Forged Consensus: Science, Technology and Economic Policy in the United States.
Science and technology, like business, has played a central role in American political development. Yet histories of science, technology, and business have often been written, and even more often received, as though each were autonomous. David Hart, an assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, has written a book that breaks down some of these barriers. A synthetic work, Forged Consensus narrates the history of America's national policy on science and technology during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Hart correctly notes that many of these policies have important implications for the economy and that all of them are subject to the constraints within which the American political economy operates.
Hart rejects overly determined models of science and technology policy for an approach that features policy entrepreneurs operating in historical context. The story moves in straight forward chronological fashion. Each entrepreneur is identified with a conception of federal science and technology policy. Each of these policies, in turn, is embedded in a vision of the political economy. The amalgam of science/technology policy and economic policy distinguishes Hart's work from standard accounts of science/technology policy. Pitting five competing conceptions against each other in the rough and tumble world of politics gives the work its analytic edge. It is in the political marketplace that the policy entrepreneurs, regardless of ideological predisposition, are forced to compromise, forging the consensus of Hart's title.
Who are the entrepreneurs, what are their conceptions of science and what is the consensus that is ultimately forged? Conservative policy entrepreneurs are represented by Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon in the nineteen-twenties and Senator Robert Taft in the nineteen-forties. Believing that science and technology can improve society, they were determined (with the exception of Taft's policy on housing) to leave it up to the free market to decide the course of research and development. The "associationalists," epitomized by Herbert Hoover during his stint as Secretary of Commerce and Vannevar Bush from World War II on, agree with the conservatives in principle, but acknowledge that the market cannot always be relied upon to maximize the benefits of science and technology. Thus, they support the delegation of state authority to professionals and trade associations in order to coordinate, on a voluntary basis, the integration of science policy into the economy. Drawing on the work of Ellis Hawley and Ba rry Karl, Hart extends associationalism beyond the debacle of the National Industrial Recovery Administration where it usually ends. It is alive and kicking today in the guise of public-private technology partnerships. Reform liberals, led by Vice President Henry Wallace, David Lilienthal, and Thruman Arnold, championed structural reforms that placed the federal government in direct competition with science-based industry or regulated such industries through economic controls, patent reform, and antitrust policy. Commercial Keynesians, better represented by the Council for Economic Development than by any individual, though not particularly interested in science/technology in and of itself, supported expenditures for research and development as a legitimate means of stimulating the economy and boosting productivity. The final conception of science and technology policy, but the one that has the most dramatic impact on public expenditures, is derived from a commitment to the national security state. Military m en like Curtis LeMay and Hyman Rickover joined with politicians to advocate large-scale federal investment in weapons research in the name of national defense.
Hart demonstrates how conservatives and associationalists were forced to embrace a greater role for the state than they might have liked as the pressure to defend the nation mounted. Of his five conceptions, the Keynesian approach proved to be the most malleable, ultimately attracting entrepreneurs from competing schools, drawn to potential for government largesse and hands-off attitude towards structural reform. At least while the Cold War raged, military Keynesianism turned out to be just about everybody's second choice, thus emerging as the nation's first choice.
Forged Consensus is well written and covers a broad range of policy areas. Although it does not bring new research to the table or advance a thesis likely to change the scholarly debate about the politics of science and technology, it successfully achieves what Hart sets out to do: Capture the range of policy options available to Americans from the nineteen-twenties through the nineteen-fifties--including those that failed--and illustrate the synthetic nature of the consensus that emerged.
Brian Balogh is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia and is author of Chain Reaction: Expert Debate and Public Participation in American Commercial Nuclear Power, 1945-1975 (1991). He is currently working on a book about the origins and growth of big government in the United States.
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|Publication:||Business History Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2000|
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