- Information and Technology Policy: An International History
Richard Coopey's Information and Technology Policy is an edited volume featuring an impressive array of scholars who provide nuanced accounts of national governmental policies related to the computer and (to a lesser extent) software industries. As Coopey writes in his introduction, the post–World War II period is remembered as a time of American political, economic, and technological ascendancy. In the design, manufacture, and distribution of computers, the United States emerged as the world leader very quickly in the 1950s. While the U.S. military partly enabled that success, many other agencies played roles as well. Outside the United States, this era also was a time when government intervention in key industries was significantly restructured. Sensing the onset of an embarrassing [End Page 499] and potentially crippling competitiveness crisis, several nations launched programs intended to catch up with the Americans. They fully expected to be able to do so, and these essays detail the programs and their outcomes.
Standout chapters written by Arthur Norberg, William Aspray, and Steven Usselman launch the book by surveying the American scene. Norberg outlines the military and civilian agencies that profoundly but sometimes haphazardly influenced computing research and development from the time of World War II onward. William Aspray then focuses on the U.S. government's policies affecting information technology workers, concluding that the federal role usually has been one of enabling or encouraging rather than one of direct or heavy-handed central planning. Steve Usselman's essay on antitrust and intellectual property law and litigation rounds out this book's treatment of American history, reinforcing the point (also explored elsewhere) that government policy in the United States rarely was monolithic in its purposes, and that government agencies might simultaneously try to counter the market dominance for which another branch might be directly or indirectly responsible.
The remaining chapters cover other parts of the world, usually but not always on a nation-by-nation basis. Seiichiro Yonekura reviews the roles of the celebrated Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), concluding that it, too, was far from monolithic in the application of its programs to bolster computing in Japan. MITI succeeded when, Yonekura argues, it managed to foster both competition and cooperation. Coopey, Martin Campbell-Kelly, Ross Hamilton, Knut Sogner, Dimitris Assimakopoulos, Rebecca Marschan-Piekkari, and Stuart Macdonald document ways that computing became the object of national policy in Europe, while Eda Kranakis examines the EU's broad role in encouraging this technology. Again, the major themes here include the partial success of the agencies involved and the continued domination of American competitors. This collection concludes with three essays of particular interest, one on India and two on Eastern Europe.
It is perhaps the greatest strength of this book that Coopey has marshaled the talents of scholars to cover not only the United States, Great Britain, and France (the countries most thoroughly treated in the English-language literature on policy history) but also Japan, parts of Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and India. As in any collection of essays by multiple authors, Coopey is at pains to link together different viewpoints and, especially, different methodological approaches. What emerges most strikingly is the variety of institutional responses of various agencies and actors to the problems of information technology policy. In many countries these policies did [End Page 500] not have the intended results, so that the book becomes something of a catalog of failure. For that reason, the enormous success of American firms almost demands a more thorough comparative treatment, and in particular Arthur Norberg's otherwise excellent general survey of U.S. federal policy might have constituted a more important part of this work. While the contributions of Aspray, Coopey, Kranakis, Norberg, and Usselman are the most solidly written of the bunch, several essays that might have been the most interesting and informative are, unfortunately, disappointing. Further, one of the unexpected features of this collection is that while Coopey, Aspray, and others write from considerable archival...