Document Type


Publication Date



As Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson once famously framed the “problem of humanity”: “We have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology.” America’s greatest philosopher John Dewey similarly placed this yawning gap between rapidly expanding technological change and slowly evolving human emotions and institutions at the heart of what he called The Public and Its Problems. Indeed, Dewey traced the origins of the modern American state as well as what he termed “the Great Society” to the new and modern technologies in production and commerce and steam and electricity that “resulted in a social revolution.” Without warning, Dewey argued, traditional local communities now found their activities “conditioned by remote and invisible organizations … with impact upon face-to-face associations so pervasive and unremitting that it is no exaggeration to speak of a ‘new age of human relations.’” Notably, however, Dewey held that “political and legal forms have only piecemeal and haltingly, with great lag, accommodated themselves to the industrial transformation.

From Max Weber to Lewis Mumford to Herbert Marcuse, a wide range of social theorists have placed the challenge of the impact of technological change on modern economy and society at the very center of contemporary scholarly inquiry. Business and economic historians have followed suit, repeatedly centering technology in their narratives of modern development. For Alfred Chandler, dean of American business history, the advent of the railroad explained a lot about the subsequent history of the United States. Railroads were “the nation’s first big business” spawning innovations in corporate finance, administrative management, modern labor relations, and, perhaps most significantly, the “modern governmental regulation of business” i.e., the modern regulatory state.