Whitford, Philip; Whitford, Kathryn (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume 74 (1986)
Technology, institutions, global economy and world peace, pp. 14-18 PDF (2.6 MB)
14TECHNOLOGY, INSTITUTIONS, GLOBAL ECONOMY AND WORLD PEACE PETER DORNER Dean of International Studies and Programs University of Wisconsin-Madison It seems quite natural for creative human beings to invent or modify techniques for satisfying their changing needs and wants. In this process and over time, the concept of what constitutes a natural resource changes with changing human aims, objectives and ambitions. What constitutes a resource in human terms is indeed a function of knowledge and technique. Only a little more than a century ago petroleum near the surface was considered a nuisance; today it is referred to as black gold. The moon was a romantic symbol and outer space a void throughout most of history; today both are becoming highly prized resources. The changing view of resources brought about by new knowledge, new techniques and new wants often leads to conflict. New or modified human institutions are required to manage these conflicts and to keep them from destroying the community. Changing techniques and scientifically advanced technologies, like new resources, often require a redefinition of the political unit that makes public policy. In the more or less self-sufficient Wisconsin farming communities of 100 years ago, where the major source of power and transport was the horse, local communities could set the rules. But with the coming of the automobile, a hodgepodge of local rules and regulations proved chaotic. The building of roads, the registration and licensing of both vehicles and drivers, the handling and sale of gasoline, the responsible and safe use of these powerful "horse-less carriages," etc., required a new set of institutions and a larger political unit to make public rules. The State of Wisconsin had to get involved in these policies. Neighboring states had to coordinate their policies on a number of issues and still other policies had to be set at the national (federal) level. The airplane created still more complex problems, and commercial air travel could not function today without at least minimal international rules and procedures—for example a common language for international air traffic controllers and common safety and security procedures. As I look at our national experience over the past 50 years or so, within my own lifetime, it seems that our policy response to problems created by ever changing technologies and new resources has moved from local to state to federal levels. I think this shift has been mostly the result of three factors: (1) Technology made the local community an inappropriate political unit for policy, thus the regulatory powers of government have shifted from the states to the federal level. One good example is in the regulation and control of the increasing number of complex chemical compounds used in many production processes. (2) Our large internal common market made policy at the state level an ineffective instrument for various forms of market intervention— e.g. farm policy, product safety, labor legislation, setting and monitoring standards, etc. These too are related to technological innovation resulting in an ever increasing labor mobility and a changing market structure of the economy. (3) Institutions at the state and local level have at times failed to protect equally the individual rights guaranteed by the federal constitution and so various questions of social, economic, and civil rights were appealed at the federal level.
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