|New Technologies across the Atlantic: US Leadership or European Autonomy? (UNU, 1988, 170 pages)|
The late 1980s may turn out to be a turning point in world history, one of the moments at which future historians will mark the end of one period and the beginning of a new period. The last twenty years have witnessed fundamental structural changes in the economies of advanced capitalist countries and yet these changes have not been reflected in the behaviour of political institutions. Indeed, it can be argued that it is the mismatch between the global economy and international political arrangements that explains both the world recession and the heightened concern about security issues.
The transformation of the world economy that has occured over the last twenty years is sometimes described as a change in the 'regime of accumulation' or 'technological paradigm.' Capitalist history tends to go through phases, each characterized by a specific conjuncture of production and consumption processes, geographical location, forms of transportation, composition of the labour force, etc. Hence, the introduction of the factory system and the mass production of textiles established British economic leadership in the early part of the nineteenth century. This was followed by what Marx called the era of machinofacture, with the widespread use of the steam engine, and of iron and later steel to make machinery and railways. It was in this period that Germany and America became powerful competitors to Britain. Then came what is often known as Fordism, with the introduction of Fordist mass production techniques, the internal combustion engine, the intensive use of oil, and the spread of automobiles and consumer durables - all of which established the preeminence of the United States.
In the last twenty years, a new 'paradigm', a new way of doing things, seems to have emerged. This is usually characterised as a revolution in information technology - the combination of large-scale data processing made possible by the use of microelectronics and improvements in telecommunications, both because of the use of microelectronics for switching and because of new forms of transmission, using fibre optics and satellites. This 'revolution', pioneered in Japan, offers the possibility of dramatic changes in the world economy. These changes include:
· A change in producer-user relations, with greater integration, through the use of information, between production and distribution, on the one hand and design and production on the other hand, allowing for much greater flexibility in automated production processes. Hence, it becomes easier to produce small batches of specialized products and respond quickly to changed requirements. These changes are often described as flexible specialization.
· A reduction in waste. Improved information makes it possible to reduce stock holdings and to plan production so as to reduce the use of energy and raw materials. In other words, it allows for resource-saving as opposed to labour-saving innovation.
· The transformation of the service sectors, offices and banks, and of the so-called 'sunset' industries, e.g. furniture or clothing, which were largely bypassed by the Fordist revolution.
· A change in the structure of the labour force, with the disappearance of many skilled jobs and the tendency to create a two-tiered workforce consisting of skilled, white-collar workers (computer programmers, etc.) and unskilled variable labour.
· A shift in economic geography, especially the shift from the United States to Japan. In the last twenty years, the US share of OECD manufactured exports has declined from 2 l per cent to 16.6 per cent, and the US now has a substantial deficit in manufacturing trade. In contrast, the Japanese share of OECD manufactured exports has doubled, from 9 per cent to 18 per cent, and Japanese manufactured exports are roughly four times the size of their manufactured imports. West Europeans, excluding Britain, have managed, more or less. to retain their international trading position.
Although many of these changes are already underway, the way in which information technology is diffused, how it is used, or whom it will benefit, are by no means determined. Invention is not at all the same as assimilation. New techniques are often around for a long time before they come together to constitute a new way of doing things, with transforming potential for the whole society. Generally speaking, new regimes of accumulation or new technological paradigms are introduced within a specific culture, a social and institutional context that is favourable to the application of a specific set of new techniques. Hence, the United States in the early part of the twentieth century, with a relatively egalitarian society, physical space, an abundance of oil, and a readiness to experiment, provided a favourable environment for the assimilation of Fordist mass production techniques, as well as mass transportation and consumption.
It was not so obvious that Fordism, as practised in the US, suited the rest of the world. Indeed, it can be argued that the postwar political arrangements, especially Atlanticism, were a way of internationalising American culture. Atlanticism, helped to provide an international social and institutional context for the diffusion of Fordism. It did so in several ways. First, it provided a stable political framework in Western Europe and in the capitalist countries of the Pacific area. It stemmed the spread of socialist ideas and established a kind of compromise between social democracy and American individualism. Secondly, it provided a political underpinning for a global set of economic arrangements - Bretton Woods, GATT, OECD - that allowed for the free flow of trade and investment. And thirdly, and perhaps most underestimated, it gave rise to a kind of complicity or common set of preferences about technological choices. Indeed, NATO could be described as a kind of technology policy. Military technology and associated infrastructure (roads, airfields, communications, etc.) were collectively determined through the collective determination of strategy. Because military technology dominated technology budgets and the activities of technology-intensive companies, this had a powerful influence on the overall direction of technology - for example, the emphasis on oil and nuclear power rather than coal, say, or on roads and airfields rather than railways.
The new technological regime or 'paradigm' has its origins in social conditions in Japan - shortages of space and raw materials, traditional gangs of workers, 'family' enterprises. It is cultural factors that explain the economic performance of Japan, especially in electronics. The techniques of micro-electronics were largely invented in the United States, but they were assimilated most successfully by Japan. What is at issue now is the way in which the new paradigm is developed and diffused. And this depends, first and foremost, on the domestic and international political change - who shapes future international political arrangements, and on how political institutions mediate, stimulate and respond to social and economic change. Current political institutions - NATO, the IMF, GATT, or even the political parties based on Fordist labour - seem outdated and unable to cope with the new problems and conflicts thrown up by the shift of paradigm.
The competition in technology policies described in this book can be interpreted as competing bids to determine the future direction of accumulation and to gain or regain the economic and political initiative. Pianta shows how new American military programmes or strategies, like the Strategic Defence Initiative, Air Land Battle or the maritime strategy, represent ways of adapting the new technologies to prevailing American military institutions and can thus be interpreted as industrial as well as political ways of restoring US hegemony. On the other hand, competing West European programmes like Eureka or the European Fighter Aircraft, do not essentially counter US hegemony; they are merely ways of establishing military-technological institutions on the American model.
The problem today is not how to copy either the United States or Japan, but how to find ways of fulfilling local needs whether here in Europe or in the Third World in the face of US and Soviet military power and Japanese economic power. The solution is not technology policy for its own sake, but rather ways of changing relations between state and society and between producers and users so as to allow both for individual creativity and a sense of community, for democracy and self-determination at local, national and regional levels, and global co-operation. We need to develop social and political institutions that are directed towards the solution of global problems - human rights, poverty and hunger, the environment, war and violence - and yet which allow individual nations and even localities to achieve a certain economic and political self-sufficiency. Technology may well help us to achieve some of these goals but only if harnessed to a politically-determined process of decision-making. This book will help us to discuss some of the specific ways - dealignment, economic conversion, or co-operation among social movements - through which this might come about.
This is also the topic and the perspective of this book, focusing on the role played by technological strategies in US - European relations in the 1980s. Transatlantic relations are chosen for their critical importance in the current economic and political order, and in the decisions for the future of both Europe and the United States. The rising power of Japan, however, will be a permanent presence in the analysis. The broader context of East - West and North - South relations, a key element in the changing relations across the Atlantic, will remain in the background, as an extensive treatment would have enlarged too much the scope of this work. For the same reason, only in few major cases the book enters into the details of the political, economic and technological processes developing within the different European countries.
The genesis of this book is equally complex. Many of the questions here addressed have firstly emerged in my work with the newspaper Il Manifesto in Rome and with the Italian peace movement. They became more clear in discussions within the European Nuclear Disarmament network, Archivio Disarmo in Rome, and the Transnational Institute, in Amsterdam.
The search for answers began in Washington, DC, at the Institute for Policy Studies, working on a project for the United Nations University's 'Subprogramme on Peace and Global Transformations,' directed by Mary Kaldor. Finally, the book was completed in New York, as a research fellow in the 'Corliss Lamont Programme' with Seymour Melman at Columbia University.
To all these groups and institutions 1 owe thanks for their stimulating environment, for their generosity and hospitality. Information, discussion and advice have come from too many people to list them all here. To Mary Kaldor I owe my greatest debt for many of the ideas and the approach here used, and for much discussion and help. Special thanks are due to Bob Borosage of the Institute for Policy Studies, Seymour Melman and the other 'Lamont fellows' at Columbia University. Among my Italian friends I wish to thank Danielle Mazzonis, Giovanna Ricoveri, Daniele Archibugi, Mario Martiny and Tom Benetollo. Finally' thanks are due to the many friends that have accompanied parts of my travels and stays over the last two years, and to Roberta Pirastu for her reappearance. Needless to say, the responsibility for judgements and mistakes is only mine.