THE transfer of technology from one area to another is as old as history or anthropology. Techniques of production have spread in the wake of war and conquest. Imperial Powers have introduced them in their colonies. Peter the Great and many others have traveled to far countries in search of techniques for use at home. Wherever migrants have gone, they have carried their "know-how" and methods of work. Sometimes governments have taken measures to attract immigrants with particular skills. At other times they have tried to keep technical secrets confined within their own borders. Because of such a prohibition, for example, the father of American cotton manufacturing, Samuel Slater, had to leave England disguised as a farm laborer, bringing with him "like Prometheus"--as one historian put it--"the sacred flame of the industrial revolution." During the last century, the carrying of advanced productive methods to the so-called underdeveloped countries has been largely a by-product of penetration by business enterprises from the capitalist nations.

Into this age-old process, technical assistance as provided by the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies introduces a modern innovation--the effort to promote the transfer of skills by inter-governmental action, as part of a deliberate attempt to raise the standard of living of the less-developed countries. The United States by itself now offers technical coöperation to many countries, but even more novel in principle is the provision of such assistance by international organizations of which the governments receiving aid are full members.

The Expanded Program of Technical Assistance of the United Nations agencies launched in July 1950 had behind it the precedent of action on a smaller scale carried on before the war by the League of Nations and the International Labor Organization, and after the war by several of the international agencies. Like the bilateral program of the United States, it owed much of its immediate impetus to President Truman's famous speech of January 1949. It was adopted in response to repeated demands of the spokesmen of the less developed countries for action to carry out the economic promises of the Charter of San Francisco now that the enormous differences in living standards between the richer and the poorer nations appear to be growing greater and more conspicuous.

Funds for the program have come from special voluntary contributions pledged by the member states. During the first 18 months, some $17,000,000 were received and $6,500,000 paid out. In 1952 the program really came into its own. Nations learned how they might use technical assistance, and their requests were increased manyfold. The agencies began to master the difficult task of recruiting experts with the required spirit and skills. At the end of the year, operations as measured by expenditure were running at a rate four times as great as at its beginning. Outlay during 1952 was nearly $23,000,000 as against current contributions of $18,500,000.

This promising expansion had to be checked in 1953. The eagerness of the receiving governments continued to mount, but expenditures could not be increased, and an ever-growing proportion of requests had to be postponed or refused. Last November, 61 nations--including for the the first time several beyond the Iron Curtain--promised contributions of about $24,000,000, of which the United States under a matching formula pledged about $14,000,000.

With funds of this order--roughly only a fifth of those currently available for the United States program of bilateral assistance and small indeed as compared with the billions of military and economic aid--the program of the international agencies brought aid in 1953 to nearly 70 nations and territories. It provided the services of about 2,000 experts in the field and brought some 1,500 men and women from the aided countries for training in lands where their particular specialties were more advanced.

The fields in which advice and training are given are multifarious. Rather surprisingly, the experts have been found in places as diverse as those to which they have been sent: the 1952 staff was recruited from no less than 70 countries, though the majority naturally came from the industrial nations. The Executive Chairman of the Technical Assistance Board, Mr. David Owen, has cited the examples of "the Haitian coffee specialist working in Ethiopia, the Bolivian who is helping to control parasitic diseases in the Philippines," and the expert from Taiwan who is bringing to Haiti the ancient and effective Asian practice of the pond culture of fish.

The rules of technical assistance, as laid down by the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly, provide that aid shall be given only at the request of the receiving government, in ways acceptable to it, and without interference in its internal politics. The receiving government must bear a part of the cost in its own currency and furnish adequate facilities for the work of the experts. An obvious corollary is that effective results are achieved only when the nation receiving counsel is taking vigorous and concerted measures to promote its own social and economic development.

Burma, Jugoslavia, Israel and Indonesia, among various countries, would provide examples of well-balanced programs, each with its own pattern of interrelationship between national effort and international aid. But Bolivia supplies an especially interesting instance of the way technical assistance is carried on.


The Bolivian program shares the general characteristics of the worldwide effort. The country bears its part of the costs, and the Mission is thoroughly international; there were 13 nationalities among the 26 experts appointed during the first two years. UNESCO, the International Labor Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization, as well as the United Nations proper, have been represented. Yet the Bolivian experience has been unique, both because of the character of the program as originally conceived and because profound changes took place in the internal life and external relations of the country after it had gotten under way.

It had been planned to establish an unusually intimate relation between the foreign experts and the administrative processes of government. The diagnosis and prescription had been made by a United Nations Mission which studied Bolivia in 1950 under the leadership of Dr. Hugh L. Keenleyside, then a Deputy Minister in the Canadian Government and now Director-General of the Technical Assistance Administration of the United Nations. Its report declared that the most significant obstacle to the country's economic and social progress was its political and administrative instability--not merely frequent revolutions but also the lack of security, training and professional spirit in the public service. As partial remedy, the report suggested that a number of foreign experts be appointed to responsible positions in the Bolivian administration. The agreement of October 1, 1951, provided for the appointment of foreign "administrative assistants" in such key economic agencies as the Central Bank, the Office of the Controller-General, and the Ministries of Finance, Agriculture and Labor, as well as for other technical experts appointed in the ordinary way.

Work under this agreement had barely begun, and only the first few specialists had arrived in La Paz, when the course of Bolivian life was abruptly altered by the revolution of April 1952. This was no mere shift in the personnel of the palace guard, but a profound change in the most basic institutions of the country. Bolivia's part in the world economy was primarily that of an exporter of tin, its only major source of foreign exchange. The larger mines were owned almost entirely by foreign investors or by the Patiño family, which had long since expatriated its fortune. To many Bolivians this condition seemed to threaten national independence. Within the country, the dominant class consisted of large landholders. On their estates lived and worked the great mass of the Indian population, descendants of the Inca peoples and their predecessors of the Tiahuanaco civilization, almost entirely illiterate and to a surprising degree untouched by European culture. The relations were feudal and the methods of cultivation primitive. The two points of the new government's program--nationalization of the three largest tin companies and agrarian reform--were intended to change these fundamental conditions. The decree of October 31, 1952, nationalized the properties of the Patiño, Hochschild and Aramayo companies, with provisions for payment which still remain under negotiation. The decree of August 2, 1953, provided for the expropriation, with compensation, of the great feudal estates (preserving the minority of capitalistic agricultural enterprises) and for the distribution of land among the Indian population. By these two strokes, the government altered the basis of its foreign economic relations and undertook a domestic transformation aimed at incorporating the Indian into the national life.

The revolution posed a problem for the United Nations Mission. The agreement under which it had begun to work had been concluded with the Military Junta which had taken over the government precisely in order to keep out of office the party which had won the greatest popular support in the elections of 1951, the National Revolutionary Movement (M.N.R.). Moreover, the leader of that party, Dr. Victor Paz Estenssoro, now the new President, had while in exile attacked the United Nations Agreement on the ground that the powers assigned to the "administrative assistants" represented a surrender of national sovereignty. Thus the members of the Mission, who had already seen the walls of La Paz covered with Communist-inspired attacks in Spanish and Aymará, were now faced with the graver possibility that the government itself might wish their work to end. On the other hand, it would have been inconsistent with the principles of the program had the United Nations at this point proposed the withdrawal of technical assistance. The Mission was there to aid the people and not a particular régime. To make its services available to one government and deny them to another would have been an act of "political interference," expressly prohibited, and to have left Bolivia under these circumstances would have been interpreted throughout Latin America as an indication of a United Nations bias against nationalistic aspirations. Yet it was equally clear that the program could not continue except in agreement with the government in power, and could not be effective unless the government was prepared to make serious use of the assistance offered.

The government's position was promptly stated. The agreement was unsatisfactory and must be drastically amended to reduce the emphasis on administration. On the other hand, the government greatly needed technical assistance and would make serious use of it in carrying out its extensive plans for economic and social development. Satisfactory methods of operation were gradually worked out. The individual experts, confronted in their various agencies by entirely new personnel, succeeded one by one in demonstrating their good will and their practical usefulness. Gradually also the number of experts was increased. Finally, more than a year after the revolution, the understandings developed in this process were embodied in the Modified Agreement of May 2, 1953.


The new agreement declared that the Bolivian Government needed technical assistance so that its projects "of social improvement and economic development" might be carried out "with absolute technical and administrative efficiency." Certain changes were made in the list of positions to be filled, including the appointment of three additional experts to advise the government corporation that is now operating the nationalized mines. The new text eliminated some of the more extreme powers originally assigned to the "administrative assistants," changing their title to that of "technical consultant," but it retained their position as civil servants under contract with the Bolivian Government. The spirit of the agreement is best indicated in the functions assigned to consultants and experts. First of all they were to assist in the work of a National Planning Commission which was to coördinate the government's economic and social program. Moreover, in addition to their ordinary functions of counsel to the Ministers or other chiefs of agency, the members of the Mission were also to coöperate under their direction "in the execution" of agreed projects and "in the improvement or the reorganization" of the agencies to which they were assigned.

The work carried on may be described in terms of this list of functions. The Planning Commission is only newly organized. The experts have welcomed the invitation to work with it in the much-needed task of setting priorities within the government's program--perhaps a portent of very useful future development.

In the administrative field, some order has been brought into the chaos of social insurance institutions, proposals have been accepted for the reorganization of the Ministry of Labor, and a well-conceived plan has been prepared for improving the government's system of accounting and financial control. One expert was given the vital and highly controversial assignment of planning the reorganization of the Mineral Bank and the Bolivian Mining Corporation. These are beginnings, and they will be extended with the appointment of a special technical consultant for public administration and the establishment of a modest program of training for public officials.

The principal emphasis, however, has been on assistance "in execution." The text of the agreement made clear that the government wanted experts to do more than place well-prepared reports and proposals on the Minister's desk and take the next plane for home; it wished men who would stay and help wrestle with the difficulties of carrying them out. The great pressure has been that of current problems. These would have been difficult enough in any case, with inflation inherited and increasing, and with the transformations imposed by the government's own ambitious program. Early in 1953, all these difficulties were intensified by the drop in the world price of tin, which fell from $1.215 per pound of fine tin to about 80 cents. For Bolivia, a country dependent on imports for half of its food and for the machinery needed for the maintenance of its mining industry and the development of its agriculture, this meant the sudden loss of almost a third of its dollar income.

The economic crisis of course had its impact on the work of technical assistance. It meant that the consultants in social security and labor could not hope to give immediate effect to plans for the substantial extension of the social services. It meant that certain road construction projects, for example, and the building of a milk plant, would in all probability have to be deferred. There would be less chance of securing funds for hydroelectric projects to utilize the potential power of the eastern slopes of the Cordillera--described by Isaiah Bowman nearly 45 years ago as "one of the sanest of present-day possibilities."

On the other hand, the very intensity of the crisis led the government to utilize more thoroughly the services of the financial experts. The consultant to the Ministry of Finance was assigned the leading technical rôle in the strengthening of the tax system and the preparation of a series of emergency budgets. The principal effort in the financial field was the program of stabilization and exchange reform carried out in May 1953. By that time Bolivia had six official exchange rates while the black-market dollar had risen to a point more than three times higher than the highest of them. Food came into the country at a rate with which domestic agriculture could not compete and at prices so low that much of it was promptly smuggled out again. Unless these conditions were changed, there could be no hope of checking inflation, balancing the budget or operating the mines on a reasonable basis. The plan adopted cut through the chaos by establishing a single exchange rate for all imports and exports, with a sharp increase in duties on luxury articles, and a legal free market for other transactions. This sent the cost of living sharply upward. The price of bread, for example, rose by 150 percent. A flat rate increase in wages and salaries roughly compensated the lowest-paid workers for the higher costs but left everyone else to bear the new austerity. In this program the President and Cabinet of course took the difficult political decision, but the technical preparation was almost entirely the work of the consultant to the Central Bank and his colleagues, with the coöperation in the final stages of a special mission from the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile advice and assistance have continued on specific problems of economic development. One expert has begun experiments with a new American process that may make it practicable for Bolivia to smelt a part of its own tin. Two mining engineers have investigated the prospects of exploiting the country's iron deposits and have given counsel to the Bolivian engineers who have been maintaining the productivity of the nationalized tin mines since the departure of most of the foreign technicians. Three fellowships for study abroad have been awarded to Bolivian mining engineers, and a number of foremen and workers from the mines and the oilfields are also being given experience in countries with more advanced methods. A petroleum specialist with long business experience has advised on ways of increasing the production of oil. Recent drilling has brought in promising new wells; a geologist is being recruited to aid in further exploration and a legislative expert will assist in drafting the terms under which the government proposes to reopen the oil industry to private enterprise. When the Bolivian Development Corporation was judging bids for the construction of a new sugar mill, it asked the United Nations to send in specialists who could assure expertness and objectivity in the choice. Incidentally, the government's determination to reduce the nation's dependence on imports has emboldened it to make new capital investments in both these fields despite the fall in the price of tin.

Finally, assistance has also been used in the government's main program of internal transformation. When the Commission to plan the agrarian reform was organized, the international agencies were asked to provide the services of a Mexican agricultural economist, a man keenly conscious of the shortcomings as well as the successes of land reform in his own country. He and his United Nations colleagues assisted in the preparation of a system of supervised agricultural credit intended to increase the productivity of the new Indian landholders. Meanwhile the consultant in agriculture gave advice on measures for checking the immediate fall in output that was expected to follow the transfer of ownership. At the same time, the Andean Highland Mission--a joint undertaking of several agencies under the leadership of the International Labor Organization devoted to the problems of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia--was preparing to send a team of experts, including an anthropologist, to work in a village on the Bolivian altiplano. In coöperation with the experts in vocational education and teacher training, it will assist in demonstrating methods of social adjustment. All these are attempts to help equip the Indian population with the training, incentive and organization needed if it is to maintain and increase agricultural production and to discharge its new responsibility in the national life.

The work of the Mission is still in process and the future of the Bolivian economy remains uncertain. The crisis is by no means resolved; but the prospects have been greatly improved by the recent action of the United States Government in granting $9,000,000 in emergency aid. In a letter to the Bolivian President announcing this decision, President Eisenhower said: "The Government of Bolivia is already taking wise and courageous measures of self-help looking toward the diversification and stabilization of the Bolivian economy." The United States itself made a substantial contribution toward diversification through the Export-Import Bank loan for the highway which is opening up the rich potential of the Santa Cruz lowlands. American agricultural assistance, buttressed by aid in public health and education, is being intensified to exploit these possibilities. In the efforts toward stabilization, the Bolivian Government provided the courage, but the technical skill was supplied by United Nation experts working in sensitive and strategic positions. Their coöperation in these posts could have been acceptable to Bolivia only under an international program.

In the 1953 agreement with the United Nations, Bolivia declared that as a member of the organization it wished "to avail itself of the benefits of this modern system of international cooperation." The system has now been tested under conditions of revolution and economic crisis. It has adapted itself to profound economic and social changes and made some contribution toward giving them orderly direction. The test continues, but the best measure of the Mission's success lies in the degree to which its experts from many lands are called upon to assist in the solution of the central problems which confront the Government and the people of Bolivia.

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  • CARTER GOODRICH, Professor of Economics, Columbia University; Chairman of the Governing Body of the International Labor Office, 1939-1945; Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Bolivia, 1952-53
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