Social Scientist. v 17, no. 190-91 (March 1989) p. 67.


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SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN*

The Physicalist Paradigm in Economic Planning

The radical disproportion between the potentialities of science as an agent of human welfare, and its actual contribution within the constraints of private enterprise, was a major concern of The Social Function of Science. (Bernal, 1939, pp. 127-50). Industry's (and correlatively, scientific research establishments') subservience to the profit calculus, tendencies towards monopoly, and the baneful influence of economic nationalism—all these tended to induce a retardation in the pace of application jof science in society's productive system. Moreover, the "nature of the effective demand" in a private enterprise economy tended to distort the application of scientific research "not only in quantity but also in kind". The areas of production to which the profit motive would direct the resources of society would coincide with the priority areas of human welfare only by accident.

As evidence of the retardation of the scientific impulse, Bemal draws attention to the "great lag that has existed and still exists" between the discovery and its practical utilisation. The instance cited is that of the electric dynamo—between Faraday's demonstration of electro-magnetic induction and Edison's electric supply station, there was an intervening gap of 50 years. Bemal goes on to say that "the scientific and technical reasons for the lag can be easily disposed of, and that it is in the "economic factors that we shall find the explanation for the slowness of taking up the results of scientific work, and for the general character of the practical applications of science".

In the broad brush-strokes with which he passes over the economic implications of scientific innovation, Bernal seems to miss some of the subtler nuarices of the process of diffusion of new techniques. To consider his own example of the electric dynamo—between its conception and its practical utilisation, there was an intervening course of "multiple invention, of progress by an infinitude of small improvements". (Landes, 1969, p. 284). The dynamo itself went through at least three distinct phases of improvement before Edison's supply station was set up. Developments in metals and materials technology and extremely beneficial repercussions on the methods of construction of dynamos. The invention of the incandescent filament lamp made every household with adequate purchasing power, a potential consumer of electricity. Also extremely vital in the con-

* Editor, PTI Corporate News, Press Trust of India, New Delhi



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