Laboratory Land

At a 1932 meeting of the British Association, scientist Miles Walker proposed the creation of a colony, initially to consist of 100,000 people, that would be entirely "under the auspices of engineers, scientists and economists." He suggested that it might be located somewhere in North America, or perhaps France. And he figured that the colony would be so successful that it could eventually be expanded to include the entire world.

Walker didn't offer a name for his new colony, but the media dubbed it "Laboratory Land." More details from New Scientist (Aug 25, 1983):

A striking vision of the rationalist utopia was unfolded by Miles Walker (an engineer with the British Westinghouse Company and professor of electrical engineering at Manchester University) when president of the Engineering Section at the 1932 British Association meeting. "Politicians are not engineeringly minded," he proclaimed, "and that is the reason why they make a failure of state management". He challenged the government to establish an experimental, voluntary, self-supporting colony of 100,000 people "under the auspices of engineers, scientists and economists" in order to demonstrate that, "when freed from the constraints and social errors of modern civilisation", a society run on rationalist lines would indeed operate more effectively than conventional society. Once the prototype was functioning properly, "the region under sane control would be extended until it gradually embraced the whole world".

Santa Cruz Evening News - Apr 1, 1933 (click to enlarge)

The key to the success of the colony, he believed, would be its efficiency and elimination of waste. Interestingly, one of the things he had in mind that would allow this efficiency was electric cars:

Instead of thousands of cars burning petrol, costing the nation eighteen millions per annum, and polluting the air of our towns, we would have cars driven by home-generated electricity. Imagine hundreds of battery-charging stations, 20 miles apart along our main roads, at which we could in the course of a few seconds drop our partly discharged battery and take a new one that would carry us for the next three or four stages of our journey along the highway.

Almost 100 years later, and we're slowly working our way toward Walker's vision. At least, we are here in California where, by 2035, all new cars will have to be emission-free.
     Posted By: Alex - Tue Oct 20, 2020
     Category: Utopias and Dystopias | 1930s | Yesterday’s Tomorrows

I find it ironic that Mr. Walker was employed by Westinghouse, which would suggest that the idea of rational management was something that the company would take to heart in its own operations. Alas, Westinghouse no longer exists, having collapsed through mismanagement and bad business decisions in real estate holdings. I worked for the last vestiges of the nuclear power division in Pittsburg, PA for a year before that was sold to British Nuclear Fuels in 1999 or thereabouts.
Posted by KDP on 10/20/20 at 09:07 AM
As individuals, engineers and scientists are often great people who'd do a good job, but as a class, they'd be the worst leaders you could imagine. Add in the fact that those who aren't particularly talented in their chosen profession would be the first to leap at the chance to reign, and it's a recipe for disaster.

"Most 'scientists' are bottle washers and button sorters." -- Robert A. Heinlein. My degree is in a hard science, and although I never did serious work in the field, I've kept up enough over the years that I could, without blushing too much over the effrontery, take my place in the ranks of scientists. You can take as Gospel that you don't want me in charge, ever, of anything, for any reason.

Engineers? Technically, I am/was one. At least, several jobs I had carried that title, and I was a member of SME. That never stopped me from taking great glee in revealing the lack of common sense so prevalent in the profession. I got a department head, with a post-graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, to lead the search for reasonably-priced metric Vise-Grips. At my suggestion, three engineers, while analyzing tool positioning on a production machine, tried to retrieve a brass hammer from an oil sump by using a magnet. I could go on (and on, and on (and frequently do)), but you get the idea.

I doubt there's a single event in all of history which proves that an economist was right about anything, except by the laws of chance.
Posted by Phideaux on 10/20/20 at 12:35 PM
Walker himself is an engineer with no common sense, since he believes electricity for the cars comes completely free from the wall outlet. An electric car fleet has a higher use of oil or gas than one based on gasoline (unless the power comes from nuclear or renewable). In power generation, after the first step of fuel combustion comes the conversion of the energy to electricity in a turbine. This second step introduces an additional cycle efficiency of about 30% into the process.

By the way, California is making the same mistake on a huge scale if no new power plants are built while car tailpipes are made to go away. Just because you can't see electricity doesn't mean it comes magically from "the aether". They haven't seen anything yet, compared to the blackouts to come.

Yeah, right – economists! Those are the guys who stood in the Oval Office with Bill Clinton to tell us NAFTA was a good idea. So much for them.

Posted by Virtual in Carnate on 10/21/20 at 11:29 AM
Of all the priorities for a good community, "efficiency" wouldn't be at the top of anyone's list, outside of Miles Walker. How about happiness, profitability, equality, beauty, civic pride, livability, self-fulfillment, safety, diversity, healthiness.... there are more things that make a community worthwhile.
Posted by Miss Cellania on 10/21/20 at 07:40 PM
@Miss Cellania -- "Minimize your therbligs until it becomes automatic; this doubles your effective lifetime and thereby gives time to enjoy butterflies and kittens and rainbows." -- Robert Heinlein. The concept, embraced by many scientists and engineers even though it's rarely a conscious thought, is that the more efficient a system is, the less of your time is wasted on meaningless tasks and waiting for things to be done. This frees you to do what's important in your life.

Picture the life of the upper class in Victorian England: When you sat at a table, food was placed before you, empty plates were quickly taken away, and after you ate, you could move on to games, knitting, and playing with the dog. Clothes, cleaned, pressed, and freshly scented, were at hand whenever you wanted them and did not call for your attention at other times. A fire was already burning when you went into your bedroom, and the windows were open before you awoke so you could enjoy the crisp morning air.

From their point of view, everything was efficient, taking no more of their time than absolutely necessary. (Okay, having 126 servants providing that lifestyle for a family of 4 wasn't strictly efficient from a broader perspective, but it was always an ideal to strive for when you were the alpha.)

A community in which everything was perfectly efficient would require much less in taxes, produce far less pollution, and give the residents freedom which even the top 1% of the 1% don't always enjoy. In theory. According to calculations. Your Mileage May Vary. Past results are no guarantee of future returns. Void where prohibited by law.
Posted by Phideaux on 10/21/20 at 11:26 PM
@Phideaux: on engineers, almost right. I'm a computer programmer, and I do not want to lead a company, nor should anyone let me. It's just that... I sometimes - no, make that often - wish that those who do run this world would listen to us STEM people about what is possible or reasonable, and what isn't even though it looks good in sales. Unlike the laws of traffic and economics, those of physics and mathematics are not optional, and I resent getting blamed for not being able to ignore them.

@Miss Celania: exactly. Which is why economists are such an evil influence on this world, because they think of everything and anything in terms of "more is better".

@Phideaux: and that is a great example of why superficial "efficiency" is wrong, and unbridled capitalism is evil. Yes, to that upper class, everything was clean and efficient; but at the cost of everything and everybody else. I'd rather live in a society in which a percentage is wasted on spreading the load and the leisure around, than in one in which all the profits go to the upper 1% and the rest gets nothing. The sum total of the latter may be higher, but most of that "efficiency" is wasted on doing nothing but counting beans.
Posted by Richard Bos on 10/24/20 at 08:49 AM

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