I am trying to find the name of a sci-fi short story concerning a computer that picks the next president based on peoples test scores. The govt comes to a point where the computer finds no acceptable person available and they recruit a professor(I believe) to stand in till they can get through the computers physical protections and modify the program. They fake out the computer with specialists taking each specific test standing in for the professor (general for military knowledge test, etc…). My wife is a PoliSci grad and wants to read it. HELP…
Michael Shaara - 2066: Election Day
Available at these locations Title: 2066: Election Day
P.S. Michael Shaara is better known for writing about Gettysburg in “The Killer Angels”
At the height of the Depression, for a few months in late 1932 and early 1933, a movement called Technocracy became a political force in the U.S. Its origins lay in the planned economy that took over the country to help fight WWI. The government took over entire industries and built up a world-class army with incredible provisions in less than a year. The idea took hold among some that having engineers and industrial experts run the government would benefit everyone. The Technocrats took it much farther but had no real expertise or political experience and fell apart with a sudden thud.
But the notion of engineers and experts being the ones who really should run the world burrrowed deep into the psyche of science fiction writers. You can see it in most everything Heinlein wrote, especially his wish-fulfillment fantasy “The Roads Must Roll.” Asimov’s Foundation series is all about experts making long-term plans for a predictable humanity (except for psychic mutants).
And Shaara’s story is a late reflection of this. Even in the 1950s no one truly believed that the president had to be an expert on every subject, but it made for a nice fantasy for the smartest kid in the room fanbase that read science fiction. It probably helped that Eisenhower was looked down upon as a mediocre thinker by the left and that somebody smarter, like Stevenson, would do better in a world with challenges on every side.
I have a PolySci degree myself and I can tell you that in general science fiction writers understand politics about as well as they speak dolphin. Shaara’s story is justly famous, but has no connection at all with our real world. It’s like “The Cold Equations” for social science.
It was the villains of “The Roads Must Roll” that were the technocrats, wasn’t it? They figured that since they were the engineers that ran the most important system in the country, they should rule the country - but Heinlein’s hero defeats them, leaving the road system under the control of the government.
I remember reading a short story (I think it was by Asimov, although I could be mistaken) where the process had been refined so far that the elections authority chose a single individual (by national lottery), brought him to a testing center, polled him about every subject under the sun, (including what he thought of the price of eggs, for instance), and accurately selected the winner of the Presidential contest based on his responses.
Found it: Franchise.
No, the villain were “Functionalists,” a sort-of stand-in for Communists, who believed that the people who did the work should have the power. The roads are sabotaged as a way to show that the maintenance workers really controlled things.
Note that Heinlein was sympathetic to unions in the story; the functionalists, though union members, were not representative of the majority of union members in the story.
Given the number of times that the leader of the “Functionalists” extolled the power and worth of “technicians,” I figured that Heinlein intended to make the reader think of the Technocrats - but the Communists were certainly also in the mix.
Heinlein’s hero was part of a national engineering brigade, a civilian military-style organization, with crisp uniforms and salutes and all the stuff he missed after his tuberculosis got him mustered out of the Navy. The villains were chaos to his order. You can’t think of the workers as being union members; they were enlisted men under the authority of him as an officer and superior.
It didn’t start then. H.G. Wells’ *The Shape of Things to Come *was all about that. Never mind that the engineers had created the weapons that destroyed civilization, they were the ones who’d recreate it too - and along the fascist lines you’d expect from Wells.
Yeah, but “technicians,” he meant maintenance workers, not engineers. They were the people who kept the roads running, not the ones who managed and designed them.
Thanks, that clears things up for me, I think. For a modern analogy, consider a large public infrastructure project like the interstate highways (which fill some of the roles of the Roads anyway). A Technocrat would have the interstates run by a cabal of highway design engineers, a Functionalist takeover would involve the guys who maintain the roads setting up roadblocks to show how important they are, while the Heinlein hero would administer the interstates under the authority of the democratically elected government using various uniformed services, including highway police and uniformed toll takers.