Imagine, if you will, a teenage boy, a utopian dreamer, always thinking about how to “save the world”, wandering through a county fair. In amongst the usual merchants he spots a booth run by an organization called Technocracy. A book with the title “Is There Intelligent Life on Earth?” catches his eye and draws him in. Being shy, he grabs a few pieces of literature and wanders off. Upon reading these it seems to be the very utopian dreams he has had, and this organization claims to have the “blueprints”. He and his father quickly join the organization and become deeply involved in it.
The boy, of course, was me. After many years I gradually drifted away from the organisation. M. King Hubbert, a co-founder of the organization and author of the “study course” left the organization in the 1940s, reportedly due to dissatisfaction with the way the organization was run, not with the ideas. I would like to think that he and I would have been in agreement on a number of points.
However, my purpose here is not to critique the organization, but rather to focus in on one of the key points the Technocrats made, their idea of “energy accounting”. Essentially they proposed replacing the “price system” (our current money/debt based system) with one which used energy measurements. The Technocrats paired this idea with the “abundance” of available resources, which seems paradoxical, since the idea of measuring energy resources becomes much more relevant in an era where energy is scarce. But when Technocracy’s ideas were put together, the resources available seemed nearly limitless. It took another 40 years for us to get our first taste of energy scarcity (I have vague memories of my parents waiting in long lines to fill up the gas tank) This is the point where we needed to start looking carefully at where our energy is coming from and where it is going. Sadly, this never happened.
The more general lesson of Technocracy is that we need to look for opportunities to apply scientific methods to everything we do. The more we can quantify things with objective measurements (whether energy or otherwise) the less prone we will be to being misled by snake-oil salesmen or vacuous politicians. This also means that if evidence is shown that what we are doing is ineffective or causing harm, we need to re-evaluate what we are doing. Sadly the Technocracy movement never figured this out, and even more tragically, we, as a culture, have veered farther from this ideal than we were when the Technocracy movement first started.