Chapter 8

Chapter Eight, finally, discusses the automation debate in West Germany and the United States. It continues the previous chapter’s focus on electronics and concludes the book’s move from mass production technologies to electronic technologies. While US productivity promised higher standards of living through higher wages and lower prices, many Europeans saw electronic computers as automation technology that would cause technological unemployment. When European productivity officers sought guidance on automation technology from their US counterparts, the latter interrupted transatlantic conversations by delaying responses and rejecting European requests—an unprecedented step within the Productivity Program, given the US administration’s eagerness to shape European firms and economies after the US model. For a brief period in 1955, the automation debate heated up in the United States, leading to several labor and academic conferences and congressional hearings. Yet, Walter Reuther and his Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) took a moderate, generally supportive position on technological change, and the debate soon died down. In West Germany, the automation debate lasted much longer and was more confrontational, particularly in the public press. But as in the United States, the debate died down over time, and West German companies, like the Allianz insurance company, introduced the new emblematic productivity technology, electronic computers.

European Production Agency, Requests for Data on Automation (1955)

As the 1950s progressed, the desire for more information relating to automation increased exponentially. Companies realized that it could be the next big thing and could help to increase productivity and wanted to find out how to do it for themselves…

Herman J. Rothberg, A Case Study of a Large Mechanized Bakery (1956)

In the mid 1950s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics took on a new study of the American workforce. As the demand for more knowledge of the ways that automation affected business increased, the Bureau started a series of reports detailing the ways that computing technology had been implemented in a series of businesses…

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