Intelligence Work

The practice of democracy has been ahead of its theory. For the theory holds that the adult electors taken together make decisions out of a will that is in them. But just as there grew up governing hierarchies which were invisible in theory, so there has been a large amount of constructive adaptation, also unaccounted for in the image of democracy. Ways have been found to represent many interests and functions that are normally out of sight.

We are most conscious of this in our theory of the courts, when we explain their legislative powers and their vetoes on the theory that there are interests to be guarded which might be forgotten by the elected officials. But the Census Bureau, when it counts, classifies, and correlates people, things, and changes, is also speaking for unseen factors in the environment. The Geological Survey makes mineral resources evident, the Department of Agriculture represents in the councils of the nation factors of which each farmer sees only an infinitesimal part. School authorities, the Tariff Commission, the consular service, the Bureau of Internal Revenue give representation to persons, ideas, and objects which would never automatically find themselves represented in this perspective by an election. The Children's Bureau is the spokesman of a whole complex of interests and functions not ordinarily visible to the voter, and, therefore, incapable of becoming spontaneously a part of his public opinions. Thus the printing of comparative statistics of infant mortality is often followed by a reduction of the death rate of babies. Municipal officials and voters did not have, before publication, a place in their picture of the environment for those babies. The statistics made them visible, as visible as if the babies had elected an alderman to air their grievances.

In the State Department the government maintains a Division of Far Eastern Affairs. What is it for? The Japanese and the Chinese Governments both maintain ambassadors in Washington. Are they not qualified to speak for the Far East? They are its representatives. Yet nobody would argue that the American Government could learn all that it needed to know about the Far East by consulting these ambassadors. Supposing them to be as candid as they know how to be, they are still limited channels of information. Therefore, to supplement them we maintain embassies in Tokio and Peking, and consular agents at many points. Also, I assume, some secret agents. These people are supposed to send reports which pass through the Division of Far Eastern Affairs to the Secretary of State. Now what does the Secretary expect of the Division? I know one who expected it to spend its appropriation. But there are Secretaries to whom special revelation is denied, and they turn to their divisions for help. The last thing they expect to find is a neat argument justifying the American position.

What they demand is that the experts shall bring the Far East to the Secretary's desk, with all the elements in such relation that it is as if he were in contact with the Far East itself. The expert must translate, simplify, generalize, but the inference from the result must apply in the East, not merely on the premises of the report. If the Secretary is worth his salt, the very last thing he will tolerate in his experts is the suspicion that they have a "policy." He does not want to know from them whether they like Japanese policy in China. He wants to know what different classes of Chinese and Japanese, English, Frenchmen, Germans, and Russians, think about it, and what they are likely to do because of what they think. He wants all that represented to him as the basis of his decision. The more faithfully the Division represents what is not otherwise represented, either by the Japanese or American ambassadors, or the Senators and Congressmen from the Pacific coast, the better Secretary of State he will be. He may decide to take his policy from the Pacific Coast, but he will take his view of Japan from Japan.

It is no accident that the best diplomatic service in the world is the one in which the divorce between the assembling of knowledge and the control of policy is most perfect. During the war in many British Embassies and in the British Foreign Office there were nearly always men, permanent officials or else special appointees, who quite successfully discounted the prevailing war mind. They discarded the rigmarole of being pro and con, of having favorite nationalities, and pet aversions, and undelivered perorations in their bosoms. They left that to the political chiefs. But in an American Embassy I once heard an ambassador say that he never reported anything to Washington which would not cheer up the folks at home. He charmed all those who met him, helped many a stranded war worker, and was superb when he unveiled a monument.

He did not understand that the power of the expert depends upon separating himself from those who make the decisions, upon not caring, in his expert self, what decision is made. The man who, like the ambassador, takes a line, and meddles with the decision, is soon discounted. There he is, just one more on that side of the question. For when he begins to care too much, he begins to see what he wishes to see, and by that fact ceases to see what he is there to see. He is there to represent the unseen. He represents people who are not voters, functions of voters that are not evident, events that are out of sight, mute people, unborn people, relations between things and people. He has a constituency of intangibles. And intangibles cannot be used to form a political majority, because voting is in the last analysis a test of strength, a sublimated battle, and the expert represents no strength available in the immediate. But he can exercise force by disturbing the line up of the forces. By making the invisible visible, he confronts the people who exercise material force with a new environment, sets ideas and feelings at work in them, throws them out of position, and so, in the profoundest way, affects the decision.

Men cannot long act in a way that they know is a contradiction of the environment as they conceive it. If they are bent on acting in a certain way they have to reconceive the environment, they have to censor out, to rationalize. But if in their presence, there is an insistent fact which is so obtrusive that they cannot explain it away, one of three courses is open. They can perversely ignore it, though they will cripple themselves in the process, will overact their part and come to grief. They can take it into account but refuse to act. They pay in internal discomfort and frustration. Or, and I believe this to be the most frequent case, they adjust their whole behavior to the enlarged environment.

The idea that the expert is an ineffectual person because he lets others make the decisions is quite contrary to experience. The more subtle the elements that enter into the decision, the more irresponsible power the expert wields. He is certain, moreover, to exercise more power in the future than ever he did before, because increasingly the relevant facts will elude the voter and the administrator. All governing agencies will tend to organize bodies of research and information, which will throw out tentacles and expand, as have the intelligence departments of all the armies in the world. But the experts will remain human beings. They will enjoy power, and their temptation will be to appoint themselves censors, and so absorb the real function of decision. Unless their function is correctly defined they will tend to pass on the facts they think appropriate, and to pass down the decisions they approve. They will tend, in short, to become a bureaucracy.

The only institutional safeguard is to separate as absolutely as it is possible to do so the staff which executes from the staff which investigates. The two should be parallel but quite distinct bodies of men, recruited differently, paid if possible from separate funds, responsible to different heads, intrinsically uninterested in each other's personal success. In industry, the auditors, accountants, and inspectors should be independent of the manager, the superintendents, foremen, and in time, I believe, we shall come to see that in order to bring industry under social control the machinery of record will have to be independent of the boards of directors and the shareholders.

But in building the intelligence sections of industry and politics, we do not start on cleared ground. And, apart from insisting on this basic separation of function, it would be cumbersome to insist too precisely on the form which in any particular instance the principle shall take. There are men who believe in intelligence work, and will adopt it; there are men who do not understand it, but cannot do their work without it; there are men who will resist. But provided the principle has a foothold somewhere in every social agency it will make progress, and the way to begin is to begin. In the federal government, for example, it is not necessary to straighten out the administrative tangle and the illogical duplications of a century's growth in order to find a neat place for the intelligence bureaus which Washington so badly needs. Before election you can promise to rush bravely into the breach. But when you arrive there all out of breath, you find that each absurdity is invested with habits, strong interests, and chummy Congressmen. Attack all along the line and you engage every force of reaction. You go forth to battle, as the poet said, and you always fall. You can lop off an antiquated bureau here, a covey of clerks there, you can combine two bureaus. And by that time you are busy with the tariff and the railroads, and the era of reform is over. Besides, in order to effect a truly logical reorganization of the government, such as all candidates always promise, you would have to disturb more passions than you have time to quell. And any new scheme, supposing you had one ready, would require officials to man it. Say what one will about officeholders, even Soviet Russia was glad to get many of the old ones back; and these old officials, if they are too ruthlessly treated, will sabotage Utopia itself.

No administrative scheme is workable without good will, and good will about strange practices is impossible without education. The better way is to introduce into the existing machinery, wherever you can find an opening, agencies that will hold up a mirror week by week, month by month. You can hope, then, to make the machine visible to those who work it, as well as to the chiefs who are responsible, and to the public outside. When the office-holders begin to see themselves,--or rather when the outsiders, the chiefs, and the subordinates all begin to see the same facts, the same damning facts if you like, the obstruction will diminish. The reformer's opinion that a certain bureau is inefficient is just his opinion, not so good an opinion in the eyes of the bureau, as its own. But let the work of that bureau be analysed and recorded, and then compared with other bureaus and with private corporations, and the argument moves to another plane.

There are ten departments at Washington represented in the Cabinet. Suppose, then, there was a permanent intelligence section for each. What would be some of the conditions of effectiveness? Beyond all others that the intelligence officials should be independent both of the Congressional Committees dealing with that department, and of the Secretary at the head of it; that they should not be entangled either in decision or in action. Independence, then, would turn mainly on three points on funds, tenure, and access to the facts. For clearly if a particular Congress or departmental official can deprive them of money, dismiss them, or close the files, the staff becomes its creature.

The question of funds is both important and difficult. No agency of research can be really free if it depends upon annual doles from what may be a jealous or a parsimonious congress. Yet the ultimate control of funds cannot be removed from the legislature. The financial arrangement should insure the staff against left-handed, joker and rider attack, against sly destruction, and should at the same time provide for growth. The staff should be so well entrenched that an attack on its existence would have to be made in the open. It might, perhaps, work behind a federal charter creating a trust fund, and a sliding scale over a period of years based on the appropriation for the department to which the intelligence bureau belonged. No great sums of money are involved anyway. The trust fund might cover the overhead and capital charges for a certain minimum staff, the sliding scale might cover the enlargements. At any rate the appropriation should be put beyond accident, like the payment of any long term obligation. This is a much less serious way of "tying the hands of Congress" than is the passage of a Constitutional amendment or the issuance of government bonds. Congress could repeal the charter. But it would have to repeal it, not throw monkey wrenches into it.

Tenure should be for life, with provision for retirement on a liberal pension, with sabbatical years set aside for advanced study and training, and with dismissal only after a trial by professional colleagues. The conditions which apply to any non-profit-making intellectual career should apply here. If the work is to be salient, the men who do it must have dignity, security, and, in the upper ranks at least, that freedom of mind which you find only where men are not too immediately concerned in practical decision.

Access to the materials should be established in the organic act. The bureau should have the right to examine all papers, and to question any official or any outsider. Continuous investigation of this sort would not at all resemble the sensational legislative inquiry and the spasmodic fishing expedition which are now a common feature of our government. The bureau should have the right to propose accounting methods to the department, and if the proposal is rejected, or violated after it has been accepted, to appeal under its charter to Congress.

In the first instance each intelligence bureau would be the connecting link between Congress and the Department, a better link, in my judgment, than the appearance of cabinet officers on the floor of both House and Senate, though the one proposal in no way excludes the other. The bureau would be the Congressional eye on the execution of its policy. It would be the departmental answer to Congressional criticism. And then, since operation of the Department would be permanently visible, perhaps Congress would cease to feel the need of that minute legislation born of distrust and a false doctrine of the separation of powers, which does so much to make efficient administration difficult.

But, of course, each of the ten bureaus could not work in a watertight compartment. In their relation one to another lies the best chance for that "coordination" of which so much is heard and so little seen. Clearly the various staffs would need to adopt, wherever possible, standards of measurement that were comparable. They would exchange their records. Then if the War Department and the Post Office both buy lumber, hire carpenters, or construct brick walls they need not necessarily do them through the same agency, for that might mean cumbersome over-centralization; but they would be able to use the same measure for the same things, be conscious of the comparisons, and be treated as competitors. And the more competition of this sort the better.

For the value of competition is determined by the value of the standards used to measure it. Instead, then, of asking ourselves whether we believe in competition, we should ask ourselves whether we believe in that for which the competitors compete. No one in his senses expects to "abolish competition," for when the last vestige of emulation had disappeared, social effort would consist in mechanical obedience to a routine, tempered in a minority by native inspiration. Yet no one expects to work out competition to its logical conclusion in a murderous struggle of each against all. The problem is to select the goals of competition and the rules of the game. Almost always the most visible and obvious standard of measurement will determine the rules of the game: such as money, power, popularity, applause, or Mr. Veblen's "conspicuous waste." What other standards of measurement does our civilization normally provide? How does it measure efficiency, productivity, service, for which we are always clamoring?

By and large there are no measures, and there is, therefore, not so much competition to achieve these ideals. For the difference between the higher and the lower motives is not, as men often assert, a difference between altruism and selfishness. 1 It is a difference between acting for easily understood aims, and for aims that are obscure and vague. Exhort a man to make more profit than his neighbor, and he knows at what to aim. Exhort him to render more social service, and how is he to be certain what service is social? What is the test, what is the measure? A subjective feeling, somebody's opinion. Tell a man in time of peace that he ought to serve his country and you have uttered a pious platitude, Tell him in time of war, and the word service has a meaning; it is a number of concrete acts, enlistment, or buying bonds, or saving food, or working for a dollar a year, and each one of these services he sees definitely as part of a concrete purpose to put at the front an army larger and better armed, than the enemy's.

So the more you are able to analyze administration and work out elements that can be compared, the more you invent quantitative measures for the qualities you wish to promote, the more you can turn competition to ideal ends. If you can contrive the right index numbers 2you can set up a competition between individual workers in a shop; between shops; between factories; between schools; 3 between government departments; between regiments; between divisions; between ships; between states; counties; cities; and the better your index numbers the more useful the competition.

The possibilities that lie in the exchange of material are evident. Each department of government is all the time asking for information that may already have been obtained by another department, though perhaps in a somewhat different form. The State Department needs to know, let us say, the extent of the Mexican oil reserves, their relation to the rest of the world's supply, the present ownership of Mexican oil lands, the importance of oil to warships now under construction or planned, the comparative costs in different fields. How does it secure such information to-day? The information is probably scattered through the Departments of Interior, Justice, Commerce, Labor and Navy. Either a clerk in the State Department looks up Mexican oil in a book of reference, which may or may not be accurate, or somebody's private secretary telephones somebody else's private secretary, asks for a memorandum, and in the course of time a darkey messenger arrives with an armful of unintelligible reports. The Department should be able to call on its own intelligence bureau to assemble the facts in a way suited to the diplomatic problem up for decision. And these facts the diplomatic intelligence bureau would obtain from the central clearing house. 4

This establishment would pretty soon become a focus of information of the most extraordinary kind. And the men in it would be made aware of what the problems of government really are. They would deal with problems of definition, of terminology, of statistical technic, of logic; they would traverse concretely the whole gamut of the social sciences. It is difficult to see why all this material, except a few diplomatic and military secrets, should not be open to the scholars of the country. It is there that the political scientist would find the real nuts to crack and the real researches for his students to make. The work need not all be done in Washington, but it could be done in reference to Washington. The central agency would, thus, have in it the makings of a national university. The staff could be recruited there for the bureaus from among college graduates. They would be working on theses selected after consultation between the curators of the national university and teachers scattered over the country. If the association was as flexible as it ought to be, there would be, as a supplement to the permanent staff, a steady turnover of temporary and specialist appointments from the universities, and exchange lecturers called out from Washington. Thus the training and the recruiting of the staff would go together. A part of the research itself would be done by students, and political science in the universities would be associated with politics in America.

In its main outlines the principle is equally applicable to state governments, to cities, and to rural counties. The work of comparison and interchange could take place by federations of state and city and county bureaus. And within those federations any desirable regional combination could be organized. So long as the accounting systems were comparable, a great deal of duplication would be avoided. Regional coordination is especially desirable. For legal frontiers often do not coincide with the effective environments. Yet they have a certain basis in custom that it would be costly to disturb. By coordinating their information several administrative areas could reconcile autonomy of decision with cooperation. New York City, for example, is already an unwieldy unit for good government from the City Hall. Yet for many purposes, such as health and transportation, the metropolitan district is the true unit of administration. In that district, however, there are large cities, like Yonkers, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Hoboken, Bayonne. They could not all be managed from one center, and yet they should act together for many functions. Ultimately perhaps some such flexible scheme of local government as Sidney and Beatrice Webb have suggested may be the proper solution.5> But the first step would be a coordination, not of decision and action, but of information and research. Let the officials of the various municipalities see their common problems in the light of the same facts.

It would be idle to deny that such a net work of intelligence bureaus in politics and industry might become a dead weight and a perpetual irritation. One can easily imagine its attraction for men in search of soft jobs, for pedants, for meddlers. One can see red tape, mountains of papers, questionnaires ad nauseam, seven copies of every document, endorsements, delays, lost papers, the use of form 136 instead of form 2gb, the return of the document because pencil was used instead of ink, or black ink instead of red ink. The work could be done very badly. There are no fool-proof institutions.

But if one could assume that there was circulation through the whole system between government departments, factories, offices, and the universities; a circulation of men, a circulation of data and of criticism, the risks of dry rot would not be so great. Nor would it be true to say that these intelligence bureaus will complicate life. They will tend, on the contrary, to simplify, by revealing a complexity now so great as to be humanly unmanageable. The present fundamentally invisible system of government is so intricate that most people have given up trying to follow it, and because they do not try, they are tempted to think it comparatively simple. It is, on the contrary, elusive, concealed, opaque. The employment of an intelligence system would mean a reduction of personnel per unit of result, because by making available to all the experience of each, it would reduce the amount of trial and error; and because by making the social process visible, it would assist the personnel to self-criticism. It does not involve a great additional band of officials, if you take into account the time now spent vainly by special investigating committees, grand juries, district attorneys, reform organizations, and bewildered office holders, in trying to find their way through a dark muddle.

If the analysis of public opinion and of the democratic theories in relation to the modern environment is sound in principle, then I do not see how one can escape the conclusion that such intelligence work is the clue to betterment. I am not referring to the few suggestions contained in this chapter. They are merely illustrations. The task of working out the technic is in the hands of men trained to do it, and not even they can to-day completely foresee the form, much less the details. The number of social phenomena which are now recorded is small, the instruments of analysis are very crude, the concepts often vague and uncriticized. But enough has been done to demonstrate, I think, that unseen environments can be reported effectively, that they can be reported to divergent groups of people in a way which is neutral to their prejudice, and capable of overcoming their subjectivism.

If that is true, then in working out the intelligence principle men will find the way to overcome the central difficulty of self-government, the difficulty of dealing with an unseen reality. Because of that difficulty, it has been impossible for any self-governing community to reconcile its need for isolation with the necessity for wide contact, to reconcile the dignity and individuality of local decision with security and wide coordination, to secure effective leaders without sacrificing responsibility, to have useful public opinions without attempting universal public opinions on all subjects. As long as there was no way of establishing common versions of unseen events, common measures for separate actions, the only image of democracy that would work, even in theory, was one based on an isolated community of people whose political faculties were limited, according to Aristotle's famous maxim, by the range of their vision.

But now there is a way out, a long one to be sure, but a way. It is fundamentally the same way as that which has enabled a citizen of Chicago, with no better eyes or ears than an Athenian, to see and hear over great distances. It is possible to-day, it will become more possible when more labor has gone into it, to reduce the discrepancies between the conceived environment and the effective environment. As that is done, federalism will work more and more by consent, less and less by coercion. For while federalism is the only possible method of union among self-governing groups, 6 federalism swings either towards imperial centralization or towards parochial anarchy wherever the union is not based on correct and commonly accepted ideas of federal matters. These ideas do not arise spontaneously. They have to be pieced together by generalization based on analysis, and the instruments for that analysis have to be invented and tested by research.

No electoral device, no manipulation of areas, no change in the system of property, goes to the root of the matter. You cannot take more political wisdom out of human beings than there is in them. And no reform, however sensational, is truly radical, which does not consciously provide a way of overcoming the subjectivism of human opinion based on the limitation of individual experience. There are systems of government, of voting, and representation which extract more than others. But in the end knowledge must come not from the conscience but from the environment with which that conscience deals. When men act on the principle of intelligence they go out to find the facts and to make their wisdom. When they ignore it, they go inside themselves and find only what is there. They elaborate their prejudice, instead of increasing their knowledge.

1. Cf.Ch. XII.

2. I am not using the term index numbers in its purely technical meaning, but to cover any device for the comparative measurement of social phenomena.

3. See, for example, An Index Number for State School Systems by Leonard P. Ayres, Russell Sage Foundation, 1920. The principle of the quota was very successfully applied in the Liberty Loan Campaigns, and under very much more difficult circumstances by the Allied Maritime Transport Council.

4. There has been a vast development of such services among the trade associations. The possibilities of a perverted use were revealed by the New York Building Trades investigation of 1921.

5. "The Reorganization of Local Government" (Ch. IV), in A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain.

6. Cf. H. J. Laski, The Foundations of Sovereignty, and other Essays, particularly the Essay of this name, as well as the Problems of Administrative Areas, The Theory of Popular Sovereignty, and The Pluralistic State.