Interviews with Sergei Bouglo, Professor William Keller, and Professor Peter Howitt.
Sergei Bouglo: To get a firsthand account of life in a rapidly industrializing nation, a member of our team spoke with Sergei Bouglo, who has lived in Russia since the mid-forties and until very recently, and observed that nation's entry into the industrial world in his everyday life as well as through the lens of his profession as a physical chemist studying polymers.
“In Russia, during my time, there was an active period of incorporating Western ideas in a Russian manner.
It is only now that I understand how long my life has been. After the war, when I was beginning to understand the world around me, I read many fantasy and science fiction books. At the end of the 20 th century, futurism – trying to understand the future in modern terms - was very much in style, not only in Russia but around the world. This literature and poetry tried to foresee what would come, how technology would change the way we lived, and these were my favorite books, those that tried to foresee the future. They talked about technology – television, spaceships – as though they were perfectly everyday things. The collective conscience was filled with images of technological and social changes that could happen any day…much of it really happened.
In Tashkent, I saw trolley lines for the first time – now that was unusual. I remembered the authors of all those science fiction novels – think if they had seen that it was real - ! The fruits of the industrial revolution, which had been somewhere in the fuzzy distance, suddenly became a significant part of life, changing relationships and gradually conquering our way of life.
For me it was possible to compare the American and Russian industrial works. Because of events i the war, Russian automobiles had been incorporating elements of Ford's inventions in their design. It was the incorporation of the concept into the Russian idea, adaptation of the general, basic form. It wasn't a matter of carrying something over the ocean – it had been plucked from America and brought to life.
I was amazed by the Studebachers, some of which had been brought over by lend-lease. Compared to Russian trucks, which were rectangular in form, it was streamlined; it looked stronger. That's the effect that competition had, more effort went into design.
I can still remember cars with the cabin made of wood. Of course, it was partially due to the war shortages; still, it's impossible to compare.
I suppose you could say that my mother was the first cybernetic professional in our family. She worked in an accounting and calculation center, with first-generation calculation machines, where all the information was stored on punch cards. Through her I had my first contact with this technology in the 1950s; I met with it more seriously in 1957. Government action was focused on the outlying regions, where I was. I bought a book, Cybernetics and Society, it was far from all of the futuristic ideas I had read about, but many of them were there.
This changed people and society very visibly. First of all, the social structure changed. If, in my youth, there were basically two social classes, the farm worker and the industrial laborer, the advent of new technology totally changed the stratography. It created new professions; an intensive education became more obviously integral to success. There were fewer situations where you could just learn by experience, now, fundamental knowledge was required to rise in one's profession. Those who tried to do something that made sense today lost – there was a constant change. Whole professions died, like that of the telegraphist.
It also changed the way of life within the family. My mother had spent about one third of her life just cleaning, but to a certain extent, that activity was replaced by the automatization of the kitchen and home.
Over the years, Russia internalized much of the new technology. The first plane I saw flew over the Chivchik, a small steppe river, when I was there with friends. It was flying overhead, and suddenly the idea of people in the air was a reality.
Suddenly, it was announced that Sputnik had been launched, and the idea that it was truly and reliably out there, and you could listen to it beeping over the radio, was totally fantastic. The same thing occurred when they sent Laika into space, and a total uproar when we learned Gagarin had flown into space. He was a national hero, and the atmosphere was joyful, like the ninth of May in 1945 – another day of victory. And this was only the tip of the iceberg. Each of the next developments, even though they weren't greeted with the same level of astonishment, still had a significant impact on the national mentality, and it still seems astounding.
That's just the metal-based technology. There was possibly another revolution, unnoticed because it was so subtle, in the material of production, that caused as much if not more change. During my lifetime, we saw a wholly different material come into use; plastics. It was a brilliant idea, a production material organized like a living tissue in mechanical structure. It was reminiscent of the best architecture – logically spaced and extremely difficult to design. Fiberglass, for example, could withstand huge amounts of pressure in one direction, and that allowed us to construct lightweight, strong structures. It led to the development of everything from modern aviation to household goods.
Today, elements of the continuing industrial revolution can be almost frightening – like genetic engineering. It is obvious that man is empowered to do it – but what next? There are unforeseeable consequences.
Most important is the concept of energetics. During the initial phase of the Industrial Revolution, everything was driven by coal. It was a great day that, some time after the war, our apartment building received electric lighting. When it was turned on, there was a cry throughout the building: 'there's light, light!' Life is just one great exchange of energy, and that is one field that will continue to change in the future."
Professor William Keller: To get a professional perspective on the effects of industry on the modern world as it continues to develop, we interviewed Professor William Keller, who specializes in foreign relations at Pittsburgh University.
1. Has there been, in modern times, a technological revolution of the same caliber as the industrial changes that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? How has the development of new technologies influenced economic models?
Well, I am not an economist, but I would still assert that the digital communications revolution together with the rapid advance of technologies such as biotechnology, industrial automation, and transportation has revolutionized the way that we communicate, work, and travel. There has also been a massive shift, at least in the United States to higher skilled work and to the service industries. Your question talks about a technological revolution, but it might as well have added the ingredient of 'globalization,' which is simply the transmission of capital, technology, goods, education, services, and people across national boundaries. The technological revolution of the late 20th century has changed most aspects of our lives and society, even the way that our military forces are equipped, deployed and engaged. I don't know that the new technologies have influenced economic models, but I would assert that they have enabled whole new industries, changing economic relations among industries, institutions and governments, both in the US and around the industrialized world. Keep in mind that the new technologies and 'globalization' is so far mainly limited to about one quarter of the world's population.
2. How does traditional industry compare to more recently initiated information-transfer technology in economic impact? Does either one have a more significant effect on a nation or region's economic and political success in the modern world? I am not sure what you mean by "traditional industry." Is there some line of demarcation between traditional and new, higher tech industries?
Of course, successful entry into semiconductor, computer, and other information technology industries determines the economic success of states in the modern world. Every major economic power has a national innovation system, which will be blended into the global economy to differing degrees, but that is another discussion.
3. Are there areas of the world which have recently been developing industry at especially heightened rates? How does this affect their economic situations? Their interrelations with other nations?
Of course. China has had a 25 year economic growth sprit and it is changing the lives of 100s of millions of Chinese. It has also changed the character of the international economic system. It may be that the GATT-WTO system created by the US after WWII can expand to included a massively productive China (and soon India as well); and it may be that a new system will have to be developed to accommodate the influx of over 2 billion people into the modern era.
4. What is your take on the situation of recent industrial growth in Asia? Does this constitute an industrial revolution?
Yes. The 'developing' nations of Asia are going through an industrial revolution equivalent that of Europe and later the US. Only it is happening in accelerated time. And they are skipping right to the new technologies, especially in the development of infrastructure. China and India, for example, are going straight to universal cell phone service, mainly forgoing the old land lines in favor of the new technology.
5. How has the development of new technology and industry, especially in Asia and the Middle East, contributed to economic as well as political changes in the region? How deeply rooted are these changes - are they likely to last, or will they peter out?
Asia and the Middle East are very different places. Asia is now a major competitor with the US and Europe, and eventfully they may even surpass us economically. So the roots are very deep indeed, especially if you include Japan, the world's second largest economy and a technological powerhouse. China is not far behind. The Middle East is much poorer and most of it lags the rest of the world technologically. Still, it is difficulty to see how the clock can be turned back, unless Osama bin Laden comes to power and establishes a 21st century Islamic caliphate, an unlikely development.
Professor Peter Howitt: A telephone interview with Peter Howitt, professor of macroeconomics and economic growth at Brown University, to gain perspective on waves of technological innovation and their influence on changing patterns of economics and political relations.
1. Has there been a technological revolution of the same caliber as the industrial changes that took place during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? How has the development of new technologies influenced economic models?
“Yes, that's a subject of much debate. It's very clear that there was a second industrial revolution around the beginning of the 20 th century, with the use of electricity and the internal combustion engine. This was when people acquired automobiles, radio, use of electricity in consumer products, electric power manufacturing, which led to a total reorganization of the way people lived. More recently, there's been a major change in information technology and communication; it was a time of rapid innovation. But I think now there's pretty much agreement that that also constitutes a revolution.
I would say that in recent times, the US and others of the wealthier countries have become knowledge-based economies, and that was a significant change. There's been a movement toward reducing manufacture and also making manufacture more efficient, which reduces the amount of the economy that depends on it. What changed, for example, in the United States, was that there's less of a strong labor class. There was formerly a working class who could cause real change, but that really isn't the case anymore. It's obvious that new technologies are redefining modern economy, but exactly how it's doing so is a great question. It's pretty clear that new technology thrives in a capitalist economy, primarily because, with socialism, there are fewer wealthy people who could provide financial backing for new ventures. Technological change has placed a large premium on flexibility in the work situation, and the planning involved in a socialist economy makes it that much less flexible.”
2. Is there an economic model that best fits an industrial society? A post-industrial one? Do these need to be imposed, or do they develop naturally in the absence of a scheme?
“I don't believe there is really one best solution – obviously this is a very subjective question, but it has to be examined on a case-by-case-basis, because each nation has its own set of influential factors that determine success.
No system really develops naturally, because, again, in each region there is a group of entrenched interests that usually dominate what will happen. What you do see is a tendency to more openness toward other systems, because it is challenging to survive independently of other systems.”
3. Is this a result of globalization? In the present stage of globalization, is it more difficult to sustain the theoretical basis for an economy, because there's so much outside influence? Does it make an economical system vaguer in its definition?
“Nations are becoming more open as a result of globalization, but it's a slow process. They are more willing to support national champions while allowing outsiders to compete within the same market. In that sense, much of the planning is now being replaced with more open competition.
Definitions have in a sense become more vague; obviously, it's impossible to sustain an economy that follows a theoretical model exactly. For example, the anxiety over the US trade deficit with China, which is actually a trade deficit with all of Asia, shows how much more interdependent nations are because of this trend. What globalization really does is promote equality among nations because they are all competing at the same level.”
4. How is the situation in China an example of how globalization causes the economy to differ from its theoretical setup?
“The Chinese case is unusual because it combines selective economic globalization with political authoritarianism, which seems like a contradictory combination; a similar situation is occurring in Singapore.”
5. What is your take on recent industrial growth in Asian countries such as China? Does this constitute an industrial revolution in its impact?
“It will be a while before China approaches leadership in the technological field. Currently, it makes use of already developed information technology, but is far behind in terms of agriculture and education, which began the first industrial revolution. After the Liberation, there was a period of very tight control, and that absence of freedom restricted the ability to develop its own technology. Right now Asia is essentially the manufacture center of the world, and could catch up to other nations.”
6. How has the development of new technology in Asia and the Middle East contributed to economic changes in the region? Are these impacts likely to last, or will they peter out?
“The Middle East economy is essentially dependent on oil and transport. The stakes there are going up with the oil price. Prices are also rising for other commodities, because of growth in India and China.”
7. How do developing nations, such as those in Africa, stand with regard to industry? What would have to happen for an industrial revolution to occur there?
“Introducing industry would be an important stage in the process. Currently, these nations tend to base their economies on natural resources, and one danger of a resource-based economy is that there is a limited capacity for sustaining it, since at some point the resources could run out or be replaced. This tends to divert resources from industry and information control to dealing with the resources; in Africa, oil and diamonds. The way to address this would be for people to invest in an industrial infrastructure. It could possibly happen through an outside organization, but groups like the U.N. don't have the power to do this sort of thing; it would have to be internalized by the nation. In principle, it could happen, but there is really no way to be sure.”
8. Is industrial production as important today as it was during the past centuries to a nation's economic and political function? What has changed since then?
“There is really no one answer – economies are definitely on a different developing path but there is still a large demand for manufactured products that will never really stop. Right now, this is supplied by India and China, and other nations in the region. The problem is that in the long run, success depends on productivity growth; more rapid manufacturing leads to a shrinking industry because less of it is required to fulfill demand. For example, in the United States, developing technology led to the virtual disappearance of the agricultural sector; it's now about 23% of the economy, so it's no longer feasible for agriculture to be the basis. In China, it is, but it could become less so as people become richer.
Still, in general, we're all headed toward a knowledge-based economy. Industry has to develop for a long time, but as we can see from nations such as India, success in the information technology field, just as in the field of traditional industry, depends on the individual advantages of each nation, like the very high quality of schools there. Different strategies work for different systems, but definitely not all industry will be replaced.”