Technical Fix

Technical Fix

ENERGY FUTURE: REPORT OF THE ENERGY PROJECT AT THE HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL, edited by Robert Stobaugh and Daniel Yergin. New York: Random House. 353 pp. $12.95.

One of the classic pitfalls in setting policies for the social use of technology is the search for a “technical fix”—a resolution of social and political contradictions through the introduction of new technology. The technical fix represents an attempt to ameliorate economic or social problems without touching the power relationships that lie at their roots. The recent history of American policymaking is littered with the wrecks of technical fixes, from factory-built housing to the MacNamara Line. Yet, these illusory solutions will no doubt remain attractive as long as the desire persists to solve problems cleverly without the inconvenience of disturbing anyone’s entrenched power.

The evident need for new energy supplies has called forth its share of technical fixes, from gasohol to the solar power satellite. But, essential as technology is to resolving the energy problem, its roots are as much social and political as technical. By the very measures that make our present standard of energy consumption possible, technology has rendered the present organization of energy supply and use obsolete. The growing scale and complexity of energy industries have required such a high degree of worldwide coordination and centralization that the industries are now altogether incapable of functioning in a competitive market.