The Cultural Pseudomorph and Its Decay
According to Lewis Mumford, as well as numerous other proponents of decentralized industry like Pyotr Kropotkin and Ralph Borsodi, the main reason for large-scale factory production was originally to economize on horsepower. In the steam age, all the machines in a factory were connected by belts to the drive shaft from a single prime mover. The invention of the electric generator and electric motor, which made it possible to scale a machine to demand and situate it close to the market, eliminated this imperative. For Mumford, therefore, electrical power was the defining characteristic of his “neotechnic” phase, as distinguished from the older “paleotechnic” phase of steam power and large factories.
Michael Piore and Charles Sabel, writing in The Second Industrial Divide, argued that it was possible to incorporate electrical power into manufacturing in one of two ways. The first, and most natural, was to take full advantage of its decentralizing potential and incorporate small-scale, general-purpose power machinery into craft production, in a local industrial district. The other was to incorporate electrical power into the old paleotechnic factory system. The second, the path which was for the most part taken, was the basis of American mass production industry.