Friday, April 08, 2011

Quote of the Day

"In 1961 Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara recruited Charles Hitch of the think-tank RAND Corporation as his assistant secretary and undertook to streamline the Department of Defense through the use of systems analysis.  Before long, the defense personnel and methods filtered out of the Pentagon and into the civilian parts of government, not only on the federal level but on the state and municipal level as well.  In 1964, California governor Pat Brown called upon that state's aerospace corporations to use the new methods to study such problems as transportation, waste management, poverty, crime, as well as unemployment among California's aerospace engineers, and the systems analysts responded enthusiastically to the call, confident that with their computers and space-age techniques they could solve any mere earth-bound problem.  Convinced of the superiority of their formal methods over the "conventional" approaches of more experienced and knowledgeable specialists - and, as critic Ida Hoos noted, mistaking their ignorance for objectivity - the systems analysts appropriated all of reality as their legitimate domain, the social world as well as the physical world.  Perhaps no one epitomized this new breed better than Jay Forrester, the electrical engineer who is credited with developing the magnetic core memory for the high-speed digital computer.  Forrester moved on to pioneer the new field of "systems dynamics," which he applied, successively, to industrial, urban, national, and, finally, global "systems."  "The great uncertainty with mental models is the inability to anticipate the consequences of interactions between parts of a system," Forrester explained.  "This uncertainty is totally eliminated in computer models."  Whether the "system" is an industrial process, a manufacturing plant, a city, or an entire planet, its operations are ultimately reducible to a set of "rate equations" which become "the statements of system policy."  "Desirable modes of behavior" are made possible, Forrester insisted, "only if we have a good understanding of the system dynamics and are willing to endure the self-discipline and pressures that must accompany the desirable mode.""

(David F. Noble, Forces of Production, p. 55)


jake said...

Have you read any books by Albert O. Hirschman?

Zach Campbell said...

No, I haven't - any personal recommendations for a starting point?