Abstract: James Webb, "Space Age Management," and Post-Capitalist Ideas

Allan Needell


In 1968 James E. Webb, leader of the American civilian space agency during the Apollo era, was invited to deliver a series of lectures at Columbia University. He chose the title: "Space Age Management: The Large Scale Approach." The lectures explore the possibility of more broadly applying the managerial and organizational techniques and lessons learned by the leaders of the soon to be triumphant American Moon landing effort. Since the 1980s Webb's vision has sometimes been criticized as the epitome of Great Society liberal overreach, dismissed as a peculiar artifact of the 1960s, or rejected as a regrettable capitulation to the technocratic impulses championed by the Soviet Union. Alternatively, I believe, its origins and development can be usefully contextualized as an expression of pervasive, long-standing strands of American political/social thought. Howard Brick, in <em>Transcending Capitalism</em>, provides a very different framework for examining the origins, context, and functioning of the vision of "space age management." This paper explores how the ideas of an influential public and corporate administrator developed in the years predating the Cold War, highlighting aspects that directly reflect the contemporary post-capitalist thinking discussed in Howard's challenging book.