Revolt of the Engineers, Part III

2004-10-30

On pages 40-41 of The Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union, Loren R. Graham writes as follows:

Palchinsky promoted a very ambitious role for engineers. He wanted engineers to apply a new form of social analysis to problems of industrialization, and he believed that in order for this to happen the engineer's place in society must change. Earlier, the engineer had been assigned a passive role by society: higher authorities asked him to find solutions to technical problems. Now, Palchinsky maintained, the engineer must emerge as an active economic and industrial planner, suggesting where economic development should occur and what form it should take....

Palchinsky's vision of the new Soviet engineer was based on a justifiably strong conviction that a broad approach to engineering would result in more efficient industrial enterprises and more satisfied workers. The new model engineer also appealed to Palchinsky's professional pride. Edwin Layton observed that engineers in the United States in the same period displayed an "obsessive concern for social status." Palchinsky and his colleagues were eager to promote the engineer to a new prominence in society, and they believed that the Soviet state, with its emphasis on centrally planned industrialization, provided unusual opportunities for this promotion.

For all his sophistication about engineering, Palchinsky badly misunderstood the political course of the Soviet Union. His ambitions for engineers could be realized only in a society that granted the various professions a high degree of autonomy and whose government was willing to listen to advice from outside official circles. As he was to discover, Stalin had a very different vision of society and of industrialization.

Perhaps the engineer-entrepreneurs in Rand's Atlas Shrugged are the ultimate in autonomous professionals?


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