Technology as a stable factor
CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Mon Oct 25 09:26:48 MDT 1999
>>> "John M. Legge" <jlegge at msn.com.au> 10/22/99 06:18PM >>>
The division of labour can be found in Adam Smith, and so is 220 plus years
Charles: Actually, division of labor goes back hundreds of thousands of years. Hunters
and gatherers and gardening modes of production had division of labor, or some
specialization. By and large it is based on age and sex in the earliest socieities.
One famous use of the term "division of labor" is in Emile Durkheim, organic
I just looked at my post below , and I didn't use the term "division of labor" , so I
am not exactly sure what you are replying to in my post. Certainly, you are not
thinking that I think Henry Ford's assembly line is equivalent to the general term
"division of labor" or specialization ? The factories in the Industrial Revolution
had a division of labor within the plant. But division of labor is more general than
that. In fact, in order to have production for exchange rather than production for use
there must be division of labor in society. Capitalism represents an enormous leap in
the division of labor in this sense of society large. So, I am not saying "division of
labor" was invented in the last 100 years ( shheeshh), rather the assembly line is a
significant innovation in that becomes widespread in the technology of the production
process within the last 100 years.
Also, "mass production through use of interchangeable parts or fungible parts"
predates Ford, with the wood cutting lathe and Henry Maudsley in 1800
Application of it to motor car production was a refinement: an innovation,
but not a new technology. It was Taylor, not Ford, who designed the production
line and Taylor was active well before the turn of the century.
In _Automation and Social Progress_ , page 19,Lilley says:
"It was the car industry that established that other major characteristic (besides
interchangeability of parts) of modern practice, the assemblly line ( although that
has a prehistory too)...But the full advent of the modern assembly line was a
consequence of the mass-production car industry."
The conveyor belt is perhaps Ford's unique contribution.
So there were assembly lines before Taylor, and Taylor was a theoritician, not a
practicioner as far as I know. Lilley doesn't even mention him on the assembly line.
But on the fundamental point, assembly lines don't become widespread until Ford and
the auto industry. That constitutes a change in technology, an instability in
technology, the original question I raised about a sentence in Michael Perelman's book.
Synthetic organic materials go back to Perkins in the mid nineteenth century.
That is the technology: elaborating it into further classes of material represents
a series of Schumpeterian innovations, but not new technology.
Charles: Well, anything processed could be synthetic material, but the widespread use
of it, an explosion in it occurs more recently than 100 years.
Depends on how you define "technology". I would define it as the any part of the means
of production, whether instruments of production or raw materials. Anyway, all the
new raw materials are being used in instruments of production too.
It misses the basic point on stability of technology to argue as if everything in
technology has already existed as you are. The way you argue , it could be said there
are no instabilities in technology ever. Everything since the beginning of time has
been one big smooth transition. Or are you saying there was less stability in
technology in pre-capitalist socieities ?
If the assembly line or synthetic materials are used in some tiny, tiny area by an
obscure inventor, and then go to being used en masse , an explosion, in the proportion
of the total economy in which these inventions are used, then that is a change, a leap
, an instability in technology by any sensible defintion. It doesn't make sense to
talk of a stability in technology across those changes.
I specifically left out electricity from my list. However there have been leaps in the
range of use of electricity in less than the last 100 years too.
the telephone go back to last century.
Charles: Again to talk about isolated , tiny numbers of telephones as stable with
respect to the billions of telephones used in manufacture today is misuse of the term
"stabillity". Probably , literally no industrial manufacturers used telephones in
production when they were first invented ( ok a few maybe). Now, telephones are
critical for communication in manufacture. This is a qualitative change in telephone
technology in production.
Radio transmission is approaching its hundredth birthday.
Charles: Here even you have to fudge with "approaching". But the more important
criticism of what you are saying is above. A few radios vs. billions is a qualitative
change in technology, it is not a "stability in technology".
de Forrest's triode valve was, I think, 1923. The
programmable computer goes back to Babbage in the first half of last century.
Charles: This is getting a bit silly. If you think computer technology is stable
relative to the first half of the last century....then we think too differently to
even discuss this.
Just-in-time production is simply the application on an industrial scale of the
traditional purchasing behaviour of Japanese housewives.
Charles: No comment.
The bourgeoisie, as a class, revolutionise nothing. Individuals and small
groups develop innovations for all sorts of reasons, but in most cases the
modus operandi is to secure a transient monopoly over some product or
process and thereby recover the investment needed to bring it to market
through escaping from competition.
Charles: Lets try a little logic. The sentence "the bourgeoisie are constantly
revolutionizing the instruments of production" does not mean that the whole class of
the bourgeoisie is in on every significant change in the instruments of production. It
means that individual bourgeoisie and small groups of bourgeoisie make each of the
various innovations. Thus, when you look at all these individual and small group
innovations, they add up to the class as a whole constantly making changes.
Please.Can we discuss this on a less elementary level than that.
I totally agree with your assertion "the m. o. is to secure a transient monopoly over
some product or process and thereby ...etc." That's the engine of constantly
revolutionizing the instruments and means of production by the bourgeoisie.This is
exactly the motive that makes the statement logical and underlies the fact that there
have been many and rapid changes in technoloy under capitalism compared to other modes
of production such as feudalism.
"The competition," as such, often plays a very minor role. Taylor, one of
your exemplars, published and spoke widely, so his work could not be said
to give an advantage to any particular competitor.
Charles: If there wasn't competition, there would be no need to escape from it by
establishing a monopoly as you say. Taylor is not my exemplar , but your's. He did
not make hardly any of the many concrete innovations I mentioned. You don't seem to be
aware of trade secrets.
More recently, Toyota has
made no attempt to keep j-i-t or lean production to itself, going to
considerable trouble (at NUMMI in Fremont, Ca) to transfer their production
techniques to GM.
Charles: Almost none of the innovations in technology remain a monopoly of the
innovator for long. In fact, if they don't go over into general use, they aren't
really changes in "technology" as used in the phrase in Michael Perelman's book.
A minor point here is that Toyota and GM are one company on this.
Schumpeter's point was that the system (not the bourgeoisie) rewards
successful innovators and punishes those who fail to innovate.
Charles: Actually, I didn't say that the bourgeoisie rewards innovators, etc. ( My
impression is that the bourgeoisie rips off innovators if it can get away without
rewarding them and taking their innovations) I said the bourgeoisie are constantly
revolutionizing the instruments of production. To be precise, the system of
competition rewards bourgeoisie who innovate and punishes bourgeoisie who fail to
innovate. This is one of the important senses in which capitalism is a system and not
a policy of individual bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie have no choice but to act as
bourgeoisie , upon penalty of individual ruin by the acts of their fellow bourgeoisie
if they do not. The bourgeoisie are subject to the economic laws of the capitalist
system. So, what I said fits with what Schumpeter said.
capitalism its dynamic. Schumpeter also introduced the term co-respective
to suggest the extremely cautious approach to competition taken by
large firms. Most innovation is defensive, not so much a matter of getting a
leg up on the competition as getting their retaliation in first.
Charles: The phrase " not so much a matter of getting a leg up on the competition as
getting their retaliation in first " is a logical doozy. "Retaliation in first " is
self-contradictory. A retaliation , by definition, does not come first.
Neither the classical, neoclassical or even the standard IO models go even
close to describing the actual behaviour of firms in a modern capitalist
system. Marx, as Perelman points out, could not even convince Engels
that he understood contemporary business.
Charles: All of my exemplars below occurred in actual behavior of firms in modern
With respect ot Marx and Engels, you seem to be overgeneralizing , as above. What
Perelman said was that Marx couldn't convince Engels on the very specific and narrow
issue of a regular 10 year cycle of plant and equipment wearing out. Engels completely
endorsed Marx's understanding of the fundamentals of contemporary business, or
capitalism. See Engels's prefaces and introductions to _Capital_ volumes I and II.
You did not reply to most of my examplars below of technological "instability" within
the last 100 years.
----- Original Message -----
From: Charles Brown <CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us>
To: PKT-Seminars <PKT-Seminars at csf.colorado.edu>
Sent: Saturday, 23 October 1999 4:13
Subject: Re: Technology as a stable factor
> Well, what is Schumpeter's phrase ? Creative destruction.
> 100 years old ?
> Henry Ford's assembly line is less than 100.
> The internal combustion engine as a mass transportation technology is less than 100
>years old. ( trucks, tractors. jitneys, )
> Much of automation, transfer machines, automation of turning and grinding, et al
>are less than 100 ( See _Automation and Social Progress_ by S. Lilley , Lawrence and
> Plastics and many other synthetic raw materials are less than 100 years old.
> The transistor and silicon chips are less than 100 years old
> Telephonic, radio and television communication less than 100.( these are used in
>production as well as in individual consumption)
> Mass use of airplanes in production less than 100.
> Computer Aided Manufacture and Computer Aided Design is less than 100.
> Just in time delivery less than 100.
> Mini-steel mills, less than 100.
> Robotics less than 100.
> Catfish farms less than 100
> Many fertilizers less than 100.
> Containerization is less than 100.
> Atomic energy less than 100.
> Many biotechnologies less than 100.
> The bourgeoisie are constantly revolutionizing production in order to get a leg up
>on , none other than, the competition.
> >>> "John M. Legge" <jlegge at msn.com.au> 10/22/99 07:25AM >>>
> "constantly revolutionised?"
> Most major technologies in current use are at least a hundred years old.
> Obviously refinements continue to occur, but breathless hype is not needed.
> Consumer tastes change even more slowly: 19 of the top 20 US brands from
> 1930 are still in the top 20.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Charles Brown <CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us>
> To: PKT-Seminars <PKT-Seminars at csf.colorado.edu>
> Sent: Thursday, October 21, 1999 6:00 PM
> Subject: Technology as a stable factor
> > Michael,
> > On page 17 of your book , you say ,"In short, prices should be flexible
> enough (to) adapt to new technologies or the development of new patterns of
> demand. However, both of these factors are relatively stable."
> > I thought that technology and the instruments of production are constantly
> revolutionized in market economies.
> > Charles Brown
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