As a public document, the Report of the National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress possesses rare virtue. The search for consensus by distinguished academics like Daniel Bell and Robert Solow, labor leaders like Walter Reuther and Joseph Bierne, and businessmen like Philip Sporn and Thomas J. Watson, Jr. has not been permitted to blunt an unusually vigorous intellectual thrust toward sharp diagnosis and effective remedy.
In order to appreciate the full value of the Report, it is wise to recall something of the context in which the Commission began its short life. The Commission was the federal government's response to the general sense of uneasiness and apprehension which has accompanied the rapid introduction into factories and offices of the computers and automatic control devices usually grouped together under the name of automation. At about the same time as the members of the group received their Presidential appointments (December 1964), the Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution issued its apocalyptic diagnosis of a forthcoming condition in which much or most work (as work is currently defined) would be rendered otiose by the new computer technology. The portion of the Ad Hoc Committee's recommendations which received the most public attention was a guaranteed minimum income payable to all members of the population either unemployed, unemployable, or earning sums below a decent minimum. Closely related to this proposal was an extreme position in the argument that has been raging for some years among economists, sociologists, and public officials—a controversy over the actual rate at which technological change has been occurring and the actual numbers of men and women who either have already been displaced by automation or are likely in the near future to be displaced.
In the sluggish economy of the 1950's, attempts at explaining American rates of unemployment-rates which were uniquely high for that decade among industrial nations—focused upon either structural deficiencies in our national arrangements, or deficiencies in aggregate demand caused by the fiscal and monetary primitivism of an unenlightened national administration. The structuralists tended to argue that the pace of technological change had indeed accelerated and that one of the consequences of the acceleration was the permanent displacement of those individuals who possessed no readily transferable skills, particularly blue-collar workers. If this were true, it followed that simply stimulating the economy was no adequate remedy for the situation of workers who lacked education, skill, or aptitude for the new jobs being created by the new technology: extensive programs of reeducation and retraining were necessary. Conservative structuralists hoped that such programs would take care of most of the new unemployed; extreme structuralists more pessimistically postulated a large number of the permanently displaced.
For its part, the aggregate-demand school argued that the pace of technical change in the 1950's was perfectly consistent with the statistical trend of the past half century, and that unemployment was largely a consequence not of automation but of the defective fiscal and monetary policies of the Eisenhower administration. It followed from this diagnosis that the remedy lay in policies of the variety by now banal among economists brought up on Keynes—stimulation of the economy either by a substantial increase in public spending or by a sharp tax reduction. Indeed, insofar as the 1960 Presidential campaign developed a substantial issue between Nixon and Kennedy, it turned on the question of whether or not two Republican administrations had been culpable in permitting the United States to finish next to last (ahead only of Great Britain) in the international growth sweepstakes. Reinforcing the Democratic position was the fact that the year of John Kennedy's inauguration was part of the third recession the United States had experienced in less than eight years—a record equaled by no other country.
At least in his first year as President, it was the structuralist rather than the aggregate-demand approach which exerted a greater appeal on Kennedy as a way of dealing with our lagging economy. In part, this preference was shaped by a difficult balance-of-payments situation, and in part by the genuine fiscal conservatism of a politician with direct experience of a New England economy whose ailments seemed mostly structural. No doubt the politics of the Eisenhower aftermath also implied a structuralist program, for eight years of Eisenhower timidity, caution, and emphasis upon the heroic qualities of budget-balancing made it difficult to persuade Congress that either large spending programs or substantial tax cuts were advantageous. For reasons of this sort, what the President asked of Congress in 1961 was mostly a series of rather inexpensive measures designed to effect at least a marginal improvement in the situation of particular groups and localities. Congress had made several feints at the issue before, but it was only in 1961 that it finally passed the Area Redevelopment Act. A ragbag of policies, including a small retraining program, the measure was soon converted into another pork-barrel, open to Congressional raiding even for the benefit of districts not very depressed. In 1961, too, the Manpower Retraining and Development Act was passed. This bill was also based on the structuralist premise that long-term unemployment was caused above all by the deficiencies of skill, education, and motivation of the unemployed themselves. Indeed, Kennedy's single deliberate concession to the aggregate-demand school was the investment tax credit (the first of several tax benefits offered by Kennedy and Johnson). In effect, this tax credit amounted to a 7 per cent reduction in the price of all the machines, tools, equipment, and factory structures which business decided to purchase. In Keynesian theory, a stimulant to investment is twice blessed, since it increases national income immediately by the amount of the new investment and, through the “multiplier” impact of the investment, also enlarges personal income and personal consumption by a still greater amount. Such was the oddity of the political climate in 1961 that the business community had to be argued into accepting a measure so obviously beneficial to investment and profit.
The sensible, modest, tentative initial steps toward a coherent economic policy for a changing industrial society which Kennedy sought and received from Congress were all too evidently no more than that—sensible, modest, and tentative. To be sure, the economy did begin to expand in 1961, but it was an exceedingly dilatory expansion, so majestic in its pace as to hold out very little hope of reaching the so-called interim unemployment target of 4 per cent in Kennedy's first term. In fact, it was not until the very end of 1965 that this figure—itself far from a condition of full employment—was finally recorded.
The economy's unsatisfactory response to 1961 policies combined with Walter Heller's and Paul Samuelson's patient tuition to persuade Kennedy that the time had come to try other, bolder devices. In 1962 and 1963, the choice lay between a dramatic rise in public spending on the order of $10 billion and a tax cut of the same size. The first alternative included a social bonus: an increase in the importance of the public sector. The second contained a political bonus: the support, in Congress and out, of everyone who wanted to enlarge the sphere of private choice.
Although Kennedy plumped for a major tax reduction as the centerpiece of his 1963 program, it was not until February 1964 that Congress enacted the measure. As a way of stimulating the economy, there is no question that the Tax Act of 1964 has been a success. Its effects began to be felt from the moment the proposal was introduced in January 1963, as businessmen and consumers made an upward revision in their expectations of income, sales, and profits. The economic expansion begun in 1961 and accelerated in 1963 still continues, and provides as vivid a testimonial as one could wish to the efficacy of Keynesian public finance.
Thus, we are brought to our current situation. During the year or so of the deliberations of the Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress, unemployment has steadily declined. The decline—and still more the likelihood of a further drop in 1966—explains an important feature of the Report: the fact that it begins as an investigation of unemployment and ends as a major essay on social policy.
One of the virtues of the Report is a well-argued resolution of the automation controversy. As the Commission interprets present rates of productivity change, the United States is not trembling on the “verge of a glut of productivity sufficient to make our economic institutions and the notion of gainful employment obsolete”—the central claim of the Triple Revolutionaries. Nevertheless, “the pace of technological change has increased in recent decades, and may increase in the future, but a sharp break in the continuity of technical progress has not occurred, nor is it likely to occur in the next decade.” To this conclusion is attached an important qualification. The present acceleration in annual per capita productivity gains (excluding agriculture) from 2.0 per cent before World War II to 2.5 per cent since World War II, entails a doubling of total output in 28 years instead of in 36 years as in the past. The shortened time scale, judges the Report, “is quite enough to justify the feeling of continuous change that is so much a part of the contemporary environment.” And, one might add, is a political fact of considerable significance.
All the Report's predictions are for the next decade only, but it is plain that the Commission is skeptical about the possibility that major technological novelties (either now in development or in earlier stages of evolution) will significantly alter present rates of technical change even beyond the next decade. Studies made for the Commission indicate that, in spite of an acceleration in the rate at which novelties are diffused, it still takes some fourteen years before inventions are translated into consumer or producer goods and a further 1-15 years before as many as half of the firms in an industry emulate the innovating leader. The inference drawn is this: “It seems safe to conclude that most major technological discoveries which will have a significant economic impact within the next decade are already at least in an identifiable stage of commercial development.”
On this critical issue the Commission's argument is convincing. The Report thus reinforces the confidence of most economists in the efficacy of federal stimulation of aggregate demand as the best way to reduce unemployment. Although 4 per cent is still a high rate of unemployment, it is a rate that compares favorably with the 5-7 per cent range of the 1950's and early 1960's. Moreover, unemployment in 1966 may well descend to 3 per cent—a figure which is very close to most definitions of full employment. During the last five years, “automation” has indeed displaced workers, and quite probably at the 20,000-per-week clip so often cited in alarm, but most of those displaced have secured other jobs. The Commission has a point when it says that “the basic fact is that technology eliminates jobs, not work,” at least when sensible public policy directs itself to the maintenance of high levels of aggregate demand.
This out of the way, the Report turns to the issues involved in managing social and economic policy in such a manner as to make full use of gains in productivity and full provision for a decent existence for all members of the community. What the Commission recommends to start with is familiar enough to readers of Kennedy-Johnson messages to Congress and the Economic Reports of the Council of Economic Advisers. Above all, it is essential that budgetary and interest-rate policy be directed toward the support at high levels of the total spending of consumers, businessmen, and public bodies. In a glancing reference to current discussions, the Commission affirms its disbelief in the idea that the “toleration of unnecessary unemployment is an acceptable way to relieve inflationary pressure.” In a time of incipient inflationary pressure, what is appropriate instead is an intensification of efforts to retrain displaced workers, upgrade the semi-literate, encourage the shift of workers from less productive to more productive occupations—in short, a commitment to those elements of manpower policy which have already demonstrated their worth even according to the newly-fashionable criteria of cost-benefit analysis. “Manpower policy,” the Commission assures us, “is triply productive as it enriches the prospects of the disadvantaged, adds to the productive capacity of the nation, and helps relieve inflationary pressures.”
As the Commission sees it, a sensible, enlightened manpower policy would facilitate desirable shifts in the occupational and the geographic job structure—movements from farms to cities, South to North, blue-collar to white-collar, production of goods to production of services. It would meet the special national obligation to diminish the dangerously high rate of unemployment among the young. It would undertake a serious national mission to tackle Negro unemployment. Here the Commission makes one projection which deserves wide attention: “If non-whites continue to hold the same proportion of jobs in each occupation as in 1964, the non-white unemployment rate in 1975 will be more than five times that for the labor force as a whole.” The moral could not be plainer: “. . . non-whites must gain access to the rapidly-growing higher skilled and white-collar occupations at a faster rate than in the past eight years if their unemployment rate is to be brought down to the common level.” This is possible in a buoyant economy, but only if manpower measures do their job, as an indispensable supplement to aggregate measures.
All tx Eisenhower era, is still rather low-proof. But the Report does pass beyond these fiscal, monetary, and manpower recommendations in its advocacy of two major new policies. The first emerges from the recognition that there are some people whose skills and aptitudes are simply insufficient, even after training, to enable them to compete successfully in contemporary labor markets even when these markets operate within a prosperous economy. For such unfortunates, the Commission quietly proposes that the federal government turn itself into an employer of last resort. A striking set of numbers estimates the jobs which need to be filled in order to bring public services up to present levels of acceptable operation. Here are the Commission's estimates:
|Potential Sources of New Jobs
through Public Service Employment
|Source of Employment||Job Potential|
|Medical institutions & health svces.||1,200,000|
|Welfare and home care||700,000|
|Urban renewal and sanitation||650,000|
For the most part, these are jobs which require the simplest variety of manual skill. They are the custodial, personal-service, and public-improvement jobs, the scamping of which in our society has much to do with the filth of the cities, the inhumanity of the hospitals, the limited hours during which museums are open, and the lack of amenity that characterizes our public places. There is a refreshing simplicity in the combination of unfilled national needs and unwanted human beings. With admirable aplomb, the Commission suggests an initial appropriation of $2-billion, enough to support possibly 500,000 additional full-time jobs.
There is a group still more unfortunate than the candidates for public-service employment. Of the 20 million people who in the fiscal year 1964-65 received $28 billion in welfare benefits, perhaps half subsist below the poverty line. They include the widowed, the disabled, the elderly, the totally incapacitated. For the genuinely needy, our welfare arrangements are woefully inadequate. As Nathan Glazer has recently emphasized, insofar as the assault on poverty is intended to raise incomes, it is in large part misdirected. We could drastically reduce the number of individuals who fall below the poverty line simply by reconstructing and enlarging our welfare benefits.
For some of the unemployed, there is at least the hope of a job sometimes. But consider the size of the average payment per person under the aid to dependent children program (ADC): it is $34 per month. As the Report summarizes the entire welfare situation: “Less than one-quarter of the 35 million people now living in poverty receive any type of public assistance payment and less than one-third of the 15 million children living in poverty benefit from public assistance.” Such as it is, all assistance is administered under the most humiliating conditions, complete with means tests, detailed regulations, invasions of privacy, and incessant surveillance. The social workers, who in a more rational society might assist their clients, instead spend the bulk of their time checking up on them and filling out the endless forms which are the testimonials to their diligence, if not the mark of their own servitude.
To its great credit, the Commission proposes not a patching of the system alone but a negative income tax, whereby those whose income falls below a certain level would receive supplementary payments from the government. The tax is not designed as a substitute for all social-welfare programs—as Professor Milton Friedman, one of the tax's proponents, hopes—but as a valuable income supplement to the rehabilitation and sympathetic support of a better social-welfare program. For a mere $5-8 billion, it is possible to go 50 per cent of the way toward the elimination of poverty-level incomes. Employing existing income-tax mechanisms, it is easy to adjust rates for negative as well as positive returns. The Commission proposal is coupled with a useful note of amplification from the labor members: federal standards should be established to prevent the more ungenerous states from seizing the opportunity to reduce their already exiguous welfare payments.
For accepting unrhetorically in a matter-or-fact manner both income maintenance and expanded government employment, the Commission deserves the very highest praise. In particular, the negative income tax, promoted by this Report and aided by the unusual concurrence (for different reasons) of liberal economists like James Tobin and conservative economists like Milton Friedman, may stand a real chance of enactment within the next five or ten years, particularly if the Vietnam war contracts in scale. At the least, the Commission has set in motion two proposals which not so very long ago had a most radical aspect to them. If it helps achieve public familiarity and then public acceptance of these proposals, the Report will deserve an honorable place as an important document of American social progress.
After saying this much, is there any reason to do other than dismiss the members of the Commission with thanks for a job far better performed than one could reasonably have anticipated of a semi-public body representing diverse interests? The answer, I think, is yes, and I shall devote the remainder of this essay to saying why.
The Report's shortcomings are closely related to its objectives, and these in turn are not comprehended by the fiscal, monetary, manpower, welfare, and income-maintenance programs which I have already discussed. There is no question that a society which pursued these policies and adopted these programs would be a considerably more humane society than the United States in 1966; oddly enugh, it would also be a much more efficient society. Nevertheless, the thrust of the Commission's argument stretches far beyond a mere transformation of existing economic policy and social care. In the Commission's words and italics, “. . . we are being asked, what can our society have, how can it get what it wants? In short, we are being asked to deal with the quality of human life in the years ahead.” It is according to the adequacy of the Commission's answers to its own questions that one can appropriately evaluate its work.
The Report approaches the issue of the shape of a better society in a special manner, by asking whether any means are available to us for identifying human and community needs. To this question, the Reports returns a negative answer. We lack the rational mechanisms we require to tell us what is wrong with ourselves. Social policy is generally made “piecemeal.” It is distorted by “vested interests” which often use their power to “obtain unjust shares.” There are at hand “few mechanisms” of the kind which are necessary “to see the range of alternatives and thus enable us to choose with a comprehension of the consequences of our choice.”
If we accept the Commission's reasoning, much of the explanation for the critical weaknesses of our social decisions is to be found in the division of economic goods between public and private production. For the latter, free markets are the means by which preference scales are organized. Where competition is even reasonably effective, producers who sense the tastes and inclinations of their customers flourish; those who do not, falter and fail. Thus the pattern of output corresponds broadly to the preferences of individual consumers. Not so with public goods. For “we cannot individually buy in the marketplace our share of unpolluted air,” or, for that matter, our share of national defense or space exploration. If we limited higher education to those families able to purchase it for their children, we should frustrate the talents of many young people and deny the fruits of these talents to the community. Hence nobody would apply unqualified market tests to government output. Nevertheless, public production requires some acceptable justification, and it is a deficiency of our society that we lack “an effective social calculus to give us true valuations of the entire costs and benefits of individual and social purchases.” So long as we lack the calculus, we cannot tell with any assurance just what the optimum combination of private consumption and public services is.
It is possible to quarrel with the Report's statement of the condition. As economists have known for a long time, private production often entails some unregistered costs. For example, Consolidated Edison's pollution of the metropolitan air raises expenditures for window cleaning, building rehabilitation, dry cleaning, medical attendance, and hospital care: in short, electrical energy costs more than the bill from the utility declares it does. And there are people who seriously question the efficiency of a private sector in which oligopoly, monopoly, and the conscientious distortion of consumer tastes by advertising are so prominent. To be really certain of the rational consequences of private markets, we should fragmentize giant corporations, ban advertising, and destroy trade unions—not a program for tomorrow.
However, for purposes of orderly exposition, let us accept the Commission's position and see where we are taken next. The Commission wants above all to improve the rationality of public choice and public expenditure. With that goal in mind, it makes three suggestions. The first is research into community needs: “For example, a research effort which resulted in a new, integrated concept of water supply, desalination, and waste disposal might prompt political action, just as the potential space and rocketry research resulted in the decision to embark on the man-to-the-moon project.” (In America, the Commission seems to say, what can be done, soon gets done.) A second suggestion goes to the heart of the problem of estimating costs. “Efforts should be made to improve our capability to recognize and evaluate social costs and social benefits more adequately and to supply better information to the public and to political leaders on cost-benefit relationships.” Finally, the Report, in an ominous throwback to the Eisenhower Commission on National Goals, recommends a commission “of high prestige and distinction which would engage in the study of national goals and in the evaluation of our national performance in relation to such goals.”
On the issues raised by these proposals, the Report has much to say that is interesting and a good deal that is novel. Thus, in a discussion of health care, the Commission sees possibilities in automated multi-phasic screens, diagnosing the condition of hundreds of patients each hour, and in regional health computer centers capable of storing the medical histories of 12-20 million persons; it also advances more conventional proposals for expanded training of doctors, nurses, and ancillary personnel. When it approaches the massive difficulties of creating an attractive urban environment out of our traffic-dogged, dirt-covered, and slum-defaced cities, the Commission concentrates on transportation, air and water pollution, and housing. It is convinced that federal support of a “systems research program directed toward particular multi-state regions” holds the largest promise of success. Since information about the causes of air and water pollution, and particularly about the costs of its control and prevention, is comparatively meager, the Commission is led to “urge an enlargement of current research,” and more quickly a fee system designed to promote the construction of waste-disposal systems and the federal creation of river-basin authorities on a regional basis.
As for housing, the Commission regards it as the most recalcitrant of urban problems, the most antique in its techniques, the most afflicted by racial prejudice (both in construction and sale), and the most corrupted by special alliances (of contractors, unions, and politicians). Even more than usual, the Report relies here on federal action as the catalyst. The role of the federal government is crucial as the patron of basic research, the market for experimental housing, the standard-setter in its own housing programs, the leader in the modernization of obsolete building codes, and the natural promoter of a new industry centered upon mass-production techniques and massive urban reconstruction.
We have, says the Commission, the technology to do almost anything we collectively decide we want to do to improve the quality of our common environment. We simply lack the knowledge about how best to apply the technology. In social affairs, as in rocketry and military weapons systems, knowledge leads to action, even if sometimes a technology-infatuated culture does not pause to ask the consequences of the action. But just as Robert McNamara has used cost effectiveness and program budgets to rationalize the $50-60 billion which the Department of Defense annually expends, we can apply cost-benefit and systems-analysis to the programming of social spending.
As a proposition, this is exceedingly seductive. It amounts to a recipe for cool research rather than hot politics, orderly university training rather than untidy street demonstrations, and the forging of a consensus out of rational thought rather than out of conflicts of ideologies and interests. Even if the picture misrepresents reality, one would like to believe that its central premise can be turned into a creative social myth of the sort which persuades people to behave in new ways.
This is why it is a pity that so little in our recent experience or our immediate prospects lends plausibility to such a vision of orderly social change. As it happens, our technology has been quite adequate for a long time to achieve certain social goals—and without any help from systems analysis. We do not need systems analysis to send larger checks to welfare clients; nor are there any technical obstacles in the way of liberalizing training allowances, educational grants to the talented sons and daughters of poor families, and unemployment compensation payments. No advance in cost-benefit analysis is required to extend the protection of workmen's compensation, unemployment insurance, and old-age benefits to migrant farm laborers. Or, to return to the shortage of health facilities: granted that computer diagnosis and sophisticated computer retrieval methods can generate vast economies in medical care, these potential gains still do not explain why in 1966 we have too few doctors. After all, we know how to train them; it is a profession endowed with high prestige: why then don't youngsters flock into medical schools, some years later to staff hospitals now largely served by foreign interns and residents? Everybody knows the familiar answers—the trade-union attitudes of the American Medical Association, the vast cost of training facilities, and the inadequate scholarship aid available for medical students. What impedes expansion is existing institutional interests and existing inequities of income distribution.
A similar observation applies to urban slums. The disgrace of their existence will persist even if building technology is modernized, craft-union sabotage defeated, and ancient building codes discarded. Given the racial prejudice which has prevented public construction of low-income housing in the suburbs and which has confined growing numbers of Negroes and Puerto Ricans to central city ghettos, not even six thousand computers deployed in serried array can bring decent housing to minorities.
What these comments imply about the Commission's approach to social change is simple enough. Change takes place either when the interests of politically potent groups are allied to change, or when such groups accept change in preference to riot and revolt. In the 1960's, the triumph of Keynesian public finance was the consequence of the belated perception by a not-very-bright business community of the benefits that government-supported prosperity offered the businessman in his search for sales and profits. Support for federal aid to higher education grew with the ascent of college tuition charges. The conservative middle classes saw their interest in higher quality education only when its costs hit them personally.
Thus, it is quite possible that in the next decade there will be general public support for federal auto-safety standards, meaningful control of pesticides, and genuine assaults upon water and air pollution. These are environmental hazards which afflict everybody. It is here, no doubt, that systems analysis, computer science, and cost-benefit analysis stand their best chance of influencing events. But it should be plain that not all the measures which the Commission supports coincide so obviously with the interests of the large prosperous majority of Americans whose incomes place them far above the poverty line and whose skin color protects them against the continuing discriminations which their less fortunately pigmented fellow-citizens continue to encounter.
The most massive evidence of the familiar human reluctance to set the public good above personal advantage is the obvious national preference in 1963, 1964, and 1965 for general tax reductions over larger social-welfare expenditures. In the last five years, federal taxes have been slashed something like $20 billion. This sum, available each year, could easily have paid for the $2 billion public-employment program the Commission recommends, and a generous negative income tax into the bargain. The tax-cut choice had very little to do with social valuations and a great deal to do with the political force and influence of the businessmen and middle and upper-income families—who derived the bulk of the gains—as against the relative lack of such force and influence among the poor and the unemployed—who benefited only slightly from the successive tax slashes.
The remedies of poverty, like its causes, are in substantial degree political and not technical. Public transportation is more likely to become available in Watts because of last year's riots than because of the generalized good will—a chancy emotion—of more affluent Californians. Negro schools in the South will be integrated more rapidly as Negroes become a political force to be reckoned with. As Saul Alinsky has repeatedly demonstrated, militancy on the part of the poor improves garbage collection, housing inspection, school services, even police manners. It is no accident that the Community Action Program of the War on Poverty has run into so much trouble. The dimmest mayor realizes that when the poor organize they are bound to ask for a great many inconvenient things.
It does not detract from the general intellectual value of systems and cost-benefit analysis to point out that political pressures and political choices will determine the sphere of application of the techniques. Indeed, even when these instruments of rational choice are employed, we should be wary of the results. Cost-benefit anaylsis can help compare the relative virtues of various job-training programs, various approaches to pollution control, or even various ways of expanding the supply of low-cost housing. But cost-benefit analysis is most unlikely to demonstrate persuasively that it is better to raise taxes than to reduce social-welfare expenditures (one of 1966's possible issues), and it is even less /?/ to explain just how to distribute the pains of ax increases or the pleasures of tax cuts. One wonders just how useful to Mayor Lindsay a cost-benefit analysis of commuter payments and receipts would be. Would the triumphant conclusion that the commuters are paying less than their fair share toward city services (which everybody knows anyway) really persuade them to accept a city income tax with good grace? It is not cynical to conclude that they would continue to resist such a tax to the full extent of their political power and personal influence.
Thus at its center, the Report is flawed. Implicitly, its authors assume a basic harmony of interests among the major orders of American society. We know that this harmony has severe limits which are defined by self- and group-interest. The Report evinces a lingering confidence in the appeal to authority, here personified by “some national body of distinguished private citizens representing diverse interests and constituencies and devoted to a continuing discussion of national goals.” From such a body, the Commission expects a “monitoring” of social change, an identification of “possible social trends,” and a suggestion of “policy alternatives to deal with them.” What it is likely to receive are either the windy platitudes of Eisenhower study groups or a series of minority reports.
Worst of all is the Commission's excessive dependence upon technique and method as the solvents of social change. Here, it seems to me, the Commission has things the wrong way around: it is not so much that social needs can be fulfilled when the technical prerequisites to their fulfillment are present; it is rather that urgently-enough felt social needs will produce the technical tools required to relieve them. This is the lesson of military technology. The commitment to social change precedes the methods by which change can be rationally evaluated; it does not follow them.
In sum, this Report deserves general gratitude and respect for what it has recommended and for the platitudes it has refrained from emitting. One hopes that it will be widely read and discussed. Its very merits entitle it to criticism for its neglect of the politics of social change, and for the optimism which leads to the hope that important social changes can be the result of amicable discussion and intelligent measurement. Even in America, even in the 1960's, significant alteration in the way we conduct our lives seems mainly to come about through social and political conflict, extra-legal action, riots in the streets, and the death of martyrs.