Kenneth Boulding Conflict

Kenneth Boulding Conflict

BOULDING'S stay at Iowa State was interrupted by a year (1946-1947) at McGill University, where he served as chairman of the economics department. In June 1947, John Russell, the first of five Boulding children, was born. The family returned to Ames for the fall semester, with Boulding now established as a full professor. While in Canada, he had flirted with the idea of becoming a Canadian citizen; he now decided, as had long been his intention, to seek United States citizenship. He had taken out the necessary papers when he was at Colgate, but was fearful that final approval would be withheld because of his refusal to take the oath to bear arms. (During World War II, Boulding had not applied for con­scientious objector status, since he was unwilling to perform even the alternative service required of pacifists; drafted in 1944, he escaped going to jail when an Army psychiatrist, unable to come to terms with his description of the Quaker notion of divine guidance, awarded him a 4-F classification.) Boulding was prepared to carry his case for citizenship all the way to the Supreme Court. This turned out not to be neces­sary, for a sympathetic lower court judge found in his favor. In December 1948, Kenneth Boulding became a United States citizen.

In 1949, the newly established American became firmly entrenched in the front rank of his chosen profession. He left Ames to become professor of economics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which was considered to have one of the nation's top economics departments. At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Decem­ber, he received the John Bates Clark medal, given every other year to "that American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge."

Boulding was now a name to be conjured with. An in­creased demand for his work brought forth a literary output of remarkable proportions. He had always been industrious; between 1932 and 1949, he had published twenty-seven arti­cles, six book reviews, three pamphlets, two books, and a collection of religious sonnets based on the dying words of a Quaker martyr. But from 1950 to 1972, his output included some 300 articles, more than 100 book reviews, eleven pamphlets, nine books (excluding various new editions, col­lections of his own articles, and edited collections of others' articles), and miscellaneous verse.

Boulding considered that he had become a member of sev­eral different "invisible colleges"—a term he picked up from a Yale historian of science, Derek de Solla Price, who was intrigued with the discovery that Invisible College had been the original name of the British Royal Society. In Science Since Babylon, Price advanced the idea of new invisible col­leges consisting of groups of scientists bound together by a common interest in a particular area of research and com­municating by means of personal contact and informally circulated papers.23 Boulding found the idea congenial. For him, the idea of an invisible college had a spiritual dimension; in it, people were unified not by worldly ties but by a com­mon intellectual purpose. As such, the "intellectual college" was the perfect instrument of what Teilhard de Chardin called the noosphere, the earth's envelope of thought and knowledge which both liberated and bound together all mankind.

In economics, Boulding had never felt part of an invisible college; perhaps this was because he had worked largely on his own in the area of economic theory, reaching rather idiosyncratic conclusions. He was neither Keynesian nor Chicagoan. His first invisible college in economics was the "Ames School" at Iowa. At Michigan he began to move to­ward a broader invisible college in general systems; even his contract called for him to pursue interdisciplinary studies. During his first years at Michigan, he conducted annual fac­ulty seminars dealing with the integration of the social sci­ences. Each participant at these seminars was expected to present a paper from the standpoint of his own discipline on such topics as "The Theory of the Individual," "Growth," "Information and Communication," and "Conflict." Boulding's participation is reflected in a series of papers, includ­ing "A Conceptual Framework for Social Science,"25 "Eco­nomics as a Social Science,"26 "Toward a General Theory of Growth," "Contributions of Economics to the Theory of Conflict," "The Malthusian Model as a General Sys­tem," and "Notes on the Information Concept."30 The major work of Boulding's early career at Michigan was, how­ever, The Organizational Revolution.

In 1952, Boulding had been commissioned by the then Federal Council of Churches (later merged into the National Council of Churches) to make a study of the ethical implica­tions of the society's increasingly large economic organiza­tions. The Organizational Revolution, which appeared in 1953, combined a broad, interdisciplinary approach to eco­nomic institutions with a deeply felt expression of religious morality. Boulding was thus able both to urge his case for a unified social science and to pursue a recent interest in the relationship between economics and religion. This new inter­est had found expression in a number of papers written at this time: "Protestantism's Lost Economic Gospel,"31 "Religious Perspectives of College Teaching in Economics," "Reli­gious Foundations of Economic Progress," and "The Quaker Approach in Economic Life."
In the preface to The Organizational Revolution, Boulding set forth two points for the reader to keep in mind. First, he did not intend to eschew the role of moralist. "In this study . . . I shall write unashamedly in part as a moralist. I will, how­ever, endeavor to make the moral system as explicit as pos­sible." Second, Boulding saw the organization as a kind of organism, possessing a unity susceptible of coherent descrip­tion, characteristic modes of behavior, and a certain machin­ery of existence. As an organism, the organization had to be considered in the context of its ecological surroundings. The totality of human organizations, like the totality of biological organisms, constituted an ecosystem, a self-contained and self-perpetuating system of interacting populations.

But Boulding did not make the mistake of suggesting that human organizations are literally the same as biological organisms; on the contrary, he stressed that the constituent parts of organizations were conscious beings with wills of their own. Hence, organizations must deal with the problem of consent. Boulding concluded his preface by outlining what he considered to be the most serious problem which organiza­tions present to society:

The necessity for hierarchy in the structure of organization has created a severe moral dilemma which is by no means yet resolved. On the one hand we have the pull toward the organi­zational necessities of hierarchy, toward an aristocratic, highly stratified society of status. On the other hand there is a pro­found pull toward the moral ideal of equality—a pull which is especially strong in societies which have been affected by Christianity, with its emphasis on the equality of all men be­fore God and on the universality of love.

Boulding began by setting forth some basic characteristics of organizations. They tended to be benign toward insiders, hostile toward outsiders; they satisfied man's need for status by formalizing his place in society and thus making him feel more secure. The expansion of organizations was limited both by an increasingly unfavorable environment and by an increasingly unfavorable internal structure. This view of the limits of organizational expansion set up the book's principal thesis. The growth of economic organizations since about 1870, Boulding argued, had been the result of certain tech­nical improvements in transportation, in communications, and in organizing skill. These improvements had lessened the in­ternal resistances to growth and made the external ones more important. Economic organizations could and did grow to alarming size—this was the revolution—and therefore had provoked such governmental restrictions as antitrust legisla­tion. In fact, Boulding claimed, "one can almost describe the history of the present era as a continuous encroachment of politics on economics."

In economic terms, the advent of the new organizations led to both an increase in productivity and an impairment of the free market. Less and less were the prices of goods and ser­vices determined impersonally through the participation of individuals and numerous small firms in the market; instead, they had become increasingly responsive to the decisions and preferences of large labor unions and oligopolistic corpora­tions. Increases in prices and wages were more acceptable to these organizations than were decreases; the modern econ­omy thus acquired an inflationary bias. His thought here par­alleled Galbraith's. Boulding was, however, most interested in the ethical implications of the organizational revolution. These he took to be wrapped up with the very essence of organization.

The relation of ethics to organization can be summed up in the question how wrongs are righted; what machinery exists in the world for the correction of conditions which are perceived to need correction. This machinery, however, is precisely what is meant by organization.

For Boulding, the organization was basically a system of communication, hierarchically arranged, in which informa­tion was passed in increasingly refined form from lower levels up to a decision-making executive. For the organization to survive, the executive needed an accurate picture of the out­side world on which to base his decisions, i.e., to "right wrongs." The larger the organization, the more difficult was the task of putting together such a picture. Increasingly, therefore, the organization had come to depend on the effi­cient coordination of its personnel. Boulding saw a threat to human liberty in this subordination of men to the needs of the organization.

Boulding's paradigm for an effective organization was the thermostat. The thermostat was the homeostatic mechanism par excellence, designed to correct automatically any devia­tion from an "ideal" temperature. What Boulding really wanted to know about organizations was why they do not right wrongs. His answer was twofold. First, there might be technical defects in the organizational structure: gaps in communication, inadequacies of the executive, mistakes of the lower-echelon people. Second and more important were the moral issues. Organizations might themselves be designed to do things which were not right, or the ideal values of the variables which govern the organizations' behavior might be wrong values. With these two concerns in mind, he turned to a consideration of several types of modern organizations: the labor movement, the farm organization movement, business organizations, and the national state.

In each case, Boulding emphasized the ascendance of per­sonal and political relations over exchange in economic life. Much of the strength of a large organization lay in its ability to provide its members with desired status and to elicit moral and emotional support from them. At the same time, it pos­sessed and exercised the power to coerce both its members and outsiders to further its own ends. Boulding thus began to see the economy—and, indeed, society as a whole—as sub­ject to three organizing forces: the exchange of goods and services for mutual benefit, coercion or fear of reprisal, and love or the integration of desires and objectives. Unfortu­nately, the chief alternative to exchange seemed to be fear:

As organizations grow larger and larger, relationships must of necessity become more and more formalized, and the most acute problem of society is to achieve the right degree and kind of formalization. A society whose theoretical structure has never faced this problem, and which tries to apply a fami-listic ethic to a brontosaurian organization, will end in a ter­roristic rigidity. In our present state of knowledge the only substitute for the cash nexus is the fear nexus: a society moved not by the hope of gain but by fear of the inquisitor.

Organizations were here to stay, but they did not augur well for the future of man. They had forced free-market exchange into the background. Did that mean that the inevitable des­tiny of humanity was a society based on fear? Boulding saw but one way out of this dilemma:

We have reached the pass now in the development of man where there is almost literally no choice but love; where the only basis of human organization which can function is that of common concern and common need. It is on this slender foundation that the future of man must be built.

A doctrine of love lay at the heart of Boulding's religious belief. A decade earlier, he had asked a Quaker audience how it responded to the words "God is Love." "Perhaps," he suggested, "they lead you into a comfortable corner of your soul, well insulated from the chilly world of rational thought, where you secretly indulge in spiritual drinking." This and similar responses signifying less than total commitment were unfortunate:

If any of these conditions is yours, then you have missed a treasure. For to some these words are a key to a Kingdom, a Kingdom where Truth reigns in so great majesty that we can hardly bear the splendour, where life springs born again from every moment of time, and where a rich joy compounded of bitter spices scents every breath we breathe.

In the Organizational Revolution, Boulding tried to give love a respectable place in the chilly world of social theory. He did not accept the view that two opposite coercions would cancel each other out, as Galbraith optimistically held in his doctrine of "countervailing power." The danger of counter-coercion was only too apparent, Boulding felt, in "the ap­palling breakdown of national defense in our day."42 Rather, competition in love had to be substituted for competition in fear. By this, Boulding meant that a moral and organizational environment had to be created in which "those organizations which are not meeting the needs of man, and which are not serving to right wrongs, will not survive in competition with those organizations which are meeting the needs of man."43 The social-democratic state had the capacity to establish such an environment within its borders. It possessed mech­anisms "for the righting of wrongs; it had rules governing the behavior of organizations, including itself; it could combine a healthy plurality of interests and institutions with a sense of common purpose and responsibility.
Unfortunately, such a sense of common purpose was developed to no small extent through wars with other nations. And here lay the greatest danger of all:

It is the complete failure of the social-democratic state to solve the problem of its defense which threatens to suppress all its other virtues and to transform it into something different —a militarized garrison state—or to overthrow it alto­gether.
Boulding offered no program for eliminating war. Distrust­ing the immense coercive powers which a world state would have, he also suspected that it would prove unable either to attract the support or solve the problems of the entire earth's population. Rather, he stressed the importance of ethical vi­sion: international cooperation must proceed at all levels based on the principle of universal brotherhood. For there was no simple mechanical solution to the problem of organi­zations.
The final conclusion, therefore, is that though organizations are here to stay and though the only solution to many of the problems which they raise seems to be ever more and larger organizations, yet there is no substitute for the Word of God —the sharp sword of truth in the prophetic individual, the penetrating moral insight that cuts through the shows and ex­cuses of even the best-organized society.

Included in the first edition of The Organizational Revolu­tion was a series of basically friendly critiques by a number of economists, sociologists, and theologians. One of the con­tributors, Reinhold Niebuhr, disagreed with Boulding's fun­damental conviction that the great evil confronting society was coercion. Rather, Niebuhr argued, it was man's inherent selfishness. In his response, Boulding noted that this disagree­ment reflected a difference in theological positions. He saw man as essentially good, though corrupted by outside con­straints, whereas Niebuhr saw him as inescapably sinful. Boulding here expressed the Quaker notion of man's per­fectibility, which in fact underlies all his work. Knowledge, the original cause of man's Fall, now becomes the agent of his salvation, freeing him from the trammels of malignant external forces and allowing his natural goodness to emerge. The task of increasing knowledge is thus an essential part of God' s work.