“Slouching” Omission: Mishandling þe Theme of þe Industrial Research Laboratory: First Edition p. 2
I think this may well be the biggest flaw in the book-as-printed. And the very sharp Arthur Goldhammer agrees, and sends a withering, accurate critique
The passage is:
Things changed starting around 1870. Then we got the institutions for organization and research and the technologies—we got full globalization, the industrial research laboratory, and the modern corporation. These were the keys. These unlocked the gate that had previously kept humanity in dire poverty. The problem of making humanity rich could now be posed to the market economy, because it now had a solution.
Arthur Goldhammer has a withering critique of how the theme of the industrial research lab is developed—or, rather, left undeveloped in the book:
Given your emphasis on the importance of the "industrial research lab" in this period, you might have devoted more space to this theme. Examples would have been welcome, along with a deeper historical account of the evolving relationship between pure and applied research. World War II marked a turning point here, and I'm thinking not just of the Manhattan Project but also of the MIT Radiation Lab, Lawrence's lab at Berkeley, Bell Labs, etc. University science scaled up to industrial magnitude, while industry opened itself up to basic research as never before. Subsuming all this under the head of "industrial research lab" (and without differentiation across your lengthy period) doesn't quite do it justice. I could have done with fewer pages devoted to rudimentary solid-state physics and the doping of silicon and more on the sociological transformation of big science by postwar projects such as the SAGE radar system, early computer systems such as ENIAC and UNIVAC (which long predated integrated circuits), the development of FORTRAN, etc. The Edison/Tesla duality is not enough to capture the complexity of this nascent knowledge economy…
He is correct.
I wrote an email back to Art:
The only plea I can make is that the original very rough manuscript was twice as long (I am staring at various of its dismembered pieces as I write this), and throw myself upon the mercy of the court.
Yes, there is a draft of a chapter on the drive for European unity after World War II, starting with Jean Monnet showing up in de Gaulle’s goals office after the fall of France; a lot of talk about keeping the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down; a deeper dive into the issues of Barry Eichengreen’s and my long-ago Marshall Plan paper, and Paul-Henri Spaak’s proposal to erect a 50-foot statue of Joe Stalin as the Architect of European Unity in front of the Berlaymont in Brussels.
Yes, the “varieties of capitalism” literature is shamefully neglected—Hall and Soskice, Esping-Anderson, and all their company. I feel particularly bad about this because Peter A. Hall was one of the two people who gave me my summa, and thus convinced me that this was the business I ought to enter, rather than heading for Wall Street.
Yes, my neglect of industrial research labs (and corporate organizations) after having highlighted them at the beginning is, I think, a major misstep. It was supposed to be corporations, IRLs, and globalization all falling into place as the last pieces of the necessary institutional configuration for Modern Economic Growth; MEG’s rake’s progress, and all its political-economic and sociological vicissitudes. But I could not assemble a Grand Narrative for a book with that thrust.
So I would up with von Hayek vs. Polanyi, with Keynes off whimpering in the corner, as my Grand Narrative because it was the least false one I could manage to execute.
But there are many other figures who ought to be as prominent in the book as Karl Polanyi and Friedrich von Hayek are:
Karl Popper, Michael Polanyi, & Alasdair Macintyre on science and “rationality”
Michael Polanyi, Vaclav Smil, & Davis Landes on science and technology
David Landes, Alfred Chandler, and Peter Drucker on technology & the corporation
Josef Schumpeter, Theodore Veblen, & Ronald Coase on corporations & industries
Karl Popper, Walter Lippmann, & Thomas Dewey on hopes for rational self-government
William Beveridge on the taming of inequality through public provision and wealth redistribution
A.C. Pigou & John Maynard Keynes on light-fingered and soft-touch central planning as ways of aligning the imperatives of the market with the needs of society
There will, I hope, be another book—or an extended metaverse apology tour of extended web notes this fall…
As a veteran of 25 years at IBM Research, I felt the same disappointment. And not only is there more to the story of the Industrial research lab than Edison vs. Tesla, it's worth (and has been) the subject of a full book by itself. Some that material may have been left on the editing room floor along with the 400 pages cut from the earlier draft. Edison vs Tesla is indeed an interesting story. There was an interesting prior, private lab in Tuxedo Park that contributes some flavor to the eventual Los Alamos effort and Manhattan Project, but Los Alamos was only a part of the story. Major wartime labs were created at Hanford, Washington and Oak Ridge, Tenn. Supporting efforts at Berkeley, Livermore, and Sandia continued into the Cold War era. A parallel effort in radar and control spawned Labs in the MIT/Harvard area which survive as Draper Lab and Lincoln Labs. The launch of the computer era took place in not only Bell Labs for the transistor, (followed quickly by IBM and Texas Instruments' contributions). But computers were built at IAS, Penn, IBM, and MIT before settling into something like their current forms and architectures. Operating systems arose both in IBM and in the Boston-Berkeley axes that led to Unix and finally, through a global effort, to Linux. (Sorry, left out UK contributions, which were quite significant.) There were some major shifts in style and focus from defense emphasis to commercial ("tabulating machines") to ever smaller and more distributed computing "fabrics" of today. While these started out in industrial labs of the conventional sort, the rise of a startup economy shifted the center to firms like Apple and Google, whose dynamics are completely different from those of GE, ATT, IBM, and Microsoft..
It's a long story, not the one you started out to tell, but the change in the tech industry is an important part of your final questions about what comes next, post 2010.
I am just rereading Hobsbawm and that, together with Scott's comment below, bring up the whole issue of how much the wartime labs contributed to the take-off in technology that is so much of Brad's story of the twentieth century. The huge gaping hole in the right wing version of economic history is the role of government (and not just the modern corporation or Hayekian visions of markets) in economic takeoff. It also raises the question of how much the subcontracting of research to private corporations (as described by Scott) contributes to the takeoff of both.