Americans didn’t need to work so hard for a happy life.
Science would point the way to a brighter future.
New York industrial engineer Howard Scott, 48, director in chief of Technocracy Inc., delivered an Akron speech Oct. 19, 1938, that promised a revolutionary form of government that would provide security, leisure and abundance for all.
His proposed “government of engineers” would allow men to work four hours a day, four days a week and 165 days a year to receive everything they might want. According to his model, they would begin working at age 25 and retire at age 45 to enjoy leisure time. Furthermore, they would be paid $385 a week (about $6,845 today).
It may have sounded too good to be true, but Akron residents responded enthusiastically to Scott’s address during the Great Depression. Howard wore a gray, double-breasted suit — his so-called “uniform for living and working” — when he spoke at the Akron Armory at 8 p.m.
It was his second stop on a continental tour of 18 U.S. cities. Scott’s first lecture in Cleveland drew an audience of 2,000. In Akron, more than 2,500 people packed the armory. Tickets cost 35 cents (about $6.22 today).
Scott’s followers, many clad in gray suits, gave him a technocratic greeting, a military salute combined with a half bow, when the 6-foot-5 engineer took the stage.
“How many of you are better off today than you were a year ago?” the husky-voiced lecturer began. “Raise your right hands, please.”
The audience laughed when only six or seven hands rose from the crowd.
“We will have to have a government that can guarantee to every individual decent economic standards from birth to death,” Scott said, drawing cheers. “Modern technology is going to make us in America our brother’s keeper whether we like it or not.”
Scott professed to oppose capitalism, communism and fascism. He said the technocracy movement was open to all as long as they didn’t belong to political parties.
“The Republicans smell as bad as communists, and the Democrats are as odoriferous as fascists,” he said.
The technocracy movement dated back to 1919 when Scott and 350 scientists, engineers and economists formed the Technical Alliance of North America. They theorized that government would be better served if technical experts put their scientific minds to solving the nation’s problems instead of ill-informed politicians.
An alliance of gray-suited elites could end political government and form a Utopian society in which class distinctions, poverty and crime would become obsolete.
Scott, who had served as chief since 1933, said he co-founded technocracy because he was disgusted “at the stupidity and the graft of the World War.” The movement gained traction after the 1929 Wall Street crash ushered in the Depression.
“This country has the materials, the machines and the workers to produce everything for everybody,” he told the Akron audience.
“And all of our material wants could be satisfied through the labor of our able-bodied citizens between the ages of 25 and 45, each working four hours a day, four days a week.
“That, in a nutshell, is the aim of technocracy. It can be achieved only by planned, disciplined economy, under the direction of skilled engineers.”
He predicted that machinery would eventually replace human labor. A better way, he said, would be to make the machines work for the people.
“It’s stupid to work when you can just press a button,” he maintained.
Akron, East Akron, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls had local sections of technocracy. Before his speech at the armory, Scott met with the local governing boards in Polsky’s auditorium. Followers were required to enroll in courses to study 22 lessons that required nearly a year in classwork.
Scott predicted that capitalism would collapse and technocracy would prevail within the next 10 years, although he could not anticipate U.S. entry in World War II, the end of the Great Depression and the start of the baby boom.
One Akron audience member asked: “If the government is to control everything under technocracy, how are the heads of the government to be chosen?”
Scott responded rather cryptically: “A lot of people are always afraid of losing something they never had. Just like the radical parties, they spend all of their times seeking to perfect the technique to accomplish something they haven’t the ability to accomplish anyway.”
He told followers that American leaders would rise to the top like the biggest potatoes in a fast-moving freight train.
“Pretty soon you find all the little potatoes at the bottom because that’s where they apparently want to be,” Scott explained.
Science (and agriculture) would surely point the way.
Following his stay in Akron, the chief technocrat checked out of the Mayflower Hotel and continued his crusade across the country.
Howard Scott spent the next 30 years promoting gray-clad technocracy. He lived to the futuristic year of 1970, which turned out to be a far cry from Utopia.
Two days before his death at age 79 in Orlando, Fla., the chief technocrat reportedly lamented: “Never in history has a country been so unprepared for what is has to face.”