consciousness, of what it is you are doing, and why you are doing it.

I think this degeneracy of which I am speaking is much more pronounced in European countries than in America. There, there are engineers who are endeavouring to take a wide view of the profession of engineering. They have taken the stand it is necessary to have a common knowledge of the objective, and this is extremely important, even though the objective they may be thinking of is a wrong objective. I am referring to what is known in the U.S.A. as an industrial engineer. We have no industrial engineers in this country like Gantt, who died some years ago.

Such men are breaking into a new type of engineering. They have a knowledge of the capacity of tools and materials, and how to get a job of production done. They are interesting themselves in a new kind of mechanics, examples of which will be found in the well-known time-study methods and efficiency mechanisms connected with their names.

These men are delving into and building up something which may be called the dynamics of society, which is equivalent to a study of the way in which the economic machine as a whole can be used to reach the objective. Once again, I would stress that it is immaterial at this point that the objective may be wrong. The fact is that these people are framing the dynamics of social action in the same way that earlier engineers built the dynamics of physics, built the theory of structures, of thermodynamics, of aerodynamics and so forth.

The point I am trying to make is this: There is a type of engineering for which there is a clamant need in this country. I will call it social engineering, and it is perfectly possible to go to work on just as sound principles as those which are used for bridge building; and just as, when you are building a bridge, there are certain principles which must be followed or the bridge will not stand, so there must be principles of social engineering which, if respected, will produce workable results.

Now the people who are actually engaged in this work at the present time are pre-eminently unfit for the job. For example, the man who rules this country is a man who knows nothing about figures. Another man who was a blacksmith — and I have nothing whatever to say against blacksmiths except that they are not necessarily fit for work outside the smithy — is ruling Italy. And another man who was a paperhanger rules Germany. Not one of these men has the very slightest idea of attacking a problem as an engineer would.

There are three simple principles which must be observed if any organisation in which human beings are concerned is to be continuously successful. They need not be taken too literally, but the fact is that they are universal in their application. The first of these principles is called policy, the second administration and the third technique.

It is impossible for people to work together satisfactorily for any length of time, unless they are agreed upon policy. Policy is in the nature of things democratic. In fact, the real difference between dictatorship and democracy is exactly equivalent to the difference between, say, compulsory and voluntary cricket. While no one in his senses would say that a game of cricket should be RUN on democratic principles, the question whether to play cricket or not is for democratic decision. If you play cricket, you play according to M.C.C. rules; the game is not held up while votes are taken on what to do next. But if you don't like the rules, then you don't play cricket.

People will do the most extraordinarily disagreeable things in the name of pleasure, and they are ready to do these things because they are not compelled to do them, they can stop doing them whenever they want to. Otherwise, it is quite inconceivable to suppose that anyone would put up with having his nose rubbed in the mud on a cold, wintry afternoon, in a game of football! And in this connection, I think it is well worth noting the reaction of the population to the physical fitness rubbish which is being put about just now. It is only necessary to pass a law to make people play football, whether they want to or not, to kill all interest in football.

You must, therefore, have democratic agreement on policy — on the objective and when you have agreement on policy, you should then forget all about democracy, and realise that there is an essential hierarchy in carrying it out, a hierarchy of administration. The general manager cannot possibly consult the office boy before taking a decision. People are ready, properly organised in regard to administration, to give orders and to take them, for the every good reason that they want to get the job done.

In short, there is no democracy about technique. I should like to stress here that you do not get things right by compromise. The amount of rubbish which is talked about compromise would sink a ship. It is quite impossible to compromise about physical facts. It is no use arguing, for example, as to whether or not sulphuric acid is really composed of certain elements in certain proportions. Its composition is represented by the symbols H2SO4, and if one party wants to represent it as HSO4, and another as H20, no progress can be made. You cannot compromise about facts, so you must get facts right.

Here, then, is where the mind of the engineer ought to be applied to the working of the world. At the present time the world is in a very bad case. It is like a huge and powerful engine which is being run by a lot of half-baked theorists and idealists who have no notion how to control it, and it is time that others took a hand. In fact, others must take a hand.

I want to ask you to get out of your mind the mesmerism of bigness. There is an idea which is very much put about at the present time, particularly by financial interests who have no knowledge of facts, which suggests that it is best to have everything so big that there is only one of it; only one railway, only one passenger transport system; only one coal-mining industry, and so forth; and it is all based on an illusion that bigness means efficiency.

In point of fact, there is no doubt that the most efficient unit is something quite small. The socalled efficiency of huge combines, exists only on paper. They sometimes and only sometimes, look efficient because they have certain facilities. For instance, they can impose prices and they can get loans because bankers love bigness. But don't let that deceive you; financiers do not deal in facts. The greatest financier marooned on a desert island would die of starvation where an ordinary mechanic would probably knock up quite a good living.

Ideas of the essential efficiency of bigness are delusive. There is, as a matter of fact, quite a simple criterion of the most suitable size of a unit, and it is just about the size in which you can get agreement on general principle. In engineering, I should say that the largest efficient unit should not employ more than 700 to 1000 men. I really do not believe that the enormous units of to-day are really efficient. They may look efficient because they can buy well and can afford to scrap and replace obsolete plant, and because they have special financial facilities; but the fact is that smaller undertakings could do the job better if not hampered by financial restrictions. I am fairly certain that the trend of the future, providing always that the world survives the imminent catastrophes of the immediate future, will be for these huge undertakings to break up into smaller units; so that in about a hundred years time you will find mostly smaller, much more flexible units, with much better access to the facilities they require than they have at the present time. The picture that I have in mind is exemplified by the idea of a number of different manufacturing units attached to a central power distributing station. There is no need to amalgamate them all into one unit just because you have one power distributing station.

I want to conclude my talk by repeating to you the very effective words which are contained in the American Declaration of Independence. I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of my quotation, but it runs something like this: "We take it to be a fact that all men are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

Notice particularly that the word "liberty" comes after the word "life", for without life there is nothing. But after life they placed liberty, and I think is is profoundly true that we shall never get a stable condition of society until we all have the fullest possible facilities to pursue our own conception of happiness within a system designed in accordance with the laws of social dynamics. For just as it is possible to sail a boat in any wind by conforming to the laws of aerodynamics, and to go where we choose, though we cannot choose the wind, so when we understand the forces which play about the social structure, then and only then shall we make progress on the way to the kind of world we should all like to live in.

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