Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Integrators

The Third Wave, A. Toffler

The question "Who runs things?" is a typically Second Wave question. For until the industrial revolution there was little reason to ask it. Whether ruled by kings or shamans, warlords, sun gods, or saints, people were seldom in doubt as to who held power over them. The ragged peasant, looking up from the fields, saw the palace or monastery looming in splendor on the horizon. He needed no political scientist or newspaper pundit to solve the riddle of power. Everyone knew who was in charge.

Wherever the Second Wave swept in, however, a new kind of power emerged, diffuse and faceless. Those in power became the anonymous "they." Who were "they"?

Industrialism, as we have seen, broke society into thousands of interlocking parts—factories, churches, schools, trade unions, prisons, hospitals, and the like. It broke the line of command between church, state, and individual. It broke knowledge into specialized disciplines. It broke jobs into fragments. It broke families into smaller units. In doing so, it shattered community life and culture.

Somebody had to put things back together in a different form.

This need gave rise to many new kinds of specialists whose basic task was integration. Calling themselves executives or administrators, commissars, coordinators, presidents, vice-presidents,
bureaucrats, or managers, they cropped up in every business, in every government, and at every level of society. And they proved indispensable. They were the integrators.

They defined roles and allocated jobs. They decided who got what rewards. They made plans, set criteria, and gave or withheld credentials. They linked production, distribution, transport, and
communications. They set the rules under which organizations interacted. In short, they fitted the pieces of the society together. Without them the Second Wave system could never have run.

Marx, in the mid-nineteenth century, thought that whoever owned the tools and technology—the "means of production"—would control society. He argued that, because work was interdependent, workers could disrupt production and seize the tools from their boses. Once they owned the tools, they would rule society.

Yet history played a trick on him. For the very same inter-dependency gave even greater leverage to a new group— those who orchestrated or integrated the system. In the end it-was neither the owners nor the workers who came to power. In both capitalist and socialist nations, it was the integrators who rose to the top.

It was not ownership of the "means of production" that gave power. It was control of the "means of integration". Let's see what that has meant.

In business the earliest integrators were the factory proprietors, the business entrepreneurs, the mill owners and ironmasters. The owner and a few aides were usually able to coordinate the labor of a large number of unskilled "hands" and to integrate the firm into the larger economy.

Since, in that period, owner and integrator were one and the same, it is not surprising that Marx confused the two and laid so heavy an emphasis on ownership. As production grew more complex, however, and the division of labor more specialized, business witnessed an incredible proliferation of executives and experts who, came between the boss and his workers. Paperwork mushroomed. Soon in the larger firms no individual, including the owner or dominant shareholder, could even begin to understand the whole operation. The owner's decisions were shaped, and ultimately controlled, by the specialists brought in to coordinate the system. Thus a new executive elite arose whose power rested no longer on ownership but rather on control of the integration process.

As the manager grew in power, the stockholder grew less important. As companies grew bigger, family owners sold out to larger and larger groups of dispersed shareholders, few of whom knew anything about the actual operations of the business. Increasingly, shareholders had to rely on hired managers not merely to run the day-to-day affairs of the company but even to set its long-range goals and strategies. [..]

All this had certain parallels in the socialist nations. As early as 1921 Lenin felt called upon to denounce his own Soviet bureaucracy. Trotsky, in exile by 1930, charged that there were already five to six million managers in a class that "does not engage directly in productive labor, but administers, orders, commands, pardons and punishes." The means of production might belong to the state, he charged, "But the state . . . 'belongs' to the bureaucracy." In the 1950's Milovan Djilas, in The New Class, attacked the growing power of the managerial elites in Yugoslavia. Tito, who imprisoned Djilas, himself complained about "technocracy, bureaucracy, the class enemy." And fear of managerialism was the central theme in Mao's China [1].

Under socialism as well as capitalism, therefore, the integrators took effective power. For without them the parts of the system could not work together. The "machine" would not run.

Integrating a single business, or even a whole industry, was only a small part of what had to be done. Modern industrial society, as we have seen, developed a host of organizations, from labor unions and trade associations to churches, schools, health clinics, and recreational groups, all of which had to work within a framework of predictable rules. Laws were needed. Above all, the info-sphere, socio-sphere, and techno-sphere had to be brought into alignment with one another.

Out of this driving need for the integration of Second Wave civilization came the biggest coordinator of all—the integrational engine of the system: big government. It is the system's hunger for integration that explains the relentless rise of big government in every Second Wave

Again and again political demagogues arose to call for smaller government. Yet, once in office, the very same leaders expanded rather than contracted the size of government. This contradiction between rhetoric and real life becomes understandable the moment we recognize that the transcendent aim of all Second Wave governments has been to construct and maintain industrial civilization. Against this commitment, all lesser differences faded. Parties and politicians might squabble over other issues, but on this they were in tacit agreement And big government was part of their unspoken program regardless of the tune they sang, because industrial societies depend on government to perform essential integrational tasks.

In the words of political columnist Clayton Fritchey, the United States federal government never ceased to grow, even under three recent Republican administrations, for the simple reason that not even Houdini could dismantle it without serious and harmful consequences.

Free marketeers have argued that governments interfere with business. But left to private enterprise alone, industrialization would have come much more slowly—if, indeed, it could have come at all. Governments quickened the development of the railroad. They built harbors, roads, canals, and highways. They operated postal services and built or regulated telegraph, telephone, and broadcast systems.

They wrote commercial codes and standardized markets. They applied foreign policy pressures and tariffs to aid industry. They drove farmers off the land and into the industrial labor supply. They subsidized energy and advanced technology, often through military channels. At a thousand levels, governments assumed the integrative tasks that others could not, or would not, perform.

For government was the great accelerator. Because of its coercive power and tax revenues, it could do things that private enterprise could not afford to undertake. Governments could "hot up" the industrialization process by stepping in to fill emerging gaps in the system—before it became possible or profitable for private companies to do so. Governments could perform "anticipatory integration'.

By setting up mass education systems, governments not only helped to machine youngsters for their future roles in the industrial work force (hence, in effect, subsidizing industry) but also simultaneously encouraged the spread of the nuclear family form. By relieving the family of educational and other traditional functions, governments accelerated the adaptation of family structure to the needs of the factory system. At many different levels, therefore, governments orchestrated the complexity of Second Wave civilization.

Not surprisingly, as integration grew in importance both the substance and style of government changed. Presidents and prime ministers, for example, came to see themselves primarily as managers rather than as creative social and political leaders. In personality and manner they became almost interchangeable with the men who ran the large companies and production enterprises. While offering the obligatory lip service to democracy and social justice, the Nixons, Carters, Thatchers, Brezhnevs, Giscards, and Ohiras of the industrial world rode into office by promising little more than efficient management.

Across the board, therefore, in socialist as well as capitalist industrial societies, the same pattern emerged—big companies or production organizations and a huge governmental machine. And rather than workers seizing the means of production, as Marx predicted, or capitalists retaining power, as Adam Smith's followers might have preferred, a wholly new force arose to challenge both. The technicians of power seized the "means of integration" and, with it, the reins of social, cultural, political, and economic control. Second Wave societies were ruled by the integrators.


[1] Mao, leading the world's biggest First Wave nation, repeatedly warned against the rise of managerial elites and saw this as a dangerous concomitant of traditional industrialism.