davidjmarland

XXI century did not bring universal peace and justice everyone was hoping for. Instead, on top of the usual, very slow pace of improvements, for the past couple of years we seem to have been witnessing one of the biggest crises of democracy in modern times. With many elected politicians’ inability to deal with social, economic and demographic problems that affect our societies, more and more people respond negatively when asked whether they believe that democracy is the best political system. This shift away from the liberal democracy model is rather surprising when you consider the fact that it took decades, if not centuries, to achieve it, and, on top of that, required enormous sacrifices. The aim of this article, however, is not to discuss arguments presented by opponents and proponents of democracy. Rather, its goal is to examine, review and compare another political system that has recently been proposed as a successor of democracy. That system is technocracy.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, technocracy is a “government by technicians who are guided solely by the imperatives of their technology”. In theory, a purely technocratic government consists of people who are specialists in their fields, who have been chosen for their positions based solely on their merit, who have not been previously involved in politics and who make rational decisions that are not influenced by politics. For example, in such a government, the post of the minister of economy would be occupied by an experienced economist, who would focus on long-term economics goals and stability rather than on short-term goals that would increase chances to win the next elections. Ministry of justice would be led by an experienced and objective lawyer who would ensure justice and the rule of law, no matter the contemporary political landscape. Minister of health would be a doctor who, from their own experience, knows what issues the healthcare system has to deal with and solves them, whether the solutions are popular or not. And so on and so forth.

Proponents argue that technocracy would ensure that those in power make decisions which are rational, based on research and data and which aim at achieving long-term goals that are beneficial for the society. This is often put in opposition to the (current) situation in which responsible politicians are only a minority among a horde of power and money-hungering “particrats” who make decisions that are short-sighted and that ensure their and their party’s victory in the next elections rather than the society’s and individuals’ well-being. Therefore, technocracy sounds very appealing, doesn’t it? No more pointless politicking and empty promises and more necessary action. But is technocracy really a solution to the weaknesses of democracy?

Technocratic model of governance relies on two key assumptions. Firstly, decisions made by experienced specialists and based on research and data are always correct. This, however, is not the case. Specialists in power would also make mistakes because decisions made by governments often involve so many variables that not all of them can be taken into account, because research can turn out to be wrong and because they would still make mistakes just like every other human being. Second assumption is that a specialist in their field is a person best suited for decision-making in that field. Certainly, they would be very well prepared for the job but sometimes an outsider with fresh perspectives is more suitable. For example, if healthcare system has financial problems and is inefficient, then a doctor, however experienced, might not be the best candidate. Instead, a business manager could be the person more appropriate for necessary reforms and reorganisation. On the government level, flexibility is a very valuable trait that can ensure finding the best (or the least worst) solution for many problems.

On top of that, technocracy’s greatest strength, which is the fact that government members are chosen on the basis of their merit rather than their political standing, is also its greatest weakness. In democracy, when casting (or not) a vote, we do not only exercise our civic rights and responsibilities but we also exercise control over our government. If it doesn’t meet society’s expectations, then in the next elections it will lose power. In pure technocracy, on the other hand, citizens do not have the possibility of exercising such control, as leaders are chosen based purely on their merit, not popular support. Thus, if a technocratic government were to stop making the right decisions, it would be much harder for people to force it out of the office and regain influence over their country’s policies.

Does this mean we should discard the technocratic model of governance altogether? Not at all. As usual, the truth probably lies in the middle and so we should look at and combine the best parts of both democracy and technocracy and in this way diminish their weaknesses. And this is already happening and to some extent has been happening since the dawn of democracy. In areas where specialisation is absolutely necessary for making proper decisions, people experienced in those areas are put in charge. For example, we have independent courts and tribunals which require many years of education and practice before one can join them. Another example is more relevant to us, economics and business students. Elected governments tend to appoint as ministers of economy, finance or treasury people who are specialised in those areas. After all, a person who does not understand the effects of a change in taxation should not make any decisions related to taxes. Additionally, in most of the developed democracies, the majority of governmental institutions (councils, committees, ministers etc.) is supported by apolitical advisors whose sole task is providing officials with the correct knowledge, data and predictions on which the politicians should base their policies. On top of that, developed economies usually have financial and economic institutions such as central banks, which are independent of contemporary politics, focus on long-term growth and stability and are led by the best of economists.

As you can see, some ideas of technocracy are already present in our society and in the last several years we could witness first experiments with that form of governance. Governments of Mario Monti in Italy in years 2011-2013 and of Lucas Papademos in Greece in years 2011-2012 (both are economists), are often called technocratic. They were appointed in the midst of economic and political crises in both of those countries with the aim of stabilising the situation. The aim that democratically elected governments have failed to achieve. However, whether those technocratic governments achieved their goals will not be discussed in this article. Rather, the point here is that technocratic ideas are being taken into consideration and more and more countries begin to experiment with them, especially during the times of crises.

To summarise, implementation of pure technocracy would not solve the many problems of democracy and would be a step backward rather than forward. Still, many of its aspects and ideas are certainly worthy of consideration, further discussion and, eventually, combining them with the current model of liberal democracy. It would certainly be an improvement if there was a universal custom that a newly elected government chooses specialists for posts in their respective fields (which quite often is already the case). This would allow for better and more responsible decisions being made, while retaining the control over government in the hands of citizens. Democracy indeed has many weaknesses but we should improve it, also by looking into ideas such as technocracy, rather than discard centuries of efforts aimed at achieving the society’s freedom. As Winston Churchill once stated: “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…”