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Whitford, Philip; Whitford, Kathryn (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume 74 (1986)

Dorner, Peter
Technology, institutions, global economy and world peace,   pp. 14-18 PDF (2.6 MB)

Page 14

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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