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Technocratic Governments

The global technocracy confronts an inconvenient beast

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.  --Frederick Douglass
 
Suddenly, the tumultuous on-rush of clarity. As the technocrats and leaders who run the global economic system reflect on widespread angry reactions to globalization and rapid social change, a new language is permeating the discussion of economic issues. Top economic policy leaders are now saying that ‘inclusive growth” is crucial. They are saying globalization must “work for everyone”. We are hearing exhortations about paying attention to public opinion (that famously unruly and inconvenient beast!). According to Larry Summers, a notable commentator on these matters, (in a Financial Times piece titled: “Voters sour on traditional economic policy”):
People have lost confidence in both the competence of economic leaders and in their commitment to serve the wider public rather than the global elite.

A number of traditional economic leaders in the public and private sector seemed to be making their way through the traditional grief cycle – starting with denial, moving to rage, then to bargaining and ultimately to acceptance of the new realities.


Will anything change though? There is reason to be skeptical. For, at bottom, the issue is that the global technocracy insists on economic policy being the exclusive preserve of experts. So, once the experts do the numbers and they declare a trade agreement beneficial that should be the end of the matter. Or, once the experts decide that what appears to be a high level of immigration to the ordinary citizen is actually economically helpful they tell leaders to ignore public opinion and go for it. The point, naturally, is not that expert input into policymaking is not crucial. Of course it is. The point is: it is just an input. Wise leaders must add other considerations.

The Enduring Allurement of Technocratic Competence

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The history of political thought has been, in a sense, a tussle between two ideas regarding who should govern: the idea that experts should rule and the idea that the people should rule themselves. It has been a never-ending tussle, and just when you think the idea that the people can and should rule has won, we see established democracies tossing out elected governments and installing rule by technocrats. The issue is important for this blog for a simple reason: in international development, the belief that experts know best and should shape public policy in developing countries is as difficult to kick as an addiction to cocaine.

So, let’s be clear: while the allurement of technocratic competence in a crisis is understandable it remains just a trifle absurd to suppose that technocratic competence can replace democratic politics rather than being its humble servant.  Experts have a huge role in a crisis, financial or otherwise, but to believe that finding a path out of a crisis is the sole business of experts is not only wrong but naïve. For, the response to a crisis is inherently and inescapably political. And this is true on at least two levels.