R. Buckminster Fuller and Technocracy Incorporated

Howard Scott

[An expanded, corrected and illustrated update of this article appears in The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller.]

The history and goals of Technocracy Incorporated should be known by those interested in the life and works of R. Buckminster Fuller. Sometimes Technocracy and Fuller influenced each other, sometimes they were at odds, but knowledge of the former is necessary for understanding the latter.

Beginning in 1919, Howard Scott (1 April 1890 – 1 January 1970) led a survey of production and consumption of energy in North America. Scott and his team determined that a great deal of waste was occurring, and that this waste was the cause of economic disparity. Were the production and consumption of energy in North America organized toward efficiency and the prosperity of the continent, all would prosper with less work. Fuller conducted similar surveys. The first was on the production and consumption of copper as an employee of the Phelps-Dodge Corporation in 1936, As an employee of Fortune Magazine in 1938, Fuller compiled more inclusive lists of production and consumption of the ‘One Town World’ (an idea presented later as ‘Earth Inc.’ and later still as ‘Spaceship Earth’). In 1970 Fuller presented a hands-on method of studying global resources, the World Game.

Technocracy Incorporated was the organization Scott founded to promote and implement the creation of a North American Technate. The Technate is a corporation located in what is now the North American continent. Nearly all the resources required for self-perpetuation are to be found on or around this land mass, thus no further territory is required.  While all are welcome to study and promote Technocracy, Technocracy Incorporated has been explicit from its founding that they have no theory of an assumption to power, nor will they accept any political means of advancement.  The Technate will occur, but in its own time and through mass support.  Fuller often spoke of the means for global utopia being at hand, were the resources of the world re-directed from weaponry to ‘livingry.’  Technocracy is dead-set against the price system, Fuller was dead-set against capitalism.  Fuller was explicit from the late 1920s onward that he had no interest in holding political office, being imitated or starting a cult.  His life experiment was a one-man show.

Technocracy Incorporated holds that the true value of any good or service is to be found in the amount of electricity required to produce and distribute it.  Any other valuation is a means of social control, keeping a few wealthy and most poor.  By the implementation of the Technate, goods and services could be produced and distributed according to need rather than money.  Fuller spoke of the wealth of a body of people in terms of ‘energy slaves,’ or how much electricity that body of people produced and consumed.  By the creation of a global energy grid, the horsepower of those ‘energy slaves’ could be distributed as needed rather than as purchased.

Technocracy Incorporated published the Technocracy Study Course in 1934.  The book sold through several editions in rapid order and remains in print today on the Internet.  Several sections of the Technocracy Study Course will sound familiar to students of Fuller. For example, Technocracy Inc. has a plan for the re-invention of the automobile that shares common ground with Fuller’s Dymaxion Car

It goes without saying that, in accordance with our criterion of least energy cost, the cars would be really streamlined, which would require that the engine be placed in the rear rather than in the front; they would be powered with the most efficient power unit that could be devised.

Technocracy Incorporated views housing as a basic human need with objective solutions – the objective solution of efficiency and production for function rather than profit. The following could have come from Fuller’s own pen…

So great is the edict of habit on the human animal that it becomes almost impossible for one to detach himself sufficiently to take an objective view of the subject of housing. Our houses, and our buildings and structures generally, resemble our clothing in that they attain a certain convention and thereafter we tend to accept them without further question. It never occurs to us to ask whether the prevailing convention is better or worse than other possible styles. The training of our architects is such as to tend to perpetuate this state of affairs. Aside from draftsmanship and a small amount of elementary training in strength of materials and other structural detail, our students of architecture spend most of their time studying the architectural details of the ceremonial buildings of the past-temples, cathedrals, palaces and the like. This accounts for the fact that power plants are seen with Corinthian columns, banks with Gothic windows, and libraries resembling Greek temples. The problem of designing buildings in accordance with the functions they are to perform seems rarely to have occurred to architects.

The successful architect of today is either one who has developed an architectural firm that receives commissions for designing large and expensive buildings, such as skyscrapers, hospitals, courthouses, and the like, or else an individual practitioner who knows sufficiently well the pecuniary canon of good taste to receive commissions for the design of residence in the expensive residential sections of our cities and their suburbs.

Technocracy Incorporated has consistently refrained from supporting or attacking any other thinker or school of thought. At least by name…

If an architect wishes to be really ‘modern,’ he then proceeds to do something ‘different.’ He designs houses made completely of glass or metal, and hung from a post. The two basic questions that seem never to occur in connection with these endeavors are: ‘What is the building for’? and ‘Would it be practicable to house the inhabitants of an entire continent in such structures’?

Here Technocracy Inc. gives a clear elbow to the ribs of Fuller, whose 4-D House of 1927 was to be made of metal and suspended from a pole.

Membership in Technocracy Inc. has waxed and waned but in no way is the organization a thing of the past.  Interest in Technocracy was greatest during a time of profound economic crisis in North America.  As North America (and the world) experiences a new low point in its fortunes, people are searching for new solutions to the old problems of economic disparity, waste of resources and political corruption.  Only one man – R. Buckminster Fuller – could be Bucky.  Technocracy Inc. is approaching its first century of activity, and membership is open.  The following resources are proof that interest in Technocracy is growing.

  • The Anti-Technocracy Forum. “I think technocracy, as a movement, was attractive as long as there was a growing suspicion that capitalism would not survive the depression – if in fact, it had not caused it. In any event, after World War II evaporated the depression, Technocracy immediately lost its bloom.”  Appears to be independent and distinct from Technocracy Incorporated.
  • Technocracy.eu. “The Network of European Technocrats (NET) is an autonomous research organization comprised of volunteer members from around the world since 2005.” A European resource.  Appears to be independent and distinct from Technocracy Incorporated.
  • The North American Technate and Technocracy Technate have largely the same content.  “This organization presents the findings and plan of action of the Technical Alliance.”  Appears to be independent and distinct from Technocracy Incorporated.
  • Technocracy Technate Think Tank.  “The project is conducting a survey of those who have  been through the Technocracy Study Course and gained sufficient understanding of Technocracy’s Continental Social Design as to be able to offer suggestions as to what can be done to facilitate the transition from financial accounting to energy accounting and establishment of the North American Technate no later than 2012 AD these ideas will be collected, collated and presented here.” Independent and distinct from Technocracy Incorporated.
  • Historical Background and Development of Social Security. The Social Security Administration describes Technocracy as “an eccentric reform movement,” one of many proposed solutions to problems in the United States that the Social Security Administration now claims to be addressing.

- Trevor Blake

Trevor Blake is the author of the Buckminster Fuller Bibliography, available at synchronofile.com.

Friday, April 16th, 2010 rbf, synchronofile